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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

New Tool Measures Climate Inequality In San Diego Neighborhoods

 February 27, 2020 at 10:43 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 How does your neighborhood stack up when it comes to flood risk, tree coverage, asthma rates, pedestrian access, and the burden of housing costs. Neighborhoods within a city can vary greatly. San Diego leaders will now have a new tool, the nation's first to determine climate inequity across the city's neighborhoods. As part of our coverage from the KPBS climate change desk, we're speaking with Roberto Carlos tourists, climate equity specialist with the city of San Diego's sustainability department. He helped create the new climate equity index. And a welcome. Thank you for having me. First. Uh, how do you describe what climate equity is? It's an unusual term. Yeah. And so, uh, we actually worked with community based organizations to come up with an understanding of what climate equity is in the city of San Diego. And it's essentially looking at the historical inequity suffered by our communities of color and trying to equalize the benefits and burdens of climate investments into communities and explain this new tool. Speaker 1: 01:02 How does it work? So it's a, the climate equity index essentially looks at 35 indicators through a broad stroke of different categories ranging from, uh, mobility indicators, health indicators, socioeconomic, some housing indicators, and then environmental indicators to really assess what the relative access to opportunity is in each community, uh, through census tracks and really understand what areas face more barriers than others when it comes to trying to improve the quality of life in that area. So you've got, as you say, almost three dozen, uh, factors that you're, you're looking at and what are some examples of those? Yeah, some of those are looking at things like asthma rates as well as the, uh, level of access to pedestrian amenities. So whether they have sidewalks, crosswalks, streetlights, that kind of thing. Understanding that there are some communities that have more infrastructure to facilitate, uh, using alternative modes of transportation while other neighborhoods might lack, uh, sidewalks and be unable to choose to walk to work if they can, or even bike infrastructure. Speaker 1: 02:11 And the, a, I wanted to clear up the question of census tracks bout how big an area are we talking about? They really range the age. It goes by population. I forgot what the exact number is, but it's determined by the U S census and then so they're broken up. So some can be really dense and have I believe about 12,000 folks in that and it can sometimes be smaller, but really big geographical area due to who's living where. Depends on the nature of the neighborhood, the community. Now it's interesting as you described this, it, it, it strikes me that it gets to this the green new deal, which has been controversial. Progressive members of Congress have put this forth. It's involved of course in the presidential year debate and all, but it's really kind of getting to a broad, um, concerns, broad aspects of a lot of things that may not directly seem like they're tied into a climate change. Speaker 1: 03:02 And then to, uh, the whole global crisis that we're facing, but really overall are, yeah. When the city adopted our climate action plan in 2015, our leaders understood that we needed to address equity as a part of implementing our climate action plan goals. We understand that our underserved communities are hardest hit when it comes to dealing with a changing climate. And so the theory is that we need to put a lot of investment and understand where those communities are and what type of investment needs to go in to help them be more resilient. And uh, in general, the areas with the lowest scores on the scale are South of interstate eight. That's not surprising going in you, you pretty much knew that. Right? Right. Yeah, we definitely knew that. But this tool now gives us kind of a ranking order to understand what area suffered the least access to opportunity, um, so that we can really start prioritizing those areas when we're talking about things like infrastructure improvements. Speaker 1: 04:06 Now, how will the cities specifically use this new tool? So, uh, we're working right now with, uh, the sustainability department is working with different departments. Uh, public works department has a CIP prioritization process and we're trying to incorporate the climate equity index score into that consideration. The planning department is also moving forward with several different initiatives, including the complete communities initiative. Uh, and looking at the resilient SD initiative as well. We want to tackle climate equity in those policies. And so we're looking at how best to incorporate it. All right. Well, so give me an example. If you have a, say you have so much budgeted for planting trees for example, or improving sidewalks and walkability in an area, you would use this tool to say this is our priority communities here and then these others are further down the list. Exactly. And that, but we would also do it in a way to ensure that like for planting trees that we, we can now target areas that we know, lack of tree canopy coverage. Speaker 1: 05:07 Um, so that it's a much more data-driven methodology to do that. Okay. The far more general in the past we kind of generally, and vaguely approached it this way, but this will be a more specific precise tool. And then, and really cool too is that the community really had a voice in developing this tool. So it wasn't just a bunch of folks getting together. And saying, Hey, let's just look at these indicators. We spoke with community based organizations who talked to their residents about what's important to them. And so that was really unique in this is that we worked side by side with the community to D develop this. The city previously used other tools to do a similar job. Uh, tell us about the, what were some of the uh, the previous, uh, tools used and how this one is an improvement? Yeah, so the city used to use CalEnviroScreen looking at the top 30% dial in the city of San Diego. Speaker 1: 05:57 Additionally, you're looking at census blocks, which are smaller than census tracks that are CDBG eligible. And then on top of that, any area within a half mile radius of affordable housing. So it was kind of looking at those three different tools used by the state or the federal government to identify what what's termed disadvantaged communities. We took that and really defined it specifically, uh, working with the community to determine what are our areas of concern. And now we're able to actually rank and prioritize that versus the previous definition didn't give us that ability. Now, I imagine this is a tough challenge, but when you use a tool like this, I mean there's the hope in five years from now, 10 years from now, you take a look at the city's climate action plan and you would hope to see some measurable results because of the precision of this tool and how much broader it is than what you just described and what was used before. Speaker 1: 06:52 Exactly. Our climate action plan had us developing a tool to be able to measure the city's progress. We understand that we're trying to tackle some historical inequities that are deeply ingrained. So it's not something that in one year, uh, we'll be able to change. But, uh, we do have every five years we're going to do a refresh of the data so that we can measure what that progress is looking like and if we're moving in the right direction. Uh, we also want to ensure that we are advancing climate equity as we're moving forward and implementing our climate action plan. And so the climate equity index will be that tool that we'll use to kind of measure, um, our progress. Uh, now can people find out the area they live in, how they scored on the index? Yeah. If they go to San diego.gov/climate equity, they're able to actually type in their address and it'll take them right to where they live and they'll see what census track thing. Cause I don't think anyone knows where it sends a check. They're not walking around with that info. And then it will tell them right then and there what is their level of access and then it'll break down every single indicator so that they can know why they are in the score that they're in. I've been speaking with Roberto Carlos Torres, he's climate equity specialists with the city of San Diego sustainability department. Thank you Roberta. Thanks for having me.

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The tool is part of an effort to address environmental justice and social equity as part of implementing the city's Climate Plan goals.
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