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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Audit Faults San Diego For Poor Implementation Of Climate Action Plan

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego has ambitious goals in the fight against climate change, but it's not doing a good job of tracking its progress toward reaching them. That's one of the findings of an audit of the city's ambitious 2015 climate action plan. San Diego was in the process of revising the six-year-old climate plan. So the officials say a revised version of the plan will be more specific and include cost estimates of climate action programs. And joining me as KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen, Andrew. Welcome. Hi, Maureen. Thanks. Why was there an audit of the city's climate action plan? The job of the city auditor Speaker 2: 00:37 Is to find areas that pose a risk to the city. Not just things like waste, fraud and abuse, but also just general performance issues with city operations, where are they not doing a good job and how could they be doing a better job? The climate action plan is legally enforceable, meaning that if the city does not meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets in the plan, it can be sued and then forced into compliance with the climate plan by a judge and by the courts. So that legal risk not to mention just the risks that climate change itself poses to the city with sea level rise, you know, extreme weather events, flooding, et cetera. I think those are all areas that made the climate action plan, a really valuable, uh, area for a performance audit. Well, Speaker 1: 01:24 At the time the climate action plan was made in 2015. San Diego really was in the Vanguard of American city's response to climate change, but the audit has found some big shortcomings in how that plan has been used. Can you tell us about some of the findings Speaker 2: 01:38 There's one line in the audit report that I think encapsulates a lot of what this is all about, which is plans are only as good as their implementation. So yes, the city did pass at the time in 2015, a very bold and forward-thinking climate action plan patted itself on the back for a couple of years. And now here we are trying to play catch up with all of the action that didn't happen since 2015. So there are two big picture findings in the audit. The first is that the city departments lack accountability and oversight on their work to actually implement the goals of the climate action plan. They're not really keeping track of their progress toward those goals, nor are they regularly updating key decision makers like the mayor and the city council, even the public on their progress toward those goals. So as an example, the city is behind on reducing energy consumption in city owned buildings it's behind on increasing the sheriff commuters who choose a transit or biking or walking to work instead of driving a car by themselves. Speaker 2: 02:38 The recommendation to fix this shortcoming is that every city department that is responsible for the climate action plan is supposed to come up with an annual work plan. And those work plans then have to be approved by the city's sustainability department. And those departments also are supposed to designate a staffer who is the point person for climate action plan implementation. Whereas currently that sort of responsibility and accountability, isn't all that clear. The second finding in the audit is that the city just needs to do better. Fiscal planning. There's still no official estimate for how much the climate action plan will cost to implement. And so we can't track our progress and make sure that the city is spending what it needs to be without that estimate and without sort of timelines and, and roadmaps to implementation. Speaker 1: 03:26 And isn't also one of the suggestions that the city involve all city departments involved. How are they going to do that? Speaker 2: 03:34 Well, the city for a while was hosting what it called sustainability round table meetings. And this was meant to be a forum for cross departmental dialogue on how to achieve the climate action plan goals. So the same, the sustainability department is the main department that oversees the climate action plan. But the actual implementation happens across multiple departments, including public utilities, parks, and recreation, transportation, and stormwater planning, et cetera. The list goes on really across almost the entire city. So the audit report found that these meetings, the sustainability round table meetings could be more frequent. Only one meeting was held in 2019 and one meeting was held in 2020. So they're not happening often enough. And they also found that there could be more of a two way dialogue. So they found that the, the meetings that were held were often just presentations from the sustainability department to other departments, rather than a chance for those departments to present, to sustainability their climate action related initiatives and what they have going on. And for them to actually be held accountable for those goals. And what's been Speaker 1: 04:41 The city council's response to these points in the audit, it's been largely supportive Speaker 2: 04:45 Of the findings and the recommendations, all the recommendations were agreed upon by city staff. And they agreed to re implement the recommendations. Often the cases that when an audit comes to the full city council, there was a lot more discussion that happened at the committee level. So this particular audit went to the audit committee and the environment committee, a lot of the discussion happened there already. And the discussion at the full council was sort of a bridge, but basically what the city council wants to know is what are the budget decisions that we need to be making each year in order to meet our climate action plan goals? We still don't have an estimate. As I mentioned for the implementation of the plan and the city council also said, we need to make sure that sustainability, the sustainability department has the staff that it needs to actually achieve these new mandates of have more oversight and accountability. So all of these things are very important decisions that the city council needs to have input on. Speaker 1: 05:42 And finally, what's the reaction of environmental organizations to this audit. Speaker 2: 05:47 The environmental groups, I think are generally glad that the audit was done. And they're glad that they've brought more attention to this. They've been saying a lot of the exact same things that were in the report, uh, for many years now. Um, but I don't think that they're generally happy with the city's response specifically the timelines. So for example, uh, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego. That's just people driving their cars and trucks, uh, but, and the city was supposed to come up with a mobility action plan, that details how they will transition away from car dependence and toward more sustainable transportation options like biking, walking, and public transit. So this mobility action plan is still three years away and that's, that will be then by the time it's presented nearly a decade after the climate action plan was adopted. So I think in a way this audit has just sort of made it even clearer and more, um, noticeable how far the city, how far behind the city is. And the advocates just aren't really seeing the urgency from city officials that they feel is necessary. Speaker 1: 06:49 I've been speaking with KPBS, Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Andrew. Thank you. My pleasure, Maureen. Speaker 3: 07:05 [inaudible].

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San Diego’s auditor found city departments are far behind the goals set in the 2015 Climate Action Plan, and that the city has no estimate for how much it will cost to fully implement the plan.
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