By John Lawrence
The City of San Diego has developed an elaborate Climate Action Plan (CAP), the goal of which is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The County of San Diego has one too as does the City of Chula Vista as does the Port of San Diego as does SANDAG as does the University of California at San Diego as does the San Diego County Water Authority. In fact, as mandated by the state, almost every political jurisdiction in the state has developed a CAP. The CAPs in general are long on bureaucracy and time frames and short on specific mandates and orders for compliance.
In a recent opinion column in the San Diego U-T, San Diego interim mayor Todd Gloria said in response to an earlier column by climate change naysayer Steven Greenhut:
If you accept that climate change is both real and caused by humans — and the scientific evidence for both of these propositions is overwhelming — then we need a game plan. Everyone should play a role, including local government. We have a fundamental responsibility to this planet and all the future generations who will inhabit it.
The city of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan provides a road map to help our city meet its moral responsibilities in the decades ahead. Mr. Greenhut suggests the plan will saddle local businesses and residents with expensive regulations. This is misleading. In reality, the plan sets a wide variety of targets and goals. Some of these goals — such as making our streets more bike-friendly and encouraging people to make their homes more energy-efficient — will actually help San Diegans save money in the long run.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty about what the CAP calls for. Later we can decide if any of it will actually be accomplished or will it remain on the drawing board and be debated ad infinitum while lobbyists put the kibosh on the whole thing as being too expensive and too much of an inconvenience to implement. The CAP comprises both adaptation (how to deal with the results of climate change that can’t be prevented) and mitigation (how to change business as usual in order to reduce greenhouse gases and prevent the negative results of climate change).
According to the CAP, San Diego will transition from business-as-usual growth and development practices to a clean, low-carbon economy. According to landmark legislation at the state level, cities are mandated to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. The key words here are “if feasible.” Lobbyists will attempt to prove that feasibility, insofar as reducing GHGs is concerned, is dubious.
There are three target dates: 2020, 2035 and 2050. 2020 is sufficiently far away that politicians will have ample time to bloviate to excess while accomplishing very little. Based on the 2010 community-wide baseline inventory, the City of San Diego emits approximately 13.1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emissions annually. In order to reach its goals, the City will have to reduce emissions to approximately 11.1 million metric tons by 2020 and down to approximately 7.6 million metric tons by 2035.
Changes in local policies, ordinances and building codes will be fought every step of the way by the building industry. For instance, Matt Adams of the Building Industry Association (BIA) of San Diego County maintains that ““It’s getting more and more expensive every day just to build houses…” Therefore, the implication is that the CAP requirement that all new residential and business construction be pre-wired for solar panels and pre-plumbed for solar water heaters is impractical.
According to the CAP:
The City will incur costs to implement many of the implementation mechanisms. These include initial start-up, ongoing administration, and enforcement costs. While some actions will only require funding from public entities, others will result in increased costs for businesses and residents. However, most of the implementation mechanisms provide substantial savings in the long term. The City will be diligent in seeking strategic funding opportunities and the use of partnerships to share the cost.
The CAP puts forth five strategies for reaching its goals:
- ENERGY & WATER EFFICIENT BUILDINGS
- CLEAN & RENEWABLE ENERGY
- MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
- ZERO WASTE MANAGEMENT
- URBAN FOREST & LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION
The BIA has already declared number 1 to be impractical and adding too much to the price of residential housing and commercial buildings.
As far as transportation is concerned, there is no attempt to expand trolley lines or otherwise encourage public transportation. Platitudes about building new housing projects near transit hubs lack any enforcement mechanism or positive incentive for doing so. At the very least the trolley system should be expanded. While there’s no money for that, there’s plenty of money for building ever more freeways thus adding to the major source of greenhouse gases (54%) in San Diego.
What is needed is a light rail system in the major freeway corridors such as I-5, I-15 and I-8 with incentives to increase ridership. Instead, freeway construction continues apace, and there is more than ever stop-and-go traffic and freeway bottlenecks which add to greenhouse gas emissions due to all the idling motors.
The CAP is long on bureaucratese and short on specific mandatable proposals. There is much ado about monitoring and building superfluous databases so we can track and measure the results of a bunch of lightweight proposals. There is nothing with any teeth in it that won’t be lobbied to death with the result that none of these so-called goals will probably ever be met. It’s so much pie in the sky, but the words emanating from politicans’ mouths about climate change sound good as long as it isn’t your ox that is being gored.
For instance, a plastic bag ordinance is supposed to go into effect in 2014, and there is already movement afoot to implement the removal of plastic bags from the City. But will the City Council finally vote for the ordinance which councilwoman Sherri Lightner has championed?
According to the U-T:
As part of a growing push to cut litter and conserve landfill space, San Diego could join some of California’s biggest cities in outlawing plastic checkout bags over the next year.
The proposed bag ban would eliminate disposable plastic bags from San Diego retail stores such as markets and pharmacies, encourage shoppers to bring reusable totes and require businesses to charge 10 cents for each paper bag.
“The objective is to wean ourselves from temporary bags,” said Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who shepherded the ordinance through the Rules and Economic Development Committee, which approved the draft rule last month.
The ban could eliminate 348 million single-use plastic bags from San Diego each year, the Equinox Center estimated in a report that coincided with the committee vote. It could save the city $160,000 per year in bag cleanup costs, preserve precious space at Miramar Landfill and keep plastics out of the ocean, the report concluded.
But the proposed rule has sparked opposition from some retailers who say its provisions would hurt mom-and-pop markets and their customers.
Mark Arabo, president and CEO of the San Diego-based Neighborhood Market Association, which represents small markets in California, Arizona and Nevada has already started a campaign against the banning of plastic bags claiming that the cost of purchasing a paper bag (10 cents) would hurt poor people. Of course poor people and others are free to bring their own reusable bags to market. Another irksome thing is that hardware stores such as Home Depot would be exempt from the plastic bag ban. That sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it, as Home Depot is one of the largest commercial operations and largest perpetrators of plastic bag proliferation in San Diego.
The CAP purports to encourage job creation in San Diego especially green job creation. However, there is no recommendation for feed-in tariffs or any other mechanism that would really spur green job creation. San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) will see to that. Feed-in tariffs would hurt their bottom line. So a bunch of lip servive will be given to job creation without any identifiable legislation or tax incentives that would incentivize it. The City’s ideas about job creation are limited to the following: “Create a Sustainable Workforce Engagement Public Advisory Committee to evaluate and make recommendations on equitable green job creation.” More committees and more evaluation! The net result: more wasted taxpayer money and more jobs for consultants such as the one that created the CAP in the first place and more talking points for politicians while in the meantime there is more inaction.
If the City and County were really serious about reducing GHGs, they would do something about transportation which is responsible for 54% of them according to the CAP. Here are some of the helpful things the report suggested:
- Increase Commuter Mass Transit Ridership
- Increase Commuter Biking
- Increase Commuter Walking
- Support SANDAG’s GHG Reduction Targets
- Reserve Parking for Electric Vehicles
- Reduce Vehicle Fuel Consumption
- Increase Electric Vehicle Miles Driven
- Increase Municipal Zero Emissions Vehicles
- Convert Municipal Waste Collection Trucks to NS
While all well and good, there are no teeth here. Nothing about expanding the trolley system. Nothing about light rail in the major freeway corridors.
The keys to all these proposals are the implementation mechanisms. While we will write more on this next time, here is an example:
“Adopt a Residential Water and Energy Conservation Ordinance by 2015 to require building energy consumption disclosure at time of sale or lease.”
This proposed mechanism will, however, do absolutely nothing to reduce GHGs. It is mere window dressing, and there’s too much stuff like this in the CAP. I get the uneasy feeling that the CAP is a feel good document meant to appease environmental concerns and cover politicians’ asses. I wonder how many of the City Council have even read it. A good question for the mayoral candidates, Faulkner and Alvarez, is “HAVE YOU READ THE CAP AND DO YOU SUPPORT IT?”
When I lived downtown from 2000 to 2005, I was elected to the Center City Advisory Commission (CCAC), an advisory group to the Center City Development Corporation (CCDC). What I oberved was that it was common for the City to outsource a study to a consultant group in the way that the CAP was outsourced to Krout Associates, pay them $100,000. or whatever and then have a nice report on hand which nobody does anything about. I saw this happen with the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.” Somebody was paid a lot of money for a worthless piece of paperwork which has accomplished absolutely nothing.
I heard interim mayor Todd Gloria mention the CAP recently on the KPBS local news and also defend it in print so I have some hope that he, at least, will fight for it. The rest of the city council has to too. It’s up to the citizens of San Diego to pressure them to implement it as much or more than the lobbyists probably will to sideline it.