By Doug Porter
I suspect there might be more than one sore shoulder in local political circles after all the back-slapping going down after the San Diego City Council unanimously (with Scott Sherman absent) passed a Climate Action Plan on Tuesday.
The council vote was preceded by a mayoral press conference, an environmentalist rally (a half hour later, same basic location, many overlapping participants) and more than seventy speakers testifying in favor of the plan.
Never has a slam dunk been guided by so many hands.
The plan’s mandate for 100% renewable energy, 50% reduction in vehicle trips (in designated transit areas), and 90% reduction in solid waste over the next two decades is expected to cut local greenhouse gas emissions by half.
The Magic Words
“Legally enforceable” are the buzzwords making this plan newsworthy on a national level. Other cities have aspirations; San Diego has The Law on its side. Or so we’re told.
From the Union-Tribune:
With ratcheting pressure from leaders in Sacramento and the courts, other cities in California may face increasing pressure to adopt similarly binding climate plans. Besides San Diego, Sacramento is currently the only other city in the state with enforceable mandates on this issue.
“The majority of [climate plans] in California do not meet this standard, and therefore, in my opinion, are legally challengeable,” said Chandra Slaven, a planning consultant who worked with San Diego on its climate plan starting in 2010. “All it takes is one lawsuit and they’re in trouble.
Local scribe Andy Keatts describes how this mechanism works in an article at Governing:
California’s landmark environmental law, CEQA, forces cities to pass general plans that outline how they’ll deal with future growth and specify how they’ll meet statewide greenhouse gas reduction requirements.
Cities routinely find themselves fighting back lawsuits over CEQA, alleging a specific project or a plan in general either wasn’t studied thoroughly or contradicts statewide environmental mandates. CEQA suits come in all shapes and sizes, from neighbor groups challenging bike lanes to environmental organizations fighting regional transportation plans.
That’s where San Diego’s climate plan is relatively novel: it explicitly ties itself to the city’s general plan. And since the general plan is subject to CEQA suits, so too are the actions in the climate plan.
In other words, the city is voluntarily giving the public a big stick to wield if the city doesn’t live up to its promises.
If it was only so easy.
Getting the city’s transportation goals to fall in line involves resolving legal challenges to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) climate action plan. As things stand presently, their priorities are out of sync with the city’s.
SANDAG is a regional governance mechanism and the outlying cities in the area have suspicions about any plan reducing dependence on the roads they depend on to convey commuters and shoppers…. Which is why SANDAG’s plan has been bounced by the courts and the current revision isn’t likely to fare any better.
San Diego Gas and Electric is a major economic and political player in the region. They say there’s no realistic way to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035. The climate action plan says this goal can be met by community choice aggregation.
Expect SDG&E to mount a vigorous public relations campaign in the coming months suggesting that anything other than the current monopoly could leave us all in the dark. They’ve managed to bypass a state law on lobbying by limiting its funding to monies from investors as opposed to ratepayers.
What is a Benefit?
The real time bomb, ticking at the heart of this plan, is the language inserted at the behest of the business community requiring city staff to conduct a full analysis of the costs and benefits associated with the policy before the Council could adopt it.
I somehow doubt SDG&E and local environmental groups have the same view of exactly what a “benefit” entails.
Here’s Andy Keatts again, writing this time at Voice of San Diego:
Nicole Capretz, a long-time sherpa for the plan when she worked in the city and who now has a nonprofit group dedicated to pushing it, fears a traditional economic analysis might not share her definition of a benefit. Maybe there isn’t a short-term benefit associated with a policy that makes an infinitesimal contribution to the earth not becoming uninhabitable by humans.
At the committee hearing, she cautioned that it’s easy to imagine an analysis that doesn’t include everything that the environmental community would count as a benefit. Or that there are competing studies over a given element.
The city should instead resolve when it adopts the plan that there’s support for it, and it’s time to act, she said.
“I think unfortunately, we are susceptible to everyone going back to their corners again,” Capretz said. “But the only tool we have in our belt here is that these are legal mandates.”
Ye Olde Legal Mandates…
Somebody has to sue if the plan fails to come to pass. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the State of California Attorney General will step in… Or maybe it will have to be private citizens hiring an attorney… Like Cory Briggs, the bane of the city attorney’s existence.
Why just yesterday, Jan Goldsmith was crying the blues to the Union-Tribune at how much this mean ol’ lawyer was costing taxpayers by daring to challenge the city’s practice of mortgaging properties to ease its cash flow problems. And this was on a case the city won–at least until it goes to the state supreme court.
The city’s legal beagle’s tale of woe with Briggs has been oft-repeated, and past experience (remember the private eye hired to tail the woman sexually assaulted by the cop?) suggests they consider degrading complainants as part of their obligation to the taxpayer.
So if some San Diegan wants to sue, even if they opt for another attorney, that attorney will have to factor in the attacks on his/her character into the decision on whether to represent them.
Meanwhile, the global climate crisis won’t be waiting to see how any court decisions pan out.
The Road Ahead Could Be Rough
I am sincerely glad the City Council approved some kind of plan–warts and all–to help San Diego to its part in reducing greenhouse gases.
I can only hope that the many activists who worked hard to make it a reality don’t take their eyes off the prize.
And I’ll be watching…
…Meanwhile, there was other news…
The GOP ALL CAPS Debate
In case you missed it, the Republicans took turns ginning up fear in Las Vegas last night. It was an ALL CAPS experience. I had a hard time distinguishing who hated Muslims and immigrants the most, and I was sober.
From the Washington Post:
— “Like all of you, I’m angry” is how Carly Fiorina began her opening statement. That sentence encapsulates not just last night’s two-hour debate in Las Vegas but also the entire Republican nominating contest thus far. Donald Trump himself was largely a non-factor in the candidates’ fifth and final showdown of 2015, but Trumpism was the dominant, animating force inside the Venetian Theatre.
Reaganesque the rhetoric was not. Trump catapulted to the top of the polls and has stayed there for six months now because he tapped into deep-seated anger and frustration of the conservative base that the country is slipping away from them. Chasing the front-runner’s success, the other leading candidates each tried to varying degrees to show that they get it, that they, too, are mad as hell and want to take the country back. There was little effort to play to the higher angels of the American consciousness. Instead, in the wake of attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, it often felt like the candidates were preying on the electorate’s fear, anxiety and sense of vulnerability.
The New York Times captured the mood of the evening in one paragraph:
Negative exchanges — in word choice, tone, put-downs and facial expressions — dominated the debate, the fifth and final one of the year for the Republicans. The contentiousness reflected an intensely competitive race and a widely held belief among the candidates that anxiety-ridden voters are looking for the fiercest possible nominee — not only against the Islamic State, but also against the likely Democratic candidate, Mrs. Clinton.
“Climate change” was referred to exactly one time at the GOP Debate—and it was just to belittle last week’s Paris conference. The attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and the anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shootings went unmentioned.
For those of you interested in the Cliff Notes version, Daily Kos provided an excellent synopsis of the candidates’ closing statements:
Paul: greatest threat to national security is the debt. And Republicans and Democrats are both to blame. “I’m the only fiscal conservative on the stage.”
Kasich: No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio. I’m from Ohio, so duh.
Christie: September 11th. Death. Terrorism. That’s what I did before I was governor, which we’re not going to be talking about.
Fiorina: I remember September 11, too. Because business and we did stuff. Beat Hillary. Unify. Be better than everything. Beat Hillary. She’s still scary. And “take our coutnry back.”
Jeb!: Who will keep our country safer, stronger, blah, blah, blah. My proven record as governor, blah, blah, blah. Messed that up a bit.
Rubio: Speedracing through his closing again with a contradictory aspirational/fearful statement about why he’s the one.
Cruz: Barack Obama doesn’t believe in America winning. Okay then. Ronald Reagan good. I’ll be him. Radical Islamic terrorism.
Carson: I have a passport, but I’m glad I’m an America. Talks about his mother. God. No apple pie, though.
Trump: Our country doesn’t win any more. We don’t do anything. We have to change everything. Nothing works. “We will win a lot” when he’s president.
Get to hear 9 candidates who avoided military service bluster about how tough they’ll be using other people’s kids as fodder. #GOPDebate
— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) December 15, 2015
On This Day: 1907 – Eugenia H. Farrar became the first singer to broadcast on radio. She sang from the USS Dolphin docked at Brooklyn Navy Yard. 1977 – Eight female bank tellers in Willmar, Minn., began the first strike against a bank in U.S. history. At issue: they were paid little more than half what male tellers were paid. The strike ended in moral victory but economic defeat two years later. 1995 – Many government functions were again closed as a temporary finance provision expired and the budget dispute between President Clinton and Republicans in Congress continued.
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