San Diego County approves new Climate Action Plan


The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new Climate Action Plan on Feb. 14, incorporating a goal to achieve 90 percent renewable electricity by 2030 while also addressing housing affordability and costs to development.

The plan includes strategies to meet the state’s 2020 and 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions targets and to demonstrate progress toward the 2050 GHG reduction goal. To meet the 2030 goal, the county will need to achieve a reduction of 897,135 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Measures to combat those emissions in the plan include “growing in a compact and efficient manner,” the installation of solar panels in existing homes, harnessing renewable energy to power buildings, improving building energy efficiency in new development and reducing outdoor water use.

The county’s original Climate Action Plan (CAP) was adopted in 2012 and was subsequently challenged in court by the Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter. The litigation concluded in 2015 and staff went to work crafting a completely new plan. The county is expected to return to court in March—the judge required the county come up with a California Environmental Quality Act-qualified plan and the county lawyers stated that the new plan is in compliance.

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Kristin Gaspar said she believes the plan is the “best way forward” but she still had concerns about implementation, the costs involved for consumers and residents, and the impacts on the housing shortage that is currently at crisis level.

Looking at the regional housing needs assessment, Gaspar said the county is way behind in meeting mandated affordable housing for the region. The county was allocated 22,412 units in the 10-year housing cycle and eight years in, they have only built 4,644.

“All CAP measures come with a cost and at the end of the day, all of these costs are realized either directly or indirectly by our residents,” Gaspar said. “Our residents are relying on us to meet our environmental goals and perform a cost analysis of all aspects of this plan as we move forward in the implementation stage.”

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said she was looking to approve a plan that represents the best option for people in the region, one that is the best legal option and one that is realistic and practical to achieve.

During public comment many spoke in opposition of the plan, calling it inadequate and arguing that it could facilitate sprawl development with not enough measures taken to reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

“We are disappointed in the implementation details, which we think are vague and likely to be ineffective,” said David Engel, Del Mar resident and co-founder of STAY COOL for Grandkids. “Perhaps some of you don’t take the threats of global warming seriously and wonder ‘What’s the hurry?’ Believe me there is no time to waste. I beseech you on behalf of my granddaughter, Violet, and all the grandkids of San Diego County, do not approve an ineffective Climate Action Plan. You must do better for our grandchildren.”

The approved CAP includes 11 strategies and 30 GHG reduction measures under five emissions categories: Built environment and transportation, energy, solid waste, water and wastewater, and agriculture and conservation.

“The measures are practical, feasible and diversified across the five categories to achieve the 2030 reductions,” said Mark Wardlaw, the county director of planning and development services. “They’re balanced in approach across taxpayers, consumers and businesses, with county programs representing 59 percent of the reductions.”

The county’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions come from on-road transportation at 45 percent— electricity represents 24 percent and solid waste is at 11 percent.

Per the plan in the area of transportation, the county is looking to reduce vehicle miles traveled by encouraging alternative modes of transportation, requiring its vehicle fleets to use alternative fuel, requiring new construction projects to use alternative fuels in 25 percent of equipment vehicles, providing retirement incentives, and installing more EV charging stations.

For its renewable energy program, the county plans to do a comparative analysis of options such as partnering with an investor-owned utility, expansion of direct access and community choice aggregation, which is being explored by the cities of Solana Beach, Encinitas and Del Mar. Work on the comparative analysis will begin this year and staff will report back in 2019.

George Courser, of the Sierra Club San Diego Chapter, and Jack Shu, with the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, argued that the county’s efforts to curb GHG through vehicle miles traveled should be a core part of the CAP as transportation is the largest source of emissions but it is “ignored” in the plan.

“Essentially you have no plan,” Shu said.

Other critics stated that the plan relied too heavily on “untested” direct investment and had questions about the enforceability of the use of “dreamed up” carbon offsets out of the county and country.

“This is a plan put together by the lawyers to scrape by in your court case and scrape by compliance with state law,” said Carl Yaeckel of Citizens Climate Lobby. “But we need more than that from our leaders, we need more than state law requires, we need more than what some grumpy judge may require next month. We need you to lead us toward 100 percent clean energy and that’s the spirit you have to have going forward because the battle against climate change is going on all over the world and it has to be won everywhere or it will be won nowhere.”

In the CAP, the county states it has limited options under its control for implementing transportation-based strategies and that the greatest GHG reduction potential lies in the energy category.

Speaking in support of the CAP, the Clear the Air Coalition applauded the county’s decision to conduct an analysis on renewable energy options as it is a “major endeavor that could carry significant taxpayer risks.”

“It is essential that we reduce emissions in a way that protects our economy, local jobs and hardworking families,” said coalition co-chair Rev. Gerald Brown. “Determining the best path forward requires comparative analysis of options for increasing use of renewable energy and a true accounting of what programs cost and who will end up paying the tab.”

Gaspar said that the county’s goal is to get out of court and into action—Supervisor Bill Horn said he, too, just wanted to resolve the issue with the court but guaranteed that the minute they voted on the CAP, another lawsuit would be filed.Gaspar said she was concerned as the county received a letter prior to the meeting threatening further litigation.

“It’s evident that if we do not comply with all the demands outlined in that letter we will find ourselves back in court,” Gaspar said. “And tragically, it’s ironic and discouraging at the same time that we will be spending thousands more on attorneys instead of additional environmental initiatives and work.”