San Diego County stepping up climate action in October

Demonstrators hold a sign saying "There is No Planet B"  during a 2019 protest at Huntington Beach High School

A student climate protest at Huntington Beach High School in 2019.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

The county is expecting updates this month on two ambitious plans to reduce climate change and counter its impact


San Diego County will address climate change with a report on its climate action plan next week and a draft copy of an ambitious countywide sustainability roadmap expected at the end of the month.

After years of the county fighting lawsuits challenging its old climate action plan, the Board of Supervisors voted in July to create a new one that will more forcefully address greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation in the unincorporated areas.

The county board will hear an update on that plan at its regular meeting on Oct. 20.

The board is going a step beyond the climate action plan with what it is calling its “decarbonization framework,” which will coordinate with cities, school districts and other agencies throughout the county to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2035. The draft of that framework will be released at the end of October.

In summer, after scrapping the previous climate plans, supervisors directed county staff to develop a new climate action plan that is legally enforceable and doesn’t use carbon offset credits — which allow developers to pay for releasing excessive climate pollutants rather than reducing them.

The county’s new plan must provide clear goals and measurable steps to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2035, supervisors said.

At a virtual meeting in August, county planners held a brainstorming session to seek ideas to get people and businesses to reduce car trips and other sources of vehicle emissions.

“What if your community was developed in a way that you could walk, bike and roll to your destination?” planner Claire Moss asked participants.

Speakers suggested a variety of options, including building more infrastructure for bikes and electric vehicles, encouraging carpooling, and adding more frequent and reliable public transportation. The county could also reduce emissions by promoting telecommuting with flexible work schedules and improved internet connectivity, the speakers said.

To help reverse rising atmospheric carbon, participants called for increasing urban forestry, building more parks and preserving natural wildlife habitat.

County officials said they will combine those concepts with transportation modeling data from the San Diego Association of Governments’ new regional plan. SANDAG is expected to adopt its new regional plan at its December meeting, the county’s climate plan website stated.

After that, county officials will be able to accurately calculate vehicle miles traveled in unincorporated areas — a key measure of traffic impact used as a proxy for estimating greenhouse gas emissions. And they can quantify the potential impact of various climate action strategies.

Through the end of this year, the county will gather greenhouse emissions data, according to the climate action website. In 2022 the county will establish reduction targets.

In 2023 officials will release a draft Climate Action Plan and then hold more public hearings before adopting the final plan.

In a separate but related effort, the county is partnering with cities, school districts and academic experts to develop a regional sustainability effort that would extend to all cities in San Diego as well as the unincorporated area.

The county officials are developing the plan under guidance of UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and the University of San Diego‘s Energy Policy Initiatives Center.

The climate action plan will focus only on the unincorporated regions whereas the decarbonization framework, or sustainability plan, will take a more broad, regionwide approach, said Murtaza Baxamusa, the county’s program manager for regional sustainability.

“It will focus on overall carbon emissions,” he said. “This has not been done for a county region before.”

The team will release a draft report the end of October and present technical reports to the board in November, Baxamusa said. They hope to present policy measures to the board by 2022.