A San Diego Metropolitan Transit System zero-emissions bus. Photo courtesy MTS

The county Board of Supervisors Wednesday heard a preview of a proposed regional sustainability policy that incorporates carbon reduction while also focusing on jobs.

According to the county, the Regional Decarbonization Framework “is intended to provide science-based pathways for reducing carbon that are tailored to the key sectors of San Diego’s economy.”

Murtaza Baxamusa, the county’s regional sustainability program manager, analyzed the sustainability proposal and said extreme heat events and sea level rise are endangering food production, along with the overall quality of life for humans.

“We are announcing this regional framework to position the county as a leader on equity and climate change,” he added.

Baxamusa described the county’s effort as a data-driven regional plan that includes collaborating with other agencies and public feedback.  He noted that cities such as New York and Ann Arbor, Michigan, also have zero-carbon plans.

According to the county, a “decarbonization” program would consist of a three-point approach: zero emissions of carbon dioxide; reduction of “super-pollutants” such as black carbon (or soot) and ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog.

The plan will also address gaps between environmental goals and impacts on minority communities, in terms of air quality, job, infrastructure and housing.

As a procedural matter, supervisors voted unanimously to receive a plan update and find that Wednesday’s actions are not subject to state Environmental Quality Act.

In January, supervisors directed Helen Robbins-Meyer, chief administrative officer, to develop a framework for a regional sustainability plan that would achieve zero carbon by 2035.

Baxamusa said the county would also partner with UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy and the University of San Diego’s Energy Policy Center to find the best practices to balance job creation with a green economy.

According to the county, the sustainability policy will be prepared in coordination with the county’s offices of Equity and Racial Justice and Environmental and Climate Justice, and stakeholders who “have been historically marginalized in regional conversation.”

Supervisors will review a draft of the sustainability plan in November and consider adoption in February 2022.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the proposal is a noble effort but there are real issues, including making sure the transition to a green economy results in good-paying jobs.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said a sustainability plan “will give us a roadmap” to decarbonization. “The need for this initiative has never been more urgent,” she added.

During a public comment period, supervisors heard from environmental and labor group representatives.

Kelvin Barrios, a business representative with Laborers International Union Local 89, said his union was “strongly opposed” to any policy framework on carbon reduction without input from workers.

San Diego County can achieve immediate greenhouse gas reductions by deploying renewable projects through existing infrastructure, said Barrios said.

Joyce Lane, vice president of San Diego 350, a group that advocates for environmental policy, said a regional effort is necessary to address the climate crisis, and stakeholder input “would provide a sound foundation.”

She added that there needs to be retraining for those in traditional industries who lose their jobs.

In related matters during the Wednesday meeting — dedicated to land use and environmental issues — supervisors also voted unanimously to receive an update on a revised Climate Action Plan, which also concentrates on greenhouse gas reductions.

In September 2020, the board voted to rescind a plan adopted in February 2018 and move forward in creating a replacement after a Superior Court judge ruled the original plan didn’t comply with county or state goals for reduced emissions.

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