City Council Approves Landmark Plan to Address Climate Change

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A long-awaited plan to address climate change in San Diego, which has garnered support from both environmental and business groups, was unanimously passed by the City Council on Tuesday.

“We are a city where the quality of the environment is essential to our quality of life,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer told the council members.

The plan created by city staff over the past couple of years has, among other things, a goal of reducing emission levels by 20 percent in 2020 and by half in 2035, using levels recorded in San Diego in 2010 as the baseline.

The plan won bipartisan backing on the City Council, as well as support from numerous environmental organizations, organized labor and business interests such as San Diego Gas & Electric, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and San Diego Taxpayers Association.

Five strategic focus areas of the plan are:

  • energy and water efficient buildings, with the city providing a mix of regulatory mandates and incentives
  • clean and renewable energy, with the city facilitating the installation of local renewable energy projects
  • bicycling, walking and transit, in which land-use decisions can promote alternative means of travel
  • reducing waste, promoting recycling and capturing landfill gases climate resiliency, to create programs and policies that will help city officials respond to potential impacts

“This plan provides the framework to create new jobs and preserve our leadership position in the clean-tech sector,” Faulconer said.

“We will improve public health and air quality,” Faulconer said. “We will decrease San Diego’s dependence on imported water. We will increase the use of clean energy, with a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.'”

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A group called the Climate Action Campaign said San Diego becomes the largest U.S. city to commit to producing all of its energy needs from renewable sources.

“The beauty of this commitment is that it creates clean air and energy jobs, brings back local control of our energy future, (and) basically puts us back in charge of our energy and water destiny,” said CAC Executive Director Nicole Capretz. “That qualifies as a good thing.”

Councilman Todd Gloria, who got the ball rolling on the plan during his stint as interim mayor two years ago, conceded that the 100 percent renewable goal was “ambitious” and “aggressive,” but said “we as decision-makers, we as policymakers, ought to set high goals.”

Of the numerous ways cited in the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest projected short-term bang will take place at the Miramar Landfill, with the recycling of waste products and capturing of gases, to the tune of 154,467 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2020 and 344,213 by 2035.

The report also suggests that optimizing the use of mass transit will have a major impact, lowering carbon output by 119,234 metric tons by 2020 and by 213,573 metric tons by 2035.

Over a longer term, a method of procuring energy from alternative sources called “Community Choice Aggregation” could reduce emissions by 531,254 metric tons in 2030 and almost 1.6 million metric tons five years later. Faulconer said one of the next steps will be to select a consultant to study community choice.

Actions called for in the climate plan require the City Council to approve separate implementation ordinances in the future. Before such votes are taken, the city will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of each proposed action.

Among other future steps, according to the mayor, will be creating an ordinance that requires home-buyers to be informed of a residence’s energy and water consumption, developing a master plan for traffic signals to reduce vehicle congestion, and establishing an urban tree-planting program.

He said San Diego also plans to convert half the city’s vehicle fleet to electric power by 2020, and 90 percent by 2035, and have all of its trash tracks be powered by liquefied natural gas in 20 years.

The plan’s provisions, some of which will go before the council as early as next year, might also need to be modified over time as circumstances warrant, according to the document.

After nearly 80 members of the public spoke out in favor of the plan, the council approved it on an 8-0 vote. Councilman Scott Sherman was absent after undergoing a medical procedure.

— City News Service

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