One of San Diego’s zero-emissions buses. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego County’s Climate Action Plan won’t be ready until late 2023, the Board of Supervisors was told at Wednesday’s meeting.

Supervisors voted unanimously to accept the update, including the timetable from Rami Talleh, a deputy director with the Department of Planning & Development Services.

The plan calls for reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2035. In September 2020, supervisors voted to rescind the original CAP, first 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.

The updated CAP will rely on data from a San Diego Association of Governments study, which should be released in February 2022, according to the county.

In a related matter, SANDAG will vote on a regional transportation plan in December.

According to SANDAG, the regional plan is intended to optimize traffic flow and make transit more reliable and convenient, improve social equity with expanded transportation options and job opportunities for historically underserved communities, and meet state and federal requirements related to climate change and clean air.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said balancing an updated CAP while meeting the demand for more housing “requires us to get a little more creative” while following new state requirements. He added that it would take a few years to align all climate action-related components.

The staff presentation also covered other elements of the proposed CAP, including “smart growth” alternatives. Smart growth principles are a mix of land use/housing opportunities, preserving farmland, compact building designs, preserving open space, promoting equitable access to resources, reduced vehicle miles traveled and walkable neighborhoods.

County staff members said the principles could be applied in East Otay Mesa, North County Metro and Valle de Oro.

Supervisor Joel Anderson, whose district includes much of eastern San Diego County, said he would be curious to see how smart growth can be carried out in unincorporated areas and suggested supervisors hold a workshop next year to map out what development would look like.

“It’s important we take a holistic view,” Anderson said, adding that the No. 1 complaint of developers is that if they start a building project, they don’t want it pulled out from under them because of new environmental regulations. Anderson said the county needs to green-light development projects that meet all criteria as quickly as possible.

Supervisor Nora Vargas said it was important to consider environmental justice and ensure that families are protected from industrial zones.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said that while he is supportive of an overall climate plan, the smart growth concept has been around for 20 years.

“We’re using the tools of yesterday for tomorrow,” Desmond said, adding the county needs to embrace the latest transportation technology, including for more electric or driver-less vehicles. Just 3.5% of county residents are using public transit now, and roads and cars “are still going to be there,” Desmond said.

He added that young families rely on vehicles to shuttle their children daily.

During the public hearing, environmental activists urged supervisors to take action now, including anti-sprawl measures, to address the climate change crisis.

Noah Harris with Climate Action Campaign said his group was “deeply alarmed” by a delayed CAP, which, when approved, he said, could make the county a national leader on climate justice. Harris pressed the board to adopt state Senate Bill 743, which encourages infill development and promotes transportation networks.

Peter Anderson of the Sierra Club’s San Diego chapter echoed Harris’ concerns.

“The climate continues to change, and we don’t want to drag our feet,” he added. Anderson said the county could approve measures that reduce carbon immediately, including a “van choice” parking system that would give workers transport options.

Ann Feeney, a member of SanDiego350, said that based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, “we’re in code red for humanity.”

Feeney said the county needs to adopt energy-efficiency policies before adopting a new climate plan.

City News Service contributed to this article.