San Diego’s efforts to fight climate change will shift from a set of ambitious goals to a more comprehensive and detailed blueprint in response to a new audit that criticizes the city’s previous efforts as relatively vague and weak.
City officials said Monday that a revised version of San Diego’s 6-year-old climate action plan will be far more robust, including a thorough “implementation” plan prioritizing key projects that reduce greenhouse gases.
The revised plan, expected to be ready in coming months, will require city officials to rate individual projects, decide how they fit the overall climate plan, estimate their costs, identify funding sources and explain possible funding gaps.
The city’s Independent Budget Analyst has complained that it’s impossible to know how much money San Diego will need to implement its climate plan without such cost estimates and efforts to prioritize projects on a timeline.
City Auditor Andy Hanau and his team came to the same conclusion in their 67-page audit of city efforts to implement the climate action plan, which was adopted with much fanfare in 2015.
“While the city has been nationally and locally recognized for its climate action plan, plans are only as good as their implementation,” the audit says. “We found that the city can strengthen its climate action plan implementation by improving oversight mechanisms for accountability, coordination and fiscal planning.”
Every city department connected to climate issues will now be required to create an annual workplan describing any projects or initiatives it aims to pursue in the coming fiscal year and the estimated costs of those efforts.
Those plans are expected to give San Diego officials a more holistic view of climate-related efforts across the city, which will allow for more coordination and prioritization.
Other policy changes in response to the audit include more collaboration among departments through meetings called “sustainability roundtables” and a requirement that all city staff reports analyze any new policy’s effect on climate.
“I think it’s important that each individual department develop climate action plan goals based on the data and information they have,” Councilmember Vivian Moreno said Monday during a council debate about the audit. “Without a coordinating effort across all departments, I think it’s hard to know if we are headed in the right direction.”
The climate action plan aims to address climate change in five specific ways to
- make buildings more energy efficient
- shift San Diego to cleaner energy sources
- boost alternate forms of transportation
- increase recycling
- make the city more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Councilmember Joe LaCava said the more robust approach makes sense with the city’s shift from Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer to Democrat Todd Gloria last December, when the Democratic majority on the council also increased from 6-3 to 8-1.
Local climate advocates generally praised the city’s willingness to adopt all of the audit’s recommendations for greater accountability and coordinated financial planning.
But some advocates said the city should move faster, noting that officials have delayed some of the new policies until fall 2022. They also lobbied for an analysis to determine whether San Diego has enough employees devoted to climate efforts.
In addition, the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign lobbied for a revised city “mobility action plan” including a detailed blueprint for reducing car travel in favor of transit, walking and bicycling.
Maleeka Marsden, the nonprofit’s co-director of policy, stressed that San Diego officials have never detailed how they plan to reach the key goal of reducing commutes by car — in neighborhoods with transit options — to half of all trips by 2035.
Members of the public praised the city’s more aggressive approach.
“We need you to double down on the climate action plan,” Grant Cameron said. “This is a very serious long-term issue that is affecting us all right now — and will get worse and worse and cost more and more in the future.”
Aleksandra Ristova agreed.
“Here in San Diego, our city has committed to a bold plan to do its part and protect the health and safety of San Diegans, but has mostly failed to implement this plan,” she said. “And as we know, failing to do so means exacerbating harm on our most vulnerable — working-class communities of color.”
Officials noted that the city recently decided to start spending $5 million per year boosting low-income and ethnically diverse city neighborhoods most affected by climate change.
Called a “climate equity fund,” the money will be spent building parks, planting trees, increasing exercise opportunities, making areas more walkable and enhancing public transit.
It can only be spent in 120 of the city’s 297 census tracts that scored below average on San Diego’s first climate equity index, a 2019 analysis created by city officials with help from community leaders.
Climate scientists say cities are critical in the worldwide fight against climate change because they produce the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions and control policies that can reduce such emissions. More than 600 cities across the nation have adopted climate action plans, including more than 100 in California.