SDUT: El Cajon rescinds its Climate Action Plan, citing revenue losses

May 12 – San Diego Union-Tribute – Karen Pearlman reports – Citing financial concerns, the El Cajon City Council has rescinded the Climate Action Plan it unanimously approved last summer. But it hopes to replace the document with a less expensive version.

“Major reductions in revenues caused by the COVID-19 emergency have caused (El Cajon) to start planning for major reductions in expenditures, including workforce expenditures,” City Attorney Morgan Foley wrote in a report.

Foley said the coronavirus pandemic’s financial strain on the city was “hereby materially impairing (El Cajon’s) ability for the foreseeable future to fund implementation of 2019 CAP’s strategies, measures, actions, and monitoring program.”

The City Council last month unanimously approved the rescission, agreeing with Foley that the public health emergency will continue to put a strain on the city’s budget.

City Manager Graham Mitchell said El Cajon anticipates an estimated loss of $4 million to $6 million in sales tax revenue over this fiscal year and the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Mitchell said the loss of revenue “hits at a time when the city is facing several expenditures in which we have no control over, such as pension costs.”

The city’s Climate Action Plan had included pricey commitments such as replacing city-owned gasoline engine cars with electronic vehicles, EV charging stations and traffic signal improvements, Mitchell said.

On Tuesday, city staff will present a “replacement Climate Action Plan” that won’t require an environmental study and will include most of the goals set forth in the CAP adopted last summer.

Mitchell said the “City of El Cajon Sustainability Initiative: Policies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions” document will include eight policies that aim to meet California greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

Mitchell said “state law allows these types of documents to be exempt from having to perform an Environmental Impact Report.” He said the cost of an EIR depends on the project and its complexity, and can range from $80,000 to $1 million.

At the last City Council meeting, Foley also said he recommended rescinding the climate plan because the San Diego Association of Governments’ 2021 Regional Plan won’t be adopted until November 2021. That plan is expected to propose new strategies to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from local government land use and transportation projects beyond those strategies in the 2019 CAP, he said.

He also cited the adjustment of an emissions model by the California Air Resources Board in late 2019 (and another one anticipated this year), relaxing fuel economy standards that would render the city’s on-road transportation greenhouse gas emissions irrelevant.

The comprehensive plan approved by the City Council last July included eight strategies to reduce pollution by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

El Cajon’s plan used an inventory of existing greenhouse gas emissions, projected future emissions and several strategies to reduce those emissions. The plan sought to push the city toward using 80 percent “clean and renewable energy” by 2030.

The City Council had been taken to Superior Court in August by the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign. The CAC claimed El Cajon did not take its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions seriously.

“Instead of adopting meaningful GHG reduction measures and thoughtfully analyzing potential environmental impacts of the CAP… the City prepared an unambitious, unenforceable CAP and failed to disclose the resultant environmental impacts in the associated Environmental Impact Report,” the suit said.

Livia Borak Beaudin, the attorney representing the climate group, said that El Cajon’s reversal on its CAP “moots our lawsuit.”

“The rescission essentially gives Climate Action Campaign the remedy it sought in court – we basically won without having to litigate the issue,” Beaudin said. “The city’s staff report claims the rescission is based on changing fuel standards, coronavirus, among other things, but I think our lawsuit was really the impetus for the rescission.

“The city was not invested in the CAP to begin with, so it was easier and more cost effective to rescind rather than risk losing in court and having to pay our attorney fees as well as their outside counsel.”

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