June 1, 2020 – Voice of San Diego – MacKenzie Elmer reports – San Diego isn’t setting aside any new funding to help meet legally binding greenhouse gas reduction goals in its proposed budget for next year, and climate change advocates aren’t hopeful the City Council will reverse that.
This spring, the Sustainability Department cited stresses of COVID-19 on city finances. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, however, requested that the department receive an 84 percent increase but solely to fund a controversial streetlight sensor program.
Faulconer pulled back on that $1.4 million request after pressure mounted at budget hearings from members of the public and from within the City Council. But instead of staying in the Sustainability Department, that money is likely to go back into the city’s general fund to be redistributed to other things.
“We were hoping for a small sliver of those funds to go toward the Climate Action Plan update,” said Maleeka Marsden, the Climate Action Campaign advocacy group’s co-director of policy.
The city’s Office of the Independent Budget Analyst explained in April what a business-as-usual Sustainability Department budget looks like for climate planning, or lack thereof. It means the city would hit the breaks on updating the 2015 Climate Action Plan, which would have included the hiring of technical consultants to take a new inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions based on the latest and best available science.
Marsden said the consultants would cost about $250,000. The current action plan calls for the city to cut emissions in half by 2035 — something that was considered “very ambitious” at the time, Marsden said. But now, most don’t think it goes far enough.
Three years after San Diego set its climate goals, the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change urged the world to kick its fossil fuel habits entirely by 2050 at the latest. Even then, we’re going to have to develop technology that can remove excess world-warming carbon dioxide from the air.
A zero-increase Sustainability Department budget also means stalling new hires to support planning for the onslaught of sea-level rise and wildfires via the city’s Climate Resiliency Plan as well as pursuit of the city’s first Climate Equity Report, according to the independent budget analyst.
The public likely won’t know how the smart streetlight funding is redistributed to other city needs until later this week, when City Council members issue individual budget memos.
In the meantime, climate change planning is falling victim across the region. The city of El Cajon rescinded the climate plan it approved last summer but hopes to replace it with a “less expensive version,” the Union Tribune reported.
The Climate Action Campaign also said Vista is pushing back its updated plan until officials can meet in person. Coronado is still pursuing its plan next year, but the city has said the timeline may slip due to COVID-19. And San Marcos is likely delaying its climate plan update until later this summer.
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