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Returning To Our Roots: The City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan Update

In 2015, Climate Action Campaign was founded to push the City of San Diego’s landmark Climate Action Plan (CAP) across the finish line under a Republican administration and the opposition of the local fossil fuel utility.

CAC’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Capretz, authored the CAP while serving in the Mayor’s office. She knew that the only way it was going to pass was with bottom-up, neighborhood-by-neighborhood education and outreach to build community and political will. And that’s exactly what we did.

Over the course of a year, CAC developed a broad-based and non-traditional coalition of elected officials, businesses, community planning groups, civic organizations, labor unions, and environmental and social justice organizations, unified behind the trailblazing plan.

It worked. That year, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to slash carbon emissions in half. It was the first legally binding Climate Action Plan committing to 100% clean energy in a major U.S. city.

Now, as the City of San Diego gets ready to update its Climate Action Plan, we’re reconnecting with our roots and pushing, once again, for the City to demonstrate its climate leadership. Our team combed through all 288 pages of the draft Climate Action Plan update, so you don’t have to!

Keep reading to learn what’s working, what’s missing, and how we can fix the draft Climate Action Plan.

What’s Working in the CAP Update:

  1. The City of San Diego set a target of achieving zero carbon by 2035. This aligns with what climate science and state law say is necessary to stop the worst impacts of the climate emergency.

  2. The CAP has strong commitments to equity, setting the table for inclusive climate action.

  3. The City has recognized the need to address the public health and climate danger of methane gas in our atmosphere, homes, and lungs through Building Decarbonization.

What’s Missing in the CAP Update:

If San Diego wants to continue to demonstrate its climate commitment, the CAP update must address these key gaps.

First, we need detailed and specific evidence clearly outlining how the City will reduce emissions through the strategies outlined in the CAP. In the draft plan, the City commits to actions without evidence to substantiate how these strategies will reduce emissions. If San Diego wants its Climate Action Plan to align with state law, it must go further.

Second, the CAP needs an Implementation and Funding Plan. In short, we need to know how much the CAP will cost and when, how, and where the strategies outlined in it will be implemented. The City of San Diego’s initial CAP was adopted in 2015, but they’ve never created an Implementation and Funding Plan.

Encinitas, Escondido, and La Mesa—the top-performing cities in our 5th Edition Climate Action Plan Report Card—have implementation plans and Encinitas’ includes associated costs and funding opportunities. San Diego can cement itself as a regional and state climate leader by taking creating an Implementation and Funding Plan.

As my colleague, Mat, explained in a recent blog post, “After years of unclear progress on existing climate targets, transparency is critical. The community needs to know how much it will cost to implement the CAP. At the same time, funding and implementation plans will be critical if San Diego wants to attract federal and state funding for climate strategies.

How We Can Fix the CAP Update:

San Diego has a rare opportunity to model a zero carbon future and shape climate policy in our region, state, and nation. With some refinements, the CAP Update can succeed and demonstrate San Diego’s leadership in climate and equity. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Prioritize Early: To slash emissions and be well-positioned for state and federal funds, the City must identify key measures and actions early.

  2. Strengthen Engagement: The City must engage with stakeholders early and often to prioritize the needs of communities of concern and workers as we transition to a zero carbon future.

  3. Provide Evidence: The City must provide specific details and evidence on how the actions they are committing to will be implemented and achieve GHG reductions.

  4. Follow Performance Audit Recommendations: The City must follow its own audit to get back on track.

  5. Plan, Budget, and Implement the CAP: The City must develop a comprehensive CAP Implementation and Funding Plan with associated costs, existing and potential funding sources, and timelines. Then they must prioritize, budget for, and implement the CAP!

  6. Ensure Collaboration: Ensure communication and collaboration in the development and implementation of CAP measures across City Departments.

  7. Foster Regional Climate Action: Collaborate with cities, agencies & institutions on climate action and support AB 1640, the Regional Climate Networks bill.

Want to learn more about our recommendations? Check out the letter we sent last month to the Mayor and Council here.

The good news is that the San Diego City Council is listening. We know this because, throughout the San Diego City Budget process, a majority of Councilmembers have expressed support for maintaining or enhancing the budget for the Climate Action Plan update, funding and finishing the Mobility Master Plan, and the continued funding of the Climate Equity Fund.

But we have to keep applying pressure because SDG&E and its fossil fuel allies are working behind the scenes to persuade elected officials into incorporating their dangerous, dead-end approaches in the CAP update.

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