By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
La Mesa got one step closer to its goal of passing its Climate Action Plan (CAP) with the release of a draft copy this month.
The new draft of the CAP coincides with state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 40 percent below that by 2035. A previous draft only included the necessary reductions for 2020 goals and was criticized for not being a serious document — a complaint that the city wanted to rectify.
“We’re taking it seriously,” said Councilmember Kristine Alessio, who is also on the city’s CAP subcommittee. “[The new CAP] is not just going to be in name only — that was the major complaint with the original one.”
David Harris, public policy team vice chair for local environmental advocacy group SanDiego350, agrees that the city is taking the climate plan more seriously now and the new draft plan shows it listened to the public at workshops held to gather citizen input for the CAP. Specifically, he pointed to four new measures that were added to the plan: a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) component; a zero net energy construction component; a solid waste reduction component; and an urban forestry program.
‘We’re really happy to see the CCA program included in this new draft going out to 2035,” Harris said. CCA programs are where a city or a group of cities purchase clean energy direct from suppliers, rather than just relying on whatever power is supplied by local utilities such as SDG&E. This allows cities to choose how much green energy it will consume. La Mesa’s plan is to have a target of a 75 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2035 — a target Harris thinks is too low.
“Climate Action campaign and SanDiego350 are really pushing to have a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2035,” he said. “The city of San Diego adopted that goal and we think every city should consider it.”
Another criticism Harris had of the draft plan is that the language for implementing a CCA in La Mesa was “pretty light,” even though much of the GHG reductions from 2020 to 2035 relied on one.
“We would have liked to see more information provided in the Climate Action Plan on CCA,” he said. “Really just to work with other cities on a feasibility study.”
Another program added to the CAP is the adoption of zero net energy (ZNE) construction standards for new residential construction starting in 2020 and new commercial construction starting in 2030. ZNE buildings consume only as much energy as can be generated with an onsite renewable energy system, such as solar panels.
“This is something that can be done at the local level with new construction and even with redevelopment to require that certain energy standards be met to zero net energy,” Harris said. “We know the technology is out there to do it. It’s just how much it will add to the cost of development and will that discourage development in La Mesa. I’m sure that’s a concern.”
The CAP’s solid waste strategy will mostly be carried out in conjunction with EDCO. The goal is to divert 75 percent or more of all waste from the landfills to recycling and composting.
“That’s a very doable thing,” Harris said. “Overall EDCO has a reputation of working well with cities. I would be optimistic about their ability to work toward that goal.”
The other new program added to the CAP is an urban forestry program that would expand the city’s tree canopy by promoting planting of trees in both new and existing neighborhoods, parks and business areas.
One of the more hot-button issues in the CAP is the transportation and land-use strategy section which, among other items like investing in electric vehicle charging stations and updating the city’s fleet with energy-efficient vehicles, calls for building higher density, mixed-use developments along the trolley line.
“Certainly, transit will be more successful if we can build up housing and retail businesses along our trolley corridor,” Harris said. “The potential is definitely there and it is going to take some political will to move forward on that.”
That could prove to be one of the hardest parts in implementing the CAP considering La Mesa’s historic reluctance to building high-density projects.
Getting the city’s residents and businesses on board and implementing the CAP will also take education and outreach — a determination reached by a cost benefit analysis — and that will involve hiring more staff.
“That’s really important because this is not just the city government of La Mesa becoming more efficient, this is about the businesses and residents and institutions working together to become more energy efficient to reduce greenhouse gasses. They realize that this will take a concerted effort and involve the public,” Harris said.
The next step is for the public to comment on the plan during the 45-day public review period starting Aug. 3. On Oct. 4, the CAP goes before the Planning Commission for review before sending a recommendation to the city council for its vote to be held sometime in November or December — the goal is to have a plan finalized by the end of the year.
“I think we’re further along than a majority of cities,” said Councilmember Bill Baber, who also serves on the CAP subcommittee. There isn’t a long precedent for how to do these. It’s tough to be at the cutting edge of it, but our staff is doing its best. Are we going to stumble? Yes, but we are going to reach our goal and I think that’s good for La Mesa.”
For more information on the La Mesa CAP, visit bit.ly/2v0yEAP.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.