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Climate plan faces scrutiny at meeting

Posted: November 24th, 2017 | Featured, News | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson | Editor

On Nov. 13, city staff presented the latest revision to La Mesa’s climate action plan (CAP) to a joint meeting of the Environmental Sustainability Commission and the Climate Action Plan Council Subcommittee. The CAP presentation outlined how to reach the city’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions required by state law.

The La Mesa CAP sets the following goals:

  • By 2020, reduce GHG emissions 15 percent below the 2010 baseline of 422,672 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
  • By 2035, reduce GHG emissions 53 percent below the 2010 baseline.

The CAP mostly achieves the long-term goals by factoring in a future community choice energy plan that runs on 100 percent clean energy and with a minimum of 80 percent of residents and businesses participating.

Other strategies in the CAP include promoting public transportation by amending the general plan to promote density housing near trolley and bus lines; building more bike and pedestrian infrastructure; providing electric vehicle charging stations; enacting building codes that promote energy efficiency; reducing solid waste; and increasing the city’s urban forest canopy coverage from 18 percent to 33 percent by 2035.

The La Mesa CAP can be read online at bit.ly/2hQiA0H.

Reactions to the plan from environmental groups and the commission were mixed — from suggesting just a few improvements to highly critical.

Jean Costa from the group SD350 criticized weak wording in the CAP that cites International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports as having a “position” on climate change’s negative effects on the environment instead of saying IPCC “research has shown” the effects.

“Your wording of this, to me, caters to the climate deniers and that should not be a part of any climate action plan,” she said.

Costa also took issue with the inclusion of fossil and bio-fuels in the CAP.

“Alternative fuels such as [compressed natural gas], [liquefied petroleum gas] and ethanol should not be encouraged,” she said.

“The first two are fossil fuels and the third has caused hunger in many countries as corn is grown to feed cars instead of people.”

Jack Shu, the most vocal critic of the CAP, pointed to the plan’s lack of a mode-share component in the transportation section.

“This is an issue that was brought up at several other meetings. I’m a little disappointed that the city continues to have to go back to staff to figure this out,” he said. “This is the third draft. You failed two other drafts and you may fail again if it can’t meet the legal requirement.”

SD350 cofounder Masada Disenhouse encouraged the city to begin collaborating with neighboring cities in the region to fund necessary studies for implementing the community choice energy plan in the CAP.

“That’s the first step to determine the necessary start-up costs and feasibility and it would make sense for the city to get a jump-start on the path to community choice energy in early 2018 and not wait longer,” she said, adding that La Mesa’s CAP only has a “short, superficial analysis” of community choice that lacks information on sourcing, cost competitiveness, feasibility and start-up costs of such a program.

Climate Action Campaign policy advocate Sophie Wolfram brought up the most troubling issue with the CAP — a discrepancy in how the emissions were measured to set the goals.

“The 2020 target is set using mass-to-overall emissions but the 2035 target is still set using per capita or per person emissions and for CEQA-qualified plans, which this climate plan will be, mass emissions must be used,” she said, referring to the California Environmental Quality Act.

Mass emissions take into account the overall amount of GHGs at a given time, whereas a per capita calculation would be influenced by population growth.

“The widely accepted threshold of significance for greenhouse gas emissions in CEQA-qualified plans is set by state legislation and is 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050,” she added. “So those are the targets that La Mesa’s 2035 target must be tethered to. The per capita targets won’t work.”

Other suggestions for the CAP brought up in public comments included raising the target number for bike use; doing more to promote mass transit; adding an economic justice element to the plan; and doing more public outreach about the CAP so the public can offer more input.

After public comments, the commissioners weighed in.

Cameron Durckel, who represents SDG&E on the commission, praised the plan but encouraged city staff to add in “some flexibility given the changing regulatory and legal requirements.”

Stephan Guiland said he is optimistic the plan is moving in the right direction, but added that the transportation section of the document lacks “meat.”

“I don’t know how we can enforce city actions in the transportation section,” he said. “That’s not clear. The number that we’re seeing related to reductions is huge so I am nervous about how we can accomplish that without more details in this plan.”

He suggested working with the San Diego Association of Governments and other regional agencies to finalize the details.

Robin Rivel, an arborist on the commission, said the CAP should use a biology standard rather than a design standard in setting goals for the city’s urban forest canopy.

“The amount of trees doesn’t address the scale or size of trees,” she said.

She also suggested requiring larger setbacks in new building designs to accommodate larger trees.

Jim Stone offered several critiques of the CAP. He is skeptical about the rates used to calculate GHG savings on building retrofits and of the 90 percent GHG reduction calculated for Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s power generation plant, which uses natural gas.

He said the plan needs a goal for solar installations in the city, more incentives for landlords to adopt reductions, and suggested that the bike plan include protected lanes because people won’t use bikes unless they feel safe.

“The plan, as it’s laid out right now, won’t move the needle on bike use,” he said.

Stephen Grooms suggested that the CAP should include monetary sticks and carrots to change behaviors, such as surtaxes on things like drive-thrus or other business or residential practices that add to GHGs.

City Councilmember Bill Baber, who sits on the Climate Action Plan Council Subcommittee, recommended that the CAP proceed to the next level in the process of adopting it

“In the grand scheme of things, I’m thinking about making the trains run on time. We probably should have had this meeting much earlier. We’ve idled on this plan for too long,” he said, adding that the deadline for the CAP to reach the City Council for a vote had already been pushed from this December to February 2018.

“Don’t make perfect the enemy of good,” he said. “Once we pass it, it’s not a fixed document; it’s a living document and we can update it yearly.”

Stone agreed.

“I don’t want to delay it on the account of this commission,” he said. “I think the next major hurdle would be the Planning Commission and it ought to go to them, whether or not these changes can be incorporated.”

However, Stone strongly urged that the 2035 emissions calculations in the CAP be changed from per capita to mass emissions numbers before going to the Planning Commission.

“If you don’t, I think you’re looking at a lawsuit,” he said.

Once those changes are put in the plan, the final draft will be sent, along with a supplemental environmental impact report, to the Planning Commission for review, during which there will be a 45-day public comment period before the Planning Commission hearing on the CAP. If the Planning Commission votes to approve the plan, the City Council will schedule a hearing for a vote on the plan, probably in February.

— Reach Jeff Clemetson at jeff@sdcnn.com.

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