The weather has changed at City Hall. One might even call it a climate change that was evidenced rather early in the first meeting of the year where the new majority was in charge. The council moved quickly to address a call by Mayor Paul McNamara: “Some people think economic growth is somehow in conflict with environmental awareness…and I think we can do both…Let’s get out of our comfort zone and be bold.”
At the January 16 city council meeting Mike Strong, assistant planning director, gave a presentation on the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), the city’s plan for reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which allegedly are a cause of climate change.
Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Identify Mitigation Measures
Monitoring and Evaluation
The city is required to follow along in some of the state mandates such as AB 72, which requires California to reduce greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2020 and SB 32 that requires 80% reduction by 2050.
The city was one of the first agencies in the county to adopt a CAP, in 2013. For the past six months, the city has been creating and leading a community process “to update the City’s CAP to reevaluate GHG reduction targets consistent with changing State guidelines, refine existing CAP strategies, and potentially develop new goals, quantitative actions, and qualitative supporting measures,” according to the agenda.
These efforts connected with an estimated 247 Escondido residents, businesses, and/or community members. More awareness was generated through social media, notices, news articles, including the portable messaging sign in the City Hall lobby.
From 2012 to 2014 there was a reduction in CO2 emissions in the city from 943,000 metric tons to 874,000. The largest source was from road transportation, which went from 498,000 metric tons in 2012 to 479,000 in 2014 and electricity, which went from 256,000 to 215,000 metric tons during the same period.
Strong said the staff projects a stabilization to about 832,000 metric tons per year. He asked for direction from the city council. “Should the city be doing the minimum, should it be aggressive?” he asked.
Last June the council authorized an outreach effort to reach out to the public including mobile workshops, through the Chamber of Commerce and library user groups.
Two questions were asked of this group:
Question 1: Climate action planning is important to Escondido. Rank from 1 to 5, with 5 being “strongly agree” and 1 being “strongly disagree.” The average score was 4.1.
Question 2: Escondido residents and businesses are willing to pay for the costs associated with implementing these measures. Rank from 1 to 5, with 5 being “strongly agree” and 1 being “strongly disagree.” The average score was 2.85.
Some favorite ideas for reducing transportation-generated CO2: mass transit, carpool, a local shuttle system, reduce fuel use, telecommute, install EV charging stations, active transportation (biking), reject Safari Highland Ranch GPA, get lights back in sync, electrify buses and city vehicles, and increase roundabouts.
Some favorite ideas for cutting CO2 emissions in electricity generation included: nuclear, solar panels, City renewable use, Community Choice Energy, solar in a public building (set an example), renewables with storage, new buildings ZNE, energy audits and ZNE, the city government needs to go solar, microgrids and free sunshine and wind storage, upgrade existing buildings, and using natural gas.
Twelve persons spoke to the council, indicating various levels of support for a “greener” approach by the city. Several mentioned the idea of “community choice energy,” wherein the city would build its own power plant within the city and sell the electricity. Speakers included representatives from the Sierra Club, Climate Action Campaign, Grow the San Diego Way, Escondido Climate Alliance, Environmental Center of San Diego and others.
Councilmember Mike Morasco, who has lived in the area since 1959 and grew up here, said that when he was younger and used to run that “on smoggy days you didn’t run.” Whether or not there is global warming is immaterial, he said. “This is what it boils down to: anything we can do to improve health and well-being makes sense. We have seen great changes over the years implementing laws to control emissions and it’s worked. . . . I’m all for anything that we can do that makes sense that isn’t going to put a big onus on families, and is sensible and help all of us in the long run.”
Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez declared, “I would love our city to pursue one hundred percent renewable energy. This is our time to be bold. I believe this is the future. We need to do everything to combat climate change.” She said she was open to discussing Community Choice Energy and “social equity.”
Editor’s note: Social equity as it relates to climate change would include a discussion of the notion that “those who have contributed the least to factors that cause climate change are those who are potentially most vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change,” which appeared in a recent paper published by the American Planning Association.
Martinez added, “If we want to be bold, let’s create a climate change commission. Why not use the people who spoke today to be part of these goals?” This suggestion was greeted by applause.
Councilmember John Masson said, “Anything we can do to benefit air quality is a good thing. I want to understand the economic benefits and burdens put on home owners. Everything is worthy of exploring, but I need to understand how that works. Including the true costs of whatever it is we are doing.” He remarked that the desert where he likes to go camping “has turned into wind farms and solar farms. It’s all taken up by massive solar farms. Those are an eyesore. We need to balance what we are doing to our deserts with the benefit of actually creating sustainable change.”
Councilmember Olga Diaz, who was for a long time a lone supporter for strong climate action, spoke approvingly about the “certainly refreshing” new direction of the city. She spoke approvingly of clean energy goals. Community choice energy, and action on food waste. “There is a great cost to inaction. An opportunity cost to our children. I want us to be an example Climate Action Plan so next time we are ranked, we are the best one ever.”
She said the previous council majority favored the “bare minimum.” “I’m happy to see there is interest in increasing community input and moving toward one hundred percent renewable goals.” She asked for more fleet vehicles powered by electricity. “We have volunteers driving around in brand new SUVs. Get ‘em a Prius. We can make a conscious decision to reduce gallons of fuel that we buy each year.” She suggested introduced disincentives for employees to take police cars home when home is a distant city like Murrieta. “We are incentivizing where people choose to live.”
“Let’s shoot for one hundred percent renewable!” declared the mayor. “Let the city be leader. We need to say yes to climate action. I would ask us to be bold. Let’s really get out of our comfort zones and be bold. Some feel that economic growth is somehow in conflict with environmental awareness but I don’t think we should go into it that way. We should force ourselves to say we can do both. You can do both. That’s the challenge.”
The San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club reacted with barely-contained glee to what it called “a stunning reversal on how the city of Escondido will address climate change,” adding, “Escondido City Council members demonstrated that the city is entering a new era of innovation, community involvement, vision, sensible, and long-term decision-making. Wednesday’s hearing on how the council wished to proceed with the update of Escondido Climate Action Plan (E-CAP) took a dramatic turn from direction under the former leadership in Escondido.”