This post has been updated.

He gave progressives what they wanted.

The plan Mayor Kevin Faulconer released Tuesday to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years met the benchmark set by progressives: The plan has legally binding mandates for reductions, not just guidelines.

If it is implemented by a largely supportive City Council, it will put San Diego on the hook to cut carbon emissions in half by 2035. To do that, the city will have to support new housing in established neighborhoods, expand public transit and access new sources of renewable energy.

It would also give the city a backbone of sorts when future development controversies arise. In the past, the city has quickly caved to neighborhood concerns over new housing or transit projects – if the plan becomes law, the city could argue it’s legally required to support environmentally friendly urban growth principles.

The flip side is that environmentalists will have a new tool to hold the city accountable in the courts.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Faulconer didn’t have total discretion in creating a legally binding plan; he could have opened the city to litigation if he hadn’t. A judge tossed the San Diego Association of Governments’ long-term transportation plan in late 2012 because it didn’t comply with state laws to reduce carbon emissions. The city could be sued on the same grounds if its climate plan didn’t have teeth.

But it wouldn’t have been the first time the city went down a legally questionable path. SANDAG’s defeat is under appeal, and it’s updating a plan that doesn’t diverge significantly from the last one. Faulconer certainly could have chosen a similar path.

Faulconer also framed the release of the plan as an environmental jobs program. All these measures will create demand for new industries, he said, fitting the initiative into his administration’s preferred business-friendly narrative.

There’s still a long way to go. The plan still must make it through a state-required environmental review before it can even be considered by the City Council. That’s likely to take at least a year.

But if the plan is enacted, it could have sweeping implications for San Diego’s future.

Enforceable Reduction Targets

This is the big one.

Faulconer’s plan commits the city to cutting total greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2020 and 49 percent by 2035, based on its emission level from 2010.

Those are the same goals from the plan ushered through City Hall by Council President Todd Gloria when he was interim mayor, and the ones the City Council last week formally requested in a resolution.

Gloria said Faulconer’s proposal represents 97 percent of what he wanted.

As long as those targets are legal commitments — rather than lofty aspirations — the city opens itself to lawsuits if it fails to meet them. That means the city has motivation to make sure all the components of the plan meant to produce the reductions are actually enacted.

No Retrofit Mandate

One of the earliest items in the original plan to generate vocal opposition was a proposal to require property owners to make energy efficiency-based repairs to before their homes or buildings could be sold.

Local real estate groups strongly opposed the measure.

That’s gone.

In its place, Faulconer’s plan would force property owners to disclose a building’s energy usage before they can sell it. But they won’t be forced to make any changes.

What exactly such a disclosure would entail hasn’t been sorted out.

The Power We Use

The plan includes a goal to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, with an emphasis on local sources.

The most likely way to reach that goal is by adopting a community choice aggregation (CCA) program, but Faulconer’s plan is a bit less committal on that than Gloria’s.

Faulconer’s plan says the Council will consider a CCA program “or another program that increases the renewable energy supply.”

Gloria’s plan simply said the city would implement a CCA program by 2020.

If the plan creates a CCA, the city, rather than SDG&E, would purchase all the energy for city businesses and residents. SDG&E would continue to deliver the energy to homes and businesses, like they do today.

Everyone would automatically be entered into the CCA, but they could opt out to keep buying their energy from SDG&E. If you stay in the CCA, you’d have a choice of different packages of power. One might be 33 percent from renewable sources, and the other one available at a premium could be 100 percent from renewable sources.

SDG&E supported a proposed state bill that would have weakened CCAs in general, but state law restricts public utilities from lobbying or marketing against the creation of a specific local CCA.

But there’s some wiggle room here, if SDG&E or the city somehow figures how to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 without setting up a CCA.

How We Commute

The plan also includes some ambitious goals for changing the way residents get to work.

Here’s how much Faulconer wants to increase the percentage of the population that walks, bikes or takes transit to work:

In 2010, just 3 percent of the city walked to work. The plan doesn’t see that changing by 2020, but it wants to more than double it by 2035.

Cyclists accounted for 2 percent of commuters in 2010, but that number is expected to increase to 6 percent in 2020 and 18 percent in 2035.

And transit use would grow from 4 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2020 and 25 percent in 2035.

These goals are not quite as ambitious as they appear.

Those higher numbers are limited to areas within a half mile of an existing or planned major transit stop, which is defined as any rail transit station or a station where two bus lines with frequent service rates intersect.

An earlier draft of the plan included a list of communities called “high quality transit areas” that would qualify, but that’s been replaced by areas within a half-mile of high-functioning transit services.

The plan also offers a sweetener for the transit priority areas. It says the city should develop a new way to prioritize infrastructure improvements for those neighborhoods.

But achieving those numbers is going to come down to building different neighborhoods than the ones we have now.

That means more of the sort of dense, walkable projects in already-established areas that have run into community opposition — like the Morena Boulevard corridor, Grantville and in Uptown — envisioned in the 2008 citywide plan for future growth.

“I don’t expect it to make [transit-oriented] projects any less controversial but those who might be opposed will see we’re doing this in a strategic way, that we’re doing it to achieve overarching goals, not because an individual developer wants us to, but because we as a community understand that climate change is going to have real impacts on San Diego,” said Gloria. “I think it’ll allow the Council to evaluate projects in terms of whether they’re helping us to meet these goals, to help developers understand what we’re trying to accomplish, not just to propose density for density’s sake, but because it’s part of a broader strategy to create a more sustainable community.”

The city currently handles local opposition to projects like those by pointing out the changes are consistent with its general plan – a strategy that hasn’t been going so well. Now, it’ll have a stronger hand: We’re legally obligated to build projects that discourage car usage.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the higher rates of commuting by biking, walking and using transit were to come from a list of neighborhoods considered “high quality transit areas.” That list has been removed in the most recent draft. The higher transit numbers are limited to areas within a half mile of rail stations and bus stations with frequent service.

    This article relates to: Climate Action Plan, Corrections, Government, Kevin Faulconer, Land Use, News, Share

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at or 619.325.0529.

    richard cardullo
    richard cardullo

    Has anyone told the city's Planning Dept. about global warming and the need for higher density within 1/2 mile from trolley stops?  If so, why did the Planning Dept. in its new planned Community Plan Update  down zone much of the property in Logan Heights in the 1/2 mile radius around trolley stops?  Parking space bonus, no thanks said the Planning Dept.'s "senior planner" Lara Gates. What increase in density given was only along a narrow corridor( about 200 ft.) that ran parallel to the trolley.

    And we have to pay her a salary and then retirement benefits.

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    A Broaded Look. Two Parts.

    Transportation planning to 2035 and beyond, as an energy efficient clean major part of Regional planning needs a dose of reality. On-demand, personal single vehicle direct to destination travel is essential to modern society and an effective economy, even in expected more compact communities. In the near future in overwhelming numbersprovided by increasingly efficient automobiles, that capability will not be abandoned by meaningful numbers. SANDAG2050Regional Transportation Plan numbers show regression to mass transit dogma “solutions”tocongestion, reduced energy and emissions, etc., are ineffective. On-road motor vehicles a 20 times more cost-effective. And doubled mpg starts in 2025. CARB air quality standards are met to 2035. Even by 2050 mass transit will absorb less than 5% of travel growth, but spends nearly half the Region’s transportation capital budget.(~$40billion). Optimistic 12% commute travel share by then, and traffic congestion increases.How dies the City expect a meaningful 25% share? What’s the impact of doubled travel times

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember


    Canonical faith that mass transit is forever superior stems form Governor Brown’s 1975 “Era of Limits”. Mass transit was to absorb growth. Instead on-road vehicles have absorbed 95% . Unique Mexican Border demographicsBlue Line trolley continues successful. But all the 3+times route-mile expansion after 25 years, carries 25% fewer than the original.
    Isn’t it time to look ahead to emerging forms of public transportation superior even to SANDAG predictions? Rather than a decades ago rejected mode?
    There are two being demonstrated for future on-demand personal transportation the public wants: Self driving autos well media covered. And Personal Rapid Transit. Even lighter with more energy efficient automated vehicles traveling safe from traffic, pedestrians, bikers etc, on narrow electrified guideways.

    So far leaders have failed to grasp:

    Both can be public transportaion, thus significant reduction in land use for parking. And non-drivers receive on-demand personal travel instead of mass transit.
    These factors, with some combinations, UBer/Lyft call-up service, are well adapted to dense communities.

    Hopefully with leadership support and developments consistent with balanced community designs, superior energy-efficient activities can evolve in both the Climate Action Plan and upcoming Regional Plans.

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    Some examples to improve already sperior GHG reductions by autos:

    Things like:

    Inducements for buying the increasingly efficient cars instead or monster pickups and 500 hp Alpine sports cars.

    Let autos use buffer lanes when congested speeds fall below 35 mph.

    Replace all managed lanes with modern traffic flow controls for all lanes at peak period speed for least fuel use.

    Encourage Uber/Lyft on-demand service for better utilization, less parking, etc.

    Hugh density community can benefit in the process

    Walt Brewer
    Walt Brewer subscribermember

    Mt Shu,

    Have you a specific numerical analysis supporting your beliefs, and how they would change Table 3.1 in the Plan?

    Have you noticed GHG reductions just from first round Pawley motor vehicle MPG improvements are 10 or more times more effective than transit’s? Including other related it is 16 times.

    Less than 2 mpg improvement, happening every couple years, reduces more GHG than the entire transit system. And according to SANDAG’s 2050RTP, 11% transit commute rideshare; almost the 12% assumed here, would cost over $40billion just for capital, and take until 2050. What would the 25% share called out for 2035 cost, and how much land used?

    Higher Federal 54 mpg kicks in in 2025. Automation is beginning to show even fewer emissions.

    Why in the world should San Diego emphasize transit’s tiny contribution when facilitating more from motor vehicle high leverage to reduce GHG is so superior?

    Jack Shu
    Jack Shu subscriber

    Another good article by Andy. The leadership of San Diego still does not get it.  We have to reduce GHG emissions in our cities and region if we have any ability to ask others in the country or world to do so as well.  Finding ways to avoiding regulatory standards is not fair nor workable. We have many existing laws which make our homes safer which work well and having laws to make our homes produce less GHGs is very reasonable.  GHG emissions from transportation needs can only be solved if we address the entire system.  The bulk of the emissions is not from people living within the urban core and focusing on how many of them don't drive is not a good approach. A working transit network, which draws people out of cars in the region is what we need and will ultimately get us to higher mode shares for walk, bike and transit.  These changes are good for our economy and the health of current and future generation. Why are we waiting?  We are not hear to serve SDG&E, oil companies, auto makers or suburban developers trying make a quick buck.

    Irene Grumman
    Irene Grumman subscribermember

    Residents of older buildings have a reasonable expectation for quiet enjoyment of their homes.  I live in a 26 unit apartment building zoned for 55+ and disabled, at Utah and El Cajon Boulevard.  The bus stop at the corner, and the many stores and services  near us, make this part of North Park eminently walkable -- for residents who CAN walk more than one block.  We are interacting with the owners of the new SonicDriveIn at the corner, seeking protection from the nuisance of having ordering speakers direct amplified sound into our bedrooms during sleeping hours.  As the city develops new solutions for traffic and energy use, let's seek innovation in ameliorating existing conditions, without forcing home and apartment building owners into bankruptcy.  The City of San Diego CAN find smarter solutions to improve the quality of urban life. 

    Mike Delahunt
    Mike Delahunt subscriber

    Kevin Faulkner : Another empty suit posturing for his next position further up the trough at our expense.

    The city that can't even run a golf course is going to save the planet!

    Greg Martin
    Greg Martin subscriber

    On the whole it looks like a good plan.

    However, just requiring disclosure of the energy efficiency (or lack thereof) of a property versus requiring improvements before sale I expect will be mostly ineffective in driving improvements  It will just be one more form for a buyer to sign.  

    And I don't see any amount of sweeteners being sufficient to soften opposition by these NIMBY planning boards opposed to development patterns favorable to pedestrians, bikes, and transit.  Without real teeth, it will be very difficult to meet the plan's targets.  So what are the teeth in the plan?

    Mike subscriber

    1) I don't see Carmel Valley in the neighborhood list. So I assume the One Paseo project, which claims to densify this suburban neighborhood, is losing support from the city. Public transit will likely also not expand to CV either then.

    2) 100% renewable energy by 2035 sounds awesome! I would love to see the detailed steps from the city on how they plan to accomplish that.

    Keep up the good work VOSD! Looking forward to future reports.

    JoeWeil subscriber

    For Mira Mesa that's easy, cut off access from I-15 to Sorrento Valley and La Jolla from the north county and San Bernadino County single occupancy commuters. Mira Mesa green house gasses will easily be halved.

    Masada Disenhouse
    Masada Disenhouse subscriber

    Thanks Andy for the good coverage on the climate action plan. Will share...


    @chrisreed99 it's a big number regardless, but remember that it just applies to people in "high quality transit areas."


    @andy_keatts 18% bike commuters in "Barrio Logan, Centre City, College Area, Kearny Mesa, Linda Vista, Midway-Pacific Highway ...


    @andy_keatts ... Mira Mesa, Mission Valley, Otay Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, San Ysidro, SE San Diego, University, Uptown." That's still insane.