The One Big Hold-Up for Gloria's Climate Action Plan - Voice of San Diego

Business UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

The One Big Hold-Up for Gloria's Climate Action Plan

The local business community is already coming out against pieces of the new plan, and the impending arrival of Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer means their concerns are likely to take center stage as the plan moves forward.

In his short window as interim mayor, Todd Gloria rushed to put together an aggressive climate change plan for the city.

But the local business community is already coming out against pieces of it, and the impending arrival of Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer, who’s sided with business groups in several recent fights over city policies, means their concerns are likely to take center stage as the plan moves forward.

Gloria’s plan would cut greenhouse gases in the city by 15 percent by 2020 and 49 percent by 2035. Those targets come from a collection of state requirements forcing cities to face their role in climate change.

But the plan — which calls out five focus areas to cut emissions but also includes binding laws to make that happen — is at least eight months from a City Council vote, once it finishes the California Environmental Quality Act’s lengthy review process, set to begin next month.

That means Faulconer will have plenty of time to change it.

“He will have a huge handprint on the ultimate outcome of this plan,” said the plan’s primary author, Nicole Capretz, director of environmental policy for Gloria.

Faulconer’s office didn’t respond to opportunities to comment.

Representatives from seven business and real estate groups (together employing over 400,000 people, they say), including the Chamber of Commerce, sent Capretz a letter last month explaining their concerns — why does the plan concern itself with creating union jobs, for instance — and identifying a few things it definitely wouldn’t support.

The group would actively oppose any attempt to force property owners to make their buildings more water- and energy-efficient before they can be sold or leased.

The current plan would do exactly that.

Two ordinances, one for residential properties and one for non-residential properties, would be take a carrot-and-stick approach to retrofitting all buildings in the city.

There’d be some voluntary, incentive-based programs to get property owners to pursue upgrades (which the business group said it would support).

But there’d also be a mandate to undertake the upgrades when an owner decides to sell the property.

“To hit the 2035 target, we need to get inside existing buildings,” Capretz said. “We want to sweeten the pot as much as possible, but we’re hoping the business community can meet us halfway.”

The business community isn’t alone in its concern. Councilwoman Lorie Zapf also wants to hear more.

“Mandatory retrofits are freaking us out,” said Alex Bell, Zapf’s communications adviser.

For residential properties, the mandate wouldn’t just force a retrofit when it comes time to sell a property; it’d also require one anytime an owner needs to get a permit from the city. Finally decide to upgrade your kitchen? You just decided to make your home energy- and water-efficient, too.

“It’s already so expensive to buy anything here, adding that cost to sellers starts pressing even more people out of the market,” Bell said. “Most everyone is on board with becoming more energy-efficient and using water wisely, but not when it comes down to penalizing current homeowners.”

Capretz said she sees the business group’s letter as an endorsement of the overall plan, even if it takes exception to a few pieces of it.

But agreeing with most of the plan doesn’t mean much if, as she’s said, its overarching goals can’t be met without the mandates.

One thing working to Capretz’s advantage: Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor has shot down similar plans by San Diego County and the San Diego Association of Governments for failing to demonstrate how they’ll meet state-mandated greenhouse gas reductions.

Given those rulings, she said the new administration could recognize the legal threat posed by passing a plan without teeth.

“With a purely voluntary or incentive-based program, we can’t say to a court that we have certainty, and that’s exactly what they’re looking for,” she said.

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