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New Council, New Year — It's Time for City Leaders to Act With New Urgency on Climate Change

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan was rightly been hailed for its bold, aggressive commitments to tackle climate change head-on, but there’s been a lack of follow through. The new City Council should change that.

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In 2018, amid the heat waves and wildfires wreaking devastation across California, it seemed that every week brought a new report underscoring the need for mobilization on an unprecedented scale to slash emissions and stabilize the climate. It’s clear that there is no time to waste. The good news is that San Diego has a plan.

The city’s Climate Action Plan has rightly been hailed for its bold, aggressive commitments to tackle climate change head-on. The two most powerful emissions reduction strategies in the CAP are shifting to 100 percent clean energy and transforming how we move about our city and region. But these two strategies have been fraught with political challenges and a lack of will to follow through. That looks ready to change.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryIn late October, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his support for a community choice energy program, signaling a new willingness to tackle climate change, even as it means opposing powerful interests. Monday’s City Council inauguration marks a new day at City Hall and offers the potential to begin a shift in our transportation system as well.

Now is the time for our city, where for most people a car is a virtual requirement to take care of basic daily needs, to embrace a future in which communities are knitted together by convenient bike and pedestrian networks, as well as frequent, fast and affordable transit. It’s time to evolve from a city where almost everyone drives alone to a city where 50 percent of all commutes are made by biking, walking and transit.

That’s the plan anyhow. So far, the city has held back on implementing some of the CAP’s key elements, according to Climate Action Campaign’s 2017 CAP Report Card.

For three years, the city has been flying blind on transportation, with no roadmap to meet its targets. The City Council needs to do more to ensure completion of the long-promised transportation master plan within six months, charting a strategic path to those mobility targets. And to ensure swift and well-coordinated implementation of that plan, the City Council should advocate through the budget process for the creation and hire of a director of mobility as an executive-level position within the mayor’s office, overseeing a new Mobility Department that is empowered to envision, build, operate and maintain a transportation system in which biking, walking and transit are competitive with driving.

The city of San Diego is not alone in these endeavors. The collective movement for transportation justice has gotten a boost by Councilwoman Georgette Gómez, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation System and is seeking the Council presidency. As MTS develops a 2020 revenue measure to fund transit, the City Council should demand that the agency prioritize funding no-cost transit passes for youth to eliminate income as a barrier to mobility, as well as increasing frequency along major routes and improving night and weekend service.

And as our city grows into its new power at SANDAG, the City Council and mayor should speak out, loudly and often, to insist that the 2019 Regional Transportation Plan update maximizes alignment with our local climate goals. The support of and partnership from the San Diego Association of Governments will be pivotal in transforming mobility in San Diego, and that help must be fought for and won by the city’s elected officials.

Finally, we depend on our city leaders to deliver key projects on aggressive timelines in the near term. It’s time the City Council and mayor complete the six-mile protected bike network planned for downtown by the end of 2020, and the highest priority bike projects in the Bike Master Plan, on high-collision corridors of University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard, by the end of 2019.

With city leadership devoted to aggressively implementing equitable transportation solutions, San Diego can become a place where kids breathe clean air, walkable neighborhoods strengthen social connections and a sense of belonging, biking offers a safe and healthy way to meet daily needs, and transit is quick, convenient, affordable and — especially in urban core neighborhoods — more attractive than driving.

By building a transportation future that prioritizes biking, walking and transit, especially in underinvested communities, San Diego can do its fair share to stop the climate crisis that’s threatening civilization as we know it. The time is now, and San Diego is counting on its leaders to act.

Sophie Wolfram is director of programs at Climate Action Campaign and a San Diego resident.

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