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Environment Report: San Diego May Get Climate Action Update After All

A young boy plays football in Barrio Logan, with the NASSCO shipyards looming near his house. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Looks like San Diego will get a chunk of money to work on its Climate Action Plan after all.

That is, if Mayor Kevin Faulconer doesn’t veto it.

More attention on the pollution-reducing projects within that plan is a good thing because climate change disproportionately affects black and brown neighborhoods. More on that in a bit, though.

Faulconer has until Tuesday to veto any parts of the fiscal year 2021 budget OK’d by the City Council on June 8. Elected officials agreed to all of the changes suggested by the city’s independent budget analysts [1], including the $250,000 needed to rehire consultants [2] who will take stock of San Diego’s greenhouse gas emissions and update the Climate Action Plan.

At last week’s hearing, hundreds of San Diegans clogged the public comment phone lines and implored the city defund the police department. But many of these voices rose in the final days the Council had to finalize a budget by city charter.

The local and national movement to reduce and repurpose police funding rekindled after the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis officer. Americans everywhere are asking: Who has control over the police department, anyway?

If by control we mean money, then it’s essentially the mayor, who nominates the police chief and who lays the groundwork every year for police funding.

Infuriated that the City Council actually increased rather than decreased the police department’s new budget, some activists turned their attention and criticisms to the city’s “strong mayor” form of government [3], which gives Faulconer significant power over the city’s bureaucracy and purse strings. Other cities rely on a city manager, who’s a hired professional, to do their accounting wizardry. In San Diego’s system, Faulconer can veto any line item he wants.

If Faulconer vetoes climate action funding, the Council has five business days to override his decision — and only if six out of nine members are united. That’s way easier said than done.

I’m glad people are finally scrutinizing home base politics that touch their daily lives, as much if not more than the White House typically does.

Black and Latino Americans also tend to live in neighborhoods with more pollution [4] of all kinds than white Americans. Yet white Americans are primarily the ones producing it, especially air pollution.

This is true on a global scale, and San Diego is not unique.

Non-white San Diegans are at the greatest risk from flooding and fires exacerbated by climate change; they live the closest to waste sites, pesticide use and drinking water contaminants; they have the highest asthma and cancer rates, and the lowest birth weights; they’re surrounded by fewer trees and thus are more exposed to extreme heat, which likely has an impact on mental health [5].

This chart from San Diego’s Climate Equity Index shows people of color live in conditions the city itself describes as very low to average [6]. White people mostly enjoy moderate to very high-quality lifestyles and opportunities.

Climate Equity Index chart

But there are other racially based inequities that deserve attention.

Here’s one example: Neighborhoods along the San Diego Bay, which already suffer from extremely high asthma rates, face new sources of air pollution and industrial noise from incoming Navy ship repair projects [7]. The federal government can do what it wants to its property, even though it falls within newly created environmental justice zones under a state law.

It’s also worth pointing out that black and brown people live in historically ignored parts of San Diego because of redlining policies established back in the 1930s. White people were guaranteed mortgage loans for properties along the coast [8]. The racial makeup of these census tracks then and now remain eerily complementary.

The Black Lives Matter movement has ripped off the Band-Aid on policing. But there’s a much deeper and festering wound.

Judges Throw Out San Diego County’s Carbon Offset Plan

The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal told San Diego County it will have to rewrite its Climate Action Plan in a decision Friday.

Sierra Club, which led the lawsuit, argued the county’s plan permitted new urban sprawl [9] as long as developers purchased carbon offsets as a solution to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions a project generates.

Carbon offsets act like investments a person or corporation can make in a green project, like tree planting, which in theory offset the kinds of emissions constructing a building or road might generate. But, often, it’s hard to prove whether these offset programs do the green work they promise because developers purchase offsets on an international marketplace with little accountability.

Among a 137-page opinion, appellate justices essentially said [10] hinging county development on non-local offset projects is not an enforceable form of greenhouse gas mitigation under California’s Environmental Quality Act.

“This decision will slow, if not stop, sprawl developments that would jeopardize the county’s ability to achieve its fair share of a reduction in greenhouse gases to avoid climate catastrophe,” wrote Sierra Club’s counsel Josh Chatten in a statement.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra congratulated the Sierra Club [11] and other plaintiffs on their win.

It’s unclear whether the county will appeal the appeal’s court decision to the California Supreme Court.

Why Can I Sit Inside a Restaurant But Not Around a Campfire?

As a Midwesterner who’s done plenty of camping, I can usually find a spot that’s not flanked by RVs revving their air conditioning all night.

That was not the case this weekend.

National park campgrounds are open, but you need to book weeks in advance and hope you still want to camp then.

OK, so I didn’t plan ahead. But the only spot I could find near San Diego on Saturday was a Kampgrounds of America site at Vail Lake. For whatever reason, the private campground I shared with more than 400 other families was popping at the seams while more socially distant, government-run sites were closed and empty.

California opened 29 parks with limited capacity on June 10, but the majority of campgrounds remain closed due to COVID-19 [12]. Almost all of San Diego County’s campgrounds had reopened [13] by Friday, but I missed the memo by one day, which you really gotta dig for.

One of the federal campground managers told me he’s been trying to get the word out about booking in advance. But he said the reservation site [14] is managed by a different company than the National Park Service website. The Park Service hasn’t updated its “camping and the novel Coronavirus” guidance or map since March 23 anyway.

So if you see that a site is marked “first come, first served” it might actually be reserved, as I discovered.

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