Sept. 24 2014 11:29 AM

Kevin Faulconer's likely to tack left on sustainability

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Illustration by Lindsey Voltoline

San Diego City Councilmember Scott Sherman can consistently be counted on to articulate the dimmest, most black-and-white view of a policy debate. When Councilmember David Alvarez on Monday asked his colleagues to support a resolution calling on Mayor Kevin Faulconer to hurry up and release his version of a plan for the city to do its part to fight climate change, Sherman said, "I think there's a lot of politics being played with this issue right now."

Well, OK, sure. That's sort of true, in the sense that council Democrats want to put pressure on a Republican mayor to move on a progressive policy initiative and council Republicans don't.

Councilmember Mark Kersey seemed angry and was more dismissive of the resolution, calling it "meaningless."

Well, OK, sure. That's sort of true, in the sense that all resolutions that don't include mandates are meaningless. Absolutely nothing changes as a result of the resolution's passage. Fair enough.

But from a different perspective, there's more to it than partisan politics and it's not meaningless at all. As City Council President Todd Gloria noted on Monday, the City Council is an equal partner in San Diego's governance structure, and, as the policymaking body, it's making a strong statement about moving quickly on a policy matter that gets more urgent with every passing day.

By now, anyone who's not completely blind knows that if humankind doesn't dramatically reduce the volume of greenhouse gases it spews into the atmosphere, Earth isn't going to be inhabitable for very much longer. At the very least, San Diego has to live up to California's mandates for carbon reduction, but the council Democrats want the city to go further and become a leader in the climate-change battle. So do we.

And we're optimistic. We expect Faulconer in the next couple of weeks to release a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that doesn't deviate in any very important ways from the one Gloria put together when he was the interim mayor. It won't include the highly controversial requirement that all existing buildings be made energy-efficient at the point of sale. And that's really OK. It would be a significant burden on many folks who want to sell their homes, and it represents only a tiny portion of the overall carbon reduction in the plan. There will likely be ways to make up that difference.

The good news is that the overall carbon-reduction goals for the years 2020 and 2035 will likely remain unchanged from Gloria's version, and we expect two much more important possible solutions to be intact: reducing emissions by decreasing reliance on cars and reaching a 100-percent renewable-energy portfolio, potentially through what's known as community choice aggregation. Community choice aggregation essentially means taking over from SDG&E the purchase of power on the open market.

And that makes sense, not only from a policy perspective but also politically. San Diegans are generally environmentally inclined. By and large, we'd like to extend humanity's lifespan. Though Faulconer didn't initiate the CAP and certainly didn't campaign on it, he gets to carry it over the finish line. He campaigned as a political moderate, and his friends in the business community haven't let him tack left on anything yet. One could argue that he needs the CAP. He doesn't want to give Gloria, a potential challenger for the Mayor's office in 2016, yet another issue (along with the minimum wage, among others) with which to beat him over the head in what would likely be a tough race.

Still, setting goals is one thing; implementing them is another. Faulconer would need to at least stay out of the way of community choice aggregation, which would mean separating politically from SDG&E, and he'd need to join forces with transit advocates and help change the dominant car culture at SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments), the regional transportation-planning agency. We think he'd also need to tread deep into the NIMBY minefield that is neighborhood density, to cluster people, homes and jobs in more than a dozen transit hubs around the city.

Giving Gloria another weapon in 2016 would be nice. But making San Diego more walkable, bikable, livable and sustainable far into the future is much more important. We have high hopes that Faulconer, for whatever reason, will do the right thing on this one.


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