On Tuesday evening, September 8, a large group of San Diegans concerned with climate change gathered at the South Park Whistle Stop bar to wet their whistle and enjoying the air conditioning. It was a very hot day in San Diego breaking records in the region – darkly fitting for a discussion of climate change.
Speakers at the event included City Planning expert Dr. Bruce Appleyard from SDSU and Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of Climate Action Campaign. The event was organized and emceed by Howard Blackson – a man born to play the role of gregarious host.
Following are selected notes from the meeting – any mistakes are mine, I did my best to takes notes during the event.
Bruce spoke first and stressed the importance of supporting local planners. There are good plans and talented planners in San Diego but too often they are not supported politcally, undermining the planning work done and resulting in little action on the ground. Examples include the University Avenue bike corridor project, the Barrio Logan Community Plan, and the Clairemont Trolley station plans. In each of these cases, and many others, years of planning and community input were scrapped at the eleventh hour.
On the topic of greenhouse gases Bruce noted that each mile of driving a car adds one pound of CO2 to the atmosphere, of which 80% will remain for approx. 200 years. The remaining 20% will remain for millenia. Utilizing our natural topography of “mesas, canyons, coastal plains” is critical to reduce our contribution to climate change – specifically our coastal plains. Our coastal plans are centrally located and connected to transit, which avoids further sprawl and vehicle miles, and also can utilize the natural cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean. The 30 foot height limit needs to be considered for adjustments if we are to take meaningful steps to leverage our coastal plains.
Nicole started talking by showing the mix of energy used in San Diego – 54% of our total energy usage goes to transportation. The average driver in San Diego goes about 35 miles a day and 80% of those driving to work do so driving solo. Climate scientists no longer discuss how to reduce the greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, it’s now about trying to slow the growth of emissions. We’ve already passed the point of being able to stop severe impacts and many of the projections are downright scary. With world leading climate research going on at Scripps it’s a shame that San Diego isn’t leading on how to adjust our lifestyles and cities to be more responsible and sustainable. The city’s Climate Action Plan (which Nicole developed during Todd Gloria’s term as Interim Mayor) gives some hope, but needs to have teeth. Nicole pointed out some of the areas she views as weak and needing to be adjusted.
Joe LaCava, candidate for Council District 1, gave a few remarks and implored those gathered to join local planning groups. He noted that planning groups are important and would benefit from the backgrounds and skills of those in attendance.
Chris Taylor, former board member of Bike San Diego, questioned the speakers about how to support our planners and get vetted, community-supported plans to be implemented. Specifically he asked about the University Avenue bike project and what supporters could have done differently to secure a better outcome. This was a bit of a general theme of questions and comments – how do we get our on-ground reality to meet our expectations and plans, many of which are quite good.
Suggestions included having better communication to sell planning ideas and to avoid misunderstandings that can cause anger and resentment. There were a few other suggestions but the ending tone of the meeting seemed to be one of slight dejectedness. Those assembled are prominent community members in urbanism, sustainability, architecture, etc. The shared experience of seeing good projects upended at the last moment due to lack of political support or a vocal minority was clearly on the minds of many. How to create better outcomes going forward remains a challenge to be confronted. Sustained efforts on education and communication may work, but the best argument doesn’t always win the day. Hearts and minds need to be won if we are to see broader support for taking on climate change. The dilution of an ambitious climate-focused law in California this week, SB350, is not a good omen of the current status of hearts and political clout in California.
Renee Yarmy from the San Diego Port Authority noted an upcoming presentation by Gil Penalosa – Creating Great Cities – which will take place on on October 8 at 6:30 PM at the Central Library. Mr. Penalosa is renowned figure internationally and “over the past 8 years, Gil has worked in over 180 different cities across six continents”. It should be a fantastic panel and details and registration can be found on here.