San Diego Pledges $130M to Fight Climate Change

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Monday that the city will dedicate nearly $130 million to implement one of the nation’s most ambitious climate action plans, aiming to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
     Faulconer said that starting in May, the city would take its first step toward implementing its climate action plan by allocating $127.3 million for phase 1 of the plan.
     The plan identifies five areas or strategies for improvement, including energy and water efficient buildings; clean and renewable energy; bicycling, walking, transit and land use; zero waste; and climate resiliency.
     A bipartisan City Council unanimously approved the plan this past December, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by the city by 15 percent in 2020 and 50 percent by 2035 from a 2010 baseline.
     But the goals aren’t just ambitious, they’re legally binding. If San Diego doesn’t cut its greenhouse emissions in half by 2035, environmental groups or the state attorney general could file lawsuits against the city to force its elected officials to comply.
     This year’s budget establishes a “baseline” funding level which the city said is expected to ramp up in future years as the city nears its targets in 2020 and 2035.
     Much of the funding slated for the next fiscal year focuses on improving streets and sidewalks to make walking and biking safe transit options, particularly downtown.
     One of the biggest pieces of the pie — $14.5 million in new funding and $12.7 million in indirect funding — was allocated toward “supporting actions” including developing a transportation master plan, implementing community-planning studies and several safe routes to school projects and the Vision Zero plan for zero traffic-related deaths by 2025.
     Direct funding addresses items specifically identified as actions in the climate action plan or directly supports the greenhouse gas reduction goals, while indirect funding only partially supports climate-change efforts identified in the plan.
     This year’s budget also allocates nearly $1.7 million in new road-improvement funding for pedestrians such as restriping crosswalks and making them highly visible, and installing 10,000 feet of new sidewalks and pedestrian countdown timers for at least 50 intersections per year.
     Another $1.2 million is dedicated toward improvements for bicyclists — 50 miles of new and improved bike lanes, including high-priority lanes identified by the Bicycle Advisory Committee near San Diego State University and dense urban neighborhoods.
     Jim Stone, executive director of Circulate San Diego, an organization to that advances mobility by lobbying for more walkable, bikable neighborhoods, called the budget a “welcomed down payment.”
     “The climate action plan is one of the most important long-term programs the city has ever pursued,” Stone said.
     He encouraged the city to pursue more options for transit-oriented development to reduce car collisions and save lives.
     The city also added 37 new full-time positions created to support the plan’s efforts, including 25 positions created in the Transportation & Storm Water Department for cleaning storm channels and paving streets.
     A huge chunk was also earmarked for the plan’s climate-resiliency strategy, which will address potential climate impacts such as wildfires, heat waves, drought and flooding.
     A whopping $81.6 million in indirect funding will go toward projects such as the Pure Water program — a water purification system that will ensure the city’s future water supply — continue planning efforts for sea-level rise and coastal flooding and increasing brush-management efforts to mitigate wildfire risk.
     The city will spend $1.7 million to plant 2,000 trees through the Urban Forestry Program, hoping to achieve 15 percent urban tree canopy coverage by 2020 and 35 percent coverage by 2035.
     San Diego City Council president Sherri Lightner said she is particularly interested in the city’s climate-resiliency strategy and making sure San Diego is prepared for the potential negative impacts of climate change.
     “Climate resiliency, in addition to infrastructure improvements, will be critical to ensure that our city is prepared to handle predicted, and potentially unforeseen, climate-change impacts such as heat waves, drought and sea-level rise,” Lightner said.
     Faulconer said achieving the goals laid out in the climate action plan is more than a matter of political will, but of investing money and resources.
     “Our environment and quality of life is part of our DNA in San Diego. We should be acting now to protect our environment for future generations,” Faulconer said.
     The city will release its first greenhouse gas study later this year, which it expects will show significant improvement from 2010.

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