SOLANA BEACH — As expected, council members at the July 12 meeting adopted a climate action plan, a document more than two years in the making that provides the city with a roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and address the challenges of climate change.
“Our city’s always been a leader in this and I don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to embrace that role,” Mayor Mike Nichols said before the 4-1 vote.
Since its inception in early 2016, the city’s Climate Action Commission has held more than 15 public meetings and two community workshops to develop the CAP, as the plan is called, which also makes Solana Beach more competitive when applying for more than $27 million of available smart-growth and active-transportation grant funding.
Using a five-milestone methodology, the first step was to create a baseline GHG emissions inventory, which was completed in 2010 and set at 139,216 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
In phase two, setting reduction goals, the city is aiming to decrease its emissions to 15 percent below 2010 levels by 2020, or 118,334 metric tons, and 50 percent by 2035, which equates to about 69,608 metric tons.
“That lines up well with the state recommendations,” Assistant City Manager Dan King said.
Solana Beach is on track to meet the 15 percent goal but estimates put the city about 51 metric tons short of the 2035 target.
“That’s something we’ll continue to work on,” King said.
With phase three, development of the CAP, complete, the city now moves onto implementation, which will fall under four major categories: transportation, electricity and natural gas, waste and water, and carbon sequestration, also called urban tree planting.
At 63 percent, transportation is the largest contributor of GHG emissions. The main plan to reduce those is to increase electric and alternative fuel vehicles.
To decrease electricity and natural gas emissions, which account for about 31 percent, the city is in the process of forming community choice aggregation to reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2035.
Waste and water emissions will be reduced mainly by diverting 90 percent of waste from landfills.
An implementation plan and cost study will be brought back to council for approval by the end of this year. The final phase is monitoring and verifying the process.
City staff will update council and the commission annually beginning in 2020.
The city received more than 30 emails urging adoption of the CAP. More than a dozen people from throughout the county spoke at the meeting in support of the document.
“As much as I would like to have an ocean view, climate change and rising sea levels are not how I want to get there,” Solana Beach resident Kelly Harless said.
The San Diego County Taxpayers Association, however, recommended the council wait until the end of summer when the organization plans to release an “evaluation of climate action implementation choices … to ensure that before a climate action policy decision is made, municipalities quantify the return on investment of any policy.”
Councilwoman Ginger Marshall, who cast the dissenting vote, supports that proposal.
“I’m more in line with waiting to see how much this costs before I actually sign on to it,” she said. “I’m all for clean energy. I have solar panels on my house. I drive a hybrid vehicle. But I’m also fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of this town.
“Reading through this climate action plan, I don’t see anything about direct costs,” she added. “I do see, it says here, the city will incur costs to implement some of the measures outlined in the CAP. These include initial startup, ongoing administration and enforcement costs.
“While some measures will require funding from public entities, others would result in increased costs for businesses, new construction and residents,” Marshall said. “I have a really hard time supporting something that isn’t measurable financially and figuring out what it’s going to cost and how we’re going to pay for it.”
King said a cost study will be presented to council for approval later this year.
“So I’m supposed to vote for something that I don’t how much it’s going to cost?” she asked. “I’m not comfortable doing that.”
City Manager Greg Wade said because the CAP has not been evaluated under the California Environmental Quality Act, it is not legally binding.
“This is a planning, or aspirational, document,” he said. “So this in and of itself would not necessarily bind us to those requirements. However, they are intended to be followed and the implementation plan and cost … study will give you a better idea of how we’re going to get there.”
Councilman Dave Zito said a key justification for the ongoing Army Corps of Engineers sand replenishment project is to protect the community from rising sea levels caused by climate change.
“This project is expected to cost over $60 million for the Solana Beach portion alone and is one example of the many additional costs that will be borne by Solana Beach residents if nothing is done,” he said. “There will be many other costs such as increased food prices, extra energy usage, more fire damages … that, in sum, will far exceed the costs of implementation of every item in the CAP.”
“The scenarios that come from not doing anything are horrendous,” Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer said. “And once we figure out the cost of not doing anything, I think the cost of doing something will be very much justified.”