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Thursday, July 12, 2007 | Facing legal pressure from the state Attorney General’s Office, the city of San Diego has revised its future development blueprint to include ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new growth.

But the city attorney and others say the revision still does not go far enough to eliminate the global warming impacts expected from the 360,000 new residents projected in the 20-year plan. Those residents will get in their cars and travel an additional 7 million miles daily — adding tons of carbon dioxide to the air.

Hot About Sprawl

  • The Issue: As San Diego plans its future development, it is being told to address its impacts on the environment and global warming.
  • What It Means: The state attorney general has criticized the city’s development blueprint for lacking specific steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Bigger Picture: As the state looks to ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s paying more attention to sprawling development that forces residents to drive farther to work.

The city is currently updating its general plan. The blueprint maps out how the city will grow over the next two decades and how that growth will impact the environment.

The Attorney General’s Office says those plans must now mitigate the impacts to climate change, pointing to the recently passed Assembly Bill 32, which calls for 25 percent reductions statewide in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The city could, for example, make recycling mandatory, require solar panels on all new development or provide incentives for green building.

“If you build out, you’re going to have to drive further distances,” said Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for Brown. “That can produce more greenhouse gases and create more problems. You have to take an inventory of what’s being put in the air right now and set a goal for how to cut it down.”

The debate about San Diego’s growth comes at a time when land-use policies throughout California are increasingly being scrutinized for their contributions to global warming. In search of affordable housing, car-happy Californians continue moving farther away from city centers. They’re commuting greater distances and spewing more carbon dioxide. In San Diego County, residents drive four miles farther daily than they did in 1990. Their daily commutes are five minutes longer.

With the state aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, global warming policy is beginning to target the development that has defined Southern California’s landscape.

“Land-use decisions will play a vital role getting to that 2020 goal,” said Gennet Paauwe, spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board. “If you effect change before you start building these places, that will help. Because California isn’t going to stop growing anytime soon.”

Changing that behavior will be difficult. Increased fuel efficiency standards and hybrid cars can help reduce emissions in the short-term. Attacking and managing sprawl is a tougher challenge because it requires long-term lifestyle changes and increased investment in such things as public transit.

But as the scientific consensus on climate change has been cemented, it has given more ammunition to land-use planners to mitigate development’s impacts on the climate.

“It’d be hard without the scientific evidence to tell people they had to do it,” said Michael Meacham, Chula Vista’s conservation and environmental services director. “Now that we have the science, it gives us the legal backing.”

Scientists agree. Just as land-use plans have previously evaluated their impacts on such things as air and water quality, they must now consider climate change, said Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Scientists have developed enough skill that we can say what, on average, we expect in the climate arena,” Haymet said. “That’s enough for us to put those factors into our infrastructure planning.”

The office of Mayor Jerry Sanders says it recognizes the need to address climate change in development planning. Jim Waring, the mayor’s land-use deputy, said he believes San Diego is the first large California city to address global warming in its general plan.

Since receiving a June 11 letter from the Attorney General’s Office, the city has redrafted its general plan in an attempt to address global warming. The plan, however, still lacks specific targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

The new plan proposes for the city to reduce its overall carbon footprint. While other cities have set goals — Chula Vista wants a 20 percent reduction below its 1990s levels by 2012 — San Diego’s plan remains vague.

That should change, said Kassie Siegel, climate program manager for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental nonprofit.

“They should look at the scientific literature on global warming, the state goals — and they should pick a number,” Siegel said. “This is where the rubber hits the road in turning policy into actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

San Diego’s plan diverges from other state recommendations. Brown’s office suggested adopting an enforceable green building standard for all new buildings and renovations. The revised San Diego plan proposes using the standard, though only for city government buildings.

And while it calls for new development to employ green building standards, it does not outline the standards and gives a caveat, saying that they should be used “when feasible.”

The plan ignores a state recommendation to make recycling mandatory. The city does not provide recycling to more than 100,000 apartments and offices. Recycling can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the extraction and manufacturing of virgin materials.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said the plan’s basic concept hasn’t changed. The development blueprint needs a wholesale revision, he said, that includes enforceable standards, specific greenhouse gas reduction targets and fewer “weasel words.”

“We have to be steadfast and send out a clear message,” Aguirre said. “The current plan is an uncertain trumpet.”

Waring said the general plan could be revised again to include specific reduction targets.

“There is no one saying that the language is the final language. No one is saying there’s perfect language,” Waring said. “We are by definition marking new territory. It will be a process.”

Please contact Rob Davis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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