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This evening Mayor Sanders will give his State of the City address, highlighting the challenges and opportunities of the City of San Diego.

No doubt his speech will touch on jobs, pension reform and the need for a fast economic recovery. As he did last year, the Mayor also will likely address other critical issues that are the key to our region’s future: a reliable water supply, clean technology, and renewable energy.

One tool to help the region better understand the connection between economic development and our environmental future is the Equinox Center’s 2011 San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard report, released today.

The report, published annually, includes data on key sustainability indicators for San Diego County and municipalities. Major themes of the report this year include:

  • Quality of Life begins with Jobs and Income: The County lost 70,000 jobs from 2008 to 2009 due to the recession. Looking at job growth in the last decade, San Diego fared better than many other regions of California. However, long term trends show we are losing higher paying jobs and gaining in lower paying sectors.
  • Cost of Living is a Significant Concern: While the collapse of the housing market has driven home prices down, over half of all homeowners and renters in the region spend more than one third of their income on housing, putting them at financial risk. Rents are the fourth highest of all metropolitan areas in the US and San Diego’s median home price is the 10th highest. The high cost of housing is a driving factor in other quality of life issues, including sprawling residential development, traffic congestion, long commute times and high transportation costs.
  • Slower Economic Growth and New Policies Resulted in Less Waste and More Efficient Use of Resources: Per capita water and energy consumption and waste disposal decreased, resulting in less air pollution, less trash going to landfills and better water quality. While we improved on many of these indicators compared to our own numbers last year, we still lag behind many other regions of the state and country.

San Diego shines in some areas:

  • Thanks to model conservation planning programs in the county, 45 percent of San Diego County’s land mass is protected. These natural areas provide significant recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat for our region. On average, we have 404 acres of parkland per 1000 residents.
  • The region is making steady progress toward renewable energy goals. SDG&E increased its renewable energy supply by 3 percent in the last year.
  • San Diego County will be the first region in the country with baseline greenhouse gas inventories for all community and local government operations. Many municipalities have set climate goals and are taking strong action on them.
  • The region is a leader in the cleantech and clean jobs sector. Green tech jobs are the third largest category of new technology jobs being created in the county, behind software and pharmaceuticals/biotech.

What Does it All Mean?

Continuing in a business as usual scenario won’t work. Many of the trends ticked downward in the past two years because of slower economic growth. In the long term, with population growth and economic growth resuming, overall consumption of resources, waste, and pollution will rise and we will continue to lose high paying jobs and gain in lower paying sectors, unless we do something differently.

Quality of life is not equal for everyone right now. Low income and minority communities in the region have less access to parks, good paying jobs, and healthy air. To ensure future generations have an excellent quality of life, as many of us do now, inequities need to be addressed.

The San Diego region needs a plan for sustainable growth in the future. The region would benefit from more closely integrating transportation, land use, economic development, energy and water planning. By setting meaningful goals and benchmarks for these issues, and by implementing policies that reward people for making smart choices and discourage bad ones, the region will become a world-class model for sustainability.

There are already proven solutions out there that we can implement today. Guided by best practices and good data, political and community leaders can maintain our quality of life and create a bright future for generations to come. But we need more strong leaders to step up and make some of the difficult decisions we will have to make to accommodate 650,000 more people in the next 20 years.

A recent survey conducted by The San Diego Foundation found that 70 percent of all voters believe we can have both a prosperous economy and healthy environment. This knowledge sets the stage for an integrated plan for a lasting, sustainable prosperity for the region.

Ann Tartre is the Acting Director of Equinox Center, a locally based, non-partisan research and policy center founded in 2008 dedicated to helping the San Diego region craft an intelligent future.

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