As we all know, 2012 is an election year. Already the rhetoric and debate on a regional level has zeroed in on a single issue at the near total exclusion of others: pension reform. At the same time, there are issues that all of us — candidates, elected officials and residents alike — sincerely care about and challenges we’d like to solve. Increasing economic opportunity, ensuring that we and our families have clean water to drink, swim and surf in, clean air to breathe, affordable places to live and means to get around our beautiful but increasingly congested region: these are issues that touch all of us, and contribute to our quality of life.

But who has the time to get the facts, to cull through the mountain of information and misinformation, rhetoric and special interest agendas that bombard us every day?

And how do we get back to the issues that we really care about and put quality of life front and center? One way is to consult a recently released tool for voters and candidates alike: the 2012 San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard . An annual publication, the dashboard findings synthesize research, best practices and innovation happening in our region. The dashboard shows how our region compares to other regions in the state, and also compares cities within the region to one another. It highlights critical priorities that need to be addressed.

This year, the findings suggest we need to focus on a few key areas: waste, cost of living particularly the cost of housing, and transportation. In San Diego, the average resident throws out more than 6 pounds of trash per day, the second highest rate in the state after Orange County. Our cost of housing is financially squeezing more than half of all San Diegan households, including homeowners and renters. Partly because people can’t afford to live in core areas near their jobs and services, the average San Diego County resident drives more miles on the highway every day than other major regions, including L.A., leading to traffic congestion and threatening our air quality and public health.

The good news is that there are already solutions being implemented right here in our region from which we can learn.

For example, on the issue of waste, the city of San Diego in partnership with Waste Management launched the first dedicated food waste route in the county, which diverts food waste from the supermarkets to be composted. Other cities could consider this idea, and even expand it into residential curbside pick-up of food waste, which has been done successfully in Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Seattle.

The city of San Marcos is addressing its housing and transportation challenges by significantly increasing the amount of housing that is affordable in its core neighborhoods and making sure that it’s developed near public transit. In addition, the City Council created a special “transit district” that provides a permanent source of funding to implement a citywide shuttle service and other transportation options to help reduce congestion and improve air quality as that city grows.

These are just a few examples of the innovative public-private partnerships that have cropped up in recent years to address some of our region’s challenges. There are many more in the dashboard.

We know San Diego County can become a model for sustainability and quality of life if we all work together to get these issues back on the agenda for the 2012 elections. The first step is getting informed about how we are really doing and where we can do better, supporting some of the good ideas that are already out there, and voicing your opinion in the voting booth in June and November.

Ann Tartre is Executive Director of Equinox Center.

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