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Every year for the last eleven years, the mayor and City Council members have been graded on their environmental stewardship. What started in 2001 as the Water Quality Report Card grew into the Environmental Quality Report Card in 2009, and became a spotlight for major environmental votes in areas such as water quality, habitat, green energy, land use and climate change.
Sadly, last year’s grades were the lowest in the three-year history of the EQRC and seem to reflect that in the midst of a slow economy, the environment isn’t a priority. But 2011 didn’t always offer council members much help. For example, environmental champion Donna Frye wasn’t around to lead by example or pry information out of the mayor’s staff. It’s no secret the Mayor’s Office has at times been loath to share information with the legislative branch of the City Council, sometimes punishing council members for voting the wrong way by withholding information from that council office.
When projects either developed or supported by the mayor and his staff come before the council, this type of bullying may mean these projects receive a favorable vote despite their negative environmental ramifications. In some circumstances, it means the City Council just doesn’t have all the information needed to make an informed decision.
San Diegans deserve better. Our elected officials should recognize that environmental stewardship is vital to our economic and overall vitality. Without clean beaches, healthy habitats, public transit and adequate water and energy, San Diego cannot continue to grow as a thriving tourist destination and biotech center.
With that context, the grades for 2011 are:
Although the grades were low overall, the council did better in some areas than others. The council supported green energy and climate change issues by approving a new bike path in Ocean Beach, establishing the all-electric vehicle car-share pilot program and installing a solar and advanced energy storage system at Scripps Ranch Recreation Center.
When it came to habitat, water quality and land use, however, the scores suffered. Despite the fact that environmentalists have been vocal about the water quality and biological impacts that would result from the mayor’s 20-year storm water maintenance program (including by spotlighting it as a forthcoming issue the prior year) the City Council unanimously approved the problematic program. The Coastal Commission agreed the plan was flawed and sent the city back to work out some major issues. The city and environmentalists are now trying to make this a viable program, but the process could have been much smoother with the backing of the city council.
For the rest of this year and beyond, the environmental community will continue to monitor the council’s position on key issues affecting the city and the entire region, including the following issues.
• Adoption of an aggressive climate mitigation and adaptation plan that will reduce San Diego’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050
• Protection of environmentally sensitive wetlands
• Preparation for the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant Discharge Permit expiration by pursuing indirect potable reuse as envisioned in the recycled water study
• Development of a holistic approach to storm water management
• Commitment to a shift away from a car-centric transportation system
While the grades for 2011 were disappointing overall, each year is a snapshot, and an opportunity to learn, improve and move on. Without a measuring stick, we won’t know how well we’re doing, and we can’t hold our elected officials accountable. We often think they’re doing more for the environment than they really are, meaning these grades are equally a reflection of failed environmental activism. Just as our local representatives should be, environmental groups are committed to raising the scores by improving communication with decision makers and working collaboratively toward a sustainable San Diego.
Livia Borak is the the president of League of Conservation Voters San Diego.
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