This is what the city of San Diego is trying to avoid.

San Diego County passed its own climate plan back in 2011, like the one the city is working through now. But this week, an appellate court upheld a previous ruling that the county’s plan didn’t do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as required by the state.

When Mayor Kevin Faulconer released a draft version of a new city plan last month, the biggest decision he made was intended to avoid exactly this sort of legal challenge.

Both the city and county have relatively recent general plans, long-term outlines for how and where they’ll allow new development to accommodate growth.

State law requires local jurisdictions to describe how they’ll keep that growth from causing too much environmental harm. Both the city and the county decided they’d address the effect of their general plan in their climate plans.

But the county climate plan didn’t make its goals of reducing emissions legally enforceable. The Sierra Club sued, saying that violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as well as emission reduction standards spelled out in another state law.

The city hasn’t adopted its climate plan yet. But the reduction requirements in the current draft are enforceable.

“It was great they (the city) are recognizing mandatory targets,” said Jan Chatten-Brown, an environmental lawyer representing the Sierra Club, which sued the county. “That’s a big part of problem. And, the city’s reduction plans go out to 2035. The county cut it off at 2020, even though they realized they needed to go to 2035.”

The city’s plan spells out reduction targets through 2035, as required by state law; the county’s plan only dealt with reductions through 2020.

As the city’s plan makes its way through environmental review and eventual consideration by the City Council, though, it still has room to betray state requirements that demonstrate how it’ll meet required emissions reduction targets.

“It’s very positive they recognized the need for mandatory reductions,” Chatten-Brown said. “Now, it’s how are you going to achieve those targets? What are your specific measures? What do you include? How do reduce vehicle miles traveled? Is rooftop solar required on all new development over a certain size?”

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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