Chula Vista was one of the first cities in the region to adopt a Climate Action Plan, but it’s now playing catch-up to San Diego when it comes to giving its plan some teeth.

The Chula Vista City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to accept recommendations for a plan that addresses where the city’s energy will come from. But two Council members want the plan to go even further – namely, they want to follow the city of San Diego’s lead and set a hard goal of making the city 100 percent dependent on renewable energy.

They asked staff to take a serious look at including a statement in Chula Vista’s updated Climate Action Plan that sets an achievement goal for making the city dependent on 100 percent renewable energy.

San Diego’s commitment to be a green-energy city by 2035 is legally binding; Chula Vista’s plan so far is not.

Here’s how Andrew Keatts described the importance of a legally binding target for San Diego:

If it is implemented by a largely supportive City Council, it will put San Diego on the hook to cut carbon emissions in half by 2035. … It would also give the city a backbone of sorts when future development controversies arise. In the past, the city has quickly caved to neighborhood concerns over new housing or transit projects – if the plan becomes law, the city could argue it’s legally required to support environmentally friendly urban growth principles.

The flip side is that environmentalists will have a new tool to hold the city accountable in the courts.

Councilwoman Pat Aguilar, especially, wants to give San Diego a run for its money.

“I guess I do want to compete with San Diego a little bit,” Aguilar said. “San Diego, in their Climate Action Plan, has a specific statement. I mean it’s really, really clear-achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. We don’t have anything, really, that’s that specific and directive. When you come back I hope that you will consider maybe being a little more aggressive on that particular subject.”

Adding that statement to Chula Vista’s plan would mark a region-wide commitment toward making San Diego dependent on 100 percent renewable energy, said Nicole Capretz, who’s now policy director for Councilman Ed Harris and who helped guide San Diego’s plan in her role as director of environmental policy for Interim Mayor Todd Gloria. Capretz wasn’t involved with creating Chula Vista’s latest recommendations.

“It moves the needle region-wide,” Capretz said. “It just shows these plans are contagious. If they have a political commitment, if their mayor and council says this is what they want to achieve, they empower staff to make it happen.”

“Without metrics or goals plans get waylaid. The priorities for funding are always determined by requirements and what politicians say they’re willing to devote time, staff and resources to.”

Not all Chula Vista’s elected officials are on board, though.

Mayor Cheryl Cox was unconvinced a 100 percent renewable energy goal is feasible for Chula Vista.

“When we look at what San Diego is attempting now to do – and keep in mind this is the San Diego that unanimously passed the pure water resolution – they’re all our friends,” Cox said. “What we’re saying that we do, we actually accomplish. And I think we accomplish it within a reasonable time frame. But some aspirations are just so unreachable with what we know now, I think we are wise in the way that this idea is being approached.”

But Capretz said technology improvements have put the goal within reach.

“Most people in the energy world say we have the technology to get to 100 percent renewable – it’s just if we have the political will,” Capretz said.

Next up for Chula Vista’s Climate Action Plan: directing city staff from the Public Works Department to work out the details for moving implementation forward. They’ll present the updated plan to the Council next spring.

Bianca Bruno is Voice of San Diego's News Literacy program manager. She works with Chula Vista residents, promoting equal access to news through civic...

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