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San Diego’s ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by fundamentally changing the way residents get to work could be irrelevant before it’s even adopted.
And the two politicians who’ve pushed it hardest – Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilman Todd Gloria – could cast votes that render it moot.
The city is expected to adopt its Climate Action Plan before the end of the year. That plan seeks to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035, in part by getting 50 percent of people who live near high-quality transit stations to walk, bike or take transit to work.
But the San Diego Association of Governments says those numbers are far-fetched, based on an analysis of how people are likely to commute in 2035 that it conducted as part of the long-term transportation plan its board is expected to adopt next month. The regional planning agency’s board includes elected officials from across the county, and its transportation plan outlines bus, light rail, bike, road and highway projects throughout the region in the coming decades.
Gloria first championed the city’s climate plan when he was interim mayor. When Faulconer took office he continued the push and maintained all its major elements. The Republican mayor later ventured to Sacramento to tout the plan for bringing business groups and environmentalists together on the issue.
That plan commits the city to making future development and infrastructure decisions that would facilitate 50 percent of all residents living within a half-mile of a transit station with reliable service to commute without driving by 2035. Seven percent would walk, 18 percent would bike and 25 percent would take transit.
But a new report by the Climate Action Campaign, whose executive director, Nicole Capretz, spearheaded the policy while working for Gloria, and transit advocacy group Circulate San Diego, found SANDAG’s plans envision a much different future for city commuters.
They requested SANDAG’s projections on how people who live in the so-called “transit priority areas” would get to work by 2035, and found they aren’t anywhere near the city’s optimistic goals.
Instead, just under 15 percent of people living in those areas would commute without driving by 2035. Four percent would walk, 2 percent would bike and 8 percent would take transit.
Source: New Climate for Transportation, by Circulate San Diego and Climate Action Campaign
Those expectations are based on the transportation options envisioned for commuters in SANDAG’s nearly 40-year plan for light rail, bus, bike and highway projects that its board is set to vote on next month.
“SANDAG’s own projections show that it is mathematically impossible for the city of San Diego to achieve its transit and active transportation goals with the transportation network SANDAG is currently planning,” the joint report from the two transit advocacy groups concludes.
But Capretz went a step further.
Faulconer and Gloria are the city’s representatives on SANDAG’s board and will vote on the regional transportation plan next month. Neither politician can claim to support the Climate Action Plan or the goals it outlines if they vote for SANDAG’s plan, she said.
“They’d be standing up and saying, ‘Please support this climate plan, even though we already know it will fail,’” she said. “They’d be setting us up for failure. It’s unimaginable. How do you stand up to the Council, and the public, and ask to support this plan, if you know it’s mathematically impossible to succeed?”
Faulconer declined to comment until his staff could examine the report.
Capretz didn’t hold back on her former boss, Gloria, either.
“It’s painful,” she said. “We’ve had many meetings on this. I don’t know what else to say. You can’t vote for SANDAG’s transportation plan and call yourself a champion of our transit goals.”
SANDAG’s transportation plan doesn’t prevent the city from reaching the Climate Action Plan’s goals, he said, and it dedicates 75 percent of its spending to transit and pedestrian- and bike-friendly projects in its first five years, which will get the city closer to its goals than would otherwise be possible.
“I remain fully committed to meeting our aggressive (climate action plan) goals, and the regional plan investments should be leveraged by the city to that end,” he wrote in a statement.
SANDAG Executive Director Gary Gallegos took a different approach.
Rather than follow Gloria’s lead and outright reject the report, which relied on SANDAG’s own numbers, Gallegos said the city’s plan was simply unrealistic.
His agency’s numbers are federally required to describe what happens in the region with all of the transportation projects the agency can realistically expect to pay for.
“We can’t dream up stuff we want without showing how we’ll pay for it,” Gallegos said. “I think these are apples to oranges, because one is based on modeling based on financial constraints, and the city one is more based on goals they’ve set.”
At transit advocates’ urging, the agency measured how the region’s breakdown of commuting would change if it fast-tracked all the plan’s transit spending into the next decade.
Even if the agency could pay for it all, Gallegos said, that would still only increase the amount of people who relied on transit to get to work from 8 percent to 10 percent by 2035.
“It moved the dial about 2 percent, after we put all that money in,” he said. “So when I see a 25 percent goal (like in the Climate Action Plan), there’s a disconnect.”
Environmentalists and transit advocates sued SANDAG in 2011 over its transportation plan’s environmental report. They’ve won two court rulings, and the case is now before the state Supreme Court. The groups behind the lawsuit have said their best chance to see a plan with a new direction relies on winning in court.