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Escondido leaders are, once again, conflicted about climate action. Some city leaders and residents argue the city is doing the bare minimum and should make the climate more of a priority.
But one councilmember said it’s not possible to prioritize climate change any more because of the city’s budget crisis, and that the climate isn’t the biggest problem the city faces even if the budget wasn’t an issue.
At a City Council meeting last week, Senior Planner Veronica Morones said Escondido has made strides in climate action, like by joining the Clean Energy Alliance, a community choice energy program. The city has also implemented an organic waste recycling program and replaced more than 1,000 streetlights with energy-saving LED lights.
The city is also working toward meeting its state-mandated requirements, and the city received a 97.5 percent score on the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign’s report card on the strength of climate action plans in the county. That score was the highest in the county, though it doesn’t reflect how well the city has done actually implementing that plan.
However, residents and advocacy groups are taking issue with the lack of progress on smaller efforts like planting more trees, establishing a climate commission and reducing single-use plastics – things that would be financially possible for the city.
Other North County cities, like Carlsbad, Vista, San Marcos and Solana Beach, have banned or reduced single-use plastic utensils and other plastic products. Oceanside, Encinitas, Del Mar and San Diego have stopped distributing single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and most retail outlets. Escondido rejected the idea of a single-use plastics policy last April.
Most North County cities also have climate change commissions to advise councils on implementing climate goals, setting and updating reduction targets, and monitoring the Clean Energy Alliance. Escondido does not.
“I’ve read a lot of books on the climate crisis and climate change and they all say the same thing,” said Laura Hunter from the Sierra Club North County. “We’ve got to stop emissions and we’re running out of time.”
Councilmember Mike Morasco said at the council meeting that Escondido should focus on the state-mandated requirements it must meet, and not prioritize going beyond those requirements.
“We’ve done tremendous things and we need to continue to do that,” Morasco said during the meeting. “We also remember that all of these things cost money, and I don’t agree with the statement that this is the most urgent and crucial thing before us.”
Escondido’s budget deficit has been steadily growing for the past decade as the city has struggled to keep up with costs. It currently projects a deficit of $150 million over the next 20 years.
The city has had to make significant cuts to compensate, including losing staff positions, putting off infrastructure maintenance, reducing the maintenance of city parks and eliminating some community outreach programs that help with crime prevention and youth engagement.
“It is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain the quality of city services such as crime prevention, 911 response, pothole repair, street and park maintenance, graffiti eradication, homelessness issues, and other core services,” stated a staff report last year.
But with the global climate emergency, Escondido is just keeping up with state-mandated requirements, while neighboring cities are doing more.
Last April, the council majority rejected the possibility of even exploring a single-use plastics policy, saying it would be an overreach of the council’s power.
“Just the act of having staff look at decisions that they can explore means that we’re going to potentially do an action,” Morasco said. “These are personal choices by individuals … People are sick and tired of government micromanaging their lives … We don’t have to do anything here. We have to teach; we have to educate … but don’t even think about mandating that people are forced to live a lifestyle based upon what someone else thinks is best for them.”
As for its budget problems, Escondido had an opportunity to work toward a solution and didn’t pursue it.
While working at the Coast News, I reported on a tax measure that the Escondido council could have put on the November 2020 ballot. The 1 percent sales tax increase was projected to generate $25 million annually, and the measure had 71 percent of residents’ support according to a community survey. The motion failed 3-1 with Morasco voting against it.
The current sales tax rate in Escondido is 7.75 percent. Many cities in the county have at least an 8.25 percent tax rate including Del Mar, Oceanside, Vista, El Cajon, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and La Mesa.
If financial problems are the reason climate action and other city services aren’t more of a priority, then why reject an opportunity to solve those financial problems?
Morasco, along with a couple other councilmembers, have indicated that they simply don’t see climate action as a top priority regardless of money.
“I feel bad for the youth who’ve been indoctrinated to feel their lives are in peril,” Morasco said during the meeting. “I don’t look at it as if the sky is falling. I’ve lived here a long time. We are a green and beautiful city.”
Escondido has a second opportunity to put the tax measure on the upcoming November ballot. The council created a subcommittee last year, from which Mayor Paul McNamara and Morasco will determine whether to move forward with the measure.
In Other News
- A San Diego judge is refusing to lift an injunction he issued last week against a contract awarded by the 22nd District Agricultural Association to have Ray Cammack Shows run the midway at the San Diego County Fair. The judge said there was evidence of “favoritism” and “fraud” during the bid process. The fair could be canceled if the DAA cannot come to an agreement with the companies involved. (Union-Tribune)
- The North County Transit District wants to create mixed-use developments at the Carlsbad Poinsettia and the Carlsbad Village Coaster stations. The two separate parcels of land could accommodate more than 400 residential units, including affordable housing. (NBC 7)
- The county’s first stand-alone crisis center in Vista has become the second busiest of the county’s five stabilization centers, serving 993 individuals making nearly 1,400 visits from October through February. The center’s high numbers could mean a shift in the delivery of mental health care in the region. (Union-Tribune)