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Some of the region’s highest profile climate advocates quietly filed a lawsuit last month to undo the city of San Diego’s plan to curb climate change, then declined to talk about it.
The Climate Action Campaign and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation together sued the city for passing a bunch of goals with no roadmap, timeline or dedicated funding to achieve them. It’s the same thing Climate Action Campaign complained about back in June as the City Council’s Environment Committee was about to OK Mayor Todd Gloria’s plan to reach “net zero” emissions by 2035.
City staff promised to deliver those specifics by February, but the lawsuit shows these environmental groups aren’t confident they’ll deliver.
Coast Law Group, led by two prolific environmental activist attorneys, is representing the climate groups that filed the suit shortly after the City Council approved the city’s updated Climate Action Plan on Sept. 13.
But there was no lawsuit press release, no social media blasts tsk-tsking the mayor or the city, and no public statements acknowledging the lawsuit from the Climate Action Campaign’s vocal leader and founder, Nicole Capretz. Capretz did not respond to questions or an interview request.
The most lead attorney Livia Beaudin would say after an inquiry from Voice of San Diego was that a legal challenge like this under the California Environmental Quality Act has to be filed within about a month after the Council passes the plan into city law.
“We agree with everything in the CAP,” Beaudin said. “We need to do it all, but we don’t think it’s achievable unless we hold ourselves to standards, fund it and have an implementation plan in place yesterday.”
The first Climate Action Plan passed under Mayor Kevin Faulconer was celebrated because it purported to have legally binding mandates for greenhouse gas reductions, not just guidelines. Then the city attorney, Mara Elliott, said that just wasn’t true, calling the entire policy “a dream until they find ways to implement it.”
The crux of the lawsuit is that Climate Action Plan 2.0 passed this year again without an implementation plan – an outline of how and when the city will actually do the things it says it will.
Despite touting the original plan’s legal enforceability – meaning an outside group could sue under the state environmental law if the city didn’t follow it – the Climate Action Campaign never did so over the last five years. The group now argues the city left 90 percent of that climate to-do list undone.
Back in 2016, Coast Law Group didn’t explicitly threaten a lawsuit but wrote the city a letter on CAC’s behalf arguing development regulations the city proposed and later passed for a handful of neighborhoods in the urban core ignored key targets and goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan – namely, how development would shift residents from commuting by car to walking, biking or taking transit – and did not decrease GHG emissions as the plan outlined.
Capretz, despite her silence on the lawsuit, has nonetheless continued hitting the city on Twitter about its ambivalence to the climate plan’s commitments to shift commuting behavior.
“Unfortunately, city hasn’t joined us in this quest, but there’s always potential for change,” she wrote this month, of her group’s attempts to get the city to ensure new community plans align with the climate plan’s commuting targets.
The new lawsuit specifically cites those specific community plans as evidence the city’s climate plans violate California Environmental Quality Act standards.
“The city has also consistently failed to adopt Community Plan Updates which help it achieve its mode share goals,” the lawsuit reads, referring to its targets for biking, walking and transit use.
It targets what are known as “consistency regulations,” which are what the city uses to verify that its plan will actually cut all the greenhouse gases it promises. It’s what dictates what guidelines developers must follow to build projects in the city in a way that cuts emissions.
For instance, two of the six big promise in Gloria’s new plan are about decarbonizing virtually all buildings in the city – that means retrofitting each to run only on electricity which can be powered by renewables, instead of natural gas commonly used to power boilers and stovetops.
Developers would have to show, for instance, that buildings should eliminate fossil fuel use under those consistency regulations. But the city hasn’t yet adopted construction rules and standards that make decarbonization city law.
“Because many new requirements for development projects have not been translated into implementation measures or actions, they are clearly not enforceable,” the lawsuit argues.
The San Diego City Attorney’s office in an email said they are reviewing the complaint and a response would be filed within 30 days of compiling its case.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Livia Beaudin’s last name.