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Enough with the cars. That’s the message of climate advocates to city officials, regarding a community plan for one of the city’s fastest-growing suburban job centers.
Some of the region’s highest-profile climate advocates say San Diego shouldn’t allow Mira Mesa to continue growing without addressing the huge number of greenhouse-gas producing car commutes it draws.
The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, or CERF, notified the city earlier this month of its intent to sue over an update to the Mira Mesa community plan. These plans dictate how neighborhoods are permitted to grow. Most crucially, the plans are supposed to be in line with Mayor Todd Gloria’s renewed commitments to slashing planet-warming gasses known as the Climate Action Plan, approved in the fall of 2022.
Climate advocates at CERF say the Mira Mesa plan, approved by City Council in January, doesn’t get the job done. The plan update fails to include a meaningful attempt to shift commuters out of their cars and into public transit like buses or trolley lines, CERF’s lawsuit alleges.
As one of the city’s northernmost neighborhoods, Mira Mesa draws a huge amount of daily car commuters to its technology job hubs, headquarters and business parks. A presentation on Mira Mesa’s plan from the city Planning Department shows over 90 percent of commuters travel to Mira Mesa by personal automobile. The proposed plan, the department showed, aims to slash that to 71 percent by adding more walkways, bikeways and some public transit.
But CERF says that’s not enough to meet Gloria’s own standards – laid out in his Climate Action Plan.
Gloria’s Climate Action Plan commits the city to shifting 50 percent of car commutes to either walking, cycling or public transit. Mira Mesa’s plan should aim to reach at least the Climate Action Plan’s goals as well, CERF alleges.
“If this commuting pattern continues in Mira Mesa and other job-heavy suburban areas in San Diego County … the (Climate Action Plan) 2035 target of 50 percent non-auto (commute) will be unattainable even if all auto trips are eliminated in downtown San Diego and other core planning areas,” the lawsuit reads.
Gloria’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment last week.
CERF’s lawsuit pointed back to over a dozen other community plan updates the city approved in years past that also failed to meet transit-based climate targets under a softer-handed Climate Action Plan passed in 2015. Then, the city’s goal was to cut half its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Fossil fuel-burning transportation was by far the biggest source of emissions in San Diego then, at about 55 percent.
Mira Mesa’s is the first to be approved under Gloria’s renewed Climate Action Plan passed in August, which commits the city to reach net zero emissions by 2035. (Net zero means the city would strike a balance between cutting as many emissions as the city generates and rely on technologies to make up the rest when it can’t.) Transportation still accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego.
When asked why CERF didn’t sue the city on any of the previous community plans, attorney Livia Borak Beaudin said the organization chose to wait to see what Gloria’s administration would come up with for their renewed climate commitments.
“If a new plan was coming forward, we were concerned the city would say, ‘don’t worry, we’ll fix this with a new plan,’” Borak Beaudin said. “That’s why it was such a let down when we finally saw this new Climate Action Plan has all these great goals, but there’s no roadmap to get there.”
CERF is involved in another lawsuit against the city – filed jointly with the Climate Action Campaign – over the lack of an adequate roadmap which commits the city to cutting greenhouse gasses on an actual timeline with dedicated money.
The City Attorney’s Office had no comment in response to the lawsuit Thursday.
Another way Mira Mesa’s proposed plan attempts to limit car commuting is adding more housing to the neighborhood than jobs – the idea being if more people lived near these growing job centers, car commutes would at least be shorter or even swapped for greener options like transit. The proposed plan sets a target of 24,000 new homes in Mira Mesa and 5,000 new jobs. Mira Mesa’s older plan called for almost the opposite – 7,200 new homes and 27,000 new jobs.
Still, the total number of homes created would be half the number of jobs, said Norman Marshall, a transportation planning consultant at Smart Mobility hired by CERF to study the Mira Mesa plan in a letter to Borak Beaudin.
“If these workplaces are constructed in the same outdated auto-oriented patterns of the past, this will dig the city into a deeper hole relative to achieving its (transit) goals,” Marshall wrote.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when the Climate Action Plan was last updated. It was approved in 2022.
Use the 80/20 rule in this case. 80% commute by personal vehicles. Of these 30% goal by 2035 for all electric. 25% Hybrid. 25% Combustible Engines. Total is 80%. The remaining 20% use transit bus and trolley services. Be a part of the solution not part of the problem.
Smart Mobility is a consultant hired by CERF to sustain their coffers filled by taxpayer dollars. I.E SANDAG.
All potential climate action strategies are hindered by local politics. The majority of the households in Mira Mesa want to commute by car, so no city councilman or the mayor want to buck that by a restrictive community plan. Similarly, SANDAG, through its regional transportation plan, wants to emphasize public transit over automobiles, but the suburban members of its board are fighting that tooth-and-nail. Consequently, we have little chance of achieving our climate action goals by 2035.
We will never meet climate action goals by social engineering (commute by bike, eat vegan, don’t fly) and zoning (density, eliminate parking, eliminate car lanes and streets, density, etc), unless of course you zone in such a way that an area becomes so undesirable to live there that all the residents move away. Our only way of this climate mess is through actual technical engineering and science. We need to incentivize renewables using point-of-use solar/wind and battery storage, e.g. every building has solar or wind electrical generation; encourage transition to electric cars and trucks; invest in developing technologies to replace concrete and jet fuel (San Diego has how many research universities and institutes); and other ideas we haven’t even considered yet. The current SANDAG climate action plan was developed back in 2008 before electric vehicles and other technologies were considered viable. We have come a long way in 15 years with technology, much farther than with social engineering programs. Let’s not destroy paradise because some politicians think we need to do penance for climate change. Humans are incredibly innovative when we need to be – let’s harness that.
55+% of the GHG comes from automobiles. The move to electric vehicles will have a dramatic effect on GHG and climate goals. You’re correct, we need to be focusing on technology instead of trying to wholesale change communities.
Christine. You are correct that technology may help us tremendously if used the right way. The self driving electric vehicles concepts need to be tested in smaller coastal towns like Imperial Beach, which is only 4 square miles.
Please sue the City on their recent changing of the definition for Transit Priority Areas from 1/2 mile away from a transit stop to 1 mile! They ignored the scientific studies that shows that people – especially in car-oriented cities – will not walk a mile – they don’t even want to walk the half-mile. Faced with walking a mile – you make other choices – almost all of which increase climate emissions over walking. So for “Transit-oriented-density” to work, you have to zone the increased densities within a half-mile AND improve the walking environment. Spreading density around like peanut butter only enriches the property owners, decreases the effectiveness for transit and increases climate emissions. Real planning is dead and social engineering doesn’t work to overcome peoples’ preferences for convenience.
The city upzoned more than half the acres of land in the city without doing an EIR or complying with the California Environmental Protection Act. For any competent lawyer to sue the city over that action and win would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Just one more lawsuit the city would lose, then complain about having to use taxpayer money to pay plaintiffs legal costs. So it goes.
One study showed that if we put rooftop solar panels on every parking lot and flat roofed building in the county, we could reduce the overall electricity demand of the whole region by 45%. It was quickly buried by SDG&E and its minions.
More like a majority of MM household NEED to drive. My parents live off Calle Cristobal, and there is not 1 bus stop on the entire road. I would totally ride the bus to the trolley at UTC or the coaster of there was that option, but clearly not. MF has to drive everywhere because I have no other choice.
The community depicted in the article’s picture is the west side of Scripps Ranch, not Mira Mesa.
I first drove to Mira Mesa on the old 395 in 1971 when my high school friend’s parents bought a new home for 15,000 dollars, a very nice property in the day. There were practically no stores and only two small lanes into town. Fifty-Two years ago, the car was king, and the car is king today. The reason is practicality coupled with individualism. We are not the French who shun the practical for good of the whole. My second home is in Normandy. There will be more cars ten years from now, not less!
Has anyone on the city council even tried to take a bus from home to work in SD? Bike to work?
This city is simply not designed for public transportation and never will be as it is far to late to design and plan the required infrastructure.
The new blue trolley line made an effort but does not help the 60k UCSD staff, faculty and students that mostly live in Mira Mesa, so sure we will keep our cars.
Also, no one can afford to buy homes to charge their EV’s. Renters do not have the luxury of owning EVs, especially with the SDG&E having the highest electric rates in the country.
Justina’s last sentence is spot on. So by allowing ADU’s to be built without parking spots, our city is making it even harder for renters to own EV’s.
Tell CERF to go jump in a lake! We’re not giving up our cars baby. Cars are the only practical way to get around. Public transit is completely unacceptable. The city’s climate action plan needs to be thrown out – it was never put to a vote in the first place, and, it’s based on hysteria about climate change when you can see the climate isn’t changing any more or less than it ever has.
CERF is right. The mayor and city council adopted a city CAP with pretty clear goals that would reduce emissions. But then it turns around and completely ignores its own CAP when it updates Community Plans across the city, often over the objections of the current Community Planning Groups in each neighborhood. Hopefully CERF and the Climate Action Coalition will prevail in their lawsuits and the city will be forces to live up to its own Climate Action Plan. If it fails to, voters need to remember when this mayor and each city council member runs for reelection or for higher office.
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