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San Diego City Councilmembers during a meeting on Jan. 10, 2023.
San Diego City Councilmembers during a meeting on Jan. 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

San Diego has a dozen years to cut almost 11 million metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions from its economy to meet climate goals set by Mayor Todd Gloria last year. 

That’s like removing 2.2 million gas-powered cars from the road.

Jumpstarting those emissions cuts will cost the city $30 million per year through 2028, according to a new cost analysis produced by the city’s consultant, the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at University of San Diego Law School. And then, it’ll be up to the City Council to prioritize that spending.

On Thursday, city staff will explain to the City Council’s Environment Committee its so-called Climate Action Implementation Plan, the first time citizens will see a breakdown of what it would cost to complete almost 190 climate actions over the course of the next five fiscal years. At the same time, the city’s Independent Budget Analysts Office, which provides policy and budget insight to the City Council, will explain a new scoring system councilmembers can use that weighs each action by the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it reduces among other factors.

These new tools for turning lofty plans into concrete action come as the city faces two lawsuits arguing it has for years failed to do just that. The lawsuits allege the city isn’t providing specific deadlines for doing things that actually reduce emissions and continue to pass plans for growth that fail to meet climate goals. But while those lawsuits play out, the city is now fleshing out how to address the accusation that it hasn’t acted on its commitments. 

Gloria’s climate plan aims to draw down the city’s emissions to net zero by 2035. That means the city will produce the amount of emissions that can be sequestered, either by the natural environment or to-be-developed technologies.

The IBA, in its audit of Mayor Gloria’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, recommended organizing those 190 potential actions by climate priority to aid current and future council members. The Council then asked the IBA to come up with that system. Jordan More, fiscal and policy analyst with the IBA, did his own months-long public outreach to figure out what people value most in climate action. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions scored highest among other priorities like equity, air quality, or jobs and economy. That translates into a new weighted score corresponding to each step in the mayor’s climate plan.

Overlooking downtown and canopy of trees on State Route 163 from Balboa Park on Nov. 11, 2022.
Overlooking downtown and canopy of trees on State Route 163 from Balboa Park on Nov. 11, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“It gives a lens to city staff that says, when you’re looking at these action, here are the ones the council and the public find most important,” More said. 

Alongside that system, Gloria’s office last week published a timeline for accomplishing the first five years of his Climate Action Plan and how much it would cost. But the majority of the climate action spending his office plans to do involves completing tasks already underway. Yet those projects in motion don’t reduce a lot of emissions. 

That includes Pure Water, a massive wastewater-to-drinking water treatment system as well as stormwater projects and burying power lines underground. That work will cost an estimated $4 billion through fiscal year 2028.

While that work represents 96 percent of the money the city plans to spend on climate, it’s small in portion of the city’s overall emissions. Pure Water – which would reduce the need for San Diego to buy Colorado River water – would reduce less than one percent of the city’s expected emissions cuts, according to the city’s implementation plan. 

The remaining four percent of spending the mayor’s office is planning, about $30 million per year, is new spending the city would need to allocate for new or existing climate initiatives like planting trees or writing building codes to transition from natural gas-fired power to renewable-based electricity. Transitioning buildings off of natural gas is the biggest climate initiative the mayor has planned – and accounts for 22 percent of the city’s expected emissions cuts.

San Diego has had a Climate Action Plan in place since Mayor Kevin Faulconer introduced the first edition in 2015. To figure out how much climate action the city is already working on, and therefore, how much it’s already spending, the city asked each department to identify staff time spent on climate initiatives as well as actual hard costs for projects that involve building infrastructure, like Pure Water. 

“It was more complicated because we had the 2015 CAP and some work had already begun. We had to draw a hard line in the sand to determine what was new and what was existing climate work,” said Shelby Buso, the city’s new chief sustainability officer. 

City budgets historically fall short of everything a government wants to do. That’s where the IBA’s scoring system comes in. Council members will be able to sort decisions by the relative impact they have on the total carbon footprint. 

“When your policy goal is net zero, you technically have to do almost everything (in the Climate Action Plan) and then some. But if the city falls short, if revenues get tight and we start to fall behind, we want to make sure we do the things that had the greatest impact,” More said.

Climate advocates are still dissatisfied with what the city’s produced so far to dictate climate action. 

Nicole Capretz, executive director of Climate Action Campaign and the plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the city, acknowledged the city produced some useful pieces of information last month. But she’s looking for more specific dates for getting things done. 

“We have 12 years to hit the city’s committed goal of net zero by 2035. We need to work back from there. What do we need to do each year in order to reach that?” Capretz said. 

Colin Parent – executive director and general counsel for the nonprofit Circulate San Diego, which advocates for biking and walking, and vice mayor of the city of La Mesa – said enough with the plans.

“We’re kind of in a bit of a morass. We’re using planning documents to paper over our climate goals,” Parent said. “A better strategy would be to actually spend money and make choices.”

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  1. “The city has just a dozen years to remove the equivalent of 2.2 million gas-powered cars off the road” LMAO Who the hell are you kidding? This cat Parent out of NYU reminds me of the NYU boys I tutored at the Sorbonne. Rather dumb!

  2. First off, the compost law requires a second carbon spewing truck every week to pick up the waste. One of the major sources of carbon is idling ICE vehicles. So, shut down every drive through bank line, fast food stores and prescription pick up window in town. Finally, how many of the members of the organizations suing the city use public transportation?

  3. The universal problem with bureaucrats is they think producing a plan, then prioritizing that plan, and then providing funding estimates, which of course must be prioritized, is doing actual work.

  4. And the city must halt the constant geoengineering of San Diego skies.
    A major cause of ongoing biosphere collapse is the plain-to-see spraying of extremely toxic nano-particulates of aluminum, barium, strontium, graphene, and more. Every week, one only needs to look up to see the military contractor jets filling our skies with gridlines that spread out into a thick white haze. For the complete science, see

  5. The City should spend that $30 million to ship all these climate cultists to China (by rail, not private air) to help their economy. That would be money well spent.

  6. 48 pounds of carbon dioxide are removed by ONE mature tree every single year. Why are there not more trees being planted? I’m seeing plenty of trees cut down to make way for more development… But then again, trees don’t pay property tax. (Though they do raise property value 7-19%.)

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