The United States Post Office in downtown on May 4, 2023.
A view of downtown on May 4, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The biggest source of emissions reductions in San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is its pledge to electrify buildings across the city.

But Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed budget does not include money to hire a person to lead that program, despite the city’s Sustainability and Mobility department’s request for someone to lead its building decarbonization program.

The city’s Independent Budget Analyst, in its analysis of Gloria’s budget, highlighted the mayor’s decision not to fund that position, and another that would have focused on building a zero emissions vehicles program.

Mayor Todd Gloria delivers 2023 State of the City address at the Civic Theatre on Jan. 10, 2023.
Mayor Todd Gloria delivers 2023 State of the City address at the Civic Theatre on Jan. 10, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

“The decarbonization of existing buildings, and in particular the development of the Building Decarbonization Roadmap, which this position would have been responsible for implementing, is the highest rated action under (a) new council policy,” budget analysts wrote. 

The policy they’re referring to is a big list of 190 climate actions Gloria proposed under his Climate Action Plan 2.0. Those actions are ranked by how much emissions they can be expected to reduce, allowing current and future city councils to prioritize them. Decarbonizing buildings – the single greatest emission-cutting action Gloria committed to – is at the top of that list. The City Council passed that policy in April. 

Dave Rolland, deputy director of communications for the Mayor’s Office, said the city is facing a structural budget deficit which required deferring investments “in important initiatives across every department.” Instead, the city secured grants to pay for technical assistance on some aspects of building decarbonization work from outside consultants like the Building Electrification Institute.

Solar Panels San Diego
Workers install solar panels on the roof of a San Diego home. / File photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

It’s going to cost the city at least $30 million per year through 2028 to keep the city on track to reach Gloria’s goal of net zero emissions by 2035. (Even then, net zero is an incredibly lofty aim.) And though the mayor’s proposed budget doesn’t spend big money on building decarbonization, the City Council could come back with their counter budget proposal requesting that he does.

There should be a commitment “not to repeat the mistakes of the 2016 Climate Action Plan, which we got a lot of applause for in terms of how cutting edge it was, but we didn’t do anything with that,” said Councilman Joe LaCava, who chairs the council’s Environment Committee, during a budget review committee hearing on Thursday. 

LaCava said he’d be pushing to fund all the positions the Sustainability and Mobility Department recommended filling to keep the Climate Action Plan on track.

In Other News

  • In other climate contradictions, the San Diego City Council OK’d a $22.5 million freeway widening, adding HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes to a two-mile stretch of SR-56. Climate activists argue that’s a major setback to the city’s greenhouse gas goals. Research shows freeway expansion tends to attract more drivers onto the road. (KPBS)
  • Listen to my chat with KPBS Morning Edition about our coverage of  the Biden Administration’s effort to build a border wall across the Tijuana River, which could pose significant flooding concerns for both nations. (KPBS)
  • There will be a public meeting Tuesday at 12 p.m. hosted by the EPA on the $330 million sewage fixes at along the Tijuana River.
  • State utility regulators recently changed rules and lowered incentives for rooftop solar owners. Environmental activists sued to overturn the decision. Now the California Public Utilities Commission is re-opening the floor allowing activists to make their case. (KPBS and Union-Tribune)
  • Check out the science film series at Digital Gym with a film followed by a guest speaker every week this month. (KPBS)
  • California gave San Diego $60 million to buy electric buses and upgrade the trolley system. (Union-Tribune)
  • Two northern water utilities want a divorce from the San Diego County Water Authority. A vote from a little-known government board is coming next month on whether they’ll be allowed to do so. (Union-Tribune) 
  • A quarter of San Diego Gas and Electric customers are more than 30 days behind on their energy bill facing an average debt of $743. (Union-Tribune)

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