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Environmentalists urge San Diego County to speed up climate planning

As San Diego County works to update its climate plan by 2023, environmentalists urged the Board of Supervisors this week to move faster in light of escalating wildfires, drought and other climate effects.

“We are in a climate emergency, and we must stop it,” Katie Meyer, an activist with San Diego 350, said at the supervisors meeting Wednesday. “California is moving into our third year of devastating drought. There have been historically devastating fires throughout the state, and extreme and deadly heat waves. That will only get worse if we do not take action. It is not just your generation and my generation at risk, but future generations who will not know a normal future without these devastating events.”

After years of unsuccessfully fighting lawsuits by environmental groups challenging the county’s old climate action plan, the Board of Supervisors voted in July to create a new plan that will be legally enforceable and won’t use carbon offset credits — which allow developers to pay to continue releasing pollutants rather than reducing them.

On Wednesday, county staff members informed the board of progress on the new, more rigorous plan.

In previous months, county planners have held virtual workshops, met with community and stakeholder groups and held public hearings on climate action. Now they are gathering data and drawing up possible solutions, said Rami Talleh, deputy director for San Diego County Planning and Development Services.

“We’re working on collecting preliminary data for the greenhouse gas baseline inventory, developing conceptual (climate action) measures and developing smart growth alternatives,” he said, referring to development strategies that create denser urban housing in areas near jobs to reduce transportation emissions.

The climate action plan is closely tied to development efforts designed to ease the county’s severe housing shortage, officials said, noting that balancing more homes with less emissions will require careful placement and innovative construction.

“We’ve got to build more housing, and we’ve got to build it in the right places,” Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said. “We’ve got to get a little more creative.”

County staff presented ideas for clustering new housing and commercial centers in county “villages,” with existing infrastructure and proximity to transit such as the Sprinter rail line.

That could include connecting downtown Escondido to central areas of San Marcos in the northern part of the county through increased access to the Buena Creek Sprinter Station and the Escondido Transit Center, or it could mean expanding transit in Valle de Oro and Spring Valley, or it could be adding smart growth features such as dense housing, commercial centers and improved cross-border transportation in Otay Mesa, they said.

County officials said those locations provide examples of potential smart growth development, but they have not been selected as sites yet.

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