Adaptation is a key to climate resilience, La Jolla Town Council hears at forum

State Assemblyman Chris Ward (top row, center) and City Councilman Joe LaCava (bottom row, center) address climate resilience
State Assemblyman Chris Ward (top row, center) and San Diego Councilman Joe LaCava (bottom row, center) explain government actions to address climate resilience at the May 13 La Jolla Town Council meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As the conversation addressing climate change heats up, the La Jolla Town Council heard from legislators and activists during its May 13 meeting about work being done to build climate resilience.

“Climate adaptation and natural resources … are a cornerstone of some of the legislation that I’ve introduced,” said state Assemblyman Chris Ward, a Democrat whose 78th District includes La Jolla. He pointed first to Assembly Bill 897, which he introduced with other Assembly members to “make sure that a lot of our climate adaptation strategies, the planning, the implementation … is really funneled through regional and local decision-making.”

AB 897, Ward said, aims to “create empowered ‘regional climate networks.’ The function is really to make sure that we’re gathering local officials, experts, stakeholders and others that can address the regional impacts that we know we’re already experiencing under climate change threat.”

As future funding comes, he said, the regional networks would “make sure that we were aligning that with what our regional priorities are.”

Ward also has co-authored AB 1500, which would “work on a bond for safe drinking water, wildfire prevention, drought preparation, flood protection, extreme heat mitigation and workforce development.”

Funding efforts to address climate resilience may come from the current California budget surplus, Ward said, “because we had such a conservative expenditure over the last year. … Rather than have to borrow the money, we might be setting aside a pretty healthy amount of that.”

Town Council trustee Carolyn Marsden asked Ward to address AB 1139, which would reform net energy metering. The bill “is a direct attack by the utility against rooftop solar,” she said. “If this passes, we would be setting the climate crisis fight backward, making it difficult [to have] solar accessible to communities of concern.”

Ward said he is “getting my brain around this bill. There’s a lot of analysis. I do not and I will not support something that is going to threaten rooftop solar and the advancements and the incentives that we’ve been able to do. This has been something that San Diego is very proud of.”

At a local level, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said there is “quite a laundry list of environmental issues that the city is pursuing.”

He said he had spoken with Mayor Todd Gloria just before the meeting about the status of the city’s franchise agreement, which is set to expire June 1. On May 14, the mayor said he had reached a tentative agreement with SDG&E to provide energy services to the city for 10 years, with the potential to renew for another 10 years. The City Council is expected to vote on the agreement Tuesday, May 25.

A potential new electric and gas franchise agreement between the city of San Diego and San Diego Gas & Electric follows up on an original set of requirements the city laid out in March and features changes including more payments from SDG&E and a provision that would make it easier for the city to exit the deal after 10 years.

“I’m continuing to talk about public power because I think it’s important for a city of our size to have an option other than SDG&E,” LaCava said. “We won’t go to public power unless there’s a feasibility study that makes sense.”

A study released April 27 by a business institute at Point Loma Nazarene University estimated it would cost the city $8.9 billion to acquire all of SDG&E’s assets and energy infrastructure and an additional $1.7 billion per year to operate a municipal utility. The study said a city takeover would be too expensive and risky.

Supporters of creating a publicly run utility said the study’s figures were off and raised questions about its impartiality.

Supporters of municipalization say the university analysis is flawed and raise questions about the study’s impartiality.

Another issue LaCava said he’s watching is the projection that the “Miramar landfill is going to reach capacity by 2025.”

The city is not as concerned about that, LaCava said, as it currently has a “zero-waste program commitment underway.” One of the goals of the zero-waste program is the collection of organic waste, he said.

LaCava said the city will begin distributing green bins for yard and other natural waste to all households before July 2022, an effort “driven by a state mandate to reclaim organic waste.”

The program also will include “little bins to hang on your sink to collect those organic waste” items generated in the kitchen, he said. “You’ll just take that and empty that into the green bin and that will be collected by the city.”

Laura Walsh (right, center) of Surfrider Foundation San Diego County discusses strategies to combat sea-level rise.
Laura Walsh (right, center), policy coordinator for Surfrider Foundation San Diego County, discusses strategies to combat sea-level rise.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Laura Walsh, policy coordinator for Surfrider Foundation San Diego County, presented her organization’s work to get decision-makers to think about three priorities: sea-level rise, coastal access and clean water.

Sea-level rise, Walsh said, is critical as “we can’t protect something that no longer exists. I think that’s kind of the existential threat we’re facing.”

With a UC San Diego expert forecasting flooding in La Jolla with nearly every high tide by the end of the century, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava said battling climate change, and specifically local sea-level rise, will take an approach combining “science, collaboration and grassroots advocacy.”

Fighting sea-level rise usually involves three approaches, she said. The most common is “hard armoring,” such as building sea walls to protect against rising waves and beach erosion.

Surfrider is opposed to armoring techniques, Walsh said. “We support adaptation strategies that mimic nature, also known as living shorelines or coastal resilience,” like a dune system in Cardiff that can absorb wave energy but also provide a habitat for wildlife.

“Because of the multifaceted impacts that climate change brings, we really need these solutions that are adaptive and not one-minded,” she said.

Walsh also said combining adaptation with managed retreat, or slowly moving structures away from the coast, would mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.

Walsh also spoke on the need for coastal trail maintenance to combat erosion and ensure access.

She then discussed a condition she called “precipitation whiplash, where we have periods of more intense extreme storms followed by longer periods of drought.”

“An adaptive way to manage that is to have projects that don’t treat water in these bureaucratic silos” but follow a concept of “one water,” in which floodwater is recycled into usable water, she said.

“Around San Diego, our water quality problems come from the fact that we send our water to the coast to avoid flooding,” Walsh said. “You have this giant city and rain falls down and collects what [environmental group San Diego] Coastkeeper smartly called a ‘toxic cocktail’ straight into our surf breaks and our swimming spots.”

“Organizations like ours really want to see smarter water management,” assisting “with a ballot measure that would raise money to address the stormwater problem in a way that would help meet our water supply needs and solve our water quality issues,” she said.

“There’s a lot of decisions coming our way because of trade-offs that climate impacts will bring to our region.”

The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 10. Learn more at