Todd Gloria touts San Diego Climate Action Plan before students at UCSD

Everyone knows San Diego has beautiful beaches and one of the best climates in the country, so City Council member Todd Gloria asked an auditorium full of students at UC San Diego, May 28, “Our quality of life is second to none, what are we going to do to protect it?”

The answer, he argued, is the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Serving as Interim Mayor (2013-2014) following Bob Filner’s resignation, Gloria spearheaded a major effort to develop a long-term Climate Action Plan for the city. His successor, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, announced his own, similar plan with much fanfare last fall. Gloria described how it sets “measurable and enforceable” targets, and although support has not been unanimous, many environmental and business groups praise the plan for its simultaneously ambitious and realistic goals.

In particular, the plan uses new regulations and incentives to reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2020 and by nearly half within the next 20 years. Gloria pointed out that these are complementary to state-level plans: Governor Schwarzenegger set a 2050 target for reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels, and Governor Brown recently issued an executive order with an interim goal of 40 percent reductions by 2030.

A native San Diegan, Gloria engaged students at the School of Global Policy & Strategy at an event titled, “Shaping a Sustainable Future: The San Diego Climate Action Plan.” He spoke with humor and empathy, and students followed his informative presentation with numerous questions. Many sought him out for photos afterward.

The 74-page Climate Action Plan includes five strategies to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions:

1) Energy and water efficient buildings;

2) Clean and renewable energy;

3) Bicycling, walking, transit and land use;

4) Zero waste; and

5) Climate resiliency.

Mayor Faulconer endorsed 97 percent of the plan, which is still available for public comment and which may be revised before it is finally adopted and implemented. The point of disagreement is a component of the first strategy, which requires property owners to retrofit homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient. After considerable resistance, that provision has been dropped, though Faulconer’s plan requires property owners to disclose a building’s energy use before they can sell it.

Of the other four prongs of the plan, “the idea of going to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 gets lots of attention,” Gloria said. The city may follow multiple paths to reach that goal, and San Diego Gas & Electric, which supports the plan and which powers most of the city, would be required to significantly ramp up its energy from renewable sources. Faulconer said the plan will help create many new green jobs and stimulate the local and regional economy.

Considering 54 percent of the community’s carbon emissions come from transportation, Gloria emphasized that component of the plan. He promoted biking in the city and participated in the bike-to-work day later that week. He also discussed options for expanding and improving San Diego’s transit systems. “If it’s the last thing I do in City Council,” he will make sure that trolley line stops at UC San Diego are added.

“One of my better decisions as mayor was hiring Nicole Capretz as director of environmental policy,” Gloria said. Capretz sat in the third row and helped answer questions during the Q&A. She played an important role in drafting the Climate Action Plan and she heads a nonprofit, the Climate Action Campaign, which seeks to coordinate the climate plans of cities throughout San Diego County. Capretz also works on developing ideas for water recycling and reducing water waste, given the region’s drought has continued since the plan was first developed.

After Faulconer became mayor, Gloria returned to work at his City Council position for District 3. In April, he announced he would run in 2016 for the California State Assembly in the 78th district, which reaches up the coast to Solana Beach and is currently held by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. In the mid-2000s, Gloria served as Rep. Susan Davis’s district director, and some speculate he might run for her congressional seat when she retires.

Gloria said he hopes the climate plan will be adopted this fall — especially since the initial targets are in 2017. “We can push to get this to where it needs to be — and to implement it and spread it to other cities,” he said.