Carlsbad edges closer to alt energy resolution

CARLSBAD — The City Council is moving quickly with its decision on whether to launch a Community Choice Aggregation program.

Carlsbad, along with Encinitas, Del Mar and Oceanside, all joined in a feasibility study, which revealed Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), or Energy (CCE), would provide a 2 percent total bill reduction compared to San Diego Gas & Electric.

The City Council approved staff to return a resolution to pursue a CCA, which the council unanimously approved during its March 19 meeting. A public meeting is March 21 for residents from the four cities to gather input.

The resolution calls for paying prevailing wages for construction projects Carlsbad, or its inclusion in a joint powers agreement, for CCA clean energy resources; community benefit and project labor agreements; and an assurance the CCA governing body would not interfere if workers unionized.

In addition, the resolution is not an obligation for the city to participate in any future CCA program.

Resident Michael McMahon, who is a member of the Sierra Club, applauded the council’s decision to act on CCA, noting the lower cost as just one benefit.

“There is an overwhelming desire for cost effective and cleaner energy,” he said. “Moving to a CCE puts us on the right path.”

The cost-sharing agreement showed three of the four cities — Carlsbad, Encinitas and Oceanside — could handle standalone CCAs, while it is not feasible for Del Mar. However, only the Oceanside City Council has yet to hear a presentation of the CCA study conducted by EES Consulting, Inc., of Kirkland, Washington.

Currently, only Solana Beach has a CCE in San Diego County, although several other cities including San Diego are exploring the option. Other than Solana Beach residents, residents and businesses must purchase their electricity from San Diego Gas & Electric.

Other municipalities, though, such as San Diego, Santee, La Mesa, Chula Vista and San Diego County are also exploring options of a CCA. There are currently 19 CCA operators in the state and more municipalities are exploring the option, especially since SDG&E and Pacific Gas & Electric have both publicly stated they want out of the power supply market.

CCE advocates consistently champion adding competition to the energy market, which result in financial savings for CCE customers and more local control over power supply sources and rate levels.

The report for the four cities shows an overall 2 percent bill reduction, while also building reserves for local programs or additional rate reductions, according to the study.

The study measured various issues such as exit fees (known as the Power Charge Indifferent Adjustment), renewable energy sources and future generation, non-renewable energy costs, capacity, reserves and operating, administrative and start-up costs. The latest ruling from the CPUC on exit fees has led to decreased revenue in Solana Beach, The Coast News reported in December.

Additionally, the study found start-up costs could be “fully” recovered in the first three years and would help in cities meeting their Climate Action Plan and state goals of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Carlsbad passes energy efficient ordinances

CARLSBAD — A trio of new ordinances approved by the City Council on March 12 targets additional green energy solutions.

The aim is to increase energy-efficient items such as water heaters and solar panels in new construction and major renovations. Whether a renovation qualifies is determined by an existing formula, according to Mike Grim, the city’s senior program manager for Environmental Management.

One target is the city’s nonresidential sector, which according to a recent staff report, is projected to either slightly miss or just meet the city’s Climate Action Plan regarding the output of electricity. Solar generation for residential buildings, meanwhile, has already met those goals and continues to rise.

“Our Climate Action Plan covers the greenhouse gas emission for new construction,” Grim said. “Through the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), we were already requiring developments to do this.”

According to Grim, a project will trigger the new requirements should its build permit valuation hit $60,000 for most residential projects.

However, those dollar amounts are not the cost of the project, he stressed. Instead, the formula is based on the cost per square foot of a renovated area multiplied by the type of construction, Grim said.

The formula comes from the International Code Council San Diego Chapter.

The ordinances are in line with state codes. However, the ordinances will now be forwarded to the California Energy Commission for final approval. Residences, though, can be exempt from the ordinances if they receive a seven or higher on the Home Energy Score. For businesses, Grim said, they can be exempt if they ramp up at least one level of energy efficiency already in the state building code.

“A lot of people want to electrify their fleet,” he added. “Some folks are voluntarily putting in EV. A lot of this stuff people are starting to do this. Our Climate Action Plan requires us to do this, so we are nudging people to do it.”

To trigger solar panel installation for businesses, Grim said the value must hit $1 million with 75 percent of the gross floor area.

Electric vehicle charging is also a new requirement for residential and commercial construction; although for residential renovations it must meet the $60,000 threshold with an electrical panel upgrade. However, Grim said the capacity in the panel must be able to handle a conduit and plug for those renovating.

With multi-family residences, he said site work must be included otherwise the upgrades are cost-prohibitive for EV charging. In addition, there is a cap due to San Diego Gas & Electric infrastructure not having the capacity to handle the extra load, Grim added.

If SDG&E charges more than $400 to upgrade, an individual or business is exempt.

“State law already requires that you have a certain amount of spaces that are essentially plumbed for EVs,” he explained. “What we’re saying is for multi-family and nonresidential, out of half of the ones the state was already going to make you plan for, you need to actually put in a charging station.”

With water heaters, the goal is to reduce the reliance on natural gas appliances by using energy-efficient electric water heaters or solar water heating systems for new construction. However, a separate water-heating ordinance is being considered due to provisions on the 2019 Energy Code update, which becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2020.

The current ordinance, though, will apply to all new residential and nonresidential construction.

For existing homes, the ordinance includes one- and two-family residences along with townhomes with an attached garage. In addition, multi-family projects (three or more dwellings) renovating major systems including 2,500 square feet of site work will be triggered with a permit valuation of $200,000 or more.

 

Carlsbad passes energy efficient ordinances, by Steve Puterski, The Coast News Group, March 14, 2019.

County to develop community choice energy program

San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to develop a community choice energy program, opening the door to competition in the local utility market.

At the urging of Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, the board last Tuesday unanimously agreed to craft an energy initiative that could offer an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric. It could also cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote solar and other types of renewable power…

 

Click here to read full article.

County to develop community choice energy program, by Ramona Sentinel Staff, Ramona Sentinel, March 7, 2019.

Del Mar continues studying community choice energy

Del Mar is the latest city in a quartet of jurisdictions to agree to further study energy alternatives.

The Del Mar City Council directed city staff on Monday, March 4 to participate in a public workshop and continue a study with the cities of EncinitasCarlsbad and Oceanside to solicit community feedback regarding a joint community choice energy (CCE) plan to replace San Diego Gas and Electric as their electricity supplier.

The study evaluated the potential for the four cities to form a CCE program, a concept that is already being instituted in other areas, including Solana Beach, Encinitas’ neighbor to the south, and many cities in Northern California.

The study concluded that if the four cities united to form their own program, it could reduce customer rates an average of 2 percent.

Del Mar city staff said Monday that a CCE can help a city achieve cheaper rates, less greenhouse gas, encourage local economic development and retain local control over power products and rates.

Del Mar began looking at pursuing its own energy plan about three years ago as a way to meet its 2035 goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, said Clem Brown, the city’s environmental sustainability/special projects manager.

“Recognizing that energy use is a significant contributor to the City’s GHG emissions (36 percent of the 2012 baseline), one of the [Climate Action Plan (CAP)] goals is to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035,” reads a city staff report. “Implementing a CCE program is one of the actions identified in the CAP that would facilitate the City achieving this goal.”

There are 19 operating CCEs in California, which serve about 20 percent of the state, Brown said. If all goes according to plan, the joint North County program could be operating in 2021, he said.

State legislation allows local governments to create the programs as alternatives to power distribution operated by investor-owned utilities such as SDG&E.

Agencies that choose the Community Choice model can buy the type of green energy, such as solar or wind power, that they would like to provide their constituents.

Del Mar’s Sustainability Advisory Board will meet with the Encinitas Environmental Commission on March 11 to further discuss the venture.

The Del Mar council’s final acceptance of the study is expected on April 15.

Copyright © 2019, The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. All rights reserved.
Del Mar continues studying community choice energy, by Brittany Woolsey and Michael J. Williams, Del Mar Times, March 6, 2019.

Carlsbad, Encinitas on board with Community Choice Energy

REGION — Community Choice Energy is on the doorstep for Carlsbad and Encinitas.

The two cities, along with Oceanside and Del Mar, agreed to a cost-share feasibility study in 2017. The draft study was released last week during the Encinitas City Council meeting, while Carlsbad received the report on Feb. 26.

Both city councils approved for their respective staffs to explore governance options, while the Carlsbad City Council charged its staff with drawing up a statement of intent to pursue a CCE.

Carlsbad, Encinitas on board with Community Choice Energy, by Steve Puterski, The Coast News Group, February 28, 2019.

Chula Vista joins efforts to examine energy options

Chula Vista, La Mesa, and Santee have launched a joint Community Aggregation Feasibility Study request for proposals to explore if they should buy electricity from alternate sources besides San Diego Gas & Electric.

A Community Choice Aggregation allows an entity, any city or county, to take over the responsibility for purchasing power for their community.

“A feasibility study will be the first move to determine which program would work,” said Cory Downs, conservation specialist for the city of Chula Vista. “We were all looking to conduct similar studies and by working together we are able to lower the cost for all.”

It will not be a one-size-fits-all study.

“Each jurisdiction will be studied independently and there is no commitment to partner with the other jurisdictions after the feasibility study,” said Downs. “We have the initial timeline for a final report around September but will be looking to streamline the timeline where possible.”

Chula Vista city council member Jill Galvez voiced her motivation behind supporting the study.

“I want to ensure that if our local utility gets out of the power purchasing business – and that if responsibility of purchasing power then shifts to state or local governments – that residents of Chula Vista are fully informed and protected in all aspects that might affect service, cost, and quality,” said Galvez.

The estimated cost to the city of Chula Vista is $43,000, according to Galvez.
Other cities in San Diego county have already completed CCA feasibility studies or have voted to pursue a study.

“Solana Beach found it was feasible,” said Downs. Currently eight cities within the county have already conducted the feasibility study or are moving toward launching their own studies.

Additionally, the San Diego County board of supervisors held a meeting weighing in on community choice energy on Feb. 26 to explore buying energy from alternative energy sources. Supervisor’s Jacob and Fletcher’s news advisory went so far as to state — studies show that SDG&E ratepayers have been saddled with some of the highest utility rates in the nation.

Supervisor Greg Cox’s spokesperson, Luis Monteagudo, noted the board’s action following the Feb.26 meeting: “Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to develop options for a Community Choice Energy program and return to the Board by October 2019 with all options, with pros and cons, and a business plan, and report back to the Board on progress every two months.”

 

Chula Vista joins efforts to examine energy options, By Rebecca Williamson, The Star New, February 28, 2019.

San Diego City Council Votes 7-2 to Establish Public-Sector Energy Provider

The San Diego City Council voted 7-2 Monday to begin the process of establishing a public-sector energy provider to compete with companies like San Diego Gas & Electric.

Environmentalists have long supported the concept, known as community choice energy. Proponents say a community choice energy provider would lower energy costs, introduce a new revenue stream for the city and offer choice in the often-monopolized energy market.

With the vote, the city will begin the process of establishing a joint-powers authority to provide energy throughout the San Diego region, with the intention of inviting the county’s other jurisdictions into the fold as the program gets fleshed out. The council will vote to officially form the authority in the third quarter of 2019 if it adheres to the city’s current timeline.

While the concept of a community choice energy provider drew no resistance from City Council attendees, local labor representatives warned of the necessity to work only with unionized energy companies.

“Other CCAs in California include labor values like collective bargaining, project labor agreements, community benefit agreements and supporting a unionized workforce,” said Gretchen Newsom, political director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569. “We urge the progressive members of the council to align San Diego with national progressive priorities and other CCA models and build strong labor provisions.”

Council President Georgette Gomez said she would not support the joint-powers authority going forward if it does not contain protections for laborers and apprenticeship programs.

Councilman Scott Sherman, who voted against the resolution, called a provision to work with only unionized labor discriminatory against non-union employers. He also suggested that the city sort out its ongoing issues with its Public Utilities Department before dabbling in a new public utility agency.

“I would like to see competition with SDG&E, I really would,” Sherman said, “because I don’t think a monopoly — whether it be a government- regulated monopoly with SDG&E or a government-controlled monopoly with CCAs — is the way to go. Let’s have competition and let the open marketplace dictate and the customer will actually be the beneficiary in the end.”

A community choice energy provider composed solely of the city of San Diego would have the capacity to serve roughly 600,000 residents and would be the third-largest in the state. A joint-powers authority including the rest of the county’s municipalities would become the second-largest in the state, according to city officials. The Clean Power Alliance, which serves nearly 1 million residents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, is currently the largest community choice energy provider in the state.

City officials estimate the program could have a total net income of $1.75 billion from 2020 to 2035, with an average annual income of roughly $110 million. The city also estimates that it could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 50 percent by 2035 through the community choice program.

“At the end of the day, this will help us met our greenhouse gas emissions goals, it will lower rates for consumers, we will be able to reinvest in our communities and we will create good jobs for San Diegans,” said Councilwoman Barbara Bry. “It’s a win-win for the environment and for ratepayers.”

If the city remains on its current timeline, the joint-powers authority would hire a CEO and CFO by the end of the year and begin hiring staff and securing funding in early 2020.

City officials hope to have the project off the ground and providing energy in 2021 but would need to submit the proposal to the state’s Public Utility Commission by the end of the year to make that deadline.

“For decades, San Diegans have only had one option on where they get their electricity,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Community Choice will change that by injecting healthy competition into the marketplace, allowing customers to benefit from lower energy costs, and pick greener energy sources to power their home or business.”

— City News Service

 

San Diego City Council Votes 7-2 to Establish Public-Sector Energy Provider, by Alexander Nguyen, Times of San Diego, February 25, 2019.

SDG&E rolling out ‘time of use’ rates next month and what it means for you

Time is money. And for San Diego Gas & Electric customers, the time of day and night you use electricity will soon cost — or save — you money.

As per directives from the Legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission, SDG&E will become the first of the state’s three investor-owned power companies to move customers from a tiered billing system to a “time of use” format.

The rollout begins in early March and will affect just about all of the 750,000 residential customers in SDG&E’s service territory. The transition will be done in stages — contacting about 75,000 to 100,000 customers per month — with the utility expecting to complete the plan by the middle of next year.

Some 100,000 customers will go first, starting next month.

“We think that with the information that we’ll give them and some easy ways to save, this is going to make a lot of sense for most customers,” said Scott Crider, SDG&E’s vice president of customer services.

Unlike a tiered-rate structure in which customers move into higher pay bands as they use more electricity, under a time-of-use, or TOU system, customers pay different prices per kilowatt-hour depending on when they use electricity.

The more electricity you use when the power grid is at its peak, the more you pay. Conversely, if you use electricity when demand and energy prices are low, you pay less.

The most expensive time of the day runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. That’s when energy demand surges, as customers come home from work and fire up their appliances and — especially in the summer — turn on their air conditioners. It also, as the sun sets, coincides with a decrease in the amount of solar power being produced.

“An effective way to respond to time of use rates is not to stop using your appliances,” said Edward Randolph, the CPUC’s Energy Division Director. “It’s to think about when you use your appliances. If you can do laundry earlier in the day or later in the evening, that’s when you can do it, not at 7 in the evening.”

The idea is to send price signals to California energy consumers to use electricity when solar and wind generation abound.

In 2013, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 327 to reform residential rates. The bill included a provision calling on investor-owned utilities to adopt TOU pilot programs. The utilities commission was ultimately given the authority to implement TOU rates and placed a timeline on rolling out the new rate structures.

“Time of use is going to be a critical element in integrating renewable resources into the electric grid,” Randolph said. “That helps us make better use of the renewable energy after it’s generated.”

What SDG&E is doing

Starting about 90 days out, customers will receive emails and notices in the mail about the change from tiered rates to TOU.

SDG&E has established a default plan called Time Of Use-DR1. That means residents will automatically get signed up for TOU-DR1 unless they specifically say they want to sign up for two other options.

TOU-DR1 breaks the day into three periods: on-peak, off-peak and super off-peak.

The on-peak prices are the highest: 45 cents per kilowatt-hour in the summer (June 1-Oct. 31) and 24 cents per kilowatt-hour in the winter (Nov. 1-May 31).

Off-peak prices fall to 21 cents a kilowatt-hour in the summer and 23 cents in the winter.

Super-off peak prices are even cheaper: 16 cents a kilowatt-hour in the summer and 22 cents in the winter.

On-peak rates — the most expensive — run each day from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The rest of the 24-hour period is divided between off-peak and super-off peak. On weekends and holidays, times for super off-peak are extended.

SDG&E is offering a second time-of-use plan, called TOU-DR2.

The price structure is the same but there is no super-off peak option — only on-peak and off-peak. There is also no weekend or holiday schedule.

There is one other option: customers can remain on the standard, tiered plan if they choose.

But if customers do not make a choice, they will automatically get enrolled into TOU-DR1. Over the course of the first year, customers can switch to a different plan at no cost.

‘Shadow bill’

Under CPUC rules, customers will get “bill protection.”

Once the change has been made, SDG&E for one year will include in customers’ monthly statements a “shadow bill” that will show the difference between the TOU plan they’ve selected and the standard, tiered-rate plan so people can see if they really are saving money.

If, at the end of one year, customers paid more under TOU, the difference will be credited to them.

“We really think this is a good way to ensure that customers can get comfortable with the new time of use (plan),” Crider said.

But will customers adjust their electricity usage on a large scale, or will they just consider time of use a big hassle?

“If you go back to the old days of telephone and early cellphone service, we paid more to make a phone call in the middle of the day at peak times,” Randolph said. “So the concept of paying different rates based on demand on the system is an old thing and people were very good at adjusting to it to save money.”

Some SDG&E residential customers will get exemptions from the TOU mandate.

Crider said “medical baseline” customers who rely on equipment and devices that run day and night will not be affected. So will some low-income customers who live in “hot climate areas” such as Borrego Springs.

Going forward

While TOU may be a new experience for many, about 150,000 residential and 80,000 commercial customers are already on SDG&E’s time of use plans. The majority of the residential customers joined while taking part in SDG&E’s pilot programs.

Originally, the utilities commission wanted TOU programs rolled out in 2019 by all three of the investor-owned utilities in the state — SDG&E, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

But Randolph said Edison and PG&E were not ready.

SDG&E’s “computer systems, their billing systems, are ready to do it in 2019 while the other (utilities) need to upgrade their billing systems,” Randolph said. “So we delayed it … for the other two.” The rollouts for Edison and PG&E is scheduled for the fall of 2020 and are expected to finish by 2021.

Other states such as Arizona — where air conditioning usage is high — have adopted TOU plans. But with about 20 million customers among three investor-owned utilities, the scale of the rollout in California is considered the largest in the nation.

“We’ve invested a lot of resources into ensuring that we can do this and we feel very confident that we’ll be able to” complete a smooth transition,” Crider said.

Under TOU, customers each month are still assigned a “baseline allowance” — the amount each month in kilowatt-hours that is considered “reasonable” energy needs of an average ratepayer in a given climate zone (coastal, inland, mountain or desert).

When the baseline is exceeded, the price of electricity charged to the customer goes up.

For example, under TOU-DR1 (SDG&E’s default option), on-peak prices go from 45 cents per kilowatt-hour to 65 cents.

However, under TOU, there is no dreaded “high usage charge.”

Last summer’s stretch of oppressive heat resulted in a deluge of complaints to SDG&Efrom some customers whose electricity usage exceeded four times their allotted baseline, thus triggering the charge put into place by the CPUC the previous November.

Some residents reported bills 50 percent or higher than usual.

Under time of use, there are no high usage charges. However, just as in the tiered-rates system, TOU customers will pay more when they exceed 130 percent of their baseline.

California’s policymakers also hope the widespread adoption of TOU will lead to a boost in sales of battery storage systems paired with solar panels.

With storage, homeowners with solar panels can save up the energy generated by the sun during the day and then use it later, when the sun goes down and solar generation wanes.

“That’s actually one of the big tools you can really use to manage your billing under time of use,” Randolph said. “Use the battery and the solar panels to help you become less dependent on the grid during those peak hours. It can be a huge cost savings.”

In 2017, a typical solar battery storage system cost about $6,200 but after federal and California incentives, the figure can be reduced by about $4,000.

 

Solana Energy Alliance seeing higher revenues, lower expenses

Solana Beach city staff said Wednesday, Feb. 13 that the city is seeing favorable results in its community choice aggregation program.

Financial results through December 2018 show the Solana Energy Alliance (SEA) program, which launched in June as an alternative to San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), has seen revenues 2.73 percent above projections and expenses about 9 percent lower through the first two quarters of operations, between June 1 and Dec. 31, city staff said. The net revenue is about $300,000 higher than projected.

The project — which the city established to further reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 — also has about $1.1 million available to cover any debts.

In an email following the meeting, Assistant City Manager Dan King confirmed “the only outstanding debts SEA currently has are the $107,434 it owes the City for the start-up costs (which is scheduled to be repaid in July 2019), $44,605 due to TEA for their deferred start-up costs (which is on a structured payment schedule to be paid back $1,088/month until 5/2022) and finally $88,759 due to the City for ongoing internal administration costs (which SEA has already begun paying back at $10,000 per month with the final amount due on June 2019).”

“Much like our budgeting process, our financial model is very conservative and based on energy markets on a daily basis,” said City Manager Greg Wade at the meeting. “It’s encouraging to know… we’re having net positive results.”

Jeff Fuller, a consultant for The Energy Authority (TEA), said the plan’s financial outlook has improved since November, when the city last received an update. This is partially because SDG&E’s final rates weren’t available at the time, he said, also adding that SDG&E generation rates decreased “slightly more than expected.”

To date, savings for residential customers are just over $120,000, and commercial savings are slightly lower than $120,000, city staff said.

According to a city staff report, based on the current and projected rates, and as long as the three percent savings stay in effect, SEA customers are expected to realize a total of about $1 million in energy cost savings over the next five years. From June through Jan. 31, residential savings were $128,760, compared to $102,555 in savings this year. The number is projected to increase again over the next five years, with 2022 projected at $109,470.

In April, the city had forecasted that by the end of 2022, cumulative net revenues would be about $3.9 million. If there are no changes in the projection assumptions, the city now estimates the SEA will generate more than $1.5 million in net revenues by June 2022. Consultants attribute that reduction to an increase in energy costs and generation rates from SDG&E.

SDG&E exit fees also raised slightly, with the rate now set at about $.03 for residential customers, compared to $.02 last year. The exit fee — also known as a Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) — is a charge that SEA customers pay to SDG&E obtained on behalf of customers prior to moving to SEA. This helps ensure SEA customers are receiving the full three percent savings on their energy costs, according to a city document.

Fuller said the outlook through the fiscal year, ending on June 30, looks positive.

“Despite the recent challenges facing SEA, the program is currently meeting the goals set out by the city council of local control and providing cleaner energy at a reduced rate,” the staff report reads. “While the next few years look to be more challenging than originally forecasted, SEA is well positioned to meet the challenges and continue to provide value to its customers while assisting the city in reaching its CAP goals.”

Solana Beach Mayor David Zito acknowledged customers’ energy rates are going down but “technically the policy is three percent below SDG&E.” He questioned how many residents are being or will be impacted by rising rates.

Wade said it’s “safe to say” the rates will decrease for a “vast majority” of users.

The council decided to form a subcommittee that would focus on the SEA, appointing Zito and Council member Judy Hegenauer to the group.

 

Solana Energy Alliance seeing higher revenues, lower expenses, by Brittany Woolsey, The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 20, 2019.

San Diego region way off track to meet state mandates for limiting climate pollution from driving

San Diegans drive too much — and regional efforts are failing to get them out of their cars and on to buses, trolleys and other cleaner forms of commuting.

That’s according to Hasan Ikhrata, the new high-profile executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, who was hired away from a similar planning and transportation agency in Los Angeles.

Ikhrata recently informed the agency’s 21-member board of city and county officials that SANDAG had no viable blueprint to meet state-mandated rules to limit greenhouse gases from cars and truck trips.

Ikhrata said that when he started in December he didn’t anticipate how little work had been completed on shifting the transportation system from a traditional auto-centric approach.

“I was surprised at the laidback thinking about all of this,” he recently told the Union-Tribune. “It follows (the idea) ‘San Diego’s not really for big stuff. We’ll take our time.’ But sometimes when you have the laws of the land to meet, you don’t have that luxury.”

Meeting the challenge won’t be without risks, Ikhrata explained at a Feb. 8 board meeting.

Specifically, the California Air Resources Board has called on transportation agencies, such as SANDAG to cut per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions from driving by 19 percent below a 2005 benchmark by 2035.

To meet that goal, transit would have to account for between 5 and 10 percent of total vehicle trips, up from just 1.5 percent today, Ikhrata said.

“We’re not going to be able to get there with what we have on the table right now,” he said.

Drafting a successful vision will require several more years of work and a delay to a mandatory update of SANDAG’s multi-billion-dollar regional transportation spending plan, he said. Without some kind of government waiver, he said, the agency would not be eligible for millions in state and federal funding and potentially be open to lawsuits.

“It’s not good news,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said at the meeting, adding: “This is a very important plan for us. We don’t want to just kind of squeak in. We want to be leaders because our natural environment is part of who we are in the entire region.”

Once SANDAG updates its regional plan, ideally by 2022, the agency will also need a massive boost in funding to build the envisioned projects, from highway and bus improvements to rail expansions and a recently proposed San Diego Grand Central to connect transit riders to the San Diego International Airport.

That will almost undoubtedly require a two-thirds vote of the electorate to augment the agency’s current local funding stream, a half-cent sales tax known as Transnet. By comparison, Los Angeles County has four such taxes, totaling 2 cents.

The idea that SANDAG was nowhere near on track to meet its long-term obligations to the state for cutting climate pollution didn’t come as a shock to some on the board.

San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez said she had been concerned about a report issued by staff in October, before Ikhrata took over, which outlined several alternatives funding plans, including some that didn’t meet the state’s goal for capping driving emissions.

“Thank you for the critical statement that the draft proposals that we currently have weren’t going to meet those targets,” she said at the meeting. “I was really concerned about the fact that we have options that didn’t get us there.”

Last fall, SANDAG officials had suggested the region might be able to hit the state’s 2035 target if it beefed up the bus network while cities enacted policies to discourage driving.

Even then, elected officials were clamoring for freeway expansions in their own jurisdictions, while suggesting that electric cars could preclude the need for a dramatic increase in transit use.

County Supervisor Jim Desmond said that SANDAG should meet the state goals, while also calling for highway improvements to be part of the overall approach.

“You had mentioned transit as part of the solution and the airport connection, and I just wanted to make sure you know that roads can also lead to reducing greenhouse gases,” he said at the meeting.

Ikhrata reassured Desmond that road and highway improvements would be part of the regional plan update.

The SANDAG leader has acknowledged that without an expansion of certain clogged auto arteries, a needed tax increase would likely not secure enough votes at the ballot box.

That theory could get a test as soon as 2020, when the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System plans to put its own levy before voters. While that proposal could include street improvement in connection with trolley and bus upgrades, the measure would primarily benefit transit riders.

Historically, much of the region, especially North County residents far from trolley services, have been skeptical of large investments in rail projects.

It took elected officials in the region nearly three decades to close the deal on the current $2.1-billion Mid-Coast Trolley extension, connecting the Blue Line from downtown to University City. The $506 million Green Line from downtown to Santee opened in 2005 after a similar time commitment.

While transit ridership has fallen, as it has in many places, in recent years with a rebounding economy, San Diego’s trolley system is one of the most successful light rail systems in the country.

It has surprisingly low overhead and fairly robust ridership numbers, moving about 120,000 people a day over 54 miles of track. Only a handful of cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, have similar systems with higher usage.

 

San Diego region way off track to meet state mandates for limiting climate pollution from driving, by Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 16, 2019.