The city of San Diego continues to take credit, as part of its once-vaunted Climate Action Plan, for reductions in greenhouse gases that didn’t occur, as first revealed by a San Diego Union-Tribune investigation in November.
A local nonprofit watchdog has now released an audit of regional efforts to fight climate change, finding that the city misinformed the public on progress to reduce tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks, while doing little to make good on a pledge to limit driving and boost public transit.
“It’s a big issue that the city is taking credit for reductions that aren’t real,” said Sophie Wolfram, director of programs for the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign. “We need a transportation master plan, and we need to see it implemented. That’s been promised and not yet delivered.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer declined to discuss progress on the climate plan for this story, but his staff provided a statement in writing that read in part: “There’s still a lot of work to do and progress to be made, but we’ve laid solid foundation to reach our climate goals over the next two decades.”
At the same time, the report released by the Climate Action Campaign last week did give the city credit for pursuing some strategies to reduce climate emissions.
The city has pledged to slash its carbon footprint by 15 percent below 2010 levels by 2020 and 50 percent by 2035. The goals are modeled on California’s targets to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 40 percent below that by 2030.
The study found that, for example, Faulconer has acted on a commitment to run the city on 100 percent renewable energy within the next two decades, in large part, by considering a government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric.
Faulconer’s office released an annual monitoring report on its climate plan in October that boasted about aggressive reductions in greenhouse gases that were based, in part, on a massive reduction in driving throughout the city.
The mayor’s office has since admitted the reductions in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, weren’t real but rather a statistical anomaly based on inaccurate projections from the San Diego Association of Governments.
SANDAG grossly overstated the total number of miles being driven in the city in 2010 — thus creating the illusion of reductions when the modeling was updated in October 2015. The climate plan was adopted roughly two months later in December.
The city has yet to turn over internal communications on the issue requested by the Union-Tribune under a public records request filed in November.
Officials have maintained they acted in good faith, basing the climate plan on the information they believed most accurate at the time the blueprint was drafted.
“The city of San Diego is committed to using the best available emissions data and practices at the time of reporting, and the methodologies we use are consistent with those used regionally and statewide,” Cody Hooven, chief sustainability officer for the city, said in an email statement.
Beyond the false reductions in vehicle emissions, the city has made little progress on implementing strategies to get people out of their cars and onto sidewalks, bikes and public transit, the report found.
“The mayor has already indicated that there is going to be a significant reduction in the funding for bike facilities in this upcoming fiscal year, which just goes to show the commitment to hit the targets isn’t being made,” Wolfram said.
The climate plan calls for 22 percent of all commuters in transit corridors — those who live within a half-mile of a major transit stop — to bike, walk or take public transportation to work by 2020. The number of people in the city who use such alternative transportation has been stuck around 8 percent for years, according to Census data.
Faulconer’s team announced in February — more than two years after the climate plan’s adoption — that it will start surveying residents to assess the share of people commuting by car versus using public transit and other means.
Because of the flaws in the driving data, Climate Action Campaign has advocated the city focus exclusively on reducing the percentage of people who drive to work when evaluating progress on its climate goals.
The city has yet to say if it will change its metrics for evaluating progress on transportation goals in this year’s annual monitoring report.