InTouch – Acting Now for Future Generations


I bet you have a lot to do today. Lots of things that need your attention right now.

But running a government responsibly is not just about helping people today. It means operating and making decisions so our successors are able to help them decades from now.

That’s the essence of the word sustainability. If the term seems squishy, here’s a common definition: using only enough resources for this generation so we leave enough for the next generation to meet their own needs.

Well, that could mean a lot of things. And it does.

For one, it’s the same concept that drives our fiscal discipline, which is all about setting up a spending plan that won’t leave us short down the road.

But we tend to more than dollars. Most often when we talk about sustainability, we’re referring to the environment and our use of natural resources. Those are areas where the County has been taking action in a variety of ways for some time, in many cases long before we began grouping them under the term sustainability.

In recent years, those efforts have taken on urgency as the consequences of climate change have become more apparent. The threat means we need to take an array of concrete steps to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Our strategy for rising to that challenge is our Climate Action Plan, passed by the Board of Supervisors last year. It lays out more than two dozen measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade and beyond.

This week we release our Climate Action Plan’s first Annual Report showing the progress we’ve made toward hitting those goals. That’s a snapshot, but the work is, of course, ongoing. We’ve also just created a Climate Action Plan website that will continually show progress updates and help us share the details of what we’re doing with the public. I hope you’ll take a look yourself.

The Climate Action Plan, or CAP, builds on several programs and frameworks the County has adopted over time related to sustainable practices, such as the General Plan, the Multiple Species Conservation Plan, and plans to address energy use, waste reduction, food systems and hazard mitigation. Many of you have been involved with creating and implementing these various plans. 

These efforts can all be grouped into a few broad areas: our own buildings and operations, things we do for the unincorporated area we oversee, and practices we promote for the public and employees. Let me give a few examples.

For us, sustainability starts at home, so to speak. All new County buildings must be zero net energy, meaning they produce at least as much energy as they consume through solar or other renewable energy sources. Libraries we’ve built in Alpine, Imperial Beach and Borrego Springs the last few years are zero net energy and examples of our buildings of the future.  And new buildings must be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. We have 81 LEED buildings already, with 33 of those at the highest level – Platinum.

We have several projects in the works adding solar to County facilities that together may reduce our entire electricity demand by 20 percent. Around our buildings, we’re putting in more drought-tolerant landscaping – one of the ways we’re cutting how much water we use. We’re transitioning our fleet – the cars and trucks employees use – to cleaner fuels and technology, with 40 electric cars in service and more on the way.

In the community, we’ve made solar permitting for homes fast and simple, offering an online process. More than 38,000 homes in the County’s unincorporated area now have rooftop solar.

We have a CAP goal to plant 14,000 trees by next year and are nearly there already. We’re well beyond our goal of acquiring land for conservation, picking up 2,200 acres last year alone. We’re working with residents to update community plans in ways that reduce the need for driving.

And we help residents with steps they can take to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To keep waste out of landfills, we teach people how to compost, give businesses guides on reducing food waste, and provide recycling bins to schools and apartments.

As is often the case when I give examples of things we’re doing, I’m only scratching the surface.

There are all the things we can do as individuals to help as well. Cutting out car trips is a big one. Remember the County reimburses the cost of many transit passes. MTS Free Ride Day is coming up Oct. 2, so consider giving it a try.

Compost if you can. I bet that was a key for some of our colleagues who recently showed off their gardening skills.

Around the home or workplace, remember the basics: turn off lights when you’re not using them, and don’t let water run unnecessarily. It all adds up. You’ll find more ideas on the Take Climate Action section of the CAP website.

We’re also becoming increasingly aware of the public health risks linked to climate change. Hotter conditions and drought leave us more susceptible to wildfires and the smoke that can blanket the region, posing a danger to people with respiratory and other chronic conditions. Climate change means habitat change, so that the region becomes more hospitable to mosquitoes and other disease carriers.

Those relationships between public health and sustainability will be among the items on the agenda at next month’s Live Well Advance. The annual meeting brings together our partners who share the vision of a region that’s healthy, safe and thriving. I’ve tried to convey here how sustainability runs through many things we do. And it is woven into the Live Well San Diego vision that we all play a part in realizing.