San Diego Quality of Life report shows little progress toward sustainability efforts
Last week, the Center for Sustainable Energy’s Equinox Project presented its eighth edition of the San Diego Regional Quality of Life Dashboard. The yearly report tracks San Diego’s progress in its sustainability efforts. For this year, six economic and environmental indicators show a positive trend, six more changed negatively, and three remained neutral – overall, not much has changed.
The six fields that showed improvement from 2015 are climate action plans, electrified transportation, employment, renewable energy, and residential electricity and water use.
The six that regressed were landfill waste disposal, beach water quality, housing affordability, traffic, entrepreneurship, and air quality.
The last three indicators, which showed neutral change, were park access, transportation choices, and cross-border metrics.
Xavier Leonard, the director of civic engagement for the San Diego Foundation, focused on how water is significant to the San Diego region.
“Water is the lifeblood of any regional economy and the businesses that make up our three major industries: tourism, innovation, and military all rely on clean and stable water supplies,” Leonard said. Under emergency drought declaration, San Diego residential water consumption dropped by a whopping 15 percent in one year, the lowest level in at least 17 years.
Cody Hooven, chief sustainability officer for the City of San Diego, declared that the City of San Diego believes that economy and environment are vitally tied together. With the data provided by the dashboard the city and other leaders can more make informed decisions on policy and climate action plans moving forward.
Moreover, Hoover noted that even though entrepreneurship has decreased over the past year, innovation, especially in the clean tech industry, has made great strides and unemployment rates are continuing on a downward trend, with the highest rates of job growth in real estate and construction.
Mayor Serge Dedina of Imperial Beach passionately spoke on the issue of maintaining the beaches. “Beaches are more than just a beach, they are our most important open space. What we are learning when these beaches are closed is that we cut off the fabric of our community life here in San Diego. We are the beach. The beach is the engine of our happiness and our quality of life,” Dedina said.
Water quality closures at the beach this year have increased by 14 percent, from 81 days to 92 days, mainly because of rain. Mission Bay and Imperial Beach were the hardest hit areas. Dedina emphasized that restoration efforts in creeks and rivers are critical in maintaining the quality of life for beaches.
“It’s one region, one coast, one ocean, working together,” Dedina said.
Colin Parent, policy counsel at Circulate San Diego City Councilmember of La Mesa, stressed the importance of tracking transportation.
“Transportation is an important quality of life factor but it also represents the single largest contributor of greenhouse gasses of any sector in the region,” he said.
Parent praised the fact that a substantially higher number of electric vehicles were purchased this year. This benefits air quality as well as quality of life but Parent recognized there is much more to work on.
“While vehicle miles traveled have not increased, we have seen an increase in the amount of time people are spending travelling.” This means more cars are spending time stuck on the highway burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gasses.
“We’ve also had similar problems with the share of people who take transit or ride bikes to work,” continued Councilman Parent. “We have about a four percent mode share in the region and that’s substantially less than other jurisdictions.”
Mitch Mitchell, with SDG&E, said, “In San Diego we sometimes get lost in the blue skies and the beaches and the bays and we think we have everything here. But when you stop and look at the dashboard it shows you there is room for improvement, there are other efforts we can make to better quality of life.”
According to Mitchell, SDG&E is highly interested in clean air. San Diego had more unhealthy air days in 2016 than 2015, partially because of a growing economy. As a response, SDG&E invested resources into renewable energy. Currently, 43 percent of energy from SDG&E is from renewable sources, with a future goal of 50 percent.
SDG&E’s secondary focus is on transportation. Mitchell echoed Councilman Parent’s arguments and further added, “The area we are struggling most, the area with the greatest impact on air quality, is transportation. Forty to fifty percent of our air quality problems are caused by emissions.” SDG&E has been vocal for the past two years about the need for more electric vehicles as well as converting diesel trucks to natural gas.
Mitchell also lamented on the lack of charging stations for electric vehicles. He believes that if people see more available charging stations in public areas, they will be encouraged to purchase and use electric vehicles.
All speakers agreed on one point: the Quality of Life Dashboard is an incredible tool to help groups target and plan for pressing quality of life issues in the San Diego region.
This year the report is available online, which provides ease of access for anyone who wants to inform themselves as well as use the data to make decisions. Moreover, this allows data to be updated quickly as soon as new information is uncovered.
To see the data yourself and to find more information, visit SDQualityOfLife.org