ENCINITAS — The Environmental Advisory Commission was both praised and chastised as its chairwoman, Elizabeth Taylor, presented the group’s environmental action plan to the City Council on Feb. 16.
In the works for three years, the comprehensive document outlined more than 100 recommendations that the city could implement to increase environmental sustainability. “This has gone through many reiterations,” Taylor told the council.
In fact, the action plan is a culmination of input from city staff, public workshops and council members. Several of the recommendations include environmentally oriented efforts being implemented by city departments. Staff reviewed the final document and gave the commission feedback that was incorporated into the final plan.
The all-volunteer, council-appointed commission created a plan outlining seven broad categories or “goals.”
Within the waste and resource management category, Taylor said many opportunities to reduce trash and increase recycling existed within the city. For example, she suggested looking at better alternatives than polystyrene takeout containers, which cannot be recycled.
In the area of water, Taylor said the commission found there are prospects for incentivizing “ocean-friendly gardens” that use less water and incorporate native plants.
Within the transportation sector, Taylor said the goal is to encourage alternatives to traditional vehicle travel. She said residents reported that they wanted “a more bicycle friendly community and a more pedestrian friendly community.” The weather is conducive to increased foot traffic but certain measures should be taken by the city to ensure pedestrian safety. Taylor showed footage from the work being done in Long Beach to improve the ease of cycling in that community.
Biodiversity and energy were also high on the list of priorities. “I think we are very fortunate to live where we do,” Taylor said, citing Cottonwood Creek, which serves as a watershed.
“The general public is definitely concerned about the environmental health of our community,” Taylor told the council. The overarching “community goal” is to enhance livability of the city, according to Taylor. To that end, she cited several goals, such as establishing a green business program and enhancing “safe routes to school” so that children can safely walk or ride their bikes to and from school.
Taylor touted the social, economic and environmental benefits of the plan. “We are a beach economy,” she said. “We need clean water, clean beach and clean air.”
Councilwomen Teresa Barth and Maggie Houlihan supported the ambitious plan. “It’s about thinking outside the box,” Barth said. “We should always be looking for the next best practices.”
Houlihan noted progress has been made in several areas including the number of beach closures. “Environmental quality and economic vitality go hand in hand,” she said.
Barth and Houlihan supported the commission’s suggestion to create a permanent environmental coordinator staff position. “You will reap the cost of the employee by the measures that you become more sustainable.”
However, Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar thought the plan went too far. “What you’ve come up with is pretty impressive,” she said. “What we’re missing here is some focus.” The newly elected councilwoman said she would like to see “sub-goals” prioritized by the commission.
Gaspar seemed overwhelmed by the number of initiatives and confused about the amount of public input already garnered by the commission. “Because this action plan is so thorough it could become an inaction plan.”
Interim City Manager Phil Cotton also shied away from the plan. “I’m not certain we’re capable of moving on those goals within the next two years,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks expressed concern over the financial implications of some of the recommendations, particularly the proposed changes to the city’s building codes related to new home construction and the cost of adding an employee to the payroll. “I’m sorry, but there are just things on here I can’t support,” he said. “We can always bring it back another day,” Stocks said.
“I see this as a really broad vision of the future,” Barth said. While some of the items in the action plan may not be attainable she reminded the council that anything that would become a policy would have to be brought back to the council for approval.
Rather than table the report altogether, the council unanimously voted 4-0, with Mayor James Bond absent, to revisit the issue in a series of meetings. The first one is proposed to occur within the next 60 days.