ESCONDIDO — The Climate Action Plan (CAP), a centerpiece of California’s city-by-city plan to stave off the impacts of climate change, received a warm welcome by the newly seated Escondido City Council at its Jan. 16 meeting.
The City Council had tabled any further public discussion of the CAP at its Nov. 28 meeting, resolving to discuss the issue again once both Mayor Paul McNamara and Deputy Mayor Consuelo Martinez took their seats, tipping the balance of the City Council to a 3-2 liberal majority.
In California, every city must have a CAP as dictated by the 2006 California Global Warming Solutions Act.
Since 2018, the city of Escondido has unfurled both a public outreach and carbon emissions inventory to plan how it can comply with the state’s landmark climate law for its updated CAP.
After listening to a public presentation about the CAP by Assistant Planning Director Mike Strong and taking public comments, McNamara said that he supports a “climate action revolution.” He shared his overarching philosophy on potential achievable actions in Escondido.
“Some people think economic growth is somehow in conflict with environmental awareness … and I think we can do both,” McNamara said. “Let’s get out of our comfort zone and be bold.”
One conservative councilman said he supports also taking action on the issue from a clear air perspective.
“We have seen great changes … with the implementation of laws to help force reduction of emissions … and it’s worked,” Councilman Mike Morasco said. “Anything we can do to improve our health and well-being by reducing emissions and the like makes sense. That is the direction we should go.”
Councilman John Masson, the other conservative council member, also spoke about climate change from an air-quality perspective. But he expressed caution and did not offer full-throated support.
“Anything we can do to improve air quality is a good thing,” Masson said. “What I want to do is understand the economic benefits, the costs associated with whatever we do, the burdens that are placed on homeowners or business or future housing developers … So, I think everything that was discussed tonight is very worthy of exploring or potentially implementing. I just need to understand how that works and what those implications are as that happens and I want (to know) the true cost of whatever we’re doing.”
Masson also said that he believes that environmental impacts of scaling up renewable energy deserve close examination before obtaining regulatory permits.
“I spend a lot of time out in the desert and what I see is that my desert’s turning into a wind farm,” he said. “I’ve seen it turn into solar farms, with these vast solar arrays out in the middle of the desert where we used to spend lots of time camping with family. It’s all taken up with these massive solar farms that have got to be producing heat.
“The big windmills that are spewed through our mountains and through our desert landscape, those are an eyesore when drive out there and go camping,” Masson continued. “So, I really think we need to balance what we’re doing to our deserts and what we’re doing to other parts of our communities with the benefit of actually creating change in sustainability going forward.”
Attendees at the meeting remarked that the new majority appears likely to approach tackling climate change in the city amicably.
“It was kind of like an episode from the ‘Twilight Zone,” said Marian Sedio, an activist who works with the group North County Climate Change Alliance and who spoke at the meeting. After the dozen or so members of the public gave comments, she further noted, “the input from the mayor and council members was really positive. Things have gone from a ‘do only what you have to,’ to ‘do everything you can.’”
Indeed, the North County Sierra Club — which rallied its membership to come to the meeting — called what happened at the meeting nothing short of a “climate action revolution” in quoting McNamara in a press release.
“Moving from ‘bare minimum’ to ‘the best one ever’, a new era is ushered in on climate commitment,” stated the Sierra Club in its press release published the day after the meeting. “In a stunning reversal on how the city of Escondido will address climate change, the new Mayor and Escondido City Council members demonstrated that the city is entering a new era of innovation, community involvement, vision, sensible, and long-term decision-making.”
The Sierra Club has called for its membership base to send thank you emails to the new iteration of the Escondido City Council for its apparent support for taking strong action on climate change.
Stacking onto the praise from climate advocacy groups, Sophie Wolfram — director of programs for the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign, which supports CAP throughout San Diego County — also called what ensued a “stunning shift” in tone.
It “shows that the region is ready for 100-percent clean energy, and if the council can hold the line on sprawl development it will be a huge deal,” said Wolfram, who also testified at the meeting.