COAST CITIES — A recent report by the Encinitas-based Equinox Center, a nonprofit think tank, measures San Diego’s quality of life by looking at 14 categories, including waste management, renewable energy, water consumption and housing affordability. While much of the report is critical of the region, it also highlights smart leadership and policy-making across San Diego. This year, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Del Mar were featured among the “bright spots.”“Through Equinox’s ‘bright spots,’ we uncover proven solutions throughout the County and beyond that are practical for others to implement,” said Ann Tartre, executive director of Equinox Center.Waste Management
San Diego saw an uptick in trash production last year, ending a four-year decline. The average person in San Diego produces more than 6 pounds of trash a day, which is second only to Orange County in terms of trash production in California. In a region overflowing with waste, Oceanside is making positive strides, ranking just behind Chula Vista with nearly 4 pounds of trash per capita a day, a decrease from last year.
“One example of great leadership in Oceanside is the city’s public-private partnership with Agri Service, a commercial composting facility that helps the city divert organic waste from landfills,” Tartre said. “We should also give credit to Oceanside residents, as recycling and at-home composting can significantly reduce waste per capita.”
From the beginning of 2010 to 2011, San Diego posted a 28 percent gain in residential and nonresidential solar panel installations. Del Mar led the region with a 48 percent increase in kilowatts of solar installed per capita. By comparison, Encinitas saw a 42 percent increase. But as far kilowatts of solar power installed per 100 residents, with two kilowatts, Encinitas still pales in comparison to Del Mar, which has 36 kilowatts.
Residents and government agencies in Del Mar have a proven track record with solar panels, and businesses in Del Mar account for most of the solar power installations. The Del Mar Fairgrounds, for example, receives a significant amount of its power from solar panels.
Encina Wastewater Authority in Carlsbad, North County’s largest wastewater treatment facility, has not only received praise from the Equinox Center, but also from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Encina Wastewater Authority generates 70 percent of its power onsite by using biogas byproduct from the facility’s wastewater treatment process, which earned it a spot alongside national companies on the EPA’s annual “Top 20 Onsite Generation” list.
“It’s not completely uncommon for facilities like us to produce power onsite,” said Kevin Hardy, Encina Wastewater Authority’s general manager. “If they do at all, it’s usually less than 10 percent. It makes both fiscal and environmental sense for us.”
Another section in the Equinox Center’s report looks at water use. Per capita municipal and industrial water use fell by 7 percent in San Diego. The drop was welcome, but the Equinox Center believes the region can do better, pointing to more than 6,000 smart meters that were installed throughout Carlsbad as a model for other cities to follow. Thanks to the smart meters, customers can monitor their water use in real time, making it easier for them to control consumption and costs.
The smart meters also mean meter service representatives can better identify leaks and excess water use that might go unnoticed, according to Mario Remillard, Carlsbad meter services supervisor.
“When we get a call about a high water bill we can check our computers and check to see if they have a leak without going to their home,” Remillard said. “It’s saved us time and our customers money.”
Remillard says the smart water meters are a large upfront investment, but cut costs over time.
Carlsbad also received high marks in another area: affordable housing. Besting other coastal cities, particularly nearby Encinitas, Carlsbad ranked behind San Marcos and National City in affordable housing units per capita.
According to the Equinox Center’s report, 52 percent of homeowners and nearly 60 percent of renters in San Diego pay a third of their income toward housing, which is higher than California and U.S. averages. According to the Equinox Center, Carlsbad and San Marcos have made a commitment to building housing developments for families across the economic spectrum. The report notes: “Housing costs influence our region’s competitiveness against other metropolitan regions in attracting or retaining businesses and a talented workforce.”
To view the Equinox Center’s full report, visit equinoxcenter.org.