While pollution affects all of us, it hits low-income communities first and worst.

The City of San Diego has unveiled a plan to reduce our city's pollution over the next 50 years and in the spring of 2016, Mayor Kevin Faulconer released a strategy for meeting the plan's goals. 

The proposed plan lacks a strong focus on social equity – protecting our neighborhoods that already suffer disproportionately more than other neighborhoods.

That's why Policy Advocate Monique López delivered this letter to Mayor Faulconer on the importance of equity in San Diego's climate action plan, and now we want to share it with you.

CAP Rally opt

May, 2016

Mayor Kevin Faulconer
City of San Diego
202 C Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Re: City of San Diego- Climate Action Plan Implementation Report

Dear Mayor Faulconer:

The Climate Action Plan (CAP) "Implementation Report" is a good first step describing the planned expenditures for each CAP strategy proposed for the FY 2017 budget. The plan asserts that more than $127 million will be dedicated to CAP implementation in FY 17.

However, an implementation road map that further defines what are all the activities that need to take place in the next five years, ten years, and fifteen years which goes beyond the year to year budget analysis is needed in order to ensure that the City is on a trajectory to meet its Climate Action Plan goals. Such an Implantation Plan can institutionalize practices in the various departments, and identify a timeline for ordinances and actions that need to be pursued.

What are the associated green-house gas reductions? An analysis should be provided that highlights where specifically these investments are being made and where greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced, in both the short term and long term.

Where is the equity? In the current Implementation Report, the social equity requirement in the CAP is not acknowledged nor is there an allocation of funds based on CalEnviro Screen or any other method of ensuring equitable distribution of resources. The impacts of a changing climate are most detrimental in neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, City Heights, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and San Ysidro that suffer from damaging air quality, burdensome energy bills and inaccessible public transit.

The CAP recognized these challenges and included a mandate to prioritize the most impacted communities for mitigation and investment. The CAP States, “The General Plan includes policies to pursue environmental justice in the planning process through greater community participation, to prioritize and allocate citywide resources to provide public facilities and services to communities in need, and to improve mobility options and accessibility for the non-driving elderly, disabled, low-income, and other members of the population……The City interprets the Council Policy to include the use of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) CalEnviroScreen tool to identify under-served communities and prioritize the CIP in census tracts ranking in the top 30% of CalEnviroScreen scores, which may be locally normalized.” In order to comply with this requirement, the CAP Implementation Plan must, incorporate specific equity strategies in each element. For example: the Energy Conservation and Disclosure Ordinance should include specific actions such as providing assistance to low income households for energy reduction and access to renewables; and directing new tree planting to those areas with limited tree canopy.

Include staffing for equity and implementation. We are supportive of the hiring of one additional staff to assist with the implementation of the Climate Action Plan; however, in most cities where implementation of a Climate Action Plan is given priority there is often multiple staff working on this issue. Therefore, in addition to this staff person, we encourage hiring at least five staff people, in which one is fully dedicated to equity, be included in the budget allocation. An Equity Specialist should be included to ensure compliance with this important CAP requirement. An Equity Specialist can help analyze and prioritize low-income communities of color in the struggle against climate change and the implementation of this plan.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to working with City staff to move the Climate Action Plan forward.


To download a PDF of this letter, click here.

A recent KPBS article reports that The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the organization responsible for planning the transportation in San Diego County, spent close to $1.5 million on a publicity strategy for the regional transportation plan.

The plan, passed last October, put freeways before people, ignoring recurring community requests for improved transit, biking and walking infrastructure before expanding freeways.

SANDAG board meeting 2

The article exposed SANDAG's developing media talking points to support the regional transportation plan; talking points that made the plan sound like a good option for our communities.

In reality, the plan is not a good option for our communities, and no media strategy or talking point covers this up.

Today, the truth remains the same: The regional transportation plan does not meet the community's needs, and it is not a good plan to improve the public health, safety and sustainability of the San Diego region.


Our communities will only improve when our government listens to the community and stands united with them.

Our communities don’t have millions of dollars to run a media campaign about the need for transportation justice.

Our communities have the truth. We have our stories. We have our heart. 

SANDAG transportation justice San Diego 8 lowres

Do you know where we find our talking points?

We find it in Alma from Sherman Heights, who used to take public transit two hours in each direction to get to work every day and support her family.

It’s Brent from Barrio Logan, who tirelessly advocates for accessable sidewalks and safe crossing near Chicano Park.

It’s Boo Paw, a Karen Refugee living in City Heights. She and her daughter were struck by a car on a road near her home because of the lack of safe places to walk.

It’s the mother and father in Westside National City. They stay up late every night with their child who has asthma - which is triggered by the pollution from the neighboring freeway.

They, and many others, are our inspiration. They live our talking points. Their lives are our message, and that message is this: 

We must put the health and safety of our communities first.

This is one message that has never changed.

At EHC, we talk about transportation justice often. We know that how we move in our communities has an impact on our quality of life. But how are our communities spreading the word? How are we starting a movement?

Recently, 130 ninth-graders at e3Civic High School turned transportation justice into an outlet of creative expression.

Transportation Justice Art

EHC worked closely with the high school’s science, humanities and math teachers to provide students with necessary informational materials and mentorship. The students then took it upon themselves to discover what transportation justice means to them.

From their own research, students developed infographics to help easily explain transportation issues such as public health and infrastructure. Some even explored their home neighborhoods to take photographs of broken or nonexistent sidewalks, automobile congestion, transit opportunities, safe routes and more. These photographs eventually developed into beautiful stained glass images.

transportation justice art 5

During the school’s “Winter Exhibition of Student Learning,” all 130 students stood alongside their projects and presented them to parents, teachers and community members. As more than 200 adults stopped to take in each piece of art, the students greeted them with information about the current transportation injustices happening in their own backyards.

“When you add lanes to freeways it doesn’t relieve traffic congestion in the long run,” said one student to a classmate’s parent. “It just adds more pollution in the neighborhoods.”

transportation justice art 2

“Some neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks, so they are ten times more likely to get hit by a car than if they lived in a wealthier neighborhood,” explained another student. “This is a transportation justice issue.”

transportation justice art 3

The students also shared their own transportation justice stories. Some could not afford to pay for transit while others felt unsafe crossing streets by their home. One student stood by her stained glass image of a broken sidewalk and told a story of how the poor conditions of the sidewalks and lack of ADA curb cutouts leave her grandmother unable to get around the neighborhood in her wheelchair.

transporation justice art 4

When the students learned that SADAG had a survey requesting input on the type of transportation projects a potential ballot initiative should fund, they saw an opportunity to raise their voice. They placed a computer at the event for attendees to take the survey and urge SANDAG to support public transit, funding for transit passes for youth and say no to freeway expansion.

transportation justice art 6

The majority of the students at e3 Civic High School live in San Diego’s urban core and grew up thinking that transportation justice issues were normal aspects of life. Now, these students know that they have the power – and the responsibility - to change the status quo. With knowledge and passion, San Diego now has 130 transportation justice ambassadors equipped to make a difference for years to come.

To learn more about transportation justice, click here. To get involved, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (619) 474-0220 ext. 130.

Through the process of advocating for a Regional Transportation Plan that prioritizes affordable and accessible public transit, biking and walking, our communities grew stronger and more united. Doing much of this advocacy work in partnership with City Heights CDC and MAAC Project, we organized community support in unprecedented ways. We brought the concept of transportation justice to our neighbors, to community meetings, to City Council and SANDAG. We led bike rides to celebrate a future where pedestrians have safe places to ride bikes and walk. We taught each other the importance of having transportation alternatives to improve our quality of life and encouraged each other to get involved in the planning process and build healthy neighborhoods

We accomplished the following by raising our voices and spreading hope for the past two years. 

  • A Transit Pilot Project on the 94 Freeway. $31 million will go toward a pilot project to assess the feasibility of using the existing median for public transit on the 94 Freeway. SANDAG stated that results of the demonstration project would be shared with the Federal Transit Administration for potential use nationwide.

MLK freeway environmental justice

  • A Golden Hill/Sherman Heights Bus Stop. Golden Hill and Sherman Heights residents will get a much-needed bus stop, a $66-million investment, near the 94 Freeway and have better north-south transit access to communities from Otay Mesa to Escondido.

EHC says thank you

  • 94 Freeway Environmental Impact Report (EIR). SANDAG had proposed two alternatives to add lanes to the 94 Freeway to increase car capacity, which would increase climate change and air pollution. We were able to successfully halt the process and incorporate two community-supported alternatives which put transit before freeways to be analyzed in an Environmental Impact Report.

freeways can wait people cant

  • Purple Line Trolley. The purple trolley line, slated for the year 2035, will connect the communities of San Ysidro to Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and National City as well as become the first trolley line to go through City Heights and up to Kearney Mesa. This trolley line wasn’t included in the first Regional Transportation Plan, but our community members raised their voices about the necessity of a north-south bound trolley line through our neighborhoods. This new trolley line will require an investment of $5.471 Billion, making it a major victory for the community.

EHC speaking at meeting

  • City Heights Rapid Transit. $78 million will fund a rapid transit line through the City Heights neighborhood traveling up 54th street. Originally in the Regional Transportation Plan for 2050, our community members got it slated to be operating by 2025.

SANDAG protest

  • Community Bike Ride. We hosted our first-ever community bike ride for City Heights residents to pedal in support of the new bike infrastructure planned for 54th, University Avenue and Orange Avenue. More than 100 people attended this community bike ride to celebrate, support and raise awareness for bicycle and pedestrian improvements that include bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and more. The bike ride also gave our allies a platform to share stories and build new partnerships in the community in the interest of safe streets. Everyone had a great time. Residents who hadn’t ridden a bike in years decided to join and many loved it so much they made plans to begin biking regularly again.

biking in san diego

TJ Ride

  • National City gets Safe Routes to School. The popular route to Kimball Elementary school underwent improvements to implement a community vision for a safe and healthy way for children to get to school. With the addition of stop signs, traffic-slowing infrastructure, bike lanes, bike racks, sidewalk maintenance and an improved student pick-up and drop-off area, getting to school is now safer and more enjoyable for nearly 400 students in our communities.

Kid on bike

  • Affordable Housing Near Transit. National City broke ground on 201 Paradise Creek affordable housing units. This development, nationally recognized for being transit-oriented and sustainable, is a perfect example of what can happen when residents come together and get involved in the planning of their communities.

EHC dispays transportation

  • Community Involvement. With a common interest of making the region more accessible for everything, EHC and the Built Environment Team hosted a total of 19 community meetings. Residents gave public testimony at 12 total meetings, including SANDAG committee meetings and board meetings, City bike corridor and climate action plan meetings and neighborhood workshops. More than 600 community members signed EHC’s petition to protect the 94 freeway from expansion.

Community empowerment workshop

  • One Regional, Unified Voice. Advocating for a Regional Transportation Plan that prioritized transit, biking and walking improvement before freeway expansion brought San Diego’s regional environmental community, social justice, community based organizations, transportation advocacy and labor organizations together for the first time to go on record in opposition to the regional plan. This was the first time all these organizations united over a common cause.

The fight continues for transportation justice. With your help and your commitment to #healthyhoods, we will continue to advocate for the transit, biking and walking improvements our communities need to have a safe and healthy place to live, work and play.

The Quality of Life Coalition

We all need to move. How we get from place to place is deeply connected to our quality of life. Unfortunately, not all communities have the same access to healthy, safe, reliable and affordable transportation options, such as public transit and biking and walking paths. That means some people don't have access to the same quality of life, just because of where they live. Transportation justice is the equal access of all people to the transportation they need for a better quality of life.




Now, SANDAG has proposed a half-cent sales tax increase slated for the November 2016 ballot to generate new money for transportation projects in San Diego County. SANDAG is developing a list of projects that the tax increase would fund. Should its countywide tax increase pass in November’s election, SANDAG’s predetermined list of projects will become a blueprint for decades of regional growth. The projects we decide on now will undoubtedly impact us for the rest of our lives.

SANDAG must seize this opportunity to invest in a sustainable future to meet the needs of our communities.

Press conference at 24th Street trolley

We stand in solidarity with more than 20 other organizations that represent environmental, social justice, labor union, climate action, affordable housing and transit advocates from throughout the San Diego region and call for SANDAG to invest public money in a socially and environmentally equitable manner.

It is going to take visionary leadership to meet the mobility, economic and climate action challenges of the 21st century.

Our vision benefits residents throughout the county, positions San Diego communities to leverage state and federal funds and accelerates regional efforts to invest in better transit, safer streets for biking and walking, good jobs and clean air.

The Coalition urges SANDAG to avoid duplicating the unsustainable vision it approved in the Regional Transportation Plan. In October, 2015, SANDAG cited that there was a lack of funds for transit and infrastructure to make our streets safer and passed a plan with major freeway expansion projects and minimal investment in transit, biking and walking infrastructure for the next 30 years. SANDAG’s prospective ballot measure provides another opportunity for San Diego County to make progress toward a sustainable future. New money and old thinking doesn’t mix, and the San Diego region cannot afford to spend this money on freeway-centric investment and planning contributes to air pollution and has proven not to alleviate traffic congestion in the long run.

The Coalition hopes to work with SANDAG to build San Diego County into a vibrant and inclusive economy that lifts up families, addresses climate change and creates healthier neighborhoods and good jobs instead of continuing down a path of increased air pollution, harmful effects of climate change, poorly paying jobs and insufficient transportation options.

Seize your opportunity to tell SANDAG how you would you want your tax dollars spent.

Monique at Quality of Life press conference

Click here to tell SANDAG what matters to you and ask it to prioritize:

SANDAG will offer public input opportunities from January 27 through March 25.

Want to make your voice heard in person? We encourage you and hope you will join us at the SANDAG transportation committee meeting and regional planning committee meetings on February 5, at 9 a.m. and noon at 401 B Street, San Diego, Floor 7.

Want to join our movement? Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (619) 474-0220 ext. 115 to get involved.