EHC presents at CAP hearing

On December 15, 2015, we made history.

San Diego City Council voted to approve a precedent-setting climate action plan with strong social equity requirements. This plan aims to create a healthier future for San Diegans by reducing pollution, bringing more clean energy, increasing transit, walking and biking opportunities.

We joined nearly 1,000 San Diegans and fifteen organizations to tell City Council to begin in communities hit first and worst by climate change – and they listened.

Today, San Diego is the first city in California to adopt a climate action plan that utilizes a statewide monitoring tool called CalEnviroScreen. The tool identifies communities overburdened by multiple sources of pollution and will be used to direct investment and benefits to our neighborhoods.

“The impacts of a changing climate are most detrimental in neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, City Heights, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, San Ysidro and Southeastern San Diego that suffer from damaging air quality, burdensome energy bills and inaccessible public transit,” says Associate Director Georgette Gómez. “We applaud Council for this decision that makes San Diego the first city in California to adopt a climate action plan with CalEnviroScreen at its core and a commitment to implement the plan in communities where its impact is highest.”

EHC hopes this decision will inspire other cities in California to adopt climate action plans that utilizes CalEnviroScreen and to advocate for strong action on climate that prioritizes communities impacted with high levels of pollution in the face of climate change.

We also thank you. Thank you for your commitment to #healthyhoods and your dedication to building our communities into the thriving places we know they can be.

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It’s no secret that climate change has challenged San Diego to rethink large environmental concepts, such as regional pollution and sustainability. As part of this process, the City of San Diego is in final revisions of the draft climate action plan – a plan that outlines how San Diego will address the harmful impacts of climate change in the next 50 years. This plan has strong goals that, if achieved, will create a healthier future for San Diegans by reducing pollution, relying more on clean energy, increasing transit, walking and biking opportunities, increasing our urban tree coverage and reducing waste.

EHC knows that certain communities in San Diego feel the impacts of climate change more imminently than others, particularly the neighborhoods already struggling with unhealthy levels air pollution, high energy bills and lack of access to transit, biking and walking.

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As the effects of climate change worsen, neighborhoods in San Diego’s urban core suffer significantly more because these neighborhoods:

• Have the highest rates of asthma hospitalization among children in the city
• Breathe the most polluted air from trucks, freeways and industrial sources
• Live in old, unhealthy homes lacking energy efficiency and solar energy needed to reduce unaffordable energy bills
• Lack access to safe, affordable and convenient transit, bicycling and walking options to access jobs, health care, parks, and cooling centers
• Face the highest rates of unemployment, underemployment and low-wage jobs

Ultimately, a plan with strong goals does not suffice if the plan doesn’t ensure that communities hit first and worst by climate change are helped most immediately.

That is why EHC urges San Diego City Council to recognize that not all neighborhoods in San Diego are impacted by equally and to prioritize resources accordingly to address these inequities.

That is why EHC says, “Start here. Start now.”

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In coalition with CERF, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, San Diego Coastkeeper, Sierra Club, IBEW, MAAC, California Nurses Association, San Diego 350, Climate Action Campaign, Center for Policy Initiatives, San Diego Audubon Society, Union Yes- Environmental Caucus, and City Heights Development Corporation we have gathered nearly 1,000 signatures supporting climate change solutions that ensure equity in the climate action plan.

This looks like:

  • Transportation justice: Invests in transit, bicycling, and pedestrian infrastructure in overburdened neighborhoods neighborhoods first, and puts people before freeways
  • Energy justice: Puts solar in overburdened neighborhoods, gives San Diegans a clean energy choice, and makes new and existing buildings energy efficient
  • Good jobs: Creates good-paying jobs for local residents
  • Climate change resilience: Protects our natural resources, wildlife, coastline, infrastructure, and public health from the harmful impacts of climate change

Together, we ask that the City of San Diego take action now, beginning in the neighborhoods impacted first and worst by climate change.

Will you join us?

For more information, please click here.

To get involved, please contact Monique López at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (619) 474-0220 ext. 130.

The following op-ed, written by Policy Advocate Monique López, ran in San Diego Free Press on September 28, 2015.

Monique López speaking to community members protesting the Regional Transportation Plan outside of SANDAG

We all need to move, and how we move influences our quality of life. The time of our commute, the safety of our sidewalks, the quality of our air and the type of transportation options we have determine how well we live our lives. On October 9, 2015, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) will decide how to invest $204 billion into our region’s transportation infrastructure.

This decision is critical to our livelihood. That much investment will have a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone in our region, particularly the lives of those in San Diego’s urban core where freeways intersect neighborhoods and transit, biking and walking infrastructure is scarce.

How these funds are invested will determine whether our region takes a step toward becoming a forward-thinking, sustainable place or whether we remain driving in circles, stuck in the incessant traffic jam that is our car-first mentality.

SANDAG’s current Regional Transportation Plan labels itself as a “balanced approach.” It claims to give equal attention to transportation options for people traveling by car as it does to those traveling by bike, bus and on foot. It claims to balance the need for better air quality with the need for efficient transportation.

In reality, SANDAG’s plan is anything but balanced.

After decades of prioritizing investment in freeway expansion and ignoring the needs of the most impacted communities, SANDAG should be investing the lion’s share of funds in underserved communities for transit and infrastructure that makes biking and walking safer.

People who live in traditionally underserved communities, including Barrio Logan, City Heights or parts of National City, Chula Vista or Imperial Beach, live with broken or nonexistent sidewalks, a lack of crosswalks to safely navigate traffic and a lack of bike lanes common in many traditionally funded communities. Residents living in a low income neighborhood in the City of San Diego, are ten times more likely to be hit by a car than those that live in most other neighborhoods. This horrifying statistic shouldn’t be a reality when we have $204 billion going toward local transportation improvements.

In San Diego, four freeways (I-5, SR-94, I-15, I-805) run through South Bay neighborhoods, and it’s no coincidence that these communities experience elevated cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. SANDAG says it is “investing in strategies to relieve traffic congestion which causes air pollution in these communities, such as expanding freeways for carpool lanes and for transit.” This means, SANDAG plans to add freeway lanes to an already well-developed freeway, particularly in communities South of I-8.

Research shows, however, that adding more lanes doesn’t eliminate traffic congestion. This is not a solution, and not something the community wants. Building more lanes on the freeway will only lead to more cars on the road and more toxic pollution, which harms nearby communities the most. If you build it, they will drive.

Travel times between cars and public transit only furthers the obvious imbalance. In San Diego, the average commute time by car is typically 25 minutes. The same commute can take up to two or three times longer on public transit.

The Regional Transportation Plan should prioritize investment in transit to improve travel times, encouraging sustainable options and providing real travel options.

More cars driving on the road mean more fossil fuel emissions. More fossil fuel emissions mean more greenhouse gases, and more greenhouse gases mean more harmful effects of climate change.

SANDAG’s plan to expand freeways directly contradicts the City of San Diego’s Climate Plan goals to reduce local emissions and slow the effects of climate change. Instead, SANDAG should be striving to investment in transportation options that move the most people, in the most efficient, sustainable, healthy and equitable way. If SANDAG can acknowledge the glaring transportation inequality across our region and listen to the unified voice of the community, we can use our $204 billion to make everywhere in San Diego accessible and safe.

Since SANDAG passed its Regional Plan in 2011, it has received hundreds of requests from community representatives across the region, especially in the urban core, for a robust transit network and more investment in infrastructure that will make biking and walking safer in all communities. Communities have requested SANDAG refrain from continuing to add lanes to freeways that only increase the amount of cars, toxic pollution and disease without relieving traffic congestion in the long run. Despite a clear and united resident voice, there has been little-to-no movement in reprioritizing money from freeway expansion projects to transit and active transportation projects.

The 2015 Regional Plan’s freeway lane addition list looks nearly identical to the plan passed in 2011, and that is not a plan we can support.

Just imagine of what $204 billion could do to make San Diego accessible for everyone, everywhere. Where you can take public transit without spending three hours each way in a bus seat. Where you can walk your children to school on a safe sidewalk, away from street traffic. Where you can bike safely on the road with cars.

SANDAG’s plan to expand every freeway south of I-8 is an injustice. Residents in the communities most overburdened by air pollution have said enough.

Enough air pollution. Enough traffic. Enough climate change.

Environmental Health Coalition urges SANDAG to listen to the voice of community and create a truly balanced transportation plan that puts our region on the path to healthy communities.

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Freeways can wait! Our communities and our environment cannot. EHC says "no" to SANDAG's Regional Transportation Plan. The Plan expands freeways that make it harder for residents to get to work on transit. Community members have continually said "no" to expanding four major freeways running through the South Bay, including I-5, I-805, I-15, SR-94. These freeways cut through communities and elevate levels of air pollution, asthma and the effects of climate change.

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SANDAG's plan for our region's transportation future doesn't include the changes we need to see in our neighborhoods: investments in public transit, biking, and walking infrastructure before freeway expansion. EHC urges the SANDAG Board to vote no on Friday, October 9. 

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Read our full letter to SANDAG Board Members.

 The Movement for a Balanced Transportation Future

Read policy advocate Monique López's op-ed, "The Movement for a Balanced Transportation Future."

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On a sunny Saturday, we hosted our first-ever community bike ride for City Heights residents to pedal in support of the new bike infrastructure planned for City Heights. The area slated for improvements, 54th, University Avenue and Orange Avenue, is lined with schools and green space. The bike improvements offer the freedom of movement residents have advocated for since 2012. Residents were thrilled and ready to celebrate the over $17 million in dedicated funds for the North Park Mid-City Bikeways, and with the enthusiasm and dedication of organizers, sponsors and participants, the bike ride quickly transformed into something incredible.

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More than 100 people attended this community bike ride in celebration and support of transportation justice. The ride raised awareness and support for bicycle and pedestrian improvements such as bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and road diets to make the streets of City Heights safer. It also gave our allies a platform to share their stories and build new partnerships. Everyone was having so much fun, residents who hadn’t been on a bike in years decided to join, and many loved it so much they made plans to get back on their bikes regularly again.

The strength and enthusiasm of the ride showed SANDAG, the City of San Diego and elected officials how much we care about transportation and climate justice. The ride also highlighted the unsung heroes of climate justice who are living the goals of the Climate Action Plan in the City of San Diego by walking, biking, and taking public transit as their main mode of transportation. Most importantly, the ride became an opportunity to build a stronger community and reclaim our streets. The ride gave a face to the bicycle commuting community of City Heights.

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In City Heights residents are 16 percent less likely to have access to a car than the average San Diegan and therefore, are walking, biking, and taking public transportation more. However, they’re 23 percent more likely to get hit by a car while biking and 80 percent more likely to get hit by a car while walking.

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Thank you to everyone who participated, you made a difference. We’d like to give special thanks to the sponsors and organizers of the ride also.

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Special thanks to DECO Bikes for bringing 25 free bikes for residents to use and toSuper Cocina for the amazing food and accommodating more than 100 hungry people. Special thanks to our community partners The Built Environment Team, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Community Leadership Association (ALC) and Bikes Del Pueblo. Also, thank you to Bridget Enderle of SANDAG for giving the residents an update on the North Park Mid-City Bikeway project.

Thank you, 

Monique Lopezsmaller
Monique López
Policy Advocate