BY LEORAH GAVIDOR
It’s just a drop in the bucket: San Diego’s new $5 million Climate Equity Fund, which the city council approved in March, sets aside money to spend on improvement projects in “Communities of Concern” that have been left behind when it comes to climate solutions.
Wealthy communities — in San Diego and across the United States and the world — receive greater benefits from climate solutions that improve air quality, provide greater access to alternative transportation amenities, or simply provide a higher quality of life. Affluent communities tend to have more numerous and thriving parks, more trees, less traffic density, better conditions for pedestrians, and more access to healthy food.
The City of San Diego identified local Communities of Concern in a 2019 study that assigned a score to census tracts, using 38 indicators to determine a climate equity index for each area. The study considered factors such as proximity to waste sites and recreation areas, overcrowdedness, urban heat island index, bikeability, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, energy cost burden, tree coverage, and groundwater threats. The study found that communities with very low, low, and moderate access to opportunity make up 42% of San Diego’s neighborhoods.
Barrio Logan, Lincoln Park, Mountain View, Stockton, Grant Hill, Shelltown, and the Tijuana River Valley are some of the areas hardest hit by climate change. To address climate equity in the city as a whole, one of the tenets of the City’s 2015 Climate Action Plan, Councilwoman Vivian Moreno proposed the idea of creating a special fund. Moreno represents South Bay’s District 8, where residents suffer from lack of investing in infrastructure. The Climate Equity Fund is reserved for communities that score below average on the climate equity index.
The idea is to supplement projects that help communities respond to climate change, like building bike lanes and improving sidewalks to provide safe and accessible alternatives to driving. Though it is a start, $5 million spread out over dozens of underserved communities in San Diego falls far short of what’s needed — considering the budget for the new Children’s Park south of Island Avenue in downtown San Diego was $9 million, and the cost to add bike lanes is estimated at about $20,000 per mile.
The majority of money for the Climate Equity Fund will come from franchise fees San Diego Gas & Electric pays to the City. Other funding sources include existing gas and transportation taxes. Proposed projects will be incorporated into the fiscal year 2022 budget, which will be finalized in June. The mayor’s office will seek input from the Office of Race and Equity regarding allocation of funds and location of projects.