Environmental Stewardship

From San Diego Public Policy and Fiscal History

Climate Policy

Over the last decade, the county has become increasingly focused on passing climate policy. Due to it's coastal location, City researchers have projected climate change will cause significant landscape changes in San Diego[1].

Climate Action Plan

Following a failed expansion in 2018, the 2022 update to the Sustainability and Mobility Departments' Climate Action Plan (CAP) was unanimously approved by the City Council on August 2nd, 2022[2][3][4]. Described as "the most aggressive climate action plan in California" by the San Diego Tribune, the plan detailed a series of ambitious strategies to reach the cities goal of net-zero emissions by 2035-2045[2][5]. The 2022 CAP seeks to establish foundational changes in the form of policy while encouraging private entities to make climate-conscious decisions[6].

The 2022 CAP focuses on six sectors

  1. Decarbonization
  2. Renewable energy
  3. Land use and transportation
  4. Handling and reusing of waste
  5. Resilient ecosystem protection infrastructure
  6. Acclimatization to changes in climate[7][3]
A graph from the Sustainability Division of the City of San Diego depicting the progress of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego.

The greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego in 2019 was 9.6 million metric tons CO2e, significantly below "business as usual" projections and slightly less than projected citywide[8]. While the City is not close to it's goal of net-zero emissions by 2035, the 2022 CAP seeks to build on this progress. To achieve this goal, CAP contains plans to discontinue 45% of natural gas usage in existing buildings (50% in municipal) by 2030. By 2035, the City expects to eliminate 90% of natural gas usage in existing buildings and 100% in municipal[9].

Renewable Energy

Mass adoption of renewable energy is considered one of the most important pathways to sustainability. The 2022 CAP renews the City's commitment to reach 100% renewable energy. Adding onto the previous iterations of the CAP, the City announced it's new plan to replace it's fleet of gas fuel cars with electric. Partnering with San Diego Community Power, the city is researching ways to make renewable energy more accesable and affordable for San Diego residents[9].

Land Use and Transportation

Emissions from transportation are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego. To decrease car usage, the City is exploring tactics to increase walking and cycling as a mode of transportation to 19% and 7% in 2030 and 25% and 10%, respectively. The City is also seeking to encourage public transportation and electric vehicles to San Diego residents[9].

Handling and Reusing of Waste

As part of the 2022 CAP draft, the City plans on expanding the Polystyrene Foam and Single Use Plastics Ordinance to eliminate single use materials and support sustainability. The 2022 CAP proposes partnering with local composting facilities such as Miramar Greenergy to increase the quantity and quality of compost product to achieve it's goal of 90% waste diversion rate by 2035[9].

Resilient Ecosystem Protection Infrastructure

By 2035, San Diego County will attempt to restore 700 acres of salt marsh land and other forms of wetland, producing an expected greenhouse gas emissions decrease of 821 MT CO2e. In addition, the City seeks to plant more trees in urban environments, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and increasing air quality for residents[9].

Acclimatization to Changes in Climate

Strategy 6, new to the Climate Action Plan, is broadly defined as an exploratory strategy to identify further opportunities to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Assuming strategies 1-5 reach their projections, the City still needs to reduce annual emissions by 391,000 MT CO2e to reach the 2030 GHG reductions target. Before the next update to the CAP, the City will investigate opportunities to electrify construction, strengthen bonds with organizations and local industry, and expedite city processes in implementing CAP recommendations[9].


The Climate Action Plan has been met with mixed responses by the public. Business groups have argued that it does too much at the expense of local industry[10], while environmental activists have claimed it isn't doing enough to reach it's goal of net-zero emissions[11]. Councilman Raul Campillo has responded, saying the problem of climate change, "is like inventing calculus and probably just as hard"[10].

Climate Resilient SD

In February 2020, the City conducted a Climate Change Hazard Vulnerability Assessment to assess the potential impacts of climate change on San Diego. In response to that report, San Diego has worked to develop Climate Resiliency in San Diego, a plan detailing the primary hazards of climate change and response recommendations.

The preliminary plan lists the four largest risks to the city:

  1. Sea level rise
  2. Flooding and drought
  3. Extreme heat
  4. Wildfires[1]

Regional Decarbonization Plan


San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative


City Policy in San Diego County


General Plan 2030 Conservation & Sustainability



Zero Waste Program


Watershed Protection Program


Green Oceanside


Water Conservation Master Plan



Sustainable Materials Management Plan


Single-Use Plastics Ban (Skip The Stuff)


Plastic Bag Ban


Habitat Protection Plan



Energy and Green Buildings Ordinance


Coastal Zone Management



Urban Forest Program


El Cajon

Sustainability Initiative



Sustainable Santee Plan


Environmental Protections

San Diego is known as a "biodiversity hotspot", with the greatest diversity of plants and animals of any county in the continental United States. As the county has developed, it has also become the home of the largest quantity of plants and animals threatened with extinction[12]. Several policies have been introduced under the Biodiverse SD initiative to protect and preserve it's biological richness[13].

Multiple Species Conservation Program

Spanning multiple jurisdictions, the Multiple Species Conservation Program's (MSCP) goal is to defend the most biodiverse or endangered regions of Southern California. Currently MSCP is focused on South County with plans in the works to preserve regions in North and East County. As of March 2023, MSCP has protected thousands of acres of land (the homes of 85 species), and defined 20 county preserves that remain open to the public for visit[14][15]. The MSCP monitors San Diego's habitats and makes recommendations to the city on environmental protection under the MSCP Biological Monitoring Plan[16].

Vernal Pool Habitat Conversion Plan

Vernal pools are a unique temporary wetland in California with tremendous importance to a number of species of plants and animals. Most of the vernal pools in San Diego have been destroyed as a result of agricultural and urban development[17]. As a result, several species that rely on vernal pools have become threatened or endangered. The Vernal Pool Habitat Conversion Plan provides protections meant to preserve the shrinking habitat, stimulate growth, and save reliant species from extinction in California. The San Diego fairy shrimp, Riverside fairy shrimp, California Orcutt grass, and San Diego button-celery are just a few of the endangered species listed in the Vernal Pool HCP that are not covered by any other environmental protections[13]. The city of San Diego provides a Vernal Pools Interactive Map[18] to find the locations of the vernal pools left in San Diego.

Wildfire Preparedness

The rate of wildfires in California have increased over the last decade resulting in immense damage to San Diego buildings and in some cases, the loss of life. San Diego's unincorporated territories are especially susceptible to wildfires as they are often far from fire response teams and live in environments more vulnerable to fire spread.

Ready San Diego

Developed by the County of San Diego's Office of Emergency Services, ReadySanDiego.org provides guidelines for San Diego residents on how to prepare and react to wildfires. ReadySanDiego.org contains preparatory instructions on how to build a kit of essential items to ensure a quick exist from the home along with resources to stay updated on the state of fires nearby. SD Emergency is Ready San Diego's "must have" app full of resources dedicated to ensure the user's preparedness in case of emergency[19].

Non-Profits & Advocacy Organizations

I Love a Clean San Diego

Founded in 1954 as the San Diego War Against Litter Committee, I Love a Clean San Diego is one of the most prominent local environmental non-profits. The organization's mission is to eliminate litter in San Diego by promoting zero-waste lifestyles and hosting volunteer clean-up and beautification programs[20].

San Diego Bicycle Coalition

The San Diego Bicycle Coalition advocates for bicycling as an enjoyable, sustainable, and safe mode of transportation. Since 1987, the organization has lobbied for safer streets and increased bike pathways[21].

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

The Solana Center for Environmental Innovation was established as an educational group teaching the importance of recycling, grew to a recycling program serving 22,000 households, to now serving the community through advocacy outreach and environmental consulting. The SCEI has a large footprint among the San Diego environmental non-profits[22].

Environmental Health Coalition

Seeing social and environmental justice as intertwined, the Environmental Health Coalition seeks to reduce pollution and improve the wellbeing of low-income communities in San Diego. The EHC envisions a sustainable and accessible public transportation system, increased investments in disadvantaged communities, and an elimination of greenhouse gas emissions. The organization utilizes community outreach, protests, environmental volunteer events, and legislative lobbying[23].

Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center

Olivewood takes an educational approach to environmental advocacy. As of March 2023, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center has completed 50,000 hours of elementary instruction on organic gardening, nutrition, and environmental stewardship. The organization involves people of all ages, training adults in gardening and sustainable cooking, with opportunities to intern and volunteer[24].


  1. 1.0 1.1 https://www.sandiego.gov/sustainability/resilience/climateresilientsd
  2. 2.0 2.1 https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/08-02-22_climate_action_plan_approved_by_city_council_news_release.pdf
  3. 3.0 3.1 https://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/sdc/sustainability/climateactionplan.html
  4. https://www.sandiego.gov/sustainability
  5. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sd-me-gloria-mayor-announce-20190109-story.html
  6. https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/draft_climate_action_implementation_plan_022823.pdf
  7. https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/final_july_2016_cap.pdf
  8. https://www.sandiego.gov/2020cap#:~:text=The%20total%20GHG%20emissions%20from,decrease%20in%20emissions%20from%202010.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 https://www.sandiego.gov/sustainability/climate-action-plan
  10. 10.0 10.1 https://voiceofsandiego.org/2023/03/09/san-diego-business-groups-balk-at-citys-new-climate-policy-guide/
  11. https://www.kpbs.org/news/local/2023/03/02/environmental-activists-want-more-from-san-diegos-climate-action-implementation-plan
  12. https://earthdiscovery.org/Biodiversity-Conservation#:~:text=San%20Diego%20is%20known%20as,extinction%20anywhere%20in%20the%20country.
  13. 13.0 13.1 https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/work/biodiversity#:~:text=The%20Multiple%20Species%20Conservation%20Program,jurisdictions%20participating%20in%20the%20MSCP.
  14. https://www.sdparks.org/content/sdparks/en/AboutUs/Plans/MSCP.html
  15. https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/work/biodiversity#:~:text=The%20Multiple%20Species%20Conservation%20Program,jurisdictions%20participating%20in%20the%20MSCP.
  16. https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/work/mscp/biomonitor/bioplan
  17. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Plants/Vernal-Pools
  18. https://webmaps.sandiego.gov/portal/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=d04d9b6e46fc43cf998f46d9018c04e3
  19. https://www.readysandiego.org/
  20. https://cleansd.org/about/
  21. https://sdbikecoalition.org/about-us/
  22. https://solanacenter.org/about/
  23. https://www.environmentalhealth.org/about/our-story/
  24. https://www.olivewoodgardens.org/about/our-mission/