Climate Action Plans: A Tale of Two Cities

State Road 78 through San Marcos and Carlsbad where vehicle emissions go to die. San Marcos and Carlsbad have gone in different directions when it comes to creating a local climate plan /CHP

A funeral was held last month at the site of Iceland’s Okjökull glacier. A century ago it covered nearly six square miles, measuring 164 ft. deep. Today, it’s less than one square mile, 49 feet thick. The shrinking sheet of ice can no longer be called a glacier. A tombstone plaque was placed at the site.

A Letter to the Future 

This monument is to acknowledge that we know 

what is happening and what needs to be done. 

Only you know if we did it.

August 19, 2019

A month later, an estimated 4 million young people filled streets in cities around the world, demanding attention to climate change. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, addressed the UN Climate Change Summit with these words: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and yet all you can talk about is money. You are failing us.”

What’s North San Diego County doing about it? I searched the city websites of San Marcos and Carlsbad to find out.

San Marcos adopted its 147-page Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2013. It tells what the city will do to comply with the Governor’s 2005 Executive Order to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, by 40 percent in 2030, and 80 percent in 2050. There have been no progress reports posted on the city’s website in the past five years.

Two years after San Marcos created its CAP, Carlsbad adopted its own 242-page plan. City Manager Scott Chadwick’s 2017 and 2018 annual reports are posted on the city’s website. The city put teeth into its plan for new business developments, adding the following two ordinances to its Municipal Code.



The electric vehicle ordinance requires of new nonresidential projects:

  • 10 percent of parking spaces, or a minimum of one space, must be electric vehicle capable.
  • 50 percent of the electric vehicle capable spaces, or a minimum of one space, must be equipped with electric vehicle charging stations.



All new nonresidential development projects where employees generate a minimum of 110 average daily trips are subject to the ordinance, which requires development of a Transportation Demand Management plan, outlining facility improvements, programs, incentives, education, marketing and outreach for a development project for review and approval by the city.

San Marcos chose not to amend its Municipal Code, but to add to the city’s General Plan measures to bring down GHG emissions, including the following:

Increase overall City fleet fuel efficiency by replacing gasoline vehicles with hybrids. 

Work with individual departments with vehicle fleets and equipment to develop fuel saving policies and programs.

Implement programs and provide incentives to reduce annual vehicle miles traveled associated with City employee commutes. 

Participate in SANDAG’s free iCommute program to develop and implement a customized commuter benefit program for City employees.

Implement improvements to smooth traffic flow, reduce idling, eliminate bottlenecks, and encourage efficient driving techniques.

Conduct education campaigns to promote fuel-efficient driving (“eco-driving”) practices such as reduced idling, slower driving speeds, gentle acceleration, and proper tire inflation.

San Marcos held several community workshops in May, open to all residents, to create a “2019 CAP Update.” A questionnaire was used to solicit opinions on various emissions reduction measures, many of which were already included in the 2013 plan.

Here’s a sample of the questionnaire used to solicit attendee opinions.

From the list of proposed strategies, below, please indicate up to five strategies that you support the most.

Here are just four on the list of 25 choices:

☐ Require EV charging stations at new multi-family and non-residential developments.

☐ Synchronize traffic signals along major corridors to reduce vehicle idling.

☐ Install roundabouts to improve efficiency of vehicle travel in the City.

☐ Install new bike lanes and upgrade existing ones in the City as stipulated in the General Plan. .

The questionnaire suggests those who don’t believe in the urgency of climate change, like the guy in the White House, together with those who do, had an equal say in the meetings. It seems the popularity of emissions reduction strategies, not climate science, will guide the city’s climate plan update.

San Marcos gets the credit for government transparency. It lists on its website all 50 major commercial, industrial, residential and mixed use development projects underway, together with maps and descriptions of the projects, the names of developer applicants, and the phone numbers of city staff for more detailed information.

Carlsbad could learn from that. The city’s website is not at all user-friendly for finding development projects. More transparency could have helped when a billionaire developer tried to put a shopping mall on the banks of the city’s pristine Agua Hedionda Lagoon a few years ago.

It appears San Marcos and Carlsbad could learn from each other. But the challenge to us all is reflected in a Washington Post survey, cited by Pulitzer Prize winning, environmental journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert, in her September 30, 2019 New Yorker article. Although more people are concerned about global warming, fewer than half said they would support a $2/month surcharge on their electricity bills, only a third would support a ten-cent-per-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax.

Looks like bad news for the shrinking glaciers.


After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, Richard Riehl began a second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for his opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press. For more, visit The Riehl World.

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