Orange County and all of its cities are failing – Orange County Register

Orange County is the largest county by population in California that hasn’t committed to a comprehensive climate action plan.

And, on a municipal level, just six of Orange County’s 34 cities have plans in place that offer clear strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing to deal with the effects of a changing climate. Those cities are Fullerton, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Huntington Beach, San Clemente and Santa Ana.

But even among those six cities, none have clear plans to get to 100% clean energy, to achieve zero waste, to address environmental equity issues or hit other major targets that environmental advocates say are needed to stave off the worst impacts of global warming.

Those are key findings of the inaugural Orange County Climate Action Plan Report Card, published Wednesday by the local watchdog group Climate Action Campaign.

“Our report card’s primary takeaway is that local governments are completely failing to plan for climate impacts and are not taking action to reduce climate pollution, create equitable communities or meet state pollution targets,” Alexis Hernandez with Climate Action Campaign said during a press conference Wednesday morning in front of the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center.

The lack of such plans puts local residents at increased risk from dangers created by the changing climate, such as worsening heat waves and wildfires, Hernandez said. She noted such impacts will hit disadvantaged communities the hardest if real change doesn’t come soon.

“This is our moment to make it happen,” Hernandez said. “Now our elected officials and city governments must have the courage to do what’s necessary to address the climate crisis.”

Climate actions taken at the state, national and global levels get most of the attention. But Ayn Craciun, O.C. policy manager for the Climate Action Campaign, cited an estimate from the United Nations that cities have regulatory control over sectors such as transportation and buildings that create about 75% of all global carbon emissions. And her organization has evidence to show that report cards like this one can push cities to make real progress toward reducing those impacts.

Climate Action Campaign has published five such annual report cards in San Diego. Now, Craciun said, every San Diego municipality but one (Poway) has a climate action plan or is developing one. She’s optimistic that this inaugural report for Orange County will prompt a similar wave of change.

“Hopefully, we will look back in years to come on today as a turning point,” Craciun said.

A handful of local leaders, including Buena Park Council Member Jose Trinidad Casteneda, showed up to pledge their support for getting comprehensive climate action plans passed in the near future.

At the county level, Fifth District Supervisor Katrina Foley said departments just this week submitted an inventory of all sustainable planning practices, such as the types of fleets they’re buying that are electric or use hydrogen fuel. She said they’ll use that inventory to help establish a baseline and strategies for the county’s first climate action plan soon.

“We are decades behind in planning for the future to protect what we know as this beautiful place we call home,” Foley said.

Climate change is real, she said, and it’s threatening Orange County’s economy and way of life today. She cited how coastal erosion has erased recreation opportunities, led to homes in South County being red-tagged and disrupted rail service in San Clemente for months.

“And why is this happening?” she asked. “Because we have for decades denied that this is a problem here in Orange County and have just been working business as usual, not planning for the future.”

Irvine is one of three cities in Orange County (along with Anaheim and Costa Mesa) that’s in the process of developing a climate action plan. Irvine actually started discussing such a plan seven years ago, but has yet to publish one. Vice Mayor Tammy Kim and Council Member Kathleen Treseder, who is also an ecology professor at UC Irvine, both voiced their commitment during Wednesday’s press conference to help their city get a plan in place by the end of this year.

There are some bright spots in the 41-page report, Hernandez noted. That includes Huntington Beach’s commitment to monitoring progress toward decarbonization, Fullerton’s work on bikeable and walkable neighborhoods, and Santa Ana’s efforts to develop affordable housing near public transportation.

But while those three cities earned the top spots in the inaugural report card, Hernandez said all of the plans are “out of date, underfunded and unimplemented.”

California recommends updating such plans every three to five years, for example. But the report states Orange County city plans are between five and 13 years old and have never been updated. And the report states many action plans have elements that are “unenforceable, violating California climate law and leaving cities open to litigation.”

Huntington Beach led the pack with 40 out of 100 points. To up its score, the reports states Huntington Beach needs to update the plan that was passed six years ago, require new buildings to be electric, and implement programs such as bus vouchers to make public transit affordable for low-income folks.

Fullerton is in second place, with a score of 28.5. The report praises the north county city for plans to hit up to 70% clean energy by joining the embattled Orange County Power Authority. But Fullerton’s climate plan is more than 10 years old, per the report, and doesn’t include elements such as electrification strategies, efforts to add trees, or any cost analysis.

Santa Ana came in third with 27 points, with similar gaps in updates, equity strategies and electrification plans.

Laguna Beach, which in 2009 became one of the first cities in the country to create a climate plan, took a big step toward bolstering that plan Tuesday night. Council Member Alex Rounaghi shared that leaders unanimously approved a contract to update their plan so that it’s legally binding and enforceable under the state’s environmental compliance law, known as CEQA.



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