January 29, 2023

Orange County is the most populous county in California not to commit to a comprehensive climate action plan.

And at the local level, only six of Orange County’s 34 cities have plans that offer clear strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the impacts of changing climate. These cities are Fullerton, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Huntington Beach, San Clemente and Santa Ana.

But even among those six cities, none has clear plans to achieve 100% clean energy, reach zero waste, address environmental justice issues, or meet other key goals that environmentalists say are necessary to mitigate the worst impacts to ward off global warming.

These are the key findings of the first Orange County Climate Action Plan report map released Wednesday by local monitoring group Climate Action Campaign.

“The key takeaway from our testimony is that local governments do not plan for climate impacts at all and take no action to reduce climate pollution, create equitable communities, or meet government pollution targets,” Climate Action Campaign’s Alexis Hernandez said during a news conference on Wednesday morning in front of the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center.

The lack of such plans puts local residents at increased risk from hazards posed by climate change, such as worsening heat waves and wildfires, Hernandez said. She noted that unless real change occurs soon, such impacts will hit disadvantaged communities hardest.

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

Climate action at the state, national, and global levels gets the most attention. But Ayn Craciun, OC Policy Manager for the Climate Action Campaign, cited a United Nations estimate that cities have regulatory control over sectors like transport and buildings, which produce about 75% of all global carbon emissions. And her organization has evidence that testimonies like this can inspire cities to make real progress in reducing that impact.

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

“Hopefully, we’ll look back on today as a turning point for years to come,” Craciun said.

A handful of local leaders, including Buena Park councilor Jose Trinidad Casteneda, emerged to pledge their support for the passage of comprehensive climate action plans in the near future.

At the district level, fifth district supervisor Katrina Foley said departments just this week submitted an inventory of all sustainable planning practices, such as: B. the types of fleets they buy that are electric or use hydrogen as fuel. She said they will use this inventory to create a foundation and strategies for the county’s first climate action plan soon.

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

Climate change is real, she said, and it threatens Orange County’s economy and way of life today. She cited how coastal erosion had wiped out recreational opportunities, resulted in South County homes being red marked and rail service in San Clemente shut down for months.

“And why is this happening?” she asked. “Because for decades we denied that this was an issue here in Orange County and just went on with business as usual and didn’t plan for the future.”

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

The 41-page report contains some bright spots, Hernandez noted. These include Huntington Beach’s commitment to monitoring progress on decarbonization, Fullerton’s work on bike- and walkable neighborhoods, and Santa Ana’s efforts to develop affordable housing near public transportation.

But while those three cities took the top spots in opening testimony, Hernandez said all plans are “outdated, underfunded and unimplemented.”

For example, California recommends updating such plans every three to five years. But the report says Orange County city maps are between five and 13 years old and have never been updated. And the report notes that many action plans contain elements that are “unenforceable, violate California’s climate law and leave cities open to litigation.”

Huntington Beach led the field with 40 out of 100 points. To improve its score, the reports say Huntington Beach needs to update the plan passed six years ago, add electricity to new buildings and implement programs like bus vouchers to make public transportation affordable for low-income people.

Fullerton is in second place with a score of 28.5. The report commends the North County City for its plans to achieve up to 70% clean energy by joining the embattled Orange County Power Authority. But Fullerton’s climate plan is more than 10 years old, according to the report, and doesn’t include elements like electrification strategies, efforts to add trees, or any cost analysis.

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

Laguna Beach, which was one of the first cities in the country to adopt a climate plan in 2009, took a big step toward strengthening that plan Tuesday night. Councilor Alex Rounaghi said leaders unanimously approved a treaty updating their plan to make it legally binding and enforceable under the state’s environmental law known as CEQA.

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