Planning Director Discusses How the County is Addressing Climate Change


The County of San Diego is committed to helping communities thrive while protecting the region’s unique and diverse natural resources. The County’s Director of Planning & Development Services (PDS), Dahvia Lynch, AICP, recently sat down for an interview with the American Planning Association’s Planning Magazine to discuss the County’s plans to address climate change, affordable housing, and conservation.

In the interview, Dahvia highlights the important work PDS is pursuing in support of the County’s growing commitment to sustainability, including the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Update, Electric Vehicle (EV) Roadmap, and County conservation programs.

Read excerpts of the interview below, and we encourage you to review a recording and transcript of the full interview on the APA’s website.

On the CAP Update, Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program, and EV Roadmap…

PLANNING: Planners all over the country are seeking real solutions to climate change. I know that San Diego County is updating its 2018 Climate Action Plan — what are its top priorities?

LYNCH: Our climate action plan, and the update we're working on, is not aimed to just meet our state targets. We're going further, much further. Our board's goal is to go carbon neutral. We know that some of that is within our authority and some of it is far outside of it, so it requires partnerships with other agencies, as well as in academia, with other jurisdictions in the region and with the private sector.

One effort that offers a lot of co-benefits is our purchase of agricultural conservation easements, which benefits the property owners by reducing their tax burden, permanently conserves the land for agricultural purposes, creates corridors for wildlife, and acts as a carbon sequestration tool. It's a voluntary program, and we've permanently conserved 3,000 acres since 2011.

We also have created an EV Roadmap. We asked ourselves: How do we get electric vehicles in people's hands — everyone's hands, actually, because it's an equity issue? We are working with the private sector and communities, especially those that have been historically underserved, and have put together a comprehensive website with information on EV dealerships, choosing the right vehicle, scheduling a test drive, and accessing grant funding. We've had over 7,000 hits on that in the first six months. We're also mapping out where infrastructure would be needed to be able to support electric vehicles throughout the county based on gaps in service.

EV charging at home
Oakoasis Preserve

On the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP)…

PLANNING: San Diego County is also planning for a wide array of animal and plant species. What can you tell us about the county's efforts and outcomes in preserving and protecting its biodiversity?

LYNCH: You just opened the door on one of my favorite programs, and I'll let you in on a little secret: Our multiple species conservation program is actually what attracted me to the county over 20 years ago because it was such an innovative program. It was oriented to do two things: protect species through a large blocks of habitat preservation approach and to streamline development where it belongs, in areas that are better served by infrastructure and that don't have that kind of biodiversity. It was driven, at that time, by some of the endangered species issues that we were encountering in the community, but it really created an opportunity to start to focus more on the conservation piece, in addition to streamlining development.

The way the program works is, again, through data-driven processes: analyzing the most biodiverse areas with the largest blocks of habitat and critical corridors for species movement. A preserve is identified that's often comprised of quite a bit of private land, so we'll incentivize conservation in those areas. As for mitigation for development in areas where it is otherwise incentivized and in those areas where it's incentivized outside of the preserve, we're able to work with our local California and federal wildlife agencies to streamline permits because they're being offset or mitigated in those large blocks of habitat — which, from a long range perspective, in terms of the viability of the species, is really the most critical tactic that we can take.

It has been really successful, and it only covers a portion of our county. We have preserved almost 80,000 acres of a really vast array of habitat types for many, many, many species — far beyond the state and federally listed species that it covers directly.