Over the weekend I had the opportunity to go on a hike sponsored by San Diego Canyonlands with fellow members of San Diego Democrats for Environmental Action. We didn’t have to drive out to the back country or even to Mission Trails Regional Park. In fact, I was able to hop on my bike for the ride from North Park to Oak Park to enjoy an urban hike in a beautiful stretch of canyon. As I walked and chatted and reconnected with an old community friend, I thought about the County’s role in meaningfully protecting our environment. Because I ride my bike regularly and most of the people I see riding are people who use their bikes for transportation, I believe strongly in protecting our environment with safe, separated lanes that enable people to move safely and burn less fossil fuel. Communities like Vancouver, B.C. have transformed from a car-dominant culture in the urban core in a very short time, which demonstrates that it can be done. Bicycles create opportunities for people who cannot afford cars or who prefer alternative transportation options. Safe infrastructure is part of a larger solution.
But a few things struck me as I walked through protected open space within a watershed that requires more work to undo decades of environmental carelessness. First, an environmentally just set of policies requires that the County support efforts in the region that will clean up communities that have been polluted with impunity for years. Second, the need for more dense homes and to resist sprawl development is clear; both to address housing affordability and to protect open spaces like the one I hiked through. Third, given that at-risk youth from Urban Corps helped restore the canyon, it was not lost on me that protecting our environment can lead to employment in our green economy for those most in need of opportunity.
None of the environmental protections we need will just happen automatically. The Sierra Club had to (successfully) sue the County of San Diego just to get a legally enforceable Climate Action Plan closer to reality. That plan, when unveiled, must guide responsible development. This means stopping sprawl, preserving the open space and natural beauty that makes San Diego County so desirable, and putting in place meaningful requirements to reduce greenhouse gases. The give and take of accommodating growth means making rules more clear, reliable, and efficient to build homes in specific areas within the general plan so that people can afford to remain here and we can properly increase housing supply. San Diego’s economy relies heavily on our environment, thus protecting that environment will help our region prosper.