Members of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) have approved a resolution calling for the group to develop a regional framework that will help local governments prepare for anticipated future disruptions due to climate change.
The resolution, which states that Southern California is facing a “climate change emergency” that is disproportionately affecting disadvantaged communities, passed by a unanimous vote earlier this month, with 53 members approving the resolution and none weighing in against the measure.
Two members did, however, abstain. They were Yorba Linda Mayor Peggy Huang and Anaheim City Councilmember Trevor O’Neil.
O’Neil said he was concerned about the state’s “continued push for unrealistic and unattainable goals … without regard to the economic collateral damage that will be felt by everyday working families.”
The resolution was drafted based on recommendations from SCAG’s Energy and Environment Committee. It calls for SCAG to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” identify ways to “help infuse the region with investments in clean energy and low carbon transportation,” and “develop a regional resilience framework” that will help local governments prepare for disruptions including earthquakes and pandemics.
The resolution also calls for a “holistic and coordinated approach to de-carbonizing or electrifying passenger vehicles, transit and goods movement vehicles.”
Climate Change and Wildfires
O’Neil, a SCAG regional councilmember, said he objected to several items in the resolution, starting with the title, which includes the words “climate emergency.”
“I am fine with calling on local regional partners to join together and improve regional resilience, but we don’t have to affirm a climate emergency in the SCAG region in order to do so, and I think that that phrase ought to be struck from the title,” he said at the Jan. 7 meeting, when the resolution passed.
O’Neill told The Epoch Times he disagreed with “conjectures being made about climate change causing increased wildfires” without acknowledging the role of forest management and utility maintenance.
He cited several clauses in the resolution that refer to the impact of climate change on the severity of wildfires, while none mention faulty electrical equipment, sparks from vehicles, lightning strikes, arson, or forestry management.
Huang also told The Epoch Times she supports efforts to protect the environment and provide more green energy, but she is “very concerned about the specifics” in the resolution that omit data related to other causes of wildfires.
According to a SCAG press release, 2020 was the largest wildfire season in the state’s modern history, with more than 9,000 fires linked to more than 1,200 preventable deaths due to respiratory health impacts, and with damages in excess of $10 billion.
SCAG President Rex Richardson, the vice mayor of Long Beach, said in the release: “We’ve seen, just in the past year, very real manifestations of climate change, from raging wildfires to extreme weather. This has exacted a heavy price—to our health, to our economy, to the air we breathe, to a quality of life that has never faced a more serious threat.”
The resolution states that one-third of the SCAG region’s residents live in areas recognized as “disadvantaged communities” that are “disproportionately vulnerable to shocks and stresses to their resilience, including heightened health risks from worsening air quality and extreme heat.” It goes on to mention the “resulting economic instability from climate hazards” as a cause for concern.
But O’Neil said that climate change affects everyone in the region. “All communities are impacted by the negative effects of climate change, and I don’t see why any disadvantaged community should be singled out,” he said.
Megan Beaman-Jacinto, the Coachella regional councilmember, said at the SCAG meeting that previous government policies have failed to consider the impacts of climate change on disadvantaged communities.
“The science and the data all support the fact that so-called disadvantaged communities, and particularly communities of color or non-white communities, are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis and by all kinds of other disparities,” she said.
SCAG members voted in July to establish a special committee on equity and social justice, to advise the regional council on more equitable, diverse, and inclusionary housing policies.
O’Neil said the group also authorized an expenditure of $1 million to a Los Angeles-focused nonprofit to address “justice in housing”—money he felt would have been better spent on helping cities with their housing elements.
“This is about local control,” he said. “What’s good for Los Angeles is not necessarily a fit for Orange County.”
Huang, who serves on the SCAG social equity committee, echoed O’Neil’s position that climate change affects everyone and certain groups should not be singled out.
SCAG is the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, representing 191 cities and more than 19 million residents in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Imperial counties. The group has been meeting virtually during the month of January to approve state-mandated housing allocations throughout the region for the next eight years.