Report warns San Diegans to preserve quality of life

In the next 20 years, the number of people living in San Diego County will grow by 750,000. That's more than three times the population of Chula Vista.

"What will that do to our traffic? What will that do to our open spaces and our land use? What will we do if we run out of landfill space?" asked Marion Paul, executive director of the Equinox Center.

The Equinox Center is a research group formed last year to measure and report on issues that affect quality of life.

"We base our research on three values. And that is a healthy environment, a strong economy and vibrant communities," Paul said.

The group's debut report provides a snapshot of where the county stands on essential issues. They call it the "Quality of Life Dashboard" because like a car dashboard, it's meant to focus our attention on what is necessary to keep lives running smoothly here in San Diego.

"We did flag three issues that we think are very important. That's water, transportation and energy. We think those need to be addressed right away," said Paul.

Water is a top concern because 85 percent of the region's water is imported from outside the county.

"As our population grows and as we experience more strident droughts and there are political decisions and other things happening, we consider our water supply to be much more vulnerable than we thought it would be," said Paul.

Transportation is a red-flag issue because of findings that may or may not surprise commuters -- San Diego has one of the worst traffic congestion rankings in the nation. The report cited a study by the Texas Transportation Institute that looked at over 400 cities nationwide and found San Diego had the third-largest increase in congestion trends.

"We're worse than New York City and if we don't get a new plan in place for better public transportation, and look at our land use planning differently, this will only get worse as we add more people," Paul said.

Another urgent issue is how far local energy provider SDG&E is behind state-regulated goals for renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

"Six percent of our energy supplies came from renewable resources but the state in 2010 is mandating that we have 20 percent be from renewable resources, so clearly there is a large gap there," Paul explained.

On some of the Dashboard issue pages, San Diegans can see at a glance how the different areas of the county stack up to one another. There's a reason for the comparisons.

"What we've learned from other areas is that indicator projects in other cities say the very best type of learning is when the municipalities look at each other and see how they're doing and then learn from each other," said Paul.

She said the ultimate goal is to have residents and policymakers use the Dashboard report as a tool to plan for the future.

"We've been researching best practices from across the nation and literally around the world. That's the kind of information we'll be sharing. We don't plan to put just a static Dashboard on the table. We want to come in with ideas and help solve the problems together," said Paul. "I think if we don't do it, a little bit of our quality of life slips away every single day. And we don't notice it a little bit at a time."

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