Quandary in San Diego : Clean Air Gains Threatened by Growth

Associated Press

Rapid growth in the San Diego region is threatening to reverse gains made toward cleaner air in recent years, the county's air pollution control officer said.

"We may need to address the fundamental issue of too many cars going too many places with not too many people in them," Richard Sommerville said.

The county's population has grown by more than 600,000 since 1976, and the newcomers brought more than 500,000 vehicles with them, Sommerville said.

Addressing a recent meeting of the California Air Resources Board, Sommerville said local officials may have to consider tough new measures designed to fight smog in San Diego County.

Mandatory car-pooling and stricter vehicle inspections are among the possibilities mentioned by Sommerville. He said voluntary ride-sharing, mass transit and related programs have not achieved the desired reduction in vehicle traffic.

"There is no doubt we have to look at mandatory criteria for car-pooling," Sommerville said, but added, "I don't mean that we will be telling people they will be only able to drive their cars on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

He said, for example, that employers could be ordered to stagger shifts for employees to thin rush-hour traffic or to use incentives to encourage increased use of car pools. The state, Sommerville said, could also consider toughening emission standards that vehicles must meet to pass the biannual Smog Check program.

In outlining the region's smog situation for the board, Sommerville said that between 1984 and 1986, San Diego County had California's fifth-highest average number of smoggy days per year. He said that proves the Environmental Protection Agency was wrong last August when it ranked the county as the second-smoggiest in the nation.

The county also has achieved a 55% reduction in the number of smoggy days since 1978, when there were 90 such days, to 40 days so far this year. To meet federal clean air standard for ozone--a primary element in photochemical smog--the county cannot have more than one smoggy day per year.

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