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Sinnott takes SANDAG chairmanship, stirs up climate change questions

No sooner had Terry Sinnott been elected board chairman of the San Diego Association of Governments than he found himself in the center of a firestorm. Minutes after his unanimous selection by the planning agency’s 20 board members on Friday, Dec. 15, a KPBS reporter asked Sinnott his thoughts on whether climate change was man-made.

“I don't get into that situation,” he told KPBS’s Andrew Bowen. “It's a debatable issue that the board talks about. We have representatives from all 18 cities and the county of San Diego, and they bring their political thoughts in when they make decisions. My job is to facilitate and make sure we make progress and stick to the mission of our agency.”

Those words stirred up swift backlash in Del Mar, alarming his colleagues on the council, two former councilmen as well as members of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board. Some went so far as to demand that Sinnott relinquish Del Mar’s seat on the SANDAG board.

Sinnott started the council’s Dec. 15 meeting by clarifying his comments and apologizing for answering the KPBS question indirectly.

He had been speaking as the new chairman, he said, not wanting to “alienate” SANDAG members who hold “a wide variety of perspectives” on climate change. Sinnott concluded his Dec. 15 remarks by affirming what he said has always been his position on climate change.

"I am not a scientist,” he said. “But I do believe that we are in the midst of climate change, and that humans, man-made, people, are contributing to that climate change and that it is absolutely necessary that we, as a community and society, move forward in doing things to reduce greenhouse gases and address climate action.”

One of the calls for Sinnott’s ouster came from Rose Ann Sharp, chairwoman of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board. Appreciative of Sinnott’s clarification — but not completely assuaged — Sharp asked the council to draft and pass a resolution asserting once and for all the city’s position that climate change is not debatable.

“It is very, very important that we clear the record up,” she said. “That will go a long way to rectifying what happened.”

Several councilmembers, Sinnott included, supported the suggestion.

Before voting to reappoint Sinnott as Del Mar’s representative to SANDAG, Mayor Dwight Worden took a moment to emphasize that the rep must put climate leadership above politics.

“We need that person to be a champion, not just somebody who’s trying to make consensus and be an arbiter of disparate viewpoints, but somebody who’s going to stand up and lead and say, ‘I’m taking the chair because it’s my mission to do everything I can to achieve these goals,’” Worden said.

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