Mapping a cleaner San Diego
Sebastian Sarria, MPP ‘20 models the fight for clean energy at the City of San Diego, utilizing his GIS expertise to work on the city’s Climate Action Plan
By Rachel Hommel | GPS News
Born in Colombia but raised in Florida, Sebastian Sarria has experienced the destruction of Mother Nature and how it affects our communities, especially those of color. Wanting to learn more about environmental policy, the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) has nurtured his interest in advocacy with real-world experiential learning.
“I want to be the best policymaker and clean energy analyst I can be. To do that, I needed to understand more than just the advocacy side,” said Sarria, a 2020 Master of Public Policy candidate specializing in the energy and environmental policy track.
As a former Clean Energy Coordinator for Climate Action Campaign, Sarria is well versed in the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), approved December 2015 by San Diego’s environmental, business and community leaders to create a cleaner San Diego for future generations. The ambitious plan calls for eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions and aims for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035.
“San Diego is a mecca for energy work, but not a lot of people know about it,” said Sarria. “While California passed SB 100 to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2045, we are already ahead of the game. While there a lot of regulations and moving pieces, we are leading the charge.”
The CAP is a package of policies that will benefit San Diego’s environment and economy, hoping to create new jobs in the renewable energy industry while improving public health and air quality, as well as increasing clean energy production. This past spring quarter, Sarria was able to bring a new set of skills to the office, gleaning his expertise in GIS for a yearlong internship at the City of San Diego.
“I came to GPS knowing a good amount of high-level policy work, but in terms of more granular details. Learning GIS was incredibly relevant and I’ve used it all of the time at the City,” stressed Sarria. “Additionally, the course Energy Systems and Innovation taught me the fundamentals of energy engineering, which has proven very useful.”
Currently, Sarria is working on creating an equity index, with over 30 key categories to identify and analyze from proximity of transit stops to exposure to hazardous materials. Teaching himself how to use and acquire census data, he has quickly become one of the in-house GIS experts within the Sustainability Department, condensing data into a GIS friendly format to create a map which will highlight communities of concern, showing equity on a broad scale.
“There is a lack of people with GIS knowledge. If you have it, you will get pulled into meetings and projects others interns simply will not,” said Sarria. “You get put into the fast track of learning and become a vital team member.”
While the energy industry is undoubtedly complex, Sarria believes that GPS students have the opportunity to lead the charge, helping the city implement new plans to change the future of energy for San Diego and make critical connections between academia and the policy community.
“Policy and energy work must go hand in hand,” stressed Sarria. “GPS has allowed me to learn the regulatory and economic side of energy, to understand what’s feasible not only today but tomorrow and for the future.”