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Interview with Dennis Gakunga, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Chula Vista

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Interview with Dennis Gakunga, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Chula Vista

22-Nov-2017

The City of Chula Vista and Port of San Diego are in the process of developing the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan (CVBMP) which is currently the largest fully entitled waterfront development on the West Coast of the United States at 535 acres. As part of the CVBMP, the City of Chula Vista and Port of San Diego committed to extraordinary energy efficiency targets as part of a Settlement Agreement. In January, Chula Vista was one of 10 regions chosen as an autonomous vehicle proving ground by the US Department of Transportation and in February, the city was chosen as one of 10 finalists in the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant program. Chula Vista is a southern Californian city and the second largest in the San Diego metropolitan area, which this year adopted its Smart Cities Strategic Action Plan with the goal to become a smart city and develop innovative technologies around sustainability, energy efficiency, telecommunications and transportation.

Hi Dennis! Can you start by telling me a bit about the motivations behind the smart city initiatives at Chula Vista, the time frames and what you hope to achieve?

Well I guess we started exploring some of these specific smart city technologies partly due to the City's commitment to reduce energy usage by 50% compared to the status quo, so each individual building will have to perform better than the Californian building energy efficiency standards. So to meet those aggressive sustainability targets there was a need to start looking at what kind of innovative energy efficiency technologies we would need. What kind of telecommunication backbone would be required to support these technologies?

Instead of just looking at energy efficiency we decided to also look at IT and telecommunications, as well as water, as part of an integrated approach. The CVBMP project is a long term project to be completed in 4 phases over 24 years. The City, the Port and the developer recently signed a letter of intent essentially teeing up the next steps for the Development Agreement which we hope will be signed early next year - and then it will kick start the design of the first phase of the project. We're anticipating phase one to be completed by 2022.

Will it require quite a major overhaul of technology, or something you will be able to layer over what you have already?

Well the intent of the project is to identify viable and sustainable development practices that we can eventually scale up and expand city-wide. So we see this as a really good opportunity to work collectively with our regional partners – at this point we would like to explore anything that is potentially possible within a city; any existing smart city technology that is viable we hope to be able to look at and then see what we can expand city-wide. So really for us it’s a test-bed, an economic engine, because the project itself will include a resort , convention centre,  office, retail and  residential, 200 acres of parks, and we will be looking at  various technologies including  public Wi-Fi, smart kiosks, smart parking, smart lighting, and various smart transportation solutions.

Can you tell me a bit about the obstacles you're beginning to face that you didn't anticipate, or the challenges that are now appearing as you get into this project?

Well one of the things - and this is not just unique to Chula Vista - is budgets and funding issues. We have competing priorities, just like every other city, and especially for projects that are of a long term nature; you know ours is 24 years, having the discussion or trying to put together business cases that justify return on investment for long term projects versus immediate short term projects - if you have to choose between A and B, but B has a return of X over many years versus something that is immediate in nature - that's always a challenge. We also have not necessarily always had a very clear roadmap as to how we go from visioning to implementation. So last year the city and the port worked together with a consultant to do an assessment of the waterfront to investigate how we can design and develop this as a smart city, so we just concluded that July of last year and developed some pretty comprehensive reports which we'll use going forward. Then as a result of that we proceeded to develop a Smart Cities Strategic Action Plan that was adopted by city council actually last week. So this document is the vehicle that we will use to help us move from the visioning to implementation, to help us be able to stay on track in terms of some of the goals and objectives that we're shooting for.

So there are a lot of stakeholders involved, and you mentioned earlier there have already been 100 or so meetings. So far has this mostly been working with a mixture of technology companies and providers, or more at a legislative level with the authorities and councils?

Well, that's a good question; we've been working with all different types of stakeholders as part of this. As part of the joint project between the Port and the City, we developed an Innovation Council, which consisted of several different industry leaders including Qualcomm, Cisco, OSISoft and this Innovation Council served as an advisor during the joint smart waterfront assessment which we found to be very helpful. This was also co-ordinated by CleanTech San Diego, who helps our regional smart city efforts, The City of Chula Vista serves  on the Clean tech Board along with the City of San Diego and a number of other cities, universities, as well as representatives from the port and we meet to discuss various initiatives, policy, co-ordination etc etc.

Are there other partners then that you're hoping to meet then as the project progresses, perhaps at SCWS Americas?

Well we recognise that there are other partners that we can work with, whether it's water authorities, school districts, various hospitals; those are other areas that were defined in the Strategic Action Plan. It has 4 key goals and about 39 objectives, and one of those objectives is about inter-governmental and community engagement, and we need to spell out ways we can continue to work with these various groups.

But also in addition to that - it's not just about a regional approach. We share information about our project and learn from other cities and local governments across the USA and internationally, and that engagement has been really helpful to us.

For us we're always interested in innovative ways to finance various initiatives, whether it's budget neutral deployments, innovative public-private partnerships, those are the things we'd be interested in. We're also looking for ways to enhance and expand our data analytics component, what are folks doing around cyber security, around various policies regarding smart cities, how do you keep the community engaged, what are the lessons learned, how can you avoid political backlash, because of unanticipated planning, how do you address silos, and ensure efforts are collaborative in nature? Those are certainly things we're interested in hearing more about.

My last question is about the California Senate Bill 649 (on the right of way for small cell deployments)... how does this affect you and how do you feel about it?

Well I think our views are reflected in the opinion that was also posted by the League of California Cities, which is that there is a concern that the bill reduces the city's ability to control our assets. We have an obligation to ensure that we are looking out for the best interests of our communities and our neighbourhoods and any time that authority is reduced, obviously there is a concern. There is also a concern about the assessment fee limit with regards to the deployment of small cells, the city should have the ability to rent city resources based on the market value of those assets. So those are some of the issues that we have articulate, and they are consistent with what many of the other cities have also expressed.

It's also important for us to have the ability for long range planning such as the Smart City Strategic Action Plan we've just been talking about, we have a long term vision to become a smart city so we need the ability to maintain the right and the authority to use our assets to plan our smart cities. As a city we have consistently demonstrated we want to work with the telecommunication industry and service providers so I think the best way to do this is to continue to allow us to work with them on arrangements and agreements that work for everyone, versus something that is restrictive and isn't necessarily in the best interests of everyone.

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