SAN DIEGO — Citing privacy concerns, San Diego County supervisors balked Wednesday at a pollution-reduction plan that in part would read vehicle license plates to pinpoint sources of polluting emissions.
The board asked instead that the county Air Pollution Control District return in November with alternatives to the system.
The district’s Community Air Protection Program was developed in response to state Assembly Bill 617, which is aimed at reducing exposure to air pollutants in disadvantaged communities, including Barrio Logan and National City.
The district would rely on software that uses captured license plate data to pinpoint vehicular air pollutant emissions. After collecting the data, the county would reach out to residents about opportunities to upgrade inefficient vehicles.
Jon Adams, the district’s assistant director, described the proposal as the most effective way to get data about mobile pollution-emission sources. He stressed that data would only involve the type of vehicle, make and model — and the information would be destroyed after 30 days.
Adams said a steering committee held public meetings at Perkins Elementary School in Barrio Logan and residents supported the proposal.
But Supervisor Kristin Gaspar said she wasn’t comfortable with the program. “I think it can be really precedent-setting, this invasion of privacy,” Gaspar said, noting that she understands the need for good data to improve air quality. She said she has heard from residents who “do not want to be tracked this way.”
“I know this is a big lift, because this is a logical way to collect data, but it’s time to go back to the drawing board,” Gaspar said.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said public concerns over privacy and surveillance are timely, and the county needs to be sensitive to those concerns. But he said the county can’t waste tens of millions of state dollars by delaying the pollution-control program. “If we don’t go forward, we’re going to have to come up with another solution,” he said.
Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said she appreciates the district seeking public input, but she also asked for the district to explore other methods of obtaining data. “The minute you say you’re going to read a license plate — that license plate belongs to an individual,” she said. “I don’t trust the fact that information is going to be kept private.”
Supervisor Jim Desmond said he supported looking at alternatives, but it seemed “ridiculous going down this path,” because “we already know what vehicles are the most polluting.”
Supervisor Brian Cox said the program would impact his district, where many communities have a significant rate of asthma and other lung-related diseases. “I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to replace these vehicles,” Cox said, adding that he wants to see alternative proposals for responsible collection of data.