Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Celebrates Sustainability Plan's 19th Anniversary All Month Long
By Jason Islas
September 6, 2013 -- Nineteen years ago this September, Santa Monica adopted its Sustainable City Plan, and City Hall plans to celebrate with a month of events geared toward the environmentally conscious.
Sustainability Month, which starts off next week with a lecture by author and food activist Frances Moore Lappé, will highlight the City's almost two-decade-long effort to keep Santa Monica at the forefront of sustainability.
And to celebrate that, September will be chalk full of events that promote sustainable living, as defined in the broadest sense, Parry said.
Those events include two workshops designed to help families eat organic, locally sourced food on a budget. There will also be an “AltCar & Transportation Expo,” recycled art, a beach clean up day and the city's annual Buy Local Expo.
The month's festivities will be closed out on September 28 by Glow, Santa Monica's overnight art show on the beach.
At the core of Santa Monica's success with its sustainability plan is accountability, according to Parry.
One thing that sets Santa Monica's plan apart from other cities, she said, is that it sets concrete and measurable goals that the City must meet to become a sustainable community. And staff grades the City each year against those goals.
“We don't just track water use, we say we want to reduce water use by x percent by x date,” she said, adding that the plan is also updated roughly every ten years to reflect changes in the way sustainability is conceptualized.
For example, last year, Santa Monica added an “arts and culture” component to its sustainability plan. Now, alongside Resource Conservation, Transportation and Environmental and Public Health, the City grades itself on how its maintaining a robust creative community.
“In the early 90s, the discussion around sustainability was really a discussion of environmental sustainability,” Parry said.
Since then, the definition of sustainability has broadened significantly, she said, and now includes the “three legs of the sustainability stool.”
Those legs are “economic vitality, environmental protection and social equity,” Parry said.
For example, in 2006 -- the year after the City began keeping its sustainability report card -- Human Dignity was added as a category.
The report card defines Human Dignity as “(a)ll community members are able to meet their needs, have adequate access to housing, health care, education, employment, and are empowered to enhance the quality of their lives.”
In 2012, Santa Monica earned a B-plus in that category, largely for reducing homelessness, increasing public safety and the creating the City's Office of Emergency Management to streamline access to disaster preparedness information to its denizens.
The report card, while it shows steady improvement over the last decade, isn't perfect.
“We obviously have areas where we can improve,” Parry said.
In 2012, Santa Monica only received two As -- one of which was actually an A-minus -- in its eight categories, with its poorest showing in the categories of Housing and Environmental and Public Health.
Santa Monica received a C and a C-plus in those categories respectively, largely because of constantly-rising housing costs and mixed results from the City's efforts to keep Santa Monica Bay clean. (“Santa Monica Shows Improvement in Sustainability,” September 28, 2012)
One of the City's priorities right now, Parry said, is encouraging residents to eat sustainably.
Last year, Santa Monica signed the “Cool Foods” pledge which promises the community will make efforts “to eat organic, reduce conventional meat and dairy consumption, reduce food waste and packaging,” she said.
As part of its climate action plan, Santa Monica is also aiming to reduce its carbon footprint, lowering greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels in the next two years. (“Santa Monica Adopts Climate Action Plan,” March 4)
Additionally, the City could adopt a “Zero Waste” plan which would eventually make it illegal not to recycle in Santa Monica. (“Santa Monica City Council Hears Ambitious Zero Waste Plan,” March 22)
The City Council has even adopted an Sustainability Bill of Rights, which asserts that “natural communities and ecosystems” have the right to “exist and flourish in Santa Monica.” ("Santa Monica Council to Vote on Sustainability Bill of Rights,” March 8)
Of course, Parry said, all of this is a result of Santa Monicans' unique interest in environmentally friendly living.
“On one level, we're really lucky here in Santa Monica. We have an active and literate community that are invested in sustainable practices daily,” she said. “Our City's sustainability program is a reflection of a Community and Council priority.”
For more information on September's activities, visit the Office of Sustainability and the Environment's website.
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