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Santa Monica Adopts Sustainability Bill of Rights, Rejects Motion for Constitutional Amendment  


By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

January 25, 2012 -- Santa Monica's City Council voted to recognize the rights of natural communities to exist Tuesday.

The resolution, drafted by the Task Force on the Environment, calls for Santa Monica to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish,” according to City Staff.

Dean Kubani, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said that the declaration acknowledges “the rights of Santa Monica residents to clean water, clean air” and other aspects of a clean environment.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, would be the first step toward establishing legislation in the City that supports the goals it outlines.

Council member Bobby Shriver, though supportive, offered a word of caution to the many activists and residents who came out to speak in favor of the resolution.

“The cost of these matters will drive much of the discussion,” he said, adding that it would behoove those advocating for stronger environmental controls to know the monetary figures.

“There's a lot of subtlety to this issue,” he continued, pointing out that although the resolution might single out big businesses as a polluters, our purchases – including cell phones and cross-country flights – all contribute in some way to polluting the environment.

The question of corporate culpability was also brought up in an attached resolution that called for the City to support a resolution by Move To Amend that demands a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood.

However, that failed with a vote of four to two.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis pointed out that the movement to abolish the legal definition of corporations as individuals upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court could have unintended consequences.

It could, for example, restrict the free speech rights of not-for-profit corporations often invoked when environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) blow the whistle on businesses that pollute, Davis said.

She also pointed out that many small businesses, such as mom and pop laundromats, organize themselves into corporations as a functional matter and benefit from corporate personhood.

Council member Bob Holbrook told The Lookout that he had similar concerns.

“Non-profits and other organizations have rights” that may disappear with the loss of corporate personhood, he said.

The anti-corporate personhood resolution was supported by Council members Terry O'Day and Kevin McKeown, who argued that the resolution wouldn't decide details of any future amendment, but simply send a message that Santa Monica opposes the idea of corporations having the rights of individuals.

Mayor Richard Bloom called the amendment “a step too far” in response to the Supreme Court decision, and the Council directed staff to return with a resolution that more specifically addressed the decision.

Kubani said, however, that the Move to Amend resolution came out of the Rights of Nature movement –  the idea that nature, in and of itself has a right to exist – which he said was a push-back against assertion of property rights by corporations.


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