Protecting the environment is a major goal at City Hall. In recent years, sustainability and good stewardship of the Earth has driven everything from bagging groceries to traffic management.
Last Tuesday, the City Council unanimously adopted a draft resolution developed by staff and based on recommendations by the Task Force on the Environment that declared City Hall’s commitment to “sustainable rights.”
The resolution states that our rights include clean, affordable and accessible water from sustainable water sources, a sustainable energy future based on renewable energy sources and a sustainable natural climate system unaltered by fossil fuel emissions.
Oops. Guess we’ll have to outlaw gas-powered vehicles and close the Santa Monica Airport.
Additional rights include sustainable, comprehensive waste disposal systems that don’t degrade the environment; clean indoor and outdoor air; clean water and clean soil that pose a negligible health risk to the public; and (finally) a sustainable food system that provides healthy, locally grown food to the community.
To call the resolution broad is an understatement, but there are some noticeable omissions. How about respect, reverence and protection for living things and not allowing anything that would increase the community’s carbon footprint or demand for additional natural resources including land, air and water?
The resolution is supposed to lead to modifications of city policy (including zoning) and directs staff to update the Sustainable City Plan “to protect the rights of people and natural communities … .”
One of the interesting dichotomies resulting from the resolution is that if it were to really protect the natural world, it would mandate a freeze or severe curtailment of almost all new development. Virtually every construction project in the city — whether it be a large commercial/office development or a modest house addition — flies in the face of the resolution.
Taking one small development as an example: a proposed 45-foot mixed-use project at 2919-23 Wilshire Blvd. will have 11,259 square feet of ground floor market/commercial space, 26 multi-bedroom apartments and subterranean parking for 100 vehicles. It’ll replace a small liquor store and a secondary retail space.
The project will create immitigable traffic problems at the corner of Wilshire and Stanford Street. Water, power, solid and liquid waste disposal will far surpass present usage. It doesn’t matter how many bicycle racks, solar panels, traffic management plans, recycled materials or low-flush toilets are in the project, it’ll never meet the criteria demanded by this resolution. And, this is a small project.
Citywide, there are dozens and dozens of other proposed developments such as a new Downtown cinema, a 766,000-square-foot office project and numerous smaller apartment/condominium/mixed-use projects in the works. They’ll generate air pollution and require much more water, electricity, natural gas and waste disposal resources than currently used at their respective locations.
Add three new Downtown hotels with a total of 557 guestrooms plus restaurants, etc; three new office/mixed-use projects on the 2800 and 2900 block of Colorado Avenue totaling over 721,000 square feet of space and another mixed-use proposal with 545 apartments a couple blocks away — just to name a few. Talk about increased demand on natural resources? It can’t be avoided.
There will be parking for tens of thousands of vehicles in new on-site garages. Add the air pollution that will result — in addition to the pollution produced now by gasoline-powered vehicles stuck in Santa Monica’s ever increasing traffic.
Promising that (inadequate) “green” benefits being touted by developers and City Hall such as bicycle amenities or riding the Expo Light Rail will produce “no net new car trips,” alleviate driving, reduce air pollution, reduce water and energy demands and protect the environment is complete and utter nonsense.
Even more frustrating is reading 3-year-old blogs and commentaries by some of Santa Monica’s staunchest and most vocal bicycle activists and sustainability advocates who opposed a 2008 ballot measure that would have temporarily capped commercial development. They claimed limiting development wouldn’t help the environment let alone reduce traffic. The measure’s failure opened the door for unprecedented new construction and exacerbated demand for limited natural resources.
Promises by City Hall planners of bicycle lanes, solar power, recycled water and electric vehicle charging stations in new developments have been sucked up by environmentalists and bicycling supporters like hot green tea on a cold day. But, it’s not nearly enough. In fact, it’s a joke that nobody seems to get.
After all the flossy verbiage, the proof will be in City Hall’s actions. But, don’t expect much beyond, “Screw the environment, make money first.”
In the scheme of things, Santa Monica’s projects are like a grain of sand. But, along with added regional development in years to come, all the tiny grains of sand will result in a mountain of irreversible environmental damage.
Time will tell if City Hall is serious or whether this resolution is just so much hot (polluted) air.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.