CITY HALL — It’s seen in the low-emission parking enforcement vehicles, the water conservation initiatives and solid waste diversion targets, the products of an aggressive plan aimed at making sustainability a regular component of city life.
Half a dozen years after the creation of the Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan (SCP), environmental advocates laud the success of the ambitious eco-blueprint while remaining mindful that there is much work to be done.
The City Council last week authorized its staff to begin the second phase of an implementation program for the SCP, which was developed three years ago by the Sustainable City Task Force to begin carrying through various measures in eight goal areas identified in the plan, including resource conservation, environment and public health, and economic development. Those measures included hiring a communication sustainability liaison, which officials did with Traci Reitz who now serves as a point person between City Hall and various organizations, and the drafting of the Sustainable Local Economy, which should be completed later this year.
The analysis will look at the current economic makeup in Santa Monica, examining which industries are contributing to high quality jobs and which sectors are very resource intensive, such as energy and water. The report will also look at ways City Hall can help maintain the diverse economy for which Santa Monica is known, retaining and attracting those businesses that tend to be sustainable.
“Some of the businesses that we have in the tourism sector are pretty energy and water intensive, however it is also a big part of the local economy and provides a big part of the city’s general fund,” Dean Kubani, the director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, said. “We don’t want to get rid of it, but we want to green it to make it less intensive.”
Kubani added that the liaison has been important in linking the city and community, facilitating workshops and providing information on sustainability matters.
The second phase of the program will ask City Hall to fund $100,000 to install and service recycling bins in parks and other public spaces. City officials also plan to add a “Sustainability Impact Analysis” to staff reports, which already includes a financial impact section, and create a Sustainability Working Group that will consist of city departments, the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and representatives from the various business improvement districts.
The working group will in a sense replace the Sustainable City Task Force, which formed in 2003 shortly after the adoption of the plan and was scheduled to sunset on June 8.
Dennis Woods, who chaired the task force, said that he would like to see city officials in phase two look at how various sectors of the community — whether it’s residents, organizations or businesses — are contributing when it comes to sustainability and the environment, quantifying and evaluating the effectiveness of their efforts.
“We’ve never developed a system of how many people are going green,” Woods said. “What are people doing to move us toward sustainability goals?”
He added that city officials should also look at ways to make the industrial areas of the city more sustainable.
“What we need to do is to create a synergy between the different owners so that one owner’s waste is another person’s prime product,” he said. “You can produce and reduce resources in the same locale.”
The Sustainable City Plan is an extension of the Sustainable City Program, which was developed in 1994 and was considered more modest in scope, focusing primarily on greening city operations.
In 2000, city officials decided to expand and update the program, launching a process through which they essentially took apart what had existed and created a more comprehensive plan. The process brought councilmembers, representatives from various commissions, different neighborhood groups, and the local educational institutions to the table, Kubani said.
The result was a plan that looked beyond city operations into other areas like human dignity and civic participation.
“We can’t have a sustainable community if you can’t meet basic needs,” Kubani said.
The goals are graded every fall in the Sustainable City Report Card. Last year’s report card saw slight improvements in housing and resource conservation. Open space, community education and civic participation continued to perform well, while the area of environment and public health held a C grade after scoring Bs in 2005 and 2006.
Kubani believes the Sustainable City Program and ensuing Sustainable City Plan have improved awareness about how people conduct business and go about their lives.
It’s also influenced other city departments.
“Now it’s not just my office talking about it,” he said. “It’s other departments in the city integrating it.
“They have sustainability goals.”
He adds that the business community has also embraced sustainability, through workshops and even its own awards show, the Sustainable Quality Awards. Sustainable Works also runs a successful business greening and certification programs.
The Chamber of Commerce has made sustainability a regular element of its organization, talking about the issue during various committee meetings and sponsoring events. The chamber recently partnered with Santa Monica High School for its AP Challenge in which students collected waste from various offices throughout the city. They ended up gathering several tons of waste, Brian Chase, the director of government affairs for the chamber, said.
The chamber has also began running regular columns in its monthly newsletter called “Sustainability is Good Business.”
Chase said that the Santa Monica chamber is particularly savvy relative to other chambers because of the culture in the city.
“In some ways we’re involved directly with the community,” Chase said. “In other ways we’re continuously being updated by the city and by nonprofits in ways that we can get environmental messages out to our businesses.”