Nearly three decades ago, in 1994, the City Council adopted what it called the Sustainable City Program to address a growing concern for the environment. It was designed to help the community think, plan and act on environmental issues and provide criteria for evaluating the long-term impacts of our dwindling resources.

Nine years later in 2003, city staff recognized the need to provide a more comprehensive plan of action and proposed an effort to update and expand its expectations. The name was also changed to the Sustainable City Plan.

It was updated again in 2006 and 2014 and now includes goals and strategies for all sectors of the community to conserve and enhance the local resources and improve the quality of life for all community members in Santa Monica. And it will be presented to Council in March 2023 for updates once again.

“We’ve all heard this debate in many different ways about prioritizing economic growth at the expense of the environment. When we use data to inform our decision making, we can see that here in Santa Monica, that’s simply an antiquated conversation. In fact, in the 25 year period between 1990 and 2015, jobs in Santa Monica increased by 51 percent and emissions went down by 20 percent,” said Shannon Parry, Chief Sustainability Officer at City of Santa Monica.

Three primary environmental sustainability goals were outlined, water self sufficiency by 2023, zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner.

It’s impossible to escape noticing that climate change has created a volatile water cycle in Southern California, characterized by periods of record-setting drought or intense heavy precipitation that has disrupted consistency in water availability and reliability across the region.

However, the goal of achieving 99 percent locally sourced water by 2023 has been impacted by the 2020 Regional Housing Needs Assessment and the Covid-19 Pandemic and may be impacted by as much as 20 percent, but this impact could potentially be mitigated through increased water conservation efforts to achieve 85-90 percent water self-sufficiency.

“Cumulative reduction in water demand through October 2022 is holding steady at almost 22 percent below 2013 levels and 1 percent below 2020 levels. Residential per capita water use has declined from over 100 gallons per day in 2013 to just 76 gallons per day in 2022. These are meaningful permanent reductions in water use,” said Parry.

The second goal outlined was to attempt to achieve zero waste by 2030, which requires a 75 percent reduction of organic waste disposed of in landfills by 2025 and to rescue at least 20 percent of currently disposed edible food by 2025 and redirect that food to people in need. As part of this, a new mandatory recycling ordinance was adopted in November 2021 where all single- and multi-family households and commercial customers are required to separate waste using a three-bin system: black for refuse, blue for non-organics recycling such as cardboards and bottles, and green for organics recycling.

Finally, the City adopted a plan of action in 2019, which sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner. The City’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions inventory found that 62 percent of emissions were generated from the transportation sector, 23 percent were generated by energy use in buildings, and 6 percent of emissions were the result of landfilled waste.

While clearly, there is still much work to be done, the City has made significant strides forward. Santa Monica was one of the first cities in the nation to ban polystyrene food service containers in 2007 and single-use plastic bags in 2011. Electrification and decarbonization in new and existing buildings is progressing and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations continues across the city.

“Addressing the existential threat of climate change is a priority for our community,” Parry told the Daily Press. “After switching to 100 percent green power, we are focused on electrifying buildings and vehicles as the primary pathways to carbon neutrality. We now require that all new buildings be fully electric.

“While this will drastically reduce emissions from new buildings, most emissions from the building sector come from existing buildings. Now our emphasis is on replacing natural gas appliances with electric options such as heat pump hot water heaters for water and space heating. This movement away from burning gas will significantly lower the carbon footprint of existing buildings and improve indoor air quality.”

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Scott Snowden

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.