Thumbs Up for New Sustainability Committee
I recently attended the reorganized and renamed Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC). The seven-person group meets at the Susi Q Senior Center on the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m., and the meetings are open to the public. As a former member of that body when it was known simply as the Environmental Committee, I was curious about its doings and decided to sit in on its deliberations. The agenda focused on solar and alternative energies, the mobility element in the city’s General Plan, and the advisability of drafting a sustainability element for that same plan. Committee members were intent on identifying and filling any major gaps related to sustainability in the city’s General Plan. One gap they discovered was huge. More on that below.
I saw a few familiar faces and many new ones. Greg O’Loughlin, who chaired the old Environmental Committee, sat in also, informing me that he has been attending the new committee’s meetings to help in whatever ways he can. Norm Grossman, of the Planning Commission, sat on my right; he, too, expressed a strong interest in the work of the ESC. Mayor Jane Egly, a liaison between the council and the committee, was also present. And, naturally, Mike Phillips, the city’s water specialist and the ESC’s “go-to guy” on all matters of protocol, was there. All of these folks supplied the institutional memory and guidance necessary for the ESC to do its work effectively.
The ESC members were impressive. Among the committee’s seven people three are attorneys, one is a Ph.D. chemical engineer, two have graduate degrees in anthropology, and all are energetic and committed to providing the best policy recommendations possible to the council. For example, Michelle Avallone-Noailles, an attorney specializing in environmental law, spoke eloquently and with effect about the need for the city to create a solar panel policy and explore the use of other alternative energies as well. Eric Sargeant, a planner and landscape designer, suggested a more efficient way for the committee to store, retrieve, and share information electronically. Martin Taylor, the committee chair, kept deliberations moving and provided crisp, useful summaries as discussion came to a close for each agenda item.
Particularly interesting was the concern expressed about locating gaps pertaining to sustainability matters in the various elements contained in the city’s General Plan. Land use and mobility, for example, constitute two such elements. After a few minutes of brainstorming, Norm Grossman said he could think of a rather large gap: the ocean, which did not figure prominently into any of the elements. Hmm, the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water occupying a third of the planet, does wash Laguna’s shores. “Oh, thatocean,” people in the room, including myself, seemed to register. Assuming Norm is right, which he usually is, the ESC was given a very promising lead in drafting a sustainability element for inclusion in the General Plan.
I came away from the July ESC meeting with a great deal of confidence that this new, inspired, and committed group would carry forward the mandate of the Vision 2030 Final Report (2001), which articulated a consensus among residents about the directions public policy should take in the decades ahead. Similarly, members indicated a resolve to implement further the city’s Climate Protection Action Plan, formulated by the old Environmental Committee and approved by council in 2009.
For all of the above reasons I give this committee two thumbs up. I urge readers to stay tuned to ESC developments. Better yet, see for yourself by attending their monthly meetings from time to time and express your concerns and suggestions during public comments. Such interactions will keep Laguna’s civic sector robust and provide us all with an opportunity to carry out our responsibilities for enhancing our city’s incomparable environment.
Tom Osborne, a retired Santa Ana College history professor and recipient of the city’s Environmental Award, has written three books and specializes in California and Pacific maritime history.