The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously adopted the aims of the Paris Climate accords to forestall global warming, becoming one of the first cities in the county to endorse a policy ratified by 165 countries since 2015. The Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in June.
For good measure, Laguna’s elected officials added in local pledges to act on and revisit provisions of its existing climate protection plan as well as to establish a measureable benchmark of the town’s carbon emissions.
The vote Tuesday, Aug. 8, followed testimony by 35 proponents, ranging from climate scientists to parents to veteran environmental advocates. No one spoke in opposition. Most urged elected officials to go beyond the non-binding resolution of solidarity with the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda to embrace more specific energy-cutting goals. The agenda has 365 signers, according to the website.
Earlier in the week, a report combining the analysis of 13 federal agencies concludes the nation is already feeling the impact of climate change.
After the council vote, Chris Prelitz, president of Transition Laguna, a group that promotes sustainable practices, praised additions to the resolution to pursue ways to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as “a vast improvement.” He had criticized the initial proposal as “a nice piece of fluff that doesn’t commit to anything.”
Even so, he and others urged city administrators to move forward with integrating the work of a city committee on a sustainability element for the city’s general plan, a statement of policies and goals that guide development rules. “The element was completed months ago. Why couldn’t it be scheduled this year? Why do we need to wait six months?” he asked.
Open space advocate Derek Ostensen, citing the city’s open space purchases and support for arts, urged leaders to continue to act as role models with policies to manage energy use.
Resident Vicki Borthwick took a different tact. “I want to remind all of us, the first people left gentle footprints,” she said. “We are now the first people to a child. What legacy are we going to leave the children?”
Film maker Greg MacGillivray pointed out that a predicted rise in sea level will wipe out one of the town’s touchstones. “We will lose half our surfing spots,” he said. “Let’s save those places.”
City Manager John Pietig said the discussion’s most significant outcome was a vow to develop a new climate action plan and to obtain data to establish a benchmark on citywide energy usage to measure the effectiveness of policy actions.
“This was a big issue going into the discussion,” said Pietig, citing the lack of historical data and the city’s inability to account for the impact of previously adopted sustainable practices over the past 20 years.
Citizens helped write the town’s climate action plan in 2009 with a goal of meeting or beating standards set by the Kyoto Protocol. To do so, the town would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% over three years.
Pietig said public hearings over a sustainability element needed to wait until five other major planning endeavors already underway are completed.
While a staff report highlighted 26 climate-protection actions undertaken by the city in recent years – ranging from an expanded trolley fleet to a sustainability section on the city website – discussion of the topic also brought to light other behind-the-scenes plans underway.
Among them are Laguna’s steps to study taking control of electric power distribution within city limits, possibly in an arrangement with other coastal cities. This week, Huntington Beach approved a similar exploratory plan. Among the benefits of such a concept, cities with temperate climates could negotiate better terms than inland cities because of lower usage, said Pietig. Cities can also dictate other terms, such as purchasing energy generated from renewable sources.
City officials initially undertook such a study out of frustration with Southern California Edison. The utility refused to discuss ridding the town of utility poles, deemed a fire hazard.
Council member Robert Zur Schmiede informed the audience that the city’s emergency disaster coordinator recently began evaluating the impact of rising seas on the town. And he pointed out Newport Beach recently called for bids to build higher sea walls on Balboa Island.
In tweaking the resolution to reflect the town’s values, Council member Bob Whalen urged exploring a range of alternatives to learn the most effective approach to lowering the town’s emissions as well as developing baseline data.
Mayor Toni Iseman and council member Steve Dicterow praised the public testimony for offering specific ideas to act locally on a global issue.