Governing as if Environmental Factors Matter
Do we replace our aging roof, or refurbish the entrance gate to our home? We’re not always able to do both simultaneously. Naturally, we’ll prioritize and eventually finish both tasks. Our city government, similarly, has to make a host of decisions (infinitely more complex and numerous than those in my household, at least) about which policy and budgeting priorities it will focus on during a given year. This level of decision-making cannot be easy for any knowing public official, especially in the face of competing concerns on the part of the citizenry.
So when I read in the local papers recently that some council members are giving high, or perhaps highest, priority to the village entrance issue at this time, it got me thinking whether or not they’re on the right track. I’m sure that reasons for putting the village entrance at the head of the line could be given by many officials and leaders in our town. But is that issue a time-sensitive one? Is it a public health and safety issue? Are our property values affected measurably by when or how the matter is decided? No, no, and no again.
I’m most concerned about two issues that are time-sensitive, and definitely impact our health, safety, and property values: cleaning up Aliso Creek, and sea-level rise/flooding along Laguna’s coast due to climate change and tidal activity. Rarely are these environmental issues mentioned in City Council’s listing of urgent matters to be addressed.
The mouth of Aliso Creek and its environs is where Laguna Beach was founded; it’s the cradle of our town. Past efforts by civic organizations and various public officials to address the pollution and occasional flooding of Aliso Creek seem on hold. While multiple jurisdictions in the Aliso Creek watershed are involved, I believe that nothing good will happen unless and until our City Council takes the initiative to get a clean-up process going. If this were easy, it would have been done by now. Still, the clock is ticking while the creek’s contaminants continue polluting Aliso Beach, and the upstream watershed continues to degrade. This sure seems like a public health and safety issue to me.
The ongoing problem of sea-level rise along California’s shoreline has prompted some coastal communities, like Newport Beach, to run studies and take action to adapt to ocean encroachment on the built environment. Many in Laguna Beach, including our family, have lived here long enough to recall when El Niño conditions led to high tides that washed onto Coast Highway, necessitating sandbags to protect store fronts. Ocean levels are rising faster than scientists earlier thought would be the case. When my wife and I visited the U.C. Berkeley marine research station in Moorea, Tahiti, several months ago, we learned that some scientists now anticipate a two-meter sea-level rise by 2050 due to accelerated melting of the Arctic icecap and the expansion of ocean water volume, both of which they link to climate warming. John Montgomery, the city’s community development director, recently agreed with me about climate change and sea-level rise, and informed me that Laguna Beach has plans underway to act soon. That’s good news. To find out more about the dynamics of sea-level rise and how cities might adapt to it, I’m planning on attending UC Irvine engineering professor Dr. Brett Sanders’ talk on “Coastal Flooding,” on Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 429 Cypress Dr., Laguna Beach. Laguna Greenbelt is sponsoring the talk. The photographs on the front of the post card that came to our home announcing this event show a flooded downtown Laguna Beach. The photographs speak to priorities. If the village entrance must wait, so be it.
Meanwhile, I had better replace my aging roof; sprucing up the gate at the entrance to our home will wait.
Tom Osborne, a retired Santa Ana College history professor and recipient of the city’s Environmental Award, has just published Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers.