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Tom Osborne

Is the Environmental Committee Sustainable?

 At Tuesday’s City Council meeting the fate of the city’s Environmental Committee hung in the balance.  Most of the committee’s seven members would not be returning for the next term, which is scheduled to begin in November. Even worse, no candidates stepped forward to take their place. City Manager John Pietig broached the possibility of disbanding the committee and turning environmental and sustainability matters over to Laguna Beach’s other committees and commissions on a piecemeal basis. Another possibility, said Pietig, would be to trim the committee to five members and hold another election in the near future, hoping that one more member might be found. Neither of these options gained much council support.

Council members discussed whether the charge of the E.C. to handle all matters dealing with sustainability was too broad and thus overwhelming, to the point of crippling the committee’s effectiveness.  After hearing public comments from current and former E.C. members, Council member Jane Egly wryly asked “Is the Environmental Committee sustainable?”  That’s the key question.

To answer that question, the council decided unanimously to form a subcommittee led by Verna Rollinger and Mayor Toni Iseman that would study the E.C.’s mission of dealing with “all things sustainable,” and its mode of operation as well as organization, and report back with recommendations in two months.  Others serving on the subcommittee would include Norm Grossman from the Planning Commission, an undesignated member of the city staff, and current and former EC members. “I’m glad that Council showed concern and interest about hanging on to the committee,” Greg O’Loughlin, the E.C.’s founding chair, told me later.

My hope now is that readers will answer the distress signal and apply for EC membership by submitting an application (available online at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=2747) to City Hall. In doing so you would be working with very talented EC members Sharael Kolberg and Gustavo Grad, who care deeply about the air, water, and land issues that determine the quality of life in Laguna Beach.

These issues include addressing the toxic urban runoff coursing through Aliso Creek to the beach at its mouth, contending with sea rise (as Newport Beach is doing) caused by global warming, supporting a pending plastic bag ordinance that was championed by former EC member Max Isles, carrying through ongoing efforts to provide greater bicycle and pedestrian access to our city’s streets, exploring the possibilities of extending and connecting hiking trails in our town, educating our school children on the meaning of environmental stewardship and citizenship, and more.  What we do today on these and related issues will determine what Laguna Beach will be like and look like in 2030.

These issues are daunting and way too much for a seven-member E.C. to handle on its own.  That’s where we, the public, come in.  Laguna Beach has among its citizenry the expertise, drive, and passion for studying and solving such issues. Herein lies a collaborative model for sustaining the E.C.  This model was tried and worked well in the years 2006-2008 when the committee set up a task force called the Climate Protection Work Group.  More than a dozen non-committee members met regularly with E.C. members for a period of two years and drafted the Climate Protection Action Plan adopted as city policy. A similar E.C.-sponsored work group is needed to tackle the Aliso Creek clean-up and restoration effort.  I intend to be part of such a work group if it is established. I spoke with Ms. Kolberg recently and she felt strongly that the E.C. should continue working with the public as well as for the public on all of these environmental issues.

She’s right. So help sustain the EC by submitting an application.  Do it for the next generations.

Tom Osborne, author of two books, is a retired Santa Ana College history professor, a former EC member, and a recent recipient of the city’s Environmental Award.

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