Green Light: Laguna Is a Climate Leader, Thanks to City Council

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By Tom Osborne

Given the possibility of a tragic reversal in national climate policy as an outcome of the 2024 presidential election and the current worsening climate impacts globally, America’s cities may have to be our bulwark against the fossil fuel emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.

At the City Council meeting on March 27, our five elected officials stepped up to the climate challenges and moved Laguna closer to solarizing our power grid and electrifying our fleet vehicles. A motion to that effect, proposed by Bob Whalen and seconded by George Weiss, approved these steps. In other words, our council charted a way forward on climate that other cities in south Orange County would be wise to follow. That’s climate leadership.

With incisive questions, Councilmember Alex Rounaghi kept pushing the envelope on the number of sites in Laguna that could be solarized. He leaned into expanding the number of such sites beyond four locations identified in the staff report, including an animal shelter and a hillside near the Community and Recreation Center.

“Wherever it [solarization] is viable,” enthused Rounaghi, evidencing the urgency of his younger generation for climate action. Bob Whalen suggested solar power for operating the lift stations for our town’s sewage system and installing panels on the Playhouse rooftop and possibly at the Festival of Arts. Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frimond declared such actions are “a priority for Council.”

The Whalen-Weiss motion that passed directed staff to include four sites with 24-48-72-hour battery storage options and evaluate the Playhouse, Animal Shelter and Festival of Arts for solar panels. I hope this is the beginning and not the culmination of Laguna’s transition to clean energy.

In the many years I’ve been tracking our city’s progress in addressing climate-related issues, I feel Councilmember George Weiss has provided the most persistent and reliable voice for bold, sensible council action. At times, taking a minority position in favor of climate action, he invariably stood his ground with intelligence, courage, and vigor. In fact, it seems George is there every time my wife and I attend an environmental event in town, be it an Arbor Day celebration, a Senator David Min-sponsored forum at the Susi Q or an ESC meeting.

Several concerned citizens raised important questions and points at the council meeting when public comments were invited. Walt Lawson thanked councilmembers for their thoughtful work on these climate-centric issues while reminding them, “It’s not about the cost; it’s about the stakes.” He urged the decision-makers to give “careful consideration to the public safety aspect of this,” given that our city is in a seismically active zone. Steve Chadima, an Environmental and Sustainability Committee member, asked: “What is the probability of our town being without power for 24, 48, or 72 hours?” In effect, would we have the electricity to handle such a situation if it arose? Speaking as a concerned citizen, City Clerk Ann Marie McKay urged the council to provide care for animals during a power outage.

Perhaps with the updating of the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in mind, Rounaghi cut to the chase, exclaiming: “Success is not a great report; it’s action.”

I’ll say “amen!” to that.

My wife and I left the meeting buoyed by the progress that council has made toward addressing the complex and, at times, daunting issue of climate change that is eroding our cliffs due to sea level rise and exposing our city to more frequent and destructive wildfires. As we continue with the electrification of city operations, Laguna Beach will exemplify the best practices that are required in our neighboring south Orange County cities. To me, this means working collaboratively with local officials beyond our city’s boundaries to take coordinated climate action. This is the kind of environmental leadership our City Hall can and must provide.

Tom Osborne chaired the Work Group that wrote Laguna Beach’s 2009 Council-approved Climate Protection Action Plan. With his wife, Ginger, he co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected]

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. We should thank this Climate Action group, Council member George Weiss and our Environmental Sustainability Committee members including CC candidate Judie Mancuso for their many years of service, efforts and dedication in this area.

    Laguna Beach is lucky to have such caring and responsible residents and volunteers. Well done everyone.

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