Opinion: Green Light

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The Environmental Sustainability Committee Is Greening Laguna

By Tom Osborne

On the evening of May 15, two other members of the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby joined me in attending the meeting of our city’s Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC), held at the Senior Center. I served on that committee back in 2006-2008 when it, with the help of the citizenry, wrote the current Climate Protection Action Plan. Back then, we met in a room in City Hall and in Council Chambers as there was no Senior Center. Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, had recently been passed in Sacramento and enthusiastically signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Except for councilmembers Toni Iseman and Verna Rollinger, committed environmentalists, I don’t recall seeing much support for our work in council or city hall. There was scarcely an electric vehicle in sight in town.

Fast forward to now, a lot of greening has taken place, including on Council. Two councilmembers, George Weiss and Alex Rounaghi, serve as liaisons to the ESC, and both attended this meeting, providing encouragement and thoughtful suggestions. Their concern for the environment was palpable, knowledge-based, and evident to all. 

Back when I served on the committee, we rarely saw a Councilmember at our meetings. City Hall even considered reducing our committee membership. Another big change in town needs mentioning: in 2023, I see Teslas galore and even some Rivian trucks in our neighborhoods. Moreover, the Laguna Art Museum for the past ten years, has been conducting spectacular Art & Nature programs that have highlighted such critical issues as sea level rise and ocean pollution from oil and plastics while underscoring our love of the coast and sea.

Two constants, or throughlines, from the early 2000s to now have been a strong public will among Lagunans for environmental protections and the dedication and talents of those serving on the ESC. Regarding the public will, the demand for environmental action came from our citizenry, who likewise insisted on the creation of a climate action plan. 

The upshot was the creation of what was originally called the Environmental Committee around 2005. A few years later, it was renamed the Environmental Sustainability Committee. Ably led by chair Shelly Bennecke, today’s ESC members, nine in number, have been hard at work greening Laguna. They have divided their workload into five subcommittees, each with its own chair. The subcommittees include Wildlife Protection, Public Communications, Ocean Health, Waste, and Climate Change.  

After hearing reports from each subcommittee, replete with public comments in person and online, climate change subcommittee chair Judi Mancuso conducted votes on five recommended actions for City Council. These included: creation of an ordinance to support plant-based food options in Laguna restaurants; climate change mitigation steps, including a cool pavement pilot program; the drafting of a reach code ordinance (a measure exceeding State-mandated standards) to ensure zero carbon construction standards with exemptions for restaurants with gas stoves; devising a solar master plan for municipal, commercial, and residential buildings; and development of an electric vehicle fleet plan for municipal, commercial, and residential uses. Regarding this last recommendation, Councilmember Rounaghi asked for specific recommendations for which Electric Vehicles (EVs) the City should buy with the $1.1 million allocated for the transition away from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles. He also wisely called for an EV trolley. When the discussion was complete, the committee voted to pass all these recommendations.

Regarding the near future, two items were briefly discussed and will be continued. 

One was Judi Mancuso’s suggestion that council sponsor a clean energy event at the Laguna Beach Recreation Center (the old St. Catherine’s School). The other item concerned the possibility of City Hall joining the Orange County Power Authority to deliver a higher mix of clean energy than provided by our investor-owned utility monopolies–Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. I favor Laguna joining the now-reorganized OCPA, which would be a game-changer in greening our city.

Tom Osborne has an article on the founding of Save the Bay in San Francisco appearing in the summer 2023 issue of the journal California History (University of California Press). He and his wife, Ginger, lead the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected]   

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