C’mon, Laguna! Downey Leads Us on Solar Power!
Eons ago, I grew up in Downey, a bedroom community 40 minutes south of downtown Los Angeles on Interstate 5. My high school diploma was awarded by Earl Warren High School in Downey. Shortly after I graduated in 1960, the city’s school board stripped the name “Earl” off the school’s name because of opposition to the former Republican governor’s/Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court’s stand for school racial integration via busing. Earl Warren was an outstanding California governor and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice by any metrics, yet he was considered way too liberal for Downey folks, some of whom put up posters calling for his impeachment. Other posters in town called for pulling the United States out of the United Nations.
In my Downey years, the largely white, middle-class city showed no inkling of progressive policies. No environmental awareness or concerns.
So, imagine my shock when the other day, in researching a chapter in the book I’m writing, I came across an article in The Downey Patriot newspaper announcing, “Downey expects to save millions with solar panels.” This must be a spoof or joke, I thought.
Then I looked below that caption and saw a photo of the Downey police chief, the mayor and a city councilwoman breaking ground, with shovels in hand and a pile of dirt at their feet, on the city’s solar program. I read further, while still glancing up to look at the photo in disbelief. Yes, this was really happening.
According to the article: “The city approved a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Onyx Development Group in August last year . It calls for the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery energy storage systems at City Hall, the Downey Police Department building, Downey City Library, Downey Theatre, the Columbia Memorial Space Center and the Barbara J. Riley Senior Center.”
There’s more. Downey officials estimated the solar project would provide a net savings of $150,000 in the first year, $1 million over five years, and $10 million over the 25-year term of the PPA. The reduction in vehicular emissions will be equivalent to carbon sequestration from 2,426 acres of trees in one year. The city’s mayor at the time the agreement was finalized, Claudia M. Frometa, justifiably described the solar project as “historical.”
Now, to me, my city of Laguna Beach has provided everything Downey could not. Our city’s politics have been moderately progressive for the most part, we strongly support environmental protections for our coast and open space, and culturally, the arts flourish here. Isn’t it odd that Downey has surpassed Laguna in solarizing? Had I not stumbled on the article in The Downey Patriot, I never would have believed such a thing was possible.
Well, what inferences do I draw from such unexpected news? I ask our City Hall to pick up the pace on going solar on our public buildings. What needs to happen to get it done? When our city installs solar panels, that action will set an example and send a message to residents to do likewise. Our school district seems to be moving in this direction.
Beyond going solar, I applaud our city’s updating our Climate Protection Action Plan. Sadly, only a half dozen or so Orange County cities even have climate action plans. Still, I’ve not seen much progress in Laguna participating in the Orange County Power Authority to deliver affordable, clean energy to our residents. A big thanks to councilmembers George Weiss and Alex Rounaghi for staying on this matter.
Meanwhile, let’s catch up with Downey on going solar! Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the city where I grew up in taking such a wise and timely step for clean energy.
Tom Osborne is an environmental historian. With his wife, Ginger, he co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for putting a price on carbon and rebating the proceeds to taxpaying households. [email protected]