A festive party filled a studio at the Santa Monica Museum of Art recently, as participants danced and decorated reusable canvas shopping bags with paint, stencils, and imagination. The event coincided with our City Council’s consideration of a ban on single-use plastic bags, which clog our landfills and despoil Santa Monica Bay.
Attention-grabbing creative artworks illustrating the environmental benefits of mass transit are a featured part of the Big Blue Bus 80th birthday celebration. The eco-art, by students from the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles, catches the eye and the imagination at the Blue Transit Store on Broadway just off the Promenade.
Forging a new culture of committed awareness, Santa Monica now exemplifies the emerging interactivity of arts, the environment, and the politics of personal choice. No longer are we merely motivated; now we are inspired.
With springtime, Santa Monicans are breaking out their bicycles for neighborhood travel, discovering the joys of fresh air, waving at friends instead of exchanging honked horns, and replacing traffic-weary grimaces with sun-kissed grins.
Meanwhile, seemingly suddenly, a larger world seems to have joined Santa Monica’s pioneering enthusiasm for sustainability. Corporations and candidates compete to be perceived as most green. Gone, let us hope forever, is the hair-shirt attitude that being environmental means deprivation.
When being green transitions from a grudgingly accepted imposition to a voluntary expression of partnership in a shared future, great things become possible. As someone who for years has pushed for policies and incentives to manifest our visionary Sustainable City Plan, I find this Earth Day 2008 is a particular milestone to celebrate.
Take plastic bags. For years, the “conventional wisdom” was that customers would revolt if denied free bags, even though those one-use plastic bags were choking sea life and littering our landscape. Did you know Santa Monica alone uses 27 million plastic bags a year? L.A. County, nine BILLION?
Two or three years ago, I’ll bet our plastic bag ban would have raised howls of protest and political backpedalling (which is what happened at the County level). Two months ago, Santa Monica turned out in support of a ban, and the City Council vote to prepare an ordinance was resoundingly unanimous.
What has really changed here? I believe it is that each of us in Santa Monica is becoming more willing to take personal responsibility for the little choices we make each day, those seemingly small choices that in the aggregate add up to global warming and other impacts threatening our planet. Feeling ever more part of a community that will enjoy the benefits of better sustainable practices, we grow greener from the inside out.
We know that over 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California originate from transportation, and Santa Monica, already Prius heaven, is now writing a revised city Circulation Element, or master plan for mobility, that puts new focus on mass transit and bicycles.
What about water? A disproportionate amount of Santa Monica water usage goes to landscaping, particularly surrounding single-family homes. Our newly amended Green Building ordinance, as recommended by environmental staff just last week, would for the first time limit allowable plantings of water-wasting types of landscaping. It took political courage, but our City Council passed the new guidelines 5-2. That will save far more water than short showers or low-flush toilets; a home with a traditional lawn uses hundreds of gallons a day, some of which spills, wasted, into storm drains.
Energy use is another crucial sustainability issue, and our Solar Santa Monica plan for photovoltaic distributed generation of electricity has become so wildly popular that the pilot program ran out of space for volunteer households and businesses. Businesses have become evangelists for investing in our environment – check out the new solar panels on The Lobster restaurant near Santa Monica Pier.
How times have changed! Long-time environmentalists might reminisce about how “back in the day” it wasn’t easy being green, but Kermit would have to sing a different song now, here in Santa Monica. This Earth Day, look around at our town and join in celebrating our new sense of community and purpose. We’re on our way to becoming a Sustainable City.
Santa Monica Councilmember Kevin McKeown also serves as liaison to the City’s Task Force on the Environment.
Resources on the Internet
Anti-water-wasting (landscaping, car washing, etc.):
Big Blue Bus map and schedule:
Green Building program website:
Solar Santa Monica program:
Sustainable City progress report:
Sustainable Quality Awards: