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It’s Not Easy Being Green:

Kermit the Frog had a song that outlined the difficulties of being a green, uh…frog… citizen… in today’s society. While by the song’s end, Kermit has decided he’s fine with his tint, in the early going he’s concerned that being green makes it too easy for others to ignore you. “It’s not easy being green /It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things / And people tend to pass you over…” Heartbreaking, even from the felt cloth mouth of a frog puppet.

It’s possible that Santa Monica resident John Youngman felt that he was somehow too green. While Youngman’s woes with seeking approval from the city for a water recycling system have finally been sorted out, he says that delays caused by our city’s permit approval system and a certain level of internal city staff rivalry has cost him at least $50,000 and put the project months behind schedule.

As reported in The Mirror by Brenton Garen, Youngman’s quest for permits for two environmentally friendly “green” water systems for his home began in 2009 when Steve Bilson of ReWater Systems filed the original permit on behalf of Youngman. System One was a so-called “grey water” system that would capture, filter, and reuse household water used for showers and sinks and use it to irrigate the yard. System Two collected rain from the roof and stored in a tank to basically back-up the first system.

Green, smart, and not really all that complicated. So why did it take more than two years to get the city to approve it?

Essentially, some departments in the city got to haggling about details and then some of that became territorial. Okay, maybe that’s human. But in the middle of all that, the city switched to a computerized “ePlan” system for submitting for permits. Going online with technology to make the permit process faster dichotomously meant slowing down Youngman’s application. At one point, two city departments involved in Youngman’s process were unaware that materials relevant to the water systems had been “entered” on the ePlan program.

Ron Takiguchi, a City of Santa Monica building official, conceded that two years is too long for the City to take issuing permits. Takiguchi points out that the water system involved “was custom, and an item that had to be detailed very much. It wasn’t a simple grey water system.” I don’t know. Pipes under your backyard, a big tank to hold water. That doesn’t sound to me like the blueprints for a particle accelerator.

Interesting, maybe, that it took less time for the Feds to decide after the Gulf oil spill that, yeah, you guys can start drilling in the Gulf again. Or that as recently as last Friday, House Republicans made it impossible to pass a measure on disaster aid by attaching legislation to the bill that would have cut green energy programs supported by Democrats. How quickly was the paperwork on that one pushed through to get to a vote, as compared to John Youngman’s journey with our own city to build a water-saving recycling system?

It’s probably coincidental that Youngman ran into delays as he was seeking permits to be a greener citizen of Santa Monica. Maybe a bureaucratic snafu is just that, and nothing more. But his experience doesn’t do much to encourage more green systems in Santa Monica homes. It’s likely the City would point to the new ePlan permit software as a step in the right direction, although apparently the system still dislikes Mac/Apple users and only accepts Internet Explorer. That’s something akin to my girlfriend’s experience with her Droid phone, which often unintentionally dials phone numbers and allows the person dialed to suddenly become a voyeur and monitor whatever is going on at the other end. Oh finicky technology, why won’t you lay down and obey?

But government and its various departments can and do obey… when the goal is clear and all are united. Imagine resolve on the part of U.S. citizens and their government to go “green” and become energy independent (and stop financing terror) by using new green fuels that paralleled the mobilization of citizens and government before and during World War II? What, exactly, is keeping us from that? Do I sound tired and petulant if I say “The other green: Money”? In World War II, American industries grew and became prosperous because of the war. Now, American corporations fear a restructuring of our national energy paradigm that would either leave them out of the profit picture or make them appear to be greedy fools who continue killing the environment just so they can keep on making money. When you have that kind of division, things slow down.

That reality should only further motivate local governments working to improve and streamline procedures so that individual citizens can make small incremental green gains, especially when they are as obviously motivated and patient as Mr. Youngman. At the end of the day, we might smile when one of our children goes out of their way to recycle a plastic bottle. It’s just the one bottle, just a small gesture. But isn’t that how these things grow?

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