Santa Monica is one step closer to codifying
sustainability as a fundamental right for local residents and the surrounding
With only four Council members participating in the vote,
the elected panel unanimously voted in favor of an ordinance “establishing
sustainability rights for Santa Monica residents and the natural environment.”
The ordinance still must pass a second reading in April.
Still, those sitting in Council Chambers erupted in
applause – a rarity at most Council meetings – after Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day
lodged the vote that allowed the ordinance to pass the first reading.
The ordinance also establishes the rights of natural
communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish in Santa Monica and asserts
the rights of residents to enforce those rights on behalf of the environment.
To help ensure the protection of sustainable rights, City
staff must present a written report at a public hearing every two years
addressing the state of the local environment. Also at that hearing, City Hall
must demonstrate the progress it made in implementing and enforcing the
Sustainable City Plan and the provisions of the ordinance.
An ambitious ordinance, both Council members and City
Hall hope the proposed new law is more than just lip service.
“Mitigation-based environmentalism is so twentieth
century. It’s not enough,” Council member Kevin McKeown said. “We’re in the
twenty-first century. What we’re doing here tonight on behalf of the people of
Santa Monica, but also on behalf of our planet, is moving into a compensatory
and protective shift of power. We cannot let corporations continue to do what
they’ve been doing.”
So, what, exactly, does the ordinance aim to protect?
“The ordinance asserts the fundamental rights of all
Santa Monica residents to clean water from sustainable sources, clean air, a
sustainable food system, a sustainable natural climate, comprehensive waste
disposal systems that do not degrade the environment, and a sustainable energy
future based on renewable energy sources,” City staff stated. “The ordinance
also recognizes that corporate entities and their directors and managers do not
possess special privileges or powers under the law that subordinate the
community’s rights to their private interests.”
Several members of the public spoke on this agenda item
and, in general, commended City Hall and Council members for pushing forward an
ordinance making sustainability a fundamental right.
“Today, I am proud to be a Santa Monican,” Marianne Simon
told Council members. “It is long overdue that the Earth has a seat at the
table when we make our decisions in how we utilize our resources in a
Local activist Jerry Rubin joked: “If the environment was
a bank, it would have been saved already.”
One resident pointed out City Hall was at odds in
considering an ordinance making sustainability a fundamental right while also
operating Santa Monica Airport.
Also attending the meeting and addressing the dais in
support of the proposed ordinance were several Samohi students.
The implementation of sustainability as a fundamental
right was drafted and executed with the spirit of the Sustainable City Plan
(SCP), which Santa Monica adopted in 1994 and updated in 2003 and 2006.
“The SCP recognizes that a healthy environment is
integral to the City's long-term societal and economic interests and that
collective decisions made by the City must allow the economy and community
members to thrive without destroying the natural environment upon which they
depend,” City staff stated. “Therefore, the SCP commits the City to protecting,
preserving and restoring the natural environment.
“It also recognizes that local environmental, economic
and social issues cannot be separated from their larger context and therefore
commits the City to development programs and policies that will serve as models
for other communities,” staff continued.
Almost two years ago, Santa Monica’s Task Force on the
Environment explored the creation of a Sustainability Bill of Rights that would
make it a right for people, natural communities, and ecosystems to co-exist.
The Bill of Rights would also allow people to pursue lawsuits “to effectuate
the rights of the natural world” and “subordinate corporate rights insofar as
those rights threaten sustainability.”
In January 2012, Council members adopted a resolution
declaring the rights of Santa Monica residents to clean, affordable, and
accessible water, a future based upon renewable energy sources, a natural
climate system “unaltered by fossil fuel emissions,” sustainable disposable
systems, cleaner air, and sustainable food systems.
Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council member Tony Vazquez were
not present at the March 12 meeting. Council member Robert Holbrook was not
present for the vote on this ordinance.
Copyright © 2011 by Santa Monica Mirror. All rights reserved.