Santa Monica Sustainability Rights Passed At City Council

Friday, 15 Mar 2013, 8:38:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

An ordinance passed Tuesday asserts the fundamental rights of all Santa Monica residents to comprehensive waste disposal systems that do not degrade the environment, to clean water from sustainable sources, clean air, a sustainable food system, a sustainable natural climate, and a sustainable energy future based on renewable energy sources.
Photo by Mitch James
An ordinance passed Tuesday asserts the fundamental rights of all Santa Monica residents to comprehensive waste disposal systems that do not degrade the environment, to clean water from sustainable sources, clean air, a sustainable food system, a sustainable natural climate, and a sustainable energy future based on renewable energy sources.

Santa Monica is one step closer to codifying

sustainability as a fundamental right for local residents and the surrounding

environment.

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

sustainable manner.”

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.

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