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City Releases Sustainable Report Card

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

September 21 -- The City of Santa Monica released its third annual Sustainable City Report Card Thursday, giving itself straight A’s for effort and a D for not meeting its affordable housing goal.

Arriving exactly 13 years to the day after the City Council adopted the Sustainable City Plan on September 20, 1994, the report card measures eight goal areas in which City officials have tried to improve and enhance natural, social and economic resources.

“We often ignore things we don’t track,” said Shannon Parry, Santa Monica’s Sustainable City coordinator. “Having a performance based approach to sustainability, with numerical indicators as the backbone that we report on annually, gives us an opportunity to reflect on our progress and ensure we are making strategic steps toward achieving our goals.”

Grades for the eight goal areas – resource conservation, environmental and public health, transportation, economic development, open space and land use, community education and civic participation, housing and human dignity – are quantitative measures while the effort grade is qualitative.

The Environmental Programs Division awarded staff A’s for effort in every goal area for time spent trying to achieve those goals, the number of active and available programs and policies, how City resources are allocated to solving identified problems and the number of community initiatives undertaken by City officials.

“We developed this Sustainable City Report Card to answer the question that we in Environmental Programs always get asked,” said Dean Kubani, Santa Monica’s Environmental Programs manager. “How sustainable are we?”

In resource conservation, the City received a C, because solid waste exceeds the Sustainable City Plan’s ceiling and continues to increase. Water use also increased three percent.

Accomplishments are that the City continues its commitment to purchase 100 percent renewable power for municipal operations and the Santa Monica Public Library’s Main Branch earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The same grade was given for environmental and public health. Wastewater levels are still too high and City officials are far from reducing Santa Monica Bay pollution and the number of beach closures due to water pollution.

With Santa Monica voters approving a Clean Beaches and Ocean parcel tax last year, work can begin on a 20-year approach to improve Santa Monica Bay’s water quality by enhancing stormwater infrastructure and other pollution control efforts.

Sustainable efforts such as encouraging carpooling among employees at larger companies, fueling nearly 100 percent of the Big Blue Bus fleet with alternative energy, creating a bicycle valet service and distributing a Bike Santa Monica map helped the City get a C+ for transportation.

However, traffic and congestion remain significant issues in Santa Monica and the current network of bicycle lanes and paths are inadequate in meeting Sustainable City Plan targets.

Santa Monica’s economy remains strong and diverse with growth in the tourism, retail and information sectors, and the City has historically been very proactive in supporting the ability of its residents to meet their basic needs and live with dignity.

The City earned a B in economic development and a B- for its human dignity goal.

“No one economic sector has more than a 25 percent share of the total economy,” Parry said. “This is important, because if we have a downturn in a particular sector, we will still have enough economic resiliencies in the other sectors to weather the depression.”

More than 40 businesses were recognized for sustainable practices through the Green Business Certification Program, Sustainable Works Business Greening Program and Sustainable Quality Awards, but the rising cost of living and an unbalanced ratio of jobs to housing in Santa Monica make it difficult for employees to live near their workplaces.

Since the release of last year’s report card, the Community Development Grants Program provided more than $6.7 million to support local family, disability, employment and homeless services.

More than 2,700 homeless individuals received case management and employment assistance. As a result, 1,116 homeless persons were placed in housing and 502 were placed in jobs.

Staff remains significantly concerned about the many families who continue to experience crime, violence and poverty in the Pico neighborhood, Santa Monica’s lowest-income section.

The highest grades the City logged were A minuses for open space and land use and community education and civic participation.

Despite rising real estate prices and construction costs, the City opened Airport Park and reopened Euclid Park, adding 8.3 acres of new or renovated open space to Santa Monica’s 8.3 square miles of city limits.

Park accessibility continues to be outstanding and 90 percent of Santa Monica residents live within half a mile of a park or open space.

Santa Monicans are actively engaged in community events and civic affairs, the report found. There are seven neighborhood organizations and five business improvement districts.

Almost half of all residents attend arts or cultural events and more than 49 percent of residents contacted a city department in 2006.

Housing continues to be the most dismal category for City officials in each of the three years that the Sustainable City Report Card was released, with a D- in 2005 and D’s in 2006 and 2007.

The availability of affordable housing for low and very-low income residents continues to decrease from 86 percent before state-mandated vacancy decontrol in 1999 to 40 percent currently available.

Combined with a continuous rise in real estate prices, the availability of affordable housing has been severely reduced and City officials struggle to hold onto the current stock of affordable units.

“Affordable housing is not only a challenge in Santa Monica,” Parry said. “It is a challenge in the Southern California region and a challenge across the nation.”

The Housing and Economic Development Department is directing $16 million in financing towards 60 affordable housing units at three projects currently underway, and the City Council recently approved designs for the Civic Center Village, which features at least 160 affordable housing units.

The next 12 months will be a busy time for the City Council, said Council member Kevin McKeown, as City Hall looks to find more sustainable efforts for staff to develop, such as banning plastic bags and establishing a Green Depot alternative fueling station to encourage more residents to purchase newer environmentally friendly vehicles.

Council members have already voted to ban Styrofoam packaging and outdoor smoking, require new parking structures to install outlets for recharging electric vehicles, fund the Solar Santa Monica pilot program that helps homeowners and businesses install solar panels on their properties and award preferential parking rates for drivers of biodiesel and electric vehicles.

“The City itself can only do so much, and frankly, the City is just a small part of what needs to be done,” McKeown said. “We can never be a sustainable city; we must be a sustainable community.

“The increasing involvement of other members of the community such as Solar Santa Monica, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Santa Monica College offer us all the greatest hope of achieving true sustainability.”

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“We developed this Sustainable City Report Card to answer the question that we in Environmental Programs always get asked. How sustainable are we?” Dean Kubani


"If we have a downturn in a particular sector, we will still have enough economic resiliencies in the other sectors to weather the depression.” Shannon Parry


“The City itself can only do so much, and frankly, the City is just a small part of what needs to be done.” Kevin McKeown


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