Santa Monica Sustainability Plan
The following report provides a description and analysis of the Sustainable City Plan of the City of Santa Monica in order to contribute in part to a large group effort to question and redefine the concept of development. In 1994, the City of Santa Monica adopted a Sustainable City Program that sought to protect the environmental, economic, and social well being of present and future generations. After 14 years of work, the locally generated project has matured and developed into the Sustainable City Plan (SCP). The following report will provide a description of the Sustainable City Plan (SCP) with a critical lens to reevaluate the concept of development, learn from their experience, and conclude with the importance of allowing for a locally decided process for any city to move towards sustainability.
Context and demographics
First, it is important to geographically, historically, and demographically situate Santa Monica. Geographically, Santa Monica is located at the Santa Monica Bay of the Pacific Ocean at the west of the Los Angeles County. Before the city was colonized, Santa Monica was inhabited by the Tongva people, which means “people of the earth”. In 1769, the city was colonized by Garpar de Portola from Spain and named Santa Monica. In 1848, as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the territory became part of the United States of America. As time passed the town grew and briefly became the port for the city of Los Angeles, until 1897 when the US Congress designated San Pedro Bay as the Port of Los Angeles. As a result, the city was able to preserve its scenic charm and becomes a destination for the elite’s leisure and a hot spot for Hollywood’s celebrities. Since the colonizing period Santa Monica has preserved its charm and housed an affluent community that benefits from the city’s vicinity to the ocean and distance from chaotic Down Town Los Angeles.
According to the American Communities Survey of 2006, the City of Santa Monica has a total population of 88,000. About 80% of the population is white, 23% is foreign born, 16% is 19 years old or younger, 63% has a Bachelor’s degree or higher, 70% of the occupied housing is renter occupied, and a household median income of $48,000/year. The data demonstrates that Santa Monica is a smaller city where the majority of the population has at least a bachelors’ degree, is white, and rents housing.
The Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE)
The OSE, a division of the city of Santa Monica, is responsible for developing and implementing programs that create a sustainable Santa Monica by protecting the environment and public health. One of the programs is the Sustainable City Plan—a plan that provides a set of goals and guidelines to deal with economic, environmental, and social issues in a sustainable manner. The office is also in charge of Santa Monica’s Strategic Energy Plan, Toxic Use Reduction Program and the Integrated Pest Management Program, water efficiency program, and the integration of sustainable practices citywide.
On September 20, 1994 Santa Monica’s City Council adopted the city’s first Sustainable City Program in the United States. Before the program was established, the city was home to many environmentally conscious people who after the 70’s engaged in the city’s planning process. A group of people interested in the environmentalist movement began a process to make Santa Monica an environmentally friendly place, which later on became the first task force for the environment. When the City Council adopted the program, Santa Monica had well established environmentalist culture, which made it easier to gain local supported for policies prioritizing the environment. However, it is important to highlight that the environmentalist movement was and continues to be mainly dominated by white affluent communities who have only began to contemplate issues of equity and social justice in the last years. Therefore, the Sustainable City Program adopted by Santa Monica in 1994 was environmentalist centered.
In 1994 the Sustainable City Program established a set of objectives to achieve sustainability and criteria to evaluate the program’s long-term effects. As described in the SCP, the plan includes goals and strategies, for the City government and all sectors of the community, to conserve and enhance local resources, safeguard human health and the environment, maintain a healthy and diverse economy, and improve the livability and quality of life for all community members in Santa Monica. To check progress toward meeting these goals, numerical indicators were developed and specific targets were set for the city to achieve by the year 2010 in four goal areas – 1) Resource Conservation, 2) Transportation, 3) Pollution Prevention and Public Health Protection, and 4) Community and Economic Development.
The City of Santa Monica has been a leader in engaging the environmental discourse in city making. Therefore, their scope matured and evolved and in 2001 the program was reevaluated to add social and economic concerns to the environmentalist lens. It has also worked more intentionally to outreach to the community and delegate some of the duties to different non-profits, and other community members. “The update process began in July 2001 with the formation of the Sustainable City Working Group – a large group of community stakeholders that included elected and appointed officials, City staff, and representatives of neighborhood organizations, schools, the business community and other community groups.” The new program changed titles from the Sustainable City Program to the Sustainable City Plan and became defined by three forms of community capital:
- Natural Capital – the natural environment and natural resources of the community;
- Human and Social Capital – the connectedness among people in the community and the education, skills and health of the population
- Financial and Built Capital – manufactured goods, buildings, infrastructure, information resources, credit and debt.
The Sustainable City Plan’s structure
The structure of the SCP works through 9 Guiding Principles, 8 Goal Areas, indicators, and targets.
Guiding Principles: guide decision making.
- The Concept of Sustainability Guides City Policy
Commitment to not compromise future generations through long-term policy that ensures a sustainable legacy.
- Protection, Preservation, and Restoration of the Natural Environment
Commitment to protecting, preserving and restoring the natural environment by reducing or eliminating negative environmental impacts.
- Environmental Quality, Economic Health and Social Equity are Mutually Dependent
A holistic approach in decision making that equally prioritizes the environment, economic, and social without compromising any of them.
- All Decisions Have Implications to the Long-term Sustainability of Santa Monica
Policy decisions and programs are interconnected and will reflect the sustainability objectives.
- Community Awareness, Responsibility, Participation and Education are Key Elements of a Sustainable Community
All community members are to appropriation of the plan through awareness, participation, and taking responsibilities.
- Santa Monica Recognizes Its Linkage with the Regional, National, and Global Community
Acknowledge and work in connection to the region, nation, and the global.
- Sustainability Issues Most Important to the Community Will prioritize, and the Most Cost-Effective Programs and Policies Will be Selected
Cost-effectiveness in terms of the social and environmental cost will prioritize decision making.
- The City is Committed to Procurement Decisions which Minimize Negative Environmental and Social Impacts
The City will develop and abide by an environmentally and socially responsible procurement policy that emphasizes long-term values and will become a model for other public as well as private organizations.
- Cross-sector Partnerships Are Necessary to Achieve Sustainable Goals
Multi-sector causes and require multi-sector solutions, therefore partnerships among different stakeholders are necessary to achieve a sustainable community.
- The Precautionary Principle Provides a Complimentary Framework to Help Guide City Decision-Makers in the Pursuit of Sustainability
A thorough exploration and careful analysis of alternatives, and a full cost accounting beyond short-term and monetary transaction costs will minimize damages. Transparent decision making process is critical to finding and selecting alternatives.
Goal areas: provide a vision and indicators of what the city must achieve to become sustainable:
- Resource Conservation
- Environmental and Public Health
- Economic Development
- Open Space and Land Use
- Community Education and Civic Participation
- Human Dignity
- System Level Indicators: “measure the state, condition or pressures on a community-wide basis for each respective goals area.”
- Program Level Indicators: “measure the performance or effectiveness of specific programs, policies or actions taken by the City government or other stakeholders in the community.”
Targets: achievable milestones for 2010 using 2002 as the baseline.
The implementation of the SCP requires the engagement of different sectors in order to achieve their objectives. The principal actors are the city with their Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE), the Task Force, environmentalist organizations, other nongovernmental organizations, the city council and other community members. As mentioned before, the OSE is a division of the City of Santa Monica responsible for the developing and implanting the plan. The Task Force is a group of people from the community who posses different skills and balance each other in their interests for sustainability. They are also connected personally and through their businesses, which offers the SCP easier access to local assets. The Task Force meets monthly and anyone is welcome to attend their meetings. Different environmentalist organization such as Global Green and Sustainable Works directly work with the Plan by housing the Green Building Resource Center and Outreach Office respectably. Finally, other organizations and community members are also engaged in the decision making.
Santa Monica’s sustainability plan facilitates decision-making through an organizational structure consisting of two taskforces, an advisory team, and input from policymakers and community residents. Policy is geared toward ensuring sustainability, which is defined organizationally as “meeting [the City’s] existing needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The Sustainable City Task Force (SCTF) was created in 2003, and includes community stakeholders with expertise in the SCP goal areas. Two taskforces currently spearhead the City’s sustainability efforts—the original taskforce on the environment, and the recently created sustainability taskforce, which focuses more on the intersection of social, economic, and environmental issues. The taskforces are responsible for making recommendations to city council on different environmental issues. As explained in the SCP document, “The City’s Task Force on the Environment assumed the initial leadership role on behalf of the community for the Sustainable City Program.” Along with the new taskforce, the City also created an interdepartmental sustainability Advisory Team (SAT) in accordance with the 2003 plan update. The SAT ensures that all activities are consistent with the SCP. The SCTF and SAT are responsible for the SCP’s development, implementation, and coordination between departments, the City, and community stakeholders.
Santa Monica’s vision forsustainability calls for effective policy- and decision-making. The city acknowledges that to achieve an environment sustainable for existing and future generations, policy-makers should be at the vanguard and take a leading role in the process. In the original program report, the authors explain that sustainable policies must be evaluated long-term to ensure a sustainable legacy for future generations. Guidelines written into the 2003 document develop a concrete connection around policymaking and the plan’s environmental objectives. For one, the plan emphasizes that, “All decisions have environmental implications”. This is an important assumption because it encompasses all policy decisions, whether the link to sustainability is obvious or not, and implies that policy-making is a holistic, interconnected process. The City of Santa Monica has chosen to address these interconnections, and to evaluate all policy decisions on their potential environmental impacts. Another guideline connecting the City’s policy-making to sustainability explains that “Those environmental issues most important to the community should be addressed first, and the most cost-effective programs and policies should be selected”. This sheds light on how policy choices are made by the City. That is, although all policies have an environmental impact, some policy concerns are given priority over others. The City acknowledges that resources are limited and thus close attention is paid on the evaluation and review of programs and policies in terms of costs and benefits. A third guideline connecting policy-making to sustainability goals acknowledges that the procurement of goods and services will have noticeable environmental and social impacts in other regions of the world. The City declares that procurement policies and programs are to be socially and environmentally responsible.The 1994 Sustainable City Program Report outlines four policy areas, consisting of policy goals and target areas for the City of Santa Monica. These policy areas include (1) resource conversation, (2) transportation, (3) pollution prevention and public health protection, and (4) community and economic development. The 2003 Santa Monica Sustainable City Plan Update was important because it transformed the more-limited program into a plan fully vested by the City. Shannon Parry, sustainable city analyst for the City of Santa Monica, discusses this point
We wanted to go from program to plan because we really wanted to move from theory into action if you will. We really wanted to capture a more integrated, action-based approach and then we also wanted to really start to endeavor to capture economic development and social justice elements, which were much more difficult. It required a level of community engagement that we hadn’t yet had.
This 2003 update expanded the City’s policy areas from four to eight, adding the following fields—open space and land use, housing, community education and civic participation, and human dignity. These policy areas set up criteria for which the program is evaluated. The City’s resource conservation target area promotes the use of renewable energies and conservation technologies and practices. This includes the development of local, non-polluting, renewable energy, water and material resources, and recycling technology in these areas. Transportation, a second policy area, includes as its goals the maximized use of alternative forms of transportation (e.g. walking, bicycling, and public transit), the creation of innovative traffic policies (e.g. that limit vehicle usage), the implementation of employee work schedules to reduce the number of commute days, and advocating “the regional development of public transportation systems”. A third policy area, pollution prevention and public health protection, outlines the following goals—to limit air, water, and soil pollutants, and to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous and toxic material by businesses and residents. Furthermore, the policy area protects against environmental injustice by ensuring that no one geographic or socioeconomic group in the City is unfairly exposed to environmental pollution. The fourth policy area, community and economic development, encourages compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-oriented development to maximize affordable housing. This policy area also promotes local businesses with positive environment and social impacts.
The 2003 Plan Update explains that the open space and land use policy area targets as its goals the development of an open space system that is sufficient and diverse (including the provision of natural function/ wildlife habitat and the equitable distribution of parks, trees, and pathways), the implementation of planning policies that encourage compact, mixed-use projects and affordable housing. The housing policy area states that the City’s goal is to “Achieve and maintain a mix of affordable, livable and green housing types throughout the city for people of all socio-economic / cultural / household groups (including seniors, families, singles, and disabled)”. The community education and civic participation policy area encourages that all residents participate actively in civic affairs and community enhancement efforts, while understanding the basic principles of sustainability to guide their decisions. A final policy area entitled human dignity includes the following goals—to create a community in which all members are able to meet their basic needs, including equitable access to housing, education, economic opportunity, and cultural resources, and an appreciation and respect for social, economic, and cultural diversity within the City.
What must be emphasized in this discussion is that these goal areas are not isolated from one another, but are interdependent by nature. As Tracy, the City’s Community Sustainability Liaison explains,
When you look at the back of our sustainable city plan, it’ll have a matrix (with) a different goal area and the different goals. It shows where it all intersects so like water affects this goal, this goal, this goal. I think that’s probably the most important page of the document…because without it, depending on your profession…
you tend to key into maybe one sole indicator and look at how your program, or your ideas, or your desires affects that one indicator without looking at how they fit all together.
This informs Santa Monica’s perspective on development as a whole—that is, the path to a sustainable future cannot be traced through one avenue, but involves a myriad of connecting parts. The goals simultaneously touch upon social equity, environmental protection, and economic development areas. The goals for development that articulated by the SCP conflict with the short-term, economic emphasis usually placed by cities in their evaluation of policies. By its very nature, sustainability sets into place a long-term vision, where the benefits— especially economic—are seen mainly over the course of time. The City of Santa Monica has learned to be more compliant to these policy demands. Dean Kubani explains this point in the following,
When we’re recommending certain projects, we’re always looking at justifying things that make economic sense. The difficulty sometimes is – and this is true in any city when you have politicians – is that people tend to look at things on a short-term basis. At times we’ve had difficulties with that, but now we’re at the point that if we’re looking at something over the long-term that makes sense, then our city council usually sees the wisdom in absorbing the short-term costs to get the long-term benefits.
In this way, the City has broken ground in creating a long-term, citywide effort to create livable communities for the future. The City and the public workers responsible for maintaining the plan have forged an understanding that is important for other cities to replicate, in this path towards sustainable development.
SCP, Policy-making, and Peak Oil
Peak oil refers to the point in time when the maximum rate of global extraction is reached leading to a terminal decline in oil production. Theorists’ estimates for this time period vary from optimistic projections of 2020 to a more pessimistic view that peak oil has already been reached. Once reached, the price of oil will skyrocket causing significant and negative impacts to the global economy. Furthermore, theorists expect that peak oil will hasten the collapse of global world systems and industrial society with a large decline in population in a relatively short period of time. The City of Santa Monica has positioned itself to deal effectively with a post-peak oil crisis at a local level. The following summarizes the City’s position:
If peak oil arrives sooner rather than later, Santa Monica is in a good position to shift into an “overdrive mode of sustainability planning” as an effective way of responding to such a development, having already laid the groundwork for such an accelerated approach through the creation of institutional structures, a mind-set attuned to sustainability among its residents, and the momentum and experience gained through its previous successes in this area.
Santa Monica may indeed prove to be a model case study for other cities to follow, as this global crisis looms. The taskforces involved in the day-to-day goings-on of the City, keep a watchful eye on these large global processes. In so doing, they prepare the city to respond to such highly dramatic transitions, while pursuing larger sustainability goals. While other cities like Portland have created a peak oil taskforce to ready their region for a peak oil transition, Santa Monica has created a framework to include such tasks.
The SCTF, SAT and city staff reports to the City Council on an annual basis with a baseline indicators report, and a plan. In large part, the program focuses its resources on the research, analysis and implementation of annual measures to evaluate policy programs and target goals. As Santa Monica Sustainabilty Director Dean Kubani explains
It’s a lot of research, it’s implementation, and it’s providing public
information. We’re also collecting data on a number of indicators to
track our progress toward meeting our sustainability goals, and we
have a number of programs and initiatives focused on residential
sustainability and business sustainability, and also for institutions
such as schools and hospitals.
To arrive at their annual measures, the program participates in cost-benefit analyses, and follows state and federal mandates and guidelines including the California Environmental Quality Act. For each policy area, the program sets up an indicator or ultimate target to reach after a given amount of time that will indicate measurable progress towards that policy goal. The 1994 Sustainable City Program details how annual targets are to be measured. The following are examples taken from this document which show how annual measures are derived by the City:
- The City proposed a 16% citywide energy efficiency target which resulted from a comprehensive cost-effectivenness analysis of overall energy usage in Santa Monica.
- A 20% water usage reduction target was set for 2000, based on results from water efficiency programs.
- The 1994 report explains that state law mandates a 2000 solid waste diversion target of 50%.
- The City reached a 75% reduced emission fuels target for their public transportation fleet based on an anysis of the overall potential within this fleet.
- A targeted 10% increase in total Santa Monica Bus Line ridership by 2000, based on cost-benefit analysis of bus ridership.
- Target to provide 2.5 acres of open space per 1000 City residents was developed according to standards used by the Santa Monica Recreation and parks Commission. A total target was set at 180 acres by the year 2000.
Starting in 2005, Santa Monica established a sustainable city report card with grades based on analysis of indicator data and the evaluation of progress toward meeting the targets for each goal areas. The City’s grades are based on performance in the following target areas:
- Resource conservation.
- Environmental and public health.
- Economic development.
- Open space and land use.
- Community education and civic participation.
- Human dignity.
For instance, the 2008 report card gives the city a C+ grade for Transportation, and counts as its transportation goals maximizing mobility and access, while reducing traffic and pollution associated with transportation. The report card lists improvements and progress towards these goals based on various indicators (e.g. average vehicle ridership increased to 1.6, which is above the SCP target of 1.5). The report concludes that the city is ultimately too far from reaching its target goals to receive an above average mark.
The report card is a critical step for the City to create accountability with community residents. That is to say, creates a measure of transparency into the process of decision-making, allowing community members to observe why certain claims were made. Furthermore, this system stresses that all of the community is involved in the process, and that in point of fact the plan serves everyone. When asked about whom the plan is intended to serve, Tracy responds,
I would say everyone. Everyone in our community is served by this—everyone who visits our community…and then the environment in general. Again, if you were to pick specific indicators or specific goals you can’t look at who or what in particular it serves but (who it serves) as a whole.
The community as a whole is supportive of this vision for development. There is a general understanding that all carry the mutual interest in preserving the environment for future generations. The issues that do come up involve the contrasting ways on how to reach this ultimate goal. Dean Kubani explain that
The place where people disagree is when they are talking about the specific things that need to happen in order to get to those goals. We do have disagreements in Santa Monica all of the time about development, for example. There are some people who say that we can’t build one building more in Santa Monica, because it isn’t sustainable; and we have some people say that we can do it in a way that fosters things like walkability and resource efficiency. I think these debates are healthy for a community to have.
Although the methods may vary, the long-term vision for development remains constant.
Community Sustainability Liaison
The Community Sustainability Liaison (CSL) is a position funded by a grant from the City, and as such does not work directly for the City. This position was recommended by the Sustainable Taskforce to outreach and create stronger ties within the community, and increase their access to information about the SCP. The Liaison reaches out to different community stakeholders, and provides assistance in decision-making. Tracy, the first to fill this position, remains the CSL, gaining the position after writing a proposal that stood out from other applicants. She describes her position as a liaison responsible for instituting a broader community base that targets everyone from individual residents to larger institutions. She envisions a space for differing visions or understandings of development, underscoring the strength and opportunity of bringing people together, to sustain a dialogue and keep alive the democratic process.
Global Green USA
Global Green USA is the United States affiliate of the Green Cross International and their headquarters in the US is located in Santa Monica. Green Cross International was founded to create a new approach to solving the world’s most pressing environmental challenges by reconnecting humanity to the environment. Global Green USA was founded in 1993 to merge research, community based projects and advocate to educate, fundraise, and implement environmental policy. The office in Santa Monica focuses on the green building of affordable housing projects, city programs, and other building programs.
The expertise of Global Green has connected the organization to regional projects seeking to address the necessity for sustainable develop. Recently, the organization joined forces with other organizations to advice the city of Los Angeles after passing the Solar Initiative in their efforts to provide more solar incentives and rebates to residents in Los Angeles. The main purpose was to provide realistic recommendations.
Additionally, Global Green is also working with the Sustainable City Plan by housing the Green Building Resource Center for the City of Santa Monica. The resource center is accessed by people who want to remodel their house, renters, design professionals, organizations that want to turn green, or anyone interested in the topic. It provides display of environmentally friendly building materials, design advice, workshops, reading materials, information about financial incentives, and connects its clients to construction professionals. Ultimately, it provides an opportunity for a local organization that has the expertise to appropriate and be responsible for a component of the Sustainable City Plan.
Sustainable Santa Monica is an example of a local community driven project that has taken many years to grow strong. The environmentalist culture that existed among some of the residents of Santa Monica in the 70’s was critical to the development of the plan. It has taken about 40 years for the city to build and reshape their idea of sustainability to the point that they are now pioneers in the sustainability movement. Although the City of Santa Monica provides advice to other cities as they begin to see the importance of becoming sustainable, it is imperative to understand the context that allowed for the plan to flourish in Santa Monica. The history, geographical location, and support of the local government are key in the successful implementation of the plan. Awareness around sustainability really began to take off after the 1992 Rio De Janiero Earth Summit, which were coordinated by the United Nations. The ideas that emerged from the summit began to hold sway on Santa Monica intellectual circles, and helped community members initiate a sustainability program. Furthermore, the geographical location also played a prominent role. Due to the City’s position along the Pacific Coast, the City had always a keen awareness of environmental problems, as countywide refuse would wash into their basin. While sustainability is an issue that gains prevalence in the global discourse, cities have different priorities and issues that need to be resolved, or that could add sustainability to their agendas. However, the decision making process should be strictly shaped by the local reality to be able to increase the chances of a successful sustainable plan.
TRACY, COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY LIAISON, Interview conducted by authors on 12/2/08.
 TRACY, COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY LIAISON, Interview conducted by authors on 12/2/08.