Thursday, April 9, 2009
Big green buttons were in fashion at the April 2 Seaside City Council meeting. Nearly a dozen audience members sported the pins while Sustainable Seaside member Kay Cline asked the council to sign two symbolic agreements to green up the city.
The Seaside Council didn’t take a vote, but left the door open to the idea. Five days later the city of Marina also mulled adoption of both the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords.
Signatories to the Mayors Agreement pledge to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets by reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a local level. Additionally, cities signed on to the U.N. Accords agree to pursue sustainable policies in the areas of water, energy, waste, urban design, transportation, urban nature and environmental health.
“IT’S ONE THING TO SAY YOU’RE GOING GREEN, BUT YOU MUST DO SOMETHING CONCRETE AS A COMMUNITY.”
Both agreements, launched in 2005, are intended as reference points that can be tailored to individual communities. But neither is legally binding, raising the question of whether they actually inspire significant changes or just give their signatories a green horn to toot.
At the very least, the agreements offer guidelines for sustainable policies that create jobs and save money, Denyse Frischmuth of Citizens for Sustainable Monterey County told Seaside Councilmembers.
“This is a set of innovative and profitable – and I want to stress profitable – solutions,” she said. “There is no agency that has the power to sue the city for non-compliance. It is a moral commitment.”
The seven men on the dais showed little expression. Mayor Ralph Rubio stroked his beard, noting the city has adopted at least 13 green policies over the past five years, including energy-efficient building codes, golf course water recycling, and the urban-sprawl-curbing downtown redevelopment project.
But he was noncommittal about the eco-accords. “The city has been a leader, and we haven’t been marketing ourselves [as green],” he said. “In the future we may look at the accords.”
During the public comment period, Seaside resident Peter Kaiser called global warming a myth, alleging the sustainability movement is actually a power grab for people supporting “excessive abortions.”
Since becoming Monterey County’s first signatory in 2006, P.G. has launched a spectrum of green projects: hosting a weekly farmers market, exploring a water recycling system and planting thousands of trees, among other efforts.
“It’s one thing to say you’re going green, but you must do something serious and concrete as a community to live up to the expectation of signing these accords,” says P.G. Mayor Dan Cort. “No one’s gonna throw you in sustainability jail if you don’t comply with it, [but] you should only sign it if you are fully prepared to implement some changes.”
In less than two years since signing the agreements, the city of Monterey has catalogued more than 100 efforts to uphold them, including: phasing in electric and hybrid fleet vehicles, planning a small garden for the library roof, adopting the Peninsula’s first green building ordinance and recycling restaurant waste oil to fuel the city’s biodiesel vehicles.
“This is really something to promote a better quality of life in your community,” says Megan Tolbert, director of Monterey Green Action, which spearheaded the effort. “It’s good for business, it’s good for health, it’s good for the environment.”
To create buzz around the accords, city staff stuck bumper stickers onto all of their fleet vehicles, announcing, “My city signed it!” The goal, Tolbert says, is to publicize the city’s green goals, remind staff to bear them in mind and pressure other cities to make the same commitments.
Salinas did so, signing both eco-agreements in November 2007. The city has followed up by convening an interdepartmental “green team,” soliciting a sustainability guide from The Rocky Mountain Institute and authorizing an environmental purchasing plan.
“It’s not a mandate; it’s a work in progress,” Mayor Dennis Donohue says. “We are trying to move substantively… [but] we still have some work to do.”
While gang-riddled Salinas takes baby steps to uphold its green commitments, quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea – better known for its eco-fuzzy feel – says “thanks but no thanks” to the two eco-accords.
The city doesn’t want to be held liable for not complying with the parts of the documents that aren’t pertinent or affordable, according to Mayor Sue McCloud. Although the agreements are explicitly non-binding, she says the decision not to sign on comes at the counsel of City Attorney Don Freeman.
Freeman, who also counsels Seaside, did not return calls by press time.
Carmel is, however, moving forward with its own sustainability program. So far it has switched to more energy-efficient lighting, adopted the take-out Styrofoam ban, convened a green building committee and set a goal of attaining a LEED Silver certification for the Forest Theater remodel.
“We obviously want to put our money where our mouth is,” McCloud says. “Even though we’ve been advised not to sign those accords… we certainly support what they’re trying to do.”
If Seaside and Marina sign onto the accords, Carmel may soon be in the minority of Peninsula cities. On April 7 the Marina City Council considered the agreements, but shunted them back to staff to study their fiscal impact.
“It’s something I very much want the city to join in on,” Mayor Bruce Delgado says. “It’s real important to let everyone know where the city stands.”