Community Commentary: Laguna lacks clear path for environmental goals

Two months after the Oct. 6 meeting when the Laguna Beach City Council discussed the future of the Environmental Committee, it is only natural to ask: Do we want to run a sustainable city? Do we care about the city's natural environment from the greenbelt to the ocean?

Do we want to have a more comprehensive strategic planning and development standards according to the Vision 2030 plan and the Climate Protection Plan created to implement the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement the city adopted in 2007?

Since our community captured its vision on this plan in the year 2000, we have made progress in many areas, but the city lacks an action plan to achieve a sustainable future.

This is why the Orange County chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council didn't list Laguna as a contender for most sustainable city in the county ("Laguna skipped over," Dec. 2).

The city has no intention to set clear goals for sustainability. When the Environmental Committee suggested long-term goals, it was told there was a lack of resources to implement them.

We are stuck in a system that creates opportunities to work on these issues, but also creates constant frustration and a lack of cooperation, as former committee Chairman Chris Prelitz said, according to the Laguna Beach Independent.

More frustration stems from the city adopting the California Green Building Code, as mandated by the state, but only complying with the minimum provisions and allowing self-verification for most requirements. This is a lost opportunity to go above and beyond to make a difference.

The year before that, the city adopted the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, again mandated by the state, by directly copying the state's act. It left in place thresholds on single-family or multi-family resident lots with a project landscape area of 5,000 square feet or more, which applies to very few projects here.

For months the committee discussed the Complete Streets project and the mobility element. This was a step in the right direction, but we ended up spinning our wheels trying to find a viable project due to a lack of funding. I supported a more livable and walkable city, a community where people can bike and skate, a town that has a better transportation system, like the free trolleys that run in the summer.

Now the City Council has agreed to allocate $300,000 of the year's budget toward studies for Complete Streets projects, which is good, except that $250,000 of that is for studies and the rest is for implementation.

You don't pick and choose projects, placing Band-Aids here and there. You work to change the process in which streets are built and look for sensitive solutions to accommodate the needs of all users, not just traffic and cars.

The world is awash with ads showing the advantage of going green, but actions need a different path. Sustainability should be a reflection of the way we choose to live and run our city. Laguna has many groups and people who care deeply about the environment, but that doesn't mean the city embraced its position.

The city needs the Environmental Committee as a group willing to think outside the box, like Prelitz' proposition to make Laguna an eco-destination or others trying to turn Aliso Creek in something other than sewage discharging into the ocean.

Alternatives do exist. The first step is for the committee and City Council to make an agenda. The second step is to streamline the connection between the committee and council. The third step is to replace the old structure that keeps going in circles, talking about sustainability and doing less than expected.

We need a sustainability program that coordinates all efforts, that understands that sustainable design requires doing things differently, and that demands to apply a holistic approach to problem-solving. If we are smart enough, this shouldn't cost more; instead we could save money in the long term.

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident.

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