In the near future, Santa Monica residents might find that the city's goals such as those aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption are legally mandated.
With overwhelming support from high school clubs, neighborhood and grass-roots organizations, and environmental activists, the City Council voted Tuesday night to look into giving teeth to a voluntary "sustainable-city plan."
It approved a resolution declaring that in conjunction with revising its six-year-old sustainability plan, it would draft this year policies that would allow residents and the city to sue to protect local, natural resources threatened by corporations.
The resolution is also the first step toward enacting a "Sustainability Bill of Rights," written and approved in June by the .
As drafted, the bill of rights would cork the legal rights and powers of corporations that "have the potential to interfere" with residents' "rights to sustainable water, food, energy, air, soil and waste treatment." It would go so far as to strip corporations of their rights as people, and would bar them from using any state or federal license or permit that doesn't jibe with the bill of rights.
Neighborhood organizer Cris Gutierrez called the council's decision on Tuesday night a "big step."
On the same night, however, the council voted not to support Move to Amend's calls for formal resolutions to amend the U.S. Constitution to end "corporate personhood." A growing number of cities have signed on in the wake of a new-ish Supreme Court ruling that rolled back legal limits on corporate spending in the electoral process and affirmed that corporations have the rights of “persons.”
If the Santa Monica City Council does adopt a new sustainability ordinace and bill of rights, they would give residents more legal standing, said Linda Piera-Avila, a board member of the Pico Neighborhood Association.
The Pico neighborhood, she said, will see the bulk of the city's new development in the next few decades. She and others want protections in place to curb proposals from corporations.
"The thing I hear the most is concern about air pollution and traffic," she said.
Santa Monica's first sustainability plan was adopted in 1994. Specific environmental targets were set. For example, in the last update in 2006, the plan stated that by 2010, overall water consumption should drop by 20 percent of the average 2000 level of 13.4 million gallons daily. Also by 2010, the goal was to divert 70 percent of trash away from landfills.
The city considers these targets "aggressive yet achievable."
In 2009, water use dropped for the third straight year to 11.9 million gallons per day, but was still far below the 2010 goal with only a 5 percent change from 2000. As of 2006, the most recent data available on the city's website, the city was diverting 68 percent of trash away from landfills.
Still, in the past couple of years, as attention on green issues has grown, so has the environmental community's concerns with reining in the rights of corporations to build and operate without regulation from government, at the federal, state and, now, the local level.
In December 2010, the city of Pittsburgh became the first major city in the United States to adopt a community bill of rights that bans corporations from drilling natural gas within its city limits and elevates the rights of people, the community, and nature over corporate rights.
The draft Santa Monica sustainability bill of rights proposes that the city "exercise its police powers" to require even stricter rules that what was contained in the 2006 plan, such as 100 percent reliance on the local water by 2020.
Supporters led by Santa Monica Neighbors Unite said that without any legal protections, the city's sustainability plan in its current state could hypothetically be ignored by utility companies. They could, for example, opt to switch to "hydrofracked" sources of energy, hurling the city backward in its efforts to rely on sustainable energy sources.
Member Cris Gutierrez organized a rally in support of the City Council's decision Tuesday night, attended by Occupy Venice and Santa Monica High School students representing clubs Team Marine, the Solar Alliance and Heal the Bay.
She admitted that it would be tough to enact such strict standards, but, likening it to the city's ban on single-use plastic bags, said it wouldn't be impossible.
"Everyone thought that would be the end of the economic well-being of the mom-and-pop shops," she said of the plastic bag ban.
Santa Monica High School senior Charlotte Biren got involved with drafting the sustainability bill of rights last summer. She loves science wants to study ecology in college.
She said the decisions being made by the current City Council will affect her generation and the ones to follow. She worries that if all local, natural resources are tapped now, the reliance on foreign commodities such as oil will only grow stronger, leading to wars and other international conflicts.
"When we get older, this is what we'll have to work with," she said of the newly-enacted resolution, which she said will protect the "simple things, like the right to clean air."
The resolution declaring the city's committment to sustainable rights begins:
The City of Santa Monica recognizes the following rights of the people of Santa Monica: the right to clean, affordable and accessible water from sustainable water sources for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes; the right to a sustainable energy future based on sustainable renewable energy sources; the right to a sustainable natural climate unaltered by fossil fuel emissions; the right to sustainable, comprehensive waste disposal systems that do not degrade the environment; the right to clean indoor and outdoor air, clean water and clean soil that pose a negligible health risk to the public; and the right to a sustainable food system that provides healthy, locally grown food to the community...