Santa Monica is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the city’s commitment to sustainability.

Ten years ago, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a Sustainable City Program, designed to make Santa Monica a city that respects the quality of life along with economic progress.

The health of the environmental, economic, and social systems that constitute a community determine quality of life, say city Environmental Programs Division officials.

Working toward a sustainable city means creating a balance between a thriving economy and society while protecting the natural environment.

The City Task Force on the Environment developed a plan with an emphasis on economic vitality, social opportunities and the environment.

After a recent review, the task force expanded its initial plan into eight goal areas — which include:

– resource conservation,

– environmental and public health,

– transportation,

– economic development,

– open space and land use,

– housing,

-community education, and

– civic participation and human dignity.

Some of the sustainability accomplishments in Santa Monica include becoming the first city in the U.S. to power all of its city facilities with renewable electricity.

The city has reduced dry-weather urban runoff entering Santa Monica Bay with the completion of the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility.

The city has planted organic vegetable gardens at public schools in Santa Monica.

The city also established chemical criteria that custodial products must meet, ensuring that only low-toxicity custodial products are purchased and used in city buildings.

“We’re a small city trying to address some global and national problems,” said Brian J. Johnson, manager of the Environmental Programs Division.

He adds that balance is key to the overall success of the program.

This balance is often tipped against the city as economic upswings occur.

Despite increased waste diversion and significant reductions in water use since 1990, the use of water has risen since 1995 because of new office construction and larger daytime populations and as occupancy in these office buildings and hotels has increased, he says.

Striking a balance between economic growth, increased consumption and the resulting waste and pollution remains a challenge, but expanding the way a community thinks about what it does can help ensure that in ten or 20 years the community will be living better than it is now, Johnson says.

To help citizens think about how they live impacts their future, the task force looks for tools to inform and educate the public about sustainable practices.

For example, one of the city goals is to reduce water consumption 20 percent by 2010.

Requiring the cooperation of residents and businesses of Santa Monica, water consumption in the city can be reduced through the use of low-flush toilets and landscaping with plants more conducive to the Santa Monica climate, Johnson says.

Native plants have evolved over time to survive and thrive in less-than-fertile soil and in dry seasons and require much less water and fertilizer, he adds.

To exemplify this, the city garden and the garden project — in conjunction with Santa Monica College — showcases two different front yard gardens.

Located at 1718 and 1724 Pearl St. in Santa Monica, one garden shows native climate-appropriate plants with state-of-the-art irrigation, while the other garden is a more typical garden with plants brought in from outside the area.

Water and fertilization monitoring reveals that the native garden requires about 75 percent less water and maintenance than the traditional garden.

The city also introduced a competitive landscaping grant as an incentive to residents and businesses throughout the community to undertake landscaping projects to conserve water.

While the city has exceeded some goals, Johnson says the balance isn’t in the city’s favor yet.

“Progress can be just understanding what questions to ask and then assessing if the direction you’re taking is the best one,” he says.

Progress may be slow but the city goals are long-term and the cost and effort to create a sustainable city make sense, according to city officials.

Information about landscaping grants and how lifestyle affects the planet is available on the Santa Monica Environmental Programs Division Web site at www.smepd.org

Julie Kirst can be contacted at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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