City Council Report
City Council Meeting: March 12, 2013
Agenda Item: 7-C
To: Mayor and City Council
From: Dean Kubani, Director, Office of Sustainability and the Environment
Subject: Introduction and First Reading of an Ordinance Establishing Sustainability Rights
Staff recommends that the City Council introduce for first reading the attached ordinance establishing sustainability rights for Santa Monica residents and the natural environment.
Santa Monica takes pride in its long-standing commitment to environmental leadership. The City adopted its Sustainable City Plan (SCP) in September of 1994 and updated it in 2003 and 2006. The SCP recognizes that a healthy environment is integral to the City's long-term societal and economic interests and that collective decisions made by the City must allow the economy and community members to thrive without destroying the natural environment upon which they depend. Therefore, the SCP commits the City to protecting, preserving and restoring the natural environment. It also recognizes that local environmental, economic and social issues cannot be separated from their larger context and therefore commits the City to development programs and policies that will serve as models for other communities.
In the years since the SCP was adopted, the City has created and funded a wide range of successful environmental programs. And, the City has successfully utilized environmental protection laws to hold polluters accountable for damage done to its natural resources.
Nonetheless, environmental crises including: global climate change; habitat destruction and species extinction; soil, air and water pollution; and resource depletion continue to grow throughout the world. In response, Santa Monica’s local environmental community and national environmental leaders have urged consideration of a new approach being taken in other cities and countries – an approach that would recognize the rights of both humans and the natural environment to exist and flourish. This natural rights movement is based on the belief that Earth is a community whose members are humans, other animals, plants, rivers, streams end eco-systems and that all members of the community must have rights to ensure the sustainability of the whole. The movement seeks a paradigm shift away from the current economic and legal systems' classification of nature as "property" and towards a more holistic view that would place the interest of natural communities and long-term sustainability ahead of short-range, individual and corporate economic goals.
On March 21, 2011 the City’s Task Force on the Environment created a subcommittee to explore the creation of a Sustainability Bill of Rights (SBoR) for Santa Monica. That subcommittee drafted a proposed framework for the SBoR which would:
1. Recognize the rights of people, natural communities and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish;
2. Authorize individuals to sue to effectuate the rights of the natural world;
3. Subordinate corporate rights insofar as those rights threaten sustainability; and
4. Commit the City to meeting specified environmental goals by specified dates and taking other specified actions to fulfill the commitments made in the Sustainable City Plan.
On June 20, 2011 after discussion of this framework the Task Force adopted the following motion by a 4 to 1 vote:
The Santa Monica Task Force on the Environment recommends Council direct staff to develop a City of Santa Monica “Sustainability Bill of Rights”
On January 24, 2012 Council adopted a resolution declaring the City’s Commitment to Sustainable Rights. This resolution was developed by staff based on the work of the Task Force on the Environment and represents a formal recognition by the City of the rights of Santa Monica residents to:
The resolution also recognizes the fundamental rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist, thrive and evolve; and it supports effectuating these rights by modifying local law and policy as needed to better protect and sustain the natural environment for current and future generations.
With adoption of the resolution Council directed staff to return with proposals for policy, process and legal changes that would protect the rights of people and natural communities consistent with the resolution. The attached ordinance has been prepared to address this request.
The attached ordinance codifies the commitments made in the Sustainable City Plan to:
1. Restoring, protecting and preserving our natural environment and all of its components and communities;
2. Creating and promoting sustainable systems of food production and distribution, transportation, waste disposal, and water supply;
3. To the full extent legally possible, subordinating the short term, private financial interests of corporations and others to the common, long-term interest of achieving environmental and economic sustainability.
Based on the resolution adopted by Council on January 24, 2012, the ordinance asserts the fundamental rights of all Santa Monica residents to clean water from sustainable sources, clean air, a sustainable food system, a sustainable natural climate, comprehensive waste disposal systems that do not degrade the environment, and a sustainable energy future based on renewable energy sources. The ordinance recognizes the rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish in the city of Santa Monica and asserts the rights of residents to enforce those rights on behalf of the environment. The ordinance also recognizes that corporate entities and their directors and managers do not possess special privileges or powers under the law that subordinate the community’s rights to their private interests.
The ordinance establishes a requirement that every two years City staff shall prepare a written report on the state of the local environment and the City’s progress in implementing and enforcing the Sustainable City Plan and the provisions of the ordinance. The report must include recommendations for advancing and ensuring compliance with the Sustainable City Plan and must be reviewed at a biennial public hearing by City Council for Council comment and direction.
In order to further highlight sustainable rights as a priority for the City of Santa Monica, staff is creating a new article to the Santa Monica Municipal Code which will house and/or reference all current and future code sections related to the environment and sustainability policy and regulation, including the attached ordinance. As this will be a substantial effort to complete, staff will present this new SMMC article to Council for adoption later this calendar year.