City Council Report
City Council Meeting: January 24, 2012
Agenda Item: 8-B
To: Mayor and City Council
From: Dean Kubani, Director, Office of Sustainability and the Environment
Subject: Declaration of Commitment to Sustainable Rights
Staff recommends that the City Council:
Santa Monica takes pride in its long-standing commitment to environmental leadership. The City adopted its Sustainable City Plan in September of 1994 and updated it in 2003 and 2006. The plan 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 Plan 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 Plan was adopted, the City has created and funded a wide range of successful environmental programs. And, the City has very 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 urge 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 current economic and legal systems' classification of land and natural things as "property" and towards a more holistic view that would place the interest of long-term sustainability ahead of short-range, individual and corporate economic goals. This report provides information about that approach and suggests possible actions for Council consideration.
In the United States, the natural rights movement reflects the growing recognition that the power of individuals and even governments is weakening as the power of corporations grow. Thus, in the November 19, 2011 Los Angeles Times, columnist Tom Petruno wrote, in an article entitled "Corporate Power Grows Stronger as Government Wanes", that international corporations' cash holdings have soared to record levels. He quotes the head of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington as saying, "We have an economy that works for corporate America even if it doesn't work for anybody else."
Against this backdrop, the natural rights movement has grown mainly in communities in the eastern U.S. where the environmentally devastating technique of hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as “fracking”) has been used for extracting subsurface natural gas deposits. The first local law recognizing the rights of nature was adopted in 2006 in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania. Since then more than two dozen communities in the United States have adopted local laws recognizing these rights.
Many of these communities acted in response to the threats fracking posed to their local water supplies. Thus, in November 2010, the City of Pittsburgh became the first major city in the country to ban natural-gas production through an ordinance declaring the primacy of community interests over corporate rights and purporting to eliminate corporate "personhood." Similar legislation was adopted in other, smaller cities in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.
In Spokane, Washington a community Bill of Rights which would have amended the City's charter was narrowly defeated in November 2011. That measure would have: established the right of neighborhoods to make decisions on major development projects; the right of the Spokane River and Aquifer to exist and flourish; secured workers' rights; and purported to eliminate the authority of corporations to wield corporate constitutional rights to undermine local rights protected by the measure.
International efforts to establish natural rights include the incorporation of rights of nature into the Ecuadoran constitution in 2008, and the adoption of a Universal Decision of Rights of Mother Earth at the World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change & Rights of Mother Earth, held in Bolivia in 2010.
On a parallel front, in the wake of the January 21, 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that rolled back legal limits on corporate spending in the electoral process and affirmed that corporations have the rights of “persons”, a coalition called MovetoAmend.org was created with the primary goal of amending the U.S. Constitution “to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.” A resolution in support of this goal is attached to this report and discussed below in more detail.
Sustainability Bill of Rights Resolution
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”
The draft resolution (Attachment 1) declaring the City’s Commitment to Sustainable Rights 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 declares City recognition for 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. Additionally, the resolution directs 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. If Council adopts the resolution, staff proposes to return with these proposals in conjunction with an update of the Sustainable City Plan indicators and targets, which is tentatively scheduled for late summer or early fall 2012.
Move To Amend Resolution
Consistent with its call for creation of a Sustainability Bill of Rights, the Task Force unanimously adopted a motion on June 20, 2011 recommending that City Council adopt a resolution in support of a campaign by MovetoAmend.org to amend the U.S. Constitution to clearly establish that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals. The draft resolution (Attachment 2) urges Santa Monica’s elected federal representatives and other communities and jurisdictions to take similar action, and supports efforts to increase public awareness about the threats to democracy posed by “corporate personhood”.