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Lynne Plambeck: Serious action must be taken on the climate

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.

At a sparsely attended planning meeting Tuesday night, our city made a decision on one of the most important issues before us today — how our city will reduce its carbon footprint and address climate change.

To address concerns brought by the attorney general’s office over our general plan, and to comply with California’s precedent of setting global warming law, our city released a draft Climate Action Plan. Although eight members of the public attended the meeting to make suggestions (including three Girl Scouts), the planning commission asked few questions and made no suggestions or additions to this important public commitment.

They also disregarded the practical suggestions for changes and additions suggested by the speakers.

The Girl Scouts made a PowerPoint presentation encouraging enhancements to walkability.  John Hall, a “practical” cyclist who cycled to the meeting from his home in Placerita Canyon, and often uses this transportation for daily chores like shopping, followed the Scouts presentation with questions on the inclusion of cycling. He raised concerns that very little of the plan was devoted to transportation alternatives. Portions of the city streets, restripped to three lanes in order to accommodate more cars, have not only discouraged cycling to work, but also made it down right dangerous.

Another speaker, after seeing the film on the advantages of Dark Skies presented by the local Astronomy Club, suggested the city begin discussion on a lighting ordinance similar to the one recently approved for county areas. This would reduce energy use and thus lessen greenhouse gas production while providing a whole host of other benefits (like maybe even being able to see the stars again).

The city’s plan uses 2005 as a baseline, instead of the 1990 figure that scientists have stated we must reach to make any real change in greenhouse gas generation and rising temperatures.

Staff said this was because everyone is using that figure. While this might indeed provide the ability they need to make plan comparisons, if it is not sufficient for getting us where we need to go, the “everyone is doing it” argument certainly does not provide a valid basis for this decision. After all, isn’t that what the bankers said of their subprime bank loans just before the housing bust. Where did that get the bankers and our economy?

While the city is depending on changes in land-use approvals to reduce greenhouse gas generation, this strategy depends on sticking to the plan or requiring major reductions for any proposals for plan amendments. Yet, the city is apparently supporting a major plan amendment for the Disney Sound stage proposal in Placerita Canyon, that would allow building in a rural area. We are supposed to be “One Valley, One Vision.” Have they asked for strong energy efficiency improvements, mandated carpooling, LEED-standard buildings or other mitigation for this plan amendment? Not to our knowledge.

Will this plan, even in its present innocuous form, be just another proposal sitting on a shelf to which our city pays lip service but doesn’t really use to guide development actions?

Many speakers raised the need to take firm actions now to protect future generations. Our human population has grown enormously, reaching 7 billion this year. There is no way we can continue to provide for that many people, far less the predicted exponential growth, without addressing climate change. According to scientists, a world where temperatures increase by even a few degrees will reduce crop production, cause droughts, wildfires and more frequent severe weather events such as hurricanes and flooding, as well as sea level rise.

Yet the commissioners’ main concern seemed to be what penalty would be imposed if the city didn’t meet the greenhouse reduction goals.

The penalty may very well be our inability to survive in an over-heated world.

If survival of the species is not an adequate reason for a strong climate-action plan, perhaps becoming more efficient in our use of energy and water to improve our air quality and save money is.

Whatever reasons we chose to rely on, we must make real changes now, not just pay lip service to a halfhearted and rather weak planning document on a city shelf somewhere. As several speakers stated, this plan is a start, but it needs to be stronger.

Part of making any plan real is listening and acting on suggestions made by the community. I hope the City Council will be better at this part of the process than the Planning Commission was on Tuesday night.

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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