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Santa Monica Helps Citizens Reach for Sustainable Results

Santa Monica is a California city that helps its citizens reach for sustainable results. The city government has a Sustainable City Plan (SCP), the purpose of which is to "enhance our resources, prevent harm to the natural environment and human health, and benefit the social and economic well-being of the community for the sake of current and future generations." It was adopted in 1994 and updated in 2003 and 2006. The 2003 update was the culmination of an effort that began in July 2001 that engaged people with a wide range of interests and resulted in the program shifting from a primary focus on environmental sustainability within the City government to a "three legged stool" model that balances environmental, economic, and social sustainability within the entire community. The goals for the plan were also updated for 2010.

A Sustainable City Working Group Broadened Both the Plan and Community Awareness

In July 2001, the city convened the Sustainable City Working Group, which consisted of high-level representatives from neighborhood and business organizations, the local school district and community college, several other community groups, appointed officials, city council members, and staff from all city departments. Members attended several facilitated meetings; prepared a draft of the Sustainable City Plan; and presented their work to boards, commissions, task forces, interest groups, and public meetings to obtain input on the draft prior to council adoption. This process helped to significantly increase awareness and buy-in among community members. The 2003 update resulted in an expansion of the SCP's guiding principles, major goal areas, and indicators. The eight goals areas are: Housing, Open Space and Land Use, Community Education and Civic Participation, Human Dignity, Resource Conservation, Environmental and Public Health, Transportation, and Economic Development.

The Sustainable City Task Force Focuses on Community Action and Implementation

On October 28, 2003, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a motion to create a Sustainable City Task Force to provide leadership and guidance for implementation of the Sustainable City Plan. The task force is an 11-member community panel, which advised the council and staff during development and adoption of an SCP Implementation Plan and assists with outreach to various community constituencies on SCP goals to promote community action. The members of the task force are community leaders with expertise in the various areas of sustainability, including Housing, Environmental Policy, Economic Development, Transportation, and Land Use.

In developing the Implementation Plan, the Sustainable City Task Force reviewed an evaluation of current progress towards meeting the goals in each of the eight Sustainable City Plan goal areas based on indicator data. Based on this evaluation and on discussions with community stakeholders and policy experts, the task force chose to focus initial implementation actions in three goal areas: Resource Conservation, Environmental and Public Health, and Economic Development. The Implementation Plan includes three Recommended Implementation Measures that are designed to help the City to better achieve the goals in the priority goal areas. The Implementation Plan recommends: 1) the creation of a Community Sustainability Liaison, 2) the production of Expert Forums to address innovations in sustainability, and 3) the creation of an Economic Development Strategy to promote sustainable practices and attract sustainable businesses to Santa Monica. The Implementation Plan for the Sustainable City Plan was adopted on July 10, 2006, after the city council reviewed a draft plan.

Santa Monica Grades for Effort and Accomplishment, Measures Systems and Programs

Santa Monica uses a two-pronged grading system to assess the performance of the city and community in working towards benchmarks in these goals areas. First, a letter grade for each of the eight goal areas is assigned by analyzing all of the indicator data for that goal area. Next, a grade for effort made towards the goal by the city government is assigned. For example, in Santa Monica's 2005 Sustainable City Report Card, Resource Conservation was given a C overall, but an A for effort, because of numerous advances made by city agencies. On the other hand, Economic Development was given a B, but only a C+ for effort, because the city was doing little in support of its economic development goals. Santa Monica has also divided indicators for each goal area into system-level and program-level indicators; for example, a system-level indicator tracks data and outcomes at the system-wide, or community, level and a program-level indicator tracks the effect of a particular program or city policy. For example, for the Housing goal area, program-level indicators include the percentage of new housing units in non-residential zone districts and the percentage of new units within a quarter mile of transit, open space, or a grocery store. The system-level indicators include availability and distribution of affordable housing and affordable housing for special needs groups.

Santa Monica believes the elements that make the program successful are: the involvement of stakeholders, especially in the last major update of the program; their willingness to identify champions within government and the community; establishing goals and targets and tracking progress; providing adequate staffing and funding to ensure follow through; and making sure there is a constant drumbeat of media attention.