Santa Monica’s Big Step for Sustainability

Feb 3rd, 2012 | By | Category: Other Resources

By Suzanne York,, February 2, 2012

This past January 24th the Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved a progressive sustainability bill of rights, building on the Santa Monica City Sustainability Plan first established back in 1994.

The resolution calls on the city to “recognize the rights of people, natural communities, and ecosystems to exist, regenerate and flourish.”

Highlights from the resolution include:


  • the right to clean, affordable and accessible water from sustainable water sources for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes;
  • the right to a sustainable energy future based on sustainable renewable energy sources; the right to a sustainable natural climate unaltered by fossil fuel emissions;
  • the right to clean indoor and outdoor air, clean water and clean soil that pose a negligible health risk to the public;
  • the City’s Sustainable City Plan declares that a healthy environment is integral to the City’s long-term economic and societal interests and that, accordingly, the City’s decision-making will be guided by the mandate to maximize environmental benefits and reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts;
  • with the exponential growth of the human population and increasing per capita resource consumption rates, human consumption of the Earth’s natural resources has intensified to the point that the planet lacks the capacity to sustain man’s current way of life and is responding in ways destructive to most organisms on the planet.

City officials, public citizens, and others recognized, and included in the resolution, that past environmental measures, such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and California Environmental Quality Act, have proved inadequate “to provide long-term protection of our rights to clean air, water, and soil, and sustainable food systems, and the rights of natural ecosystems.”

The city joins other municipalities in the United States that have passed similar measures. In December 2010, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became the first major city in the U.S. to adopt a community bill of rights that places the rights of people, the community, and nature over corporate rights.

The movement around recognizing rights of nature – that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles – has been growing. A dozen townships in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire have recognized rights of nature. And internationally, Ecuador and Bolivia granted legal rights of nature ordinances in their respective national constitutions.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has spearheaded much of the effort around community rights and rights of nature, state that “laws recognizing the rights of nature…change the status of natural communities and ecosystems to being recognized as rights-bearing entities with rights that can be enforced by people, governments, and communities.”

Next steps in Santa Monica will be pairing the Sustainability Bill of Rights with the Sustainable City Plan, due to be updated this year. The Santa Monica Daily Press reported this means that part of the update will incorporate specific commitments to the environment and putting those commitments in the form of policies and statutes.

Water figures prominently in the Sustainability Bill of Rights, and for good reason. Back in 1996 Santa Monica became the first city in California to shut down a majority of its drinking water wells due to contamination from the gasoline additive MTBE. After that it had to import 80% of its water from the state Metropolitan Water District. The city is eager to supply all of its water needs from local wells and this bill is another incentive to do so.

It is likely that Santa Monica’s Sustainability Bill will be a model for communities in California and around the country as cities look for ways to live sustainably not just today but for the sake of future generations.

Suzanne York is a writer with the Institute for Population Studies/

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