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Our World, Under Water?

news11New and improved Climate Action Plan gets community and city support, but still has some critics

A bicycle-drawn rowboat glided down Pacific Avenue on Tuesday, Jan. 24, with a school of human jellyfish, anemones and a sea turtle dancing along behind. The aquatic parade, which snaked along the canals of Downtown Santa Cruz, was an “Underwater Tour” that depicted what the city may look like someday if the city does not take all possible actions to mitigate climate change and its impacts.  

That night, the city council reviewed the final draft of Santa Cruz’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), which outlines actions the city will take over the next 10 years to reduce greenhouse gasses by 30 percent. The CAP will become a part of the city’s General Plan and a final draft is anticipated in March or April.

The theatrical Underwater Tour transported about 50 residents 100 years into the future for a comical glance at the city’s potentially wet future. The premise of the three-act tour was that the city council of 2012 had not made sure the CAP was written in the best possible way, and future 2112 Santa Cruz existed as a pseudo water-world, as polar glaciers melted and sea levels rose. Participants were encouraged to come wearing snorkels, goggles, wetsuits, and other water gear, and many abided by the request.

“I’m here because Santa Cruz deserves the best possible plan,” a man dressed as a sea anemone shouted to the crowd. Nearby, a group of seven high school students carried signs with messages like “Climate Action Now,” and a trombone played “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles.

Scott Erickson of Save Our Shores came costumed head to toe in plastic bags. “I am all of the trash in the ocean; all of the stuff you need to keep out of the ocean and out of our stores,” says Erickson, or “Plastic Bag Man” according to his son, who stood, at about 3 feet tall, clad in an oversized, old-fashioned scuba mask.

During Act One of the tour, Micah Posner, director of sustainable transportation group People Power, played the role of a 2112 real estate agent who attempted to sell a boat dock to the crowd in front of O’Neill’s Surf Shop. As the aforementioned trombone played the tune of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Posner led the crowd in a round of “Sittin’ on the dock of the highway, watching our options float away ...”

Act Two took place in the Farmers’ Market parking lot, where Batya Kagan played a disgruntled organic farmer from the future (she is also an organic farmer here in 2012) and spoke over the melody of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” The crowd sang a round of “Paved Farmers’ Market, and put up a parking structure,” in reference to the five-story parking garage once proposed to fill that spot.

news1Participants in the Jan. 24 “Underwater Tour of Santa Cruz” speculated on what Downtown Santa Cruz might look like 100 years from now if the city doesn’t adopt an effective Climate Action Plan.Act Three took the crowd to India Joze, which donated food to the event. Ross Clark, the city’s climate action coordinator and author of the CAP, gave a hypothetical speech to the future. “I tried. God knows I tried to get a plan approved,” he said.

Tawn Kennedy, director of Green Ways to School, a project of People Power, organized the Underwater Tour alongside Transition Santa Cruz as a humorous way to increase community awareness of the CAP.

“We’re really excited about the plan and we think the city is doing a great job, but we want to make sure it’s something that doesn’t just sit on someone’s desk and doesn’t get implemented,” says Kennedy.

While the council did not vote on the plan at the Jan. 24 meeting, they heard a presentation from Clark about improvements that have been worked into the plan, as well as community feedback. Kennedy says that Ecology Action, People Power, and Transition Santa Cruz sent in 18 key points they thought would make the earlier CAP draft successful. Only two suggestions remain unaddressed in the plan—planning for fewer car trips and to assure implementation of the CAP through community oversight.

“Right now [citizen oversight] is not included in the [CAP],” says Kennedy. “This would be beneficial so that the community can give feedback on the plan’s implementation.”

In comments following the meeting, former mayor Mike Rotkin called the idea of citizen oversight of the CAP’s implementation a big mistake.

“What’s good about this plan is that it integrates this whole issue into the city government,” he said to the council members. “It’s not separate. It’s not something where somebody sits outside whining or crying or even yelling that things aren’t being done. It actually makes things happen through the structure of government.”

He added that he believes council should be the official oversight committee for the project, but that outside public pressure should continue to ensure implementation of the plan.

The other remaining suggestion by People Power, Ecology Action, and Transition Santa Cruz—to plan for fewer car trips— implores that city planning for automobile traffic reduction be consistent with the CAP’s goal to reduce car trips by 10 percent by 2020.

“Currently the city’s Public Works Department is anticipating an increase in automobile trips, and the plan calls for a decrease, so we see these as headed in opposite directions,” says Kennedy. “There’s a quote from Einstein that kind of encapsulates that idea, which is that you can’t successfully prepare for and prevent war.”

Among the many changes to the plan are the use of trolleys and the railway system for cross-town travel and the establishment of a sustainable land use and transportation team. The team would consist of staff within multiple city departments that would work together on how land-use planning and transportation projects can be better coordinated. The new CAP also identified the need for a transportation planner specifically committed to implementing the high-density growth outlined in the city’s general plan, and ways in which alternative transportation and multi-mode transportation can support growth.

Mayor Don Lane and Councilmember Lynn Robinson both commented on the fact that Clark’s presentation was sandwiched between enthusiastic applause, and although many self-proclaimed concerned citizens commented at the end of the meeting, the mood in the room was noticeably positive.

“This draft is so dramatically different than the first draft and that’s because we are a community that’s way more engaged than a lot of other communities,” Robinson said following Clark’s presentation.

Michael Levy of Transition Santa Cruz spoke of overcoming the mental barriers that get in the way of climate change action.

“Massive change is always accomplished by small individuals and groups and cities taking the first step, and we might as well be leaders,” he said. “I think we should be leaders in the entire country and an example for other cities of our size throughout the country, so please implement this in the strongest way possible.”

Kennedy, too, thinks Santa Cruz’s CAP should be top-notch. He says, “Santa Cruz has been a leader in a lot of ways in the green movement and we can continue to do that as we address global warming and plan for the future.”

View the latest draft of the Climate Action Plan at CityofSantaCruz.com.

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