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Lessons Learned on Carbon Neutral City Committee

This Patch environmental columnist accepts a new, external watchdog role to help hold the ad hoc group accountable.

After eight months of working directly with Mayor Michael DiVirgilio to introduce and launch the Carbon Neutral City initiative, I stepped aside two weeks ago to focus more on the surrounding South Bay communities and to play a different role in Hermosa.

It's been a rewarding and exhilarating 34 weeks since I first sat down with DiVirgilio, Dency Nelson and Robert Fortunato at the Planet Earth Café to propose that Hermosa Beach become the first municipality in Southern California to go carbon neutral and rebrand itself as the "Green Idea City." 

I've learned a lot over that period.

Our grassroots efforts became more formalized with the establishment of the and this is the first time I've been free to share some of those lessons publically.  And I'm doing so at the recommendation of Mayor DiVirgilio, who recently shared his views with me (in an e-mail) on the inside and outside roles one can play in Hermosa's carbon neutral effort.

"There are a variety of productive roles to play 'internal' to the group; creating, deliberating, brainstorming, producing and working to bring about the best group decisions," DiVirgilio wrote me. 

"And, there are 'external' roles to fulfill from outside of the group; watching, reporting, challenging, reminding, holding accountable, pushing, criticizing, disagreeing, complimenting, etc.," he continued. "I value your contribution to the internal workings of the group thus far. But, I also recognize the value that external roles (activists, reporters, thought leaders, etc.) bring to the full discourse of issues as well.  They are both integral parts."

With this column, I happily embrace my new "external" role and offer the first of the big picture wisdom I gleamed from the "internal" side:

  • There are some amazing community leaders volunteering their time on the carbon neutral effort, attending Friday night meetings and working on projects after their full time jobs and other volunteer efforts. I'm talking about people like Hermosa Beach Green Task force members Ann Hempelmann, Brian Schoening, Phil Friedl, and Christian Campisi; School board members Carleen Beste and Ray Waters; City staffers Ken Reamey and Pam Townsend; and Hermosa Beach's long-term environmental conscience, Dency Nelson. Hermosa Beach should cherish these phenomenal human resources.
  • The Carbon Neutral Committee should be more transparent and engaging of the general public about its meetings, directions and projects. The ad hoc committee now holds meetings every other Friday night at the Hermosa Beach Community Center, but those meetings aren't publicized beyond the group's email list, and no agendas are available to the public prior to the meetings. Minutes of the meeting were published only on the group's wiki site and stopped being posted in June. No video or audio record is made of the meetings and there's no opportunity for anyone who isn't there in person to follow along or catch up with the group's activities online.
  • The committee should operate under rules of order and vote on decisions it makes. That seems obvious and logical, but right now DiVirgilio chairs the meetings and directs the group's agenda. No votes were ever held during my tenure. Some key decisions were not discussed with the larger group or open for group discussion. A more democratic process is called for.
  • The issue of ongoing climate change impacts during this historic summer of extreme weather and new global temperature records should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency. Our committee only briefly discussed these issues, as well as the oil blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and how they connect with the need to go carbon neutral. It may be more politically palatable to keep the focus on the economic benefits of going carbon neutral, but the current acceleration of global overheating needs to be both acknowledged and emphasized as part of community outreach.

One thing I myself want to acknowledge is the key role DiVirgilio has played from the very beginning of this process in December 2009. 

His willingness to first consider a carbon neutral Hermosa Beach and then enthusiastically embrace the idea is the reason the City is now on this road. 

And his understanding that the best ideas must stand up to the test of public review from outside the inner circle is the reason I'm now willing to play the role of frank and direct commentator on this subject.

Joe Galliani is the organizer of South Bay 350 Climate Action Group, serves on the board of directors for the South Bay Bicycle Coalition and writes a weekly column about local environmental issues for Hermosa Beach Patch.

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