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Not the Earth Day we expected

April 22, 2020
by Mayor Kevin McKeown

Not the Earth Day we expected

This blog post originally appeared as an editorial in the Santa Monica Daily Press.


In the year of the very first Earth Day, 1970, your mayor was a rock’n’roll radio disk jockey. I spun tunes like “Spirit in the Sky,” “Green-Eyed Lady” (about the ocean), and “Share the Land.”

In the five decades since then, our innocent idealism has been betrayed by another half-century of fossil-fuel dependency. We only recently are re-embracing nature with meaningful actions like Santa Monica’s conversion to 100% clean, renewable electricity through the Clean Power Alliance.

Santa Monicans appreciate, and value, our City’s commitment to sustainability. That was made clear by the recent outpouring of emails urging the Council not to let the unprecedented COVID-19 economic collapse force us to abandon our hard-won and forward-looking environmental policies.

Sparkling skies and uncongested streets, as a result of current stay-at-home policies, have been our unexpected pandemic bonus. Many of us are now wondering what it would be like, when this crisis is over, if we re-invented how we live, creating a new clean green economy that let us keep these otherwise temporary pleasures.

For that to happen, we must change our own behavior. What if all of us who are now enjoying bike rides, on streets uncrowded with cars, chose to continue using bikes, at least for most local errands?

In the end, sustainable living arises from the decisions you and I make every day, which can be informed and encouraged by government, but ultimately must come from our own understanding and commitment. After this pandemic has passed, we can rip off our face coverings and go back to driving like demons, or we can feel the gentle breeze on our unmasked cheeks and opt for those sparkling skies.

When it comes to City finances, the future is not so sparkling. Because of sudden revenue losses from coronavirus impacts, this Earth Day is Dearth Day. City revenue dollars, for months to come, look to be scarcer than toilet paper has been these last few weeks. We can’t just wait to see what happens. Cities like ours are obligated to adopt a balanced budget by July 1st.

I will not sugarcoat how wrenching we’ll find the decisions required to reduce City expenditures to fit within anticipated reductions in revenue. They’ve already been epitomized by the decision of our former City Manager, Rick Cole, to step down and reduce payroll at the very top level of City Hall.

Will traditional Santa Monica services be reduced? Yes. Will some of our visionary programs in sustainability and other areas have to be dialed back temporarily? Yes. Since these services and programs are provided by real people, City employees, will there be pain in making these adjustments? Yes.

We will get through this crisis together, Santa Monica, but make no mistake: Our world is changing fundamentally, and for some time to come. If City programs need to be put on pause, we can step up to support each other. I know we will. I know the people of our community.

This Earth Day is a time to plan for recovery. The worst may not yet be over, but we know Santa Monica will rebound, reinvent itself, and again be the leader our overstressed planet needs.

Step one is to guarantee sufficient coronavirus testing to be able to confidently relax restrictions, revive the economy, and prudently put people back to work. I have joined with other mayors up and down the state to form the California Mayors’ Coalition, lobbying Governor Newsom and the state legislature to make accurate and accessible testing a top priority.

Once we know our families are safe, that we can once again mingle and collaborate, can we make each other a promise on this Earth Day? Maybe it’s not too late to create a green-eyed future where we share the land with the spirit in the sky.

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