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Editorial: Laguna can't rest on green laurels

December 08, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greenest city of all?

This question will be answered by the Orange County Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council at a reception Jan. 26 in Newport Beach.

Ten cities were nominated for the honor — and Laguna Beach wasn't one of them.

This has rankled some local environmental activists and public officials, who wonder how cities such as Anaheim or Huntington Beach made the top 10 list and Laguna did not. Several other cities that abut Laguna are in the running, including Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach and Dana Point.

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So why not Laguna Beach, where some of the most ardent environmentalists live?

It's not because Laguna Beach's citizenry and officials aren't committed to "green building" and preserving the natural environment. For example, the City Council voted last January to require all new buildings to adhere to the 2010 California Green Building Standards, which promote energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of new development. The city has banned Styrofoam containers and will soon implement a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

But that's not the half of it.

For decades, Laguna Beach preservationists hammered away at the impending development of Laguna Canyon by the Irvine Co. and managed to place hundreds acres into the public domain as wild lands in perpetuity. "Forever wild" was the motto.

The city even gets high marks for recycling, according to Waste Management, which reports that the city's business sector recycling is the highest in Orange County.

And the city hasn't exactly ignored the U.S. Green Building Council and its main purpose — promoting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for new construction. The city's Community and Senior Center, built a couple of years ago, was designed and constructed according to LEED standards — but the city didn't go the extra mile and pay a rather hefty sum to officially "certify" the building as meeting LEED standards. So there's no placard proclaiming the accomplishment.

Instead of spending money on a LEED certification and a nice plaque, the money was used to pay for retractable skylights or some other energy-efficiency measure.

And what about Transition Laguna, the very savvy and trend-setting group that has been promoting small garden projects around town to promote locally grown produce? (This group is now branching out into chicken farming, with a new seminar on how to raise backyard hens.)

A bevy of activists recently lined up at Laguna Beach City Hall seeking to push the city further along in its path to green perfection. We don't know if the snub by the U.S. Green Building Council prompted the coordinated effort, but activists presented a laundry list of wants. Laguna may be green, but not green enough for this crowd.

As for the Green Building Council competition, it may be that Laguna Beach is just too far ahead of the pack to worry about recognition for its "green-icity." Let the other cities fight that out.

But of course, there is always more to be done, as the activists implied.

As Kermit says, "It isn't easy being green."

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