I attended the first 2009 meeting of the Torrance Environmental Quality and Energy Conservation Commission last Thursday night and it was curiously different from anything I expected.
First of all, I was the only member of the public who attended the meeting. Secondly, the energy level, enthusiasm and sense of urgency I’ve experienced at other environmental meetings was nowhere to be found among the Commissioners. Maybe they all wished they were watching the Lakers-Celtics game that night instead…
Your Greenius already knew the Lakers would beat down Boston, so my focus was fixed on what was going down in the room.
I’ll admit that my expectations were based on my experiences with the South Bay Green Task Force, the Manhattan Beach Environmental Task Force and the other environmental organizations whose meetings, workshops and presentations I attend. Since this was the very first time I’ve attended one of these Torrance Enviro Commission meetings, I’m thinking maybe this is way they roll and I’m just an oddball for expecting something different.
I certainly felt like the odd man being the only person in the audience, and it gave the entire two and a half hour meeting a certain private performance aspect. There were six Commissioners present and three City of Torrance staff members. I introduced myself to Linda Cessna, the lead staff member, and someone I’ve been corresponding with since last year about the City’s participation in the the new solar financing program, AB 811. Linda is the Deputy Community Development Director of the City of Torrance and the staff liaison with the commission.
Now if your Creative Greenius was a commission member (something not likely to happen in this lifetime, but I’ll keep applying) and one solitary person who I had never seen before, sat in the front row and comprised the entire audience for the evening, I might say “hello” to that person, maybe ask who they were, perhaps welcome them and thank them for coming. I might even go so far as to relate to them once or twice over the course of a few hours. But hey, that’s just me. I’m a fairly friendly guy. And clearly I’m a guy who still has lessons in humility and selflessness to learn because none of that happened. But I didn’t find it disconcerting – merely curious.
Fortunately there was one other person in the room who made my attendance time very well spent. The primary item on the evening’s agenda was a presentation by Tracy Drake, the manager of the Madrona Marsh Nature Center.
I’ve met Tracy before at the Marsh where I’ve volunteered and done plant restoration. It’s been a great place to spend Earth Day in the past. I’m a proud member of the Friends of the Madrona Marsh and to tell you the truth I don’t think you can seriously call yourself an environmentalist if you live around here and don’t support the Friends.
Why? The Madrona Marsh is the most significant environmental venue in the City of Torrance. It was literally rescued from becoming a condo development after a long history as an oil drilling field. Today the 42-acre Nature Preserve is one of the last remaining vernal marshes in Southern California. The non-profit, all volunteer Friends of the Madrona Marsh group battled hard and tough throughout the ’70s and ’80s to save this irreplaceable natural habitat from the blind and soulless developers who turn nature into concrete.
It’s a spectacular success story and Tracy Drake is one of the reasons why. As great a resource as the Marsh is, Tracy is an equally great advocate for it. If you saw her with Huell Howser on his California Gold series on PBS you know what I mean.
She proved it once again at this meeting where she gave a engrossing slide show presentation overview of the Marsh and its significant history for the commissioners. We were watching Tracy’s PowerPoint in a room within one mile of the Marsh, but its a good thing she had photos because it seemed obvious that the majority of the commissioners had never been there in person.
If you ask the Greenius, that should have disqualified any of those commissioners from serving on any environmental board or commission in the city of Torrance. You can’t legitimately call yourself a Torrance environmentalist if you’ve never been to the Marsh. And if you’re not an environmentalist in this era of climate crisis, then you have no business being appointed to the Environmental Quality and Energy Saving Commission.
I only heard one commissioner talk about ever volunteering at the Marsh. I also heard one commissioner talk with pride about having visited the website for the Marsh. Curiously she offered this with no note of irony. When she said that, I wondered if I was eligible to serve on a White House commission since I’ve been on their website many times.
I didn’t hear any of the commissioners say that they were members of the Madrona Marsh friends group either. Perhaps they’re all members and just too shy to say so. But I wouldn’t bet on that if I were you.
And since the reason Tracy Drake was at the meeting and giving her presentation to the commissioners was because the Marsh’s nature center is the proposed site of the Torrance Environmental Fair to be held in June – or maybe some other time, they’re not really sure yet – the lack of Friends among the Commissioners was also very curious – from both a courtesy and a business smarts point of view.
Allow me to be so bold as to recommend that all seven commissioners come up with at least the $10 it costs to be an individual member or the paltry $20 it costs for a family. Since each commissioner gets ten bucks for every meeting they attend they won’t have to dig into personal funds and can just use the tax money citizens like me already supply.
Things got even curiouser after Tracy left and the commission turned their attention to their upcoming March 10 joint session with the Torrance City Council. As the commissioners discussed what each of them was responsible for presenting and went over their content, their lack of subject matter expertise, focus and organization was what stood out most. If you’re counting on this group to have the perspective, energy or sense of urgency necessary to provide the service the citizens of Torrance need in this time of climate crisis then you’re in trouble.
Only two of the six commissioners present appeared to have their act together or have a grasp on the subject they’ll be presenting on March 10. There was plenty of confusion, distractions and a real reluctance to do anything more than the minimum. One commissioner announced he would not be able to present his material because he wouldn’t be at the joint session. He had no guidance or resources to offer the person who volunteered to take over his presentation. Another commissioner tried to give himself a pep talk about not being afraid to speak about energy conservation since after all that was part of the commission’s name. Yet another commissioner went off on a long tangent about being at Obama’s inauguration and how the unprecedented cold weather in DC was real proof of climate change. It was obvious she didn’t know the difference between weather and climate. Thankfully someone corrected her and reminded that commissioner of the Reagan inauguration that was moved indoors because of the frigid temperatures in the 1980s.
Beyond the lack of subject matter competence, overall I saw tremendous timidity and a lack of leadership displayed. If we didn’t already have our backs up against the wall when it comes to Torrance’s environmental quality and our energy conservation issues it wouldn’t matter so much. But it DOES matter because we DO have our backs up against the wall and I don’t think anyone on this commission gets that. And I don’t have an ounce of confidence in this group’s ability to either advise the city council or the citizens of Torrance about what our environmental situation really is or what to do about it.
I don’t care if this post isn’t politically correct or hurts my chances of ever being on this commission, because those concerns should be irrelevant now. We don’t have the luxury of time any more to treat this commission with kid gloves or give them credit for good intentions or the time they volunteer. The work they are supposed to be doing is too important, the hour too late and the penalties of failure too great for me play fluffer for these folks. Good intentions and political connections are not good enough anymore. Competence counts.
So I’m going to be at all future meetings of the Environmental Quality and Energy Conservation Commission and I’m going to tell it like it is about what happens at those meeting and what doesn’t happen. I’m going to be holding this group to a higher standard than the city council or the local newspaper does.
And if the commissioners think I’m being unfair or I’ve got things wrong then I invite them to create a blog and share their thoughts with the public. In fact, even if they’re not interested in anything I have to say they should have a blog and start reaching out, interacting and engaging the citizens of Torrance on the issues they’re supposed to be responsible for.
I find it most curious indeed that they spend so much time talking among only themselves.