Santa Maria should join the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority

This editorial by SBCAN Executive Director Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on Aug. 16, 2019. Ken can be reached at Ken@sbcan.org. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues. https://santamariatimes.com/opinion/columnists/ken-hough-santa-maria-should-join-the-monterey-bay-community/article_7bb8a650-d315-5fdd-a04b-9bdf94254c65.html

In May, the Santa Maria City Council considered a staff recommendation to join the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority (MBCPA). Good reasons were given in the staff report for doing so: a carbon-free electrical energy portfolio, rebates that result in rates 3 to 5 percent lower than PG&E’s, electric-vehicle incentive programs and encouragement of local clean energy generation, to name just a few. 

MBCPA is one of 19 “Community Choice Energy” authorities in California serving close to 10 million customers. Here’s how these work: the authority buys and builds electricity supply; the existing utility company, PG&E in our case, maintains transmission lines delivering the electricity, and bills the customers; the customers—residential, business and government alike—benefit from lower rates, cleaner energy and local control. Customers have the ability to opt out of the program and go back to electricity procured by PG&E.

At the Council’s May 21 meeting, city staff noted that—with jurisdictions in San Luis Obispo County already participating and others in Santa Barbara considering joining—MBCPA was prepared to rebrand the organization to include “Central Coast” in its name.

Some additional benefits noted in the staff report included that 2 percent of revenues are being reinvested in local energy programs like transportation electrification and small, dispersed electrical resources; the payments to customers who produce more solar power than they use are more than double those provided by PG&E; and customers have the option to “opt-up” to support 100 percent California wind and solar for 1 cent per kilowatt hour.

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Local leaders recognized for dedication

This editorial by SBCAN Associate Director Jeanne Sparks ran in the Santa Maria Times on May 14, 2017:

http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/local-leaders-recognized-for-dedication/article_8449220a-7561-5d17-8b5d-7bbb0a76fa92.html

Terri Zuniga has been working to make Santa Maria a better and safer place for more than three decades. She has been active on many boards and community organizations, including serving on the City Council for four years.

She works full-time as supervisor of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Program. Before that, she worked for 20 years as director of programs for Domestic Violence Solutions.

Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) will present Zuniga with the Looking Forward Award during the North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, June 11, at 5 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, 3455 Skyway Dr., Santa Maria.

SBCAN is honoring six individuals to thank them for their hard work, and to encourage others to be involved in the community. We think it’s important to recognize people who every day exemplify the kind of work we advocate and educate about, including protecting the environment and supporting social and economic justice.

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Pssst! Wanna be a TV show producer?

This editorial by SBCAN Associate Director Jeanne Sparks ran in the Santa Maria Times on April 13, 2017:

http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/pssst-wanna-be-a-tv-show-producer/article_2b6fc15c-b320-576d-a033-64457dd889f7.html

What a delight it is to watch Merrell Fankhauser and his professional recording artist friends on his “Tiki Lounge” television show. Many know him as the original writer of “Wipe Out,” that popular surf song from the 1960s.

I’m listening to Merrell sing “Hello Mary Lou” as I write this. Nice. He lives on the Central Coast, having made the choice to move back to the area where he lived in his teens and to cablecast his show here.

We are lucky to have Santa Maria Community Television, a public-access station that makes programs like this and many others available to residents of Santa Maria and Orcutt on Comcast channel 25.

Other producers put out shows about local history, how to draw, how to play guitar, science, politics, religion, culture and more. Sometimes nonprofits will put on programs about the issues they are working on. Any topic can be addressed on this channel. It’s all about providing an outlet for local residents and organizations to get their messages out to those who live in the same community.

The city of Santa Maria runs the local public-access station and studio. For only $25 a year, anyone living in Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties can become a producer and have shows run on channel 25.

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Stop dumping oil wastewater in aquifers

This editorial by SBCAN Executive Director Ken Hough ran in the Santa Maria Times on March 10, 2017: 

http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/guest_commentary/stop-dumping-oil-wastewater-in-aquifers/article_362647ca-014e-5fee-ad31-8eef62b275ba.html

You may know that for every barrel of crude oil produced in Santa Barbara County oilfields, there are about nine barrels of produced water. Some produced water is turned into steam and pumped into the oil field to help make more of the thick crude oil flow. Other produced water is injected into the ground.

However, some of the wastewater from oil production in Santa Barbara County is being injected into underground water sources protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. There are nine places in North County where this is occurring, three of them just north of Lompoc.

In spite of these protections, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to sacrifice these aquifers, allowing the practice to continue. In 2015, after reports revealed that wastewater was illegally being dumped into protected aquifers, the state gave the industry two years to submit exemption applications. The applications were due Feb. 15, but oil officials decided to ignore this deadline, and continue to dump toxic waste into protected Santa Barbara County aquifers.

Oil companies have already begun the process of asking for cover to pollute our underground water resources. The first level of review is with the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). This agency has recommended every application that has come across its desk so far, which is a good indication of how they’ll likely rule on Santa Barbara’s applications once they are submitted.

In my recent column, I asked how well the EPA, under the new administration, might be expected to protect our water. It is clear from Cabinet picks, appointments and statements made by President Trump that the fossil fuel industry will be strongly favored over cleaner, alternative energy, and favored over the environment.

It appears the best chance we have to protect our aquifers is to convince state legislators, Gov. Brown and his regulators at DOGGR to reverse course and deny the applications.

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Looking back for perspective on future

This editorial by Ken Hough ran in the Santa Maria Times Feb. 16, 2017: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/looking-back-for-perspective-on-future/article_4f8c0fdf-8d9b-5035-a209-f539aba7db09.html

When I started contributing to this column more than four years ago we were in the midst of what seemed to be a fairly progressive presidential administration. It feels really different now, so I want to reflect on past columns, what might be coming, and what readers might want to do about it.

The first column I worked on was about the decline in honeybees. It seemed like a small issue for someone who came to his job to advocate for affordable housing and safe, efficient transportation. But I learned the importance of bees to the survival of our ecosystems and agricultural economy. How important will the decline in honeybees be to the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency?

Four years ago we wrote about the importance of solar power, for our economy as well as for our environment. Rick Perry is the nominee for Secretary of Energy. When he was a presidential candidate he said he would eliminate the Department of Energy. Will he continue federal policies in support of alternative energy? Or will he work only to facilitate further reliance on fossil fuels?

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Volunteers needed for homeless survey

This editorial by SBCAN Board Member Emily Allen was published in the Santa Maria Times on Jan. 12, 2017: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/volunteers-needed-for-homeless-survey/article_dfa18ba3-598b-5560-b0ad-f1295181da81.html and in the Lompoc Record on Jan. 12, 2017: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/guest_commentary/volunteers-needed-for-homeless-survey/article_8ed32958-7888-57b7-9575-555f34a2dac2.html 

On Thursday, Jan. 26, hundreds of volunteers will help with the Point In Time Count of people experiencing homelessness in Santa Barbara County. Please join the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness (C3H) and Common Ground Santa Barbara County to assist with this important survey.

The Point In Time Count will be an unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families across the United States.

The count provides a snapshot of who is homeless on a given night. This information will be used to plan local homeless assistance systems and to raise public awareness of homelessness.

The survey offers opportunities to provide people experiencing homelessness with information about shelter and services. It also provides volunteers with a first-hand chance to better understand the circumstances that lead to homelessness and the difficulties experienced by those currently lacking a home.

Volunteers need to donate just four hours to be trained and help count on the survey day. We are using a tool that is administered on a smart phone or tablet.

Join us to make a difference in the lives of homeless men, women and children throughout Santa Barbara County by taking part in the Point In Time Count. New volunteers will be paired with people who have prior survey experience.

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Carbon farming for climate health

This "Looking Forward" editorial by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on Nov. 17, 2016: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/carbon-farming-for-climate-health/article_a48c6cd6-c1f1-538e-b59b-c19cdfc2ffbb.html and in the Lompoc Record on Nov. 17, 2016: http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/guest_commentary/carbon-farming-for-climate-health/article_6c98cec6-fc23-5c99-af93-7d1e93119134.html

In the 1930s, farming techniques that created soil erosion, combined with drought, created the Dust Bowl, a catastrophe that disrupted the lives of many and took years to recover from.

We are facing a global crisis today brought on by our own actions. Climate change threatens us more than the Dust Bowl. Yet, just as people took action back then to reverse the damage, we can do the same now.

In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt took action by creating the USDA Soil Conservation Service, which recognized that "the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands … is a menace to the national welfare." In 1937, FDR encouraged states to create soil conservation districts to extend cooperative efforts and conservation assistance to more farmers.

Later, the Soil Conservation Service became the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the local soil conservation district became the Cachuma Resource Conservation District (CRCD). Their efforts helped reduce soil erosion, increased water retention and led to many beneficial practices.

These agencies now work with other governmental and non-governmental organizations, landowners, universities and private foundations to help get carbon back into the ground where it belongs.

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Eat well from home, community gardens

The following editorial by Leonardo Espinoza Jr. was published in the Santa Maria Times on September 9, 2016: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/eat-well-from-home-community-gardens/article_9247d6f6-684d-5a24-8d02-3560d7df2542.html.

I am the garden director for the Central Coast Green Team, a project of Santa Barbara County Action Network.

The All-America City of Santa Maria has always had its share of community problems like any other city. What amazed me and really caught my eye growing up was how strongly our community comes together in times of pain and chaos. One way people are coming together is by growing healthy, edible, beautiful plants, many by participating in our garden project.

When I heard about the Green Team, I went to the team’s garden and was welcomed. The garden is just south of the Elwin Mussel Senior Center and is the first garden inside the city’s community garden, accessed from Oakwood Drive.

The team was building a garden to demonstrate that you can create a beautiful garden and eat its produce, too. Thus began my nature adventure and we continue to share with you that gardening can positively impact our lives.

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Motorsports park a bad idea for Lompoc

This op-ed by Ken Hough ran in the Lompoc Record and in the Santa Maria Times on Aug. 2, 2016: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/guest_commentary/motorsports-park-a-bad-idea-for-lompoc/article_a28cd126-08f8-5500-8db8-f78f362daf44.html

Supporters of the proposed motorsports park and drag strip tell us the noise and air pollution will be no big deal.

Did you go to the Lompoc Flower Festival parade? I did. Did you see and hear who brought up the rear? It was members of the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Park Project.

If they were trying to demonstrate how little noise impact the park will have, they failed. If they were trying to demonstrate how little air pollution the park will produce, they failed.

It seemed they intended to show how much noise, smoking tires and excitement the park would generate.

If you go to a parade, you expect to hear some noise and endure odors. But if you happen to live in a town, you likely expect to not have too much noise and to be able to breathe reasonably good air.

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Use consensus to rejuvenate city parks

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on June 17, 2016: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/use-consensus-to-rejuvenate-city-parks/article_6ee54719-9eb5-5f1a-ab4b-4ba1cf162455.html

As I lament the impending loss of historical features, mature trees and picnic tables at Buena Vista Park, I wonder what went wrong in the public-planning process.

The park was designated by the city’s Landmark Committee as Santa Maria’s first Historic Landmark, yet the committee apparently has not been consulted in the park’s redesign. Historic aspects of the park will be lost when they could be saved.

Buena Vista Beautifiers and staff from the Recreation and Parks Department have met to address issues. Both sides have good intentions, but we have disagreements.

The Beautifiers have involved 40 people from 25 organizations, surveyed more than 200 people, and conducted several events in the park. Although some of the plans for the park are improvements, our most important issues were not adequately addressed. We also haven’t received the detailed cost estimate we requested.

We believe the goals of improving safety and enhancing the park can be accomplished while preserving the unique, bell-shaped sidewalk, and the mature trees that provide wonderful shade for people and shelter for birds.

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.