“Sustainable implies local, where possible, rather than global. Wal-Mart, for example, is the world’s largest grocery store. It is unsustainable, for many reasons, including that the majority of its goods come from China.”
Follow-up article – published 1st September 2012.
See below for original article.
“Sustainability” has become a buzzword. But what does “sustainability” really mean? One definition is that it requires a triple-E bottom line – economics, the environment and equity. However, this word sometimes is used to “green-wash” and promote things that are not sustainable. Genuine sustainability must be evidence-based. But language can be used to conceal rather than reveal.
Lets explore what is currently occurring in the small town of Sebastopol, Northern California, as a case study. In 2001 a salon was formed called Sustainable Sebastopol. It engaged in various activities and had an email list with over 2500 posts, covering a range of sustainability issues, including neighborhood toxics, car-free days and auto alternatives, renewable energy, local organic food production, and appropriate land use development.
This year a group with a different agenda co-opted that name, partly to promote two pro-big business candidates for the City Council. A member of the new, mis-named group published letters to editors in at least two weeklies, allegedly about sustainability. But she only wrote about business, neglecting the environment and equity.
The group’s website is mainly re-posts of letters advocating that the U.S.’s largest bank, Chase, and its eighteenth largest corporation, CVS Pharmacy, be allowed to move into Sebastopol’s downtown commons. What is sustainable about such big chains?
In spite of the several hundreds of thousands of dollars that the developers already have spent, the community has held their development up for over two years at around thirty public meetings, some attended by over 200 people and lasting past mid-night. The website says nothing about the threats of some developments to the environment and to local communities.
The new group’s stated goal is only “to enhance the business community.” Nature gets left out, as well as the rest of us. Their slogan “Buy Sebastopol” reduces sustainability to buying. It evokes a former president’s response to the disastrous 9/11 – “go shopping.” Such slogans differ from a group named GoLocal, which suggests that life is more than buying. Walking around or cleaning up creeks, for example, would be examples of practicing GoLocal, but not “Buy Local.” One cannot buy nature, as much as some would like to.
The website claims that it represents “diverse” viewpoints. Yet it reprints only letters favoring Chase/CVS, whereas there have been more opposing it. How diverse is that? This group takes biased, unsustainable positions. It insults individuals who have given years of service to Sebastopol as elected officials and as members of the Design Review Board.
Some founders of the authentic Sustainable Sebastopol group wrote a response, co-signed by many people, including four former mayors, which denounced the letter. It draws attention to the town’s web page on its sustainable policy:
The web page includes the following: “The natural environment is fundamental to the concept of sustainability. Air, water, and land are the basis of our very lives… The concept of social equity reflects the understanding that we are a community with diverse composition and varying needs.”
Why might this new group be ignoring such essential elements of sustainability and trying to co-opt the concept?
It endorses the two pro-big business candidates running for City Council, incumbent Kathleen Shaffer and Kathy Austin. Their advocacy of Chase/CVS is likely to draw big bucks from the outside to their campaign treasure chests in our small town of less than 8000 inhabitants. On the other hand, the long-time Sonoma County Conservation Action group has endorsed the other two viable candidates and authentically “green” – Robert Jacob and John Eder.
Big Banks, especially Chase, are not sustainable. For example, according to Sonoma State University Professor Robert Girling, “Chase takes our local deposits and uses them to finance the destruction of the rain forest.” Moreover, Chase has been fined millions of dollars for wrong-doing, as has its frequent partner CVS Pharmacy.
According to Chase’s website, it “provides investment banking services to the oil and gas industry on a global basis. Our clients include many of the world’s leading players and producers.” It’s “Oil & Gas Investment Banking group covers the complete oil and gas value chain, which includes exploration and production, natural gas processing and transmission, refining and marketing, and oilfield services.” How sustainable is that?
In contrast, Exchange Bank is owned locally and 50% of its profits have been used to finance Doyle scholarships that have benefitted thousands of local families. Summit State Bank adheres to the highest ethical standards and has invested $50 million in the local community. Redwood Credit Union also invests the majority of its deposits in supporting the local community.
Local drug stores also tend to be sustainable. CVS has been trying to run Tuttle’s Pharmacy in Santa Rosa and Forestville Pharmacy out of business.
Sustainability has more to do with cooperating and sharing than with unfair, predatory competition by mega-corporations that run local businesses away and take their profits out of town and the county. Developments like the large Barlow Project, now being built in Sebastopol, follow sustainable principles, as does the One Planet Community Sonoma Mountain Village that Codding Investments is developing in nearby Rohnert Park close to SSU.
My background on this subject includes having been a member of various sustainability groups, including the original Sustainable Sebastopol group and the Sustainability Working Group at Sonoma State University. I have taught courses related to sustainability at three North Bay colleges for over a decade and published research in various books, including Sustainability: Radical Solutions Inspiring Hope, edited by Bob Banner, and the Sierra Club Book’s Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, edited by Linda Buzzell. In this book, and elsewhere, I write about sustainable agriculture, a successful business that I have practiced in the Sebastopol countryside for two decades.
Sustainable implies local, where possible, rather than global. Wal-Mart, for example, is the world’s largest grocery store. It is unsustainable, for many reasons, including that the majority of its goods come from China. Shipping them to the U.S. takes a huge amount of oil, whose supply is declining. Being dependent upon oil is not sustainable. The supply lines that cross the oceans will diminish. Trucking costs will increase, which is why building the local food supply is so important.
Global climate change is already causing problems in the food supply from the Mid-West, driving food prices up. We can expect such threats to survival to continue, which is why focusing only on human needs and neglecting nature and its balance, can lead to more hurricanes and other disasters.
Gas prices are already around $10 a gallon in Europe and are expected to rise even beyond that in the U.S., which is one reason that drive-thru, car-centric developments are unsustainable.
Sonoma County is a sustainability center. One example is the book The Sustainability Revolution by Andres Edwards. He acknowledges Graton’s Ann Hancock, who founded the successful Climate Protection Campaign here. She helped guide his graduate studies at the New College of California in Santa Rosa. He also credits the prolific Santa Rosa writer on fossil fuel depletion, Richard Heinberg, both of whom have been popular speakers at SSU.
Decades ago a wise social change activist wrote, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they try to co-opt you. Finally they go along with you.” The local daily is still in the ridicule stage when it writes about Sebastopol, wanting it to be more like big town Santa Rosa.
To her credit, the letter writer has evolved to the co-optation stage where she and her pro-Chase/CVS group falsely use the word that the sustainability movement has popularized. Don’t be fooled by such green-washing co-optation. Hopefully, most of us will evolve in our lovely small town and someday work together to preserve it in truly sustainable ways as we mature into the 21st century, rather than allow invasive big businesses to further dominate us.
Original article – published 1st August 2012
Small Town Sebastopol: Frontline Battle against Chase Bank, CVS Pharmacy, Armstrong Developer
Small town Sebastopol residents in Northern California have been waging a fierce David vs. Goliath struggle against the powerful Chase Bank, CVS Pharmacy, and Armstrong Development for over two years. The implications of this struggle extend beyond this one town, as big business continues to seek to expand its wealth.
Chase, the U.S.’s largest bank, and CVS, its 18th largest mega-corporation, propose to anchor the downtown commons with what opponents describe as “a suburban strip mall.” Armstrong has been representing the real estate needs of Chase/CVS in Sebastopol, as well as elsewhere around the country, and warrants a close study.
“Efforts to stop this project with the denial of the design need to stop tonight,” said Michelle Moore, an Armstrong attorney at a July 17 City Council meeting. Sebastopol’s Design Review Board (DRB) had already rejected the proposal twice, most recently by a 4-1 vote.
Armstrong’s attorney threatened and bullied nearly 200 residents of the town of 7,300 to shut up and take orders from Armstrong/Chase/CVS. She was apparently trying to subvert the democratic process and replace it by the power of big business.
Residents objected to someone coming from outside to tell them how to run their agrarian town, which exemplifies what would be likely if the proposal is approved. The Planning Commission and City Council had also previously rejected the proposal for not conforming to the town’s General Plan, as well as design and planning regulations.
The reason the proposal is still on the table is the threat by the deep pockets of Chase and CVS to sue the town and its people. Sebastopudlians talk about fighting for “the heart and soul” of their town and “not selling it to the highest outside bidder.” They discuss tactics such as boycotts and civil disobedience to block Chase/CVS from dominating their charming downtown and ushering in other mega-corporations.
Opponents implore the Council to wait until a better offer, which conforms to the town’s regulations, comes along. Another nearby large development, the Barlow Project, has received substantial local support because it will provide spaces for many local businesses. The money would thus circulate locally rather than leave the area. The downtown already has enough credit unions and local banks, as well as a pharmacy.
Though the July 17 meeting that started at 6 p.m. was advertised as a “public hearing,” the developers talked for two hours. It was 10 p.m. by the time the patient public was allowed to speak; most people had gone home.
The hearing convened again on July 19, where 43 people spoke against the development and 17 for it. Those supporting the development were mainly older friends of the family seeking to sell its two and a half acre abandoned car dealership. The opponents included people from their early 20s into their 70s. Among them were half a dozen activists from Occupy Sebastopol, which still maintains a tent in the town square.
Activists complained that the development is car-centric, mainly a large parking lot with only two isolated stores, rather than pedestrian and bike friendly. They noted that the drive-through component would create greater pollution in the downtown commons and increase greenhouse gas emissions, thus worsening chaotic climate change. A study reported that traffic would be increased by at least 2000 trips a day in the county’s most clogged intersection. This would not be good for emergency vehicles, pedestrians, or bikers.
The next and perhaps final meeting on the proposal will be August 7, when the Council plans to make a decision. After that it is expected that whichever side does not prevail may sue.
The DRB was willing to work with Armstrong. However, it has basically ignored the feedback that it gets from the majority of citizens and town officials, only making a few cosmetic changes. Armstrong appears to be trying to strong-arm its case, preferring a litigious route to get what it wants.
“In the next five years, we anticipate completing retail development values at over half a billion dollars,” Armstrong’s California Region website brags. “From one store in a small town, we now develop CVS pharmacies in nine states. We’ve constructed over 400 locations with more than 150 sites in the development pipeline. A similar development program exists with JP Morgan Chase Bank, with many sites in development across our region.” Chase and CVS are frequent partners around the U.S., as well as in paying millions of dollars in fines for illegal business practices.
“California is being targeted for a saturation of CVS stores,” writes Yvette Williams of Sebastopol’s Planning Commission, which has rejected the development.
Many federal regulators currently are investigating Chase. Its CEO Jamie Dimon originally announced losses of around $2 billion dollars in June and then admitted in July that they were $6 billion or more. Chase is one of the big five banks responsible for the recent fall of the American economy. CVS has also paid millions of dollars in fines for failing to clean-up toxic wastes and other deadly crimes.
Armstrong adds, “We have long standing valued relationships with some of the nation’s leading retailers that include Wal-Mart, Lowe’s Home Improvement Center and Target.” So if a city wants to be dominated by long-term relationships with such mega-corporations, Armstrong would be a good developer to hire.
But most Sebastopudlians have settled in a small town with a charming downtown commons because they prefer its agrarian flavor. A larger nearby city, Rohnert Park, has selected a corporate model, which has no town center where people can gather.
Sebastopol is the center of what is called the West County, with some 50,000 residents, of the coastal Sonoma County. It used to be known more by its natural description, the “Redwood Empire,” which many locals still call it. However, the commercial designation is now “Wine Country,” since it has the most lucrative wine industry in the U.S.
Armstrong’s website boasts that it can “quickly locate and open multiple sites.” Yet they have had to spend more than two years already and still do not have an approval in tiny Sebastopol, known as a “green” community with commitments to sustainability.
This controversy has already become a major issue in the Nov. 6 election, where two seats on the City Council are available. Of the four viable candidates, two have come out against the Chase/CVS development – businessmen Robert Jacob and John Eder. They support local business, rather than big business, which drains money out of the county.
Council member Kathleen Shaffer seeks to retain her seat. “Her support for the project from the outset has limited her ability to serve our city,” writes Jonathan Greenberg on the local waccobb.net website. He suggests that Shaffer should not vote on this issue.
Two activists from the nearby Occupy Petaluma testified at the July 19 meeting. They indicated problems with CVS in their city and are also mounting a campaign against Chase. “If Chase goes ahead with this development in Sebastopol,” commented Amy Hanks of Occupy Petaluma, “we could target their stores around the county and develop boycotts to hurt their businesses. If we are displeased by their behavior, we can make them feel that displeasure where it hurts – in their cash register.”
Dr. Shepherd Bliss teaches at Sonoma State University and Dominican University, has run an organic farm for nearly 20 years, and is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org). He has contributed to over two-dozen books and can be reached at email@example.com