BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
In the midst of Fiesta, the Zaca Fire and a recent spate of gang violence, the Santa Barbara community is up in arms over a City Council-approved public art project: the lightblueline.
Given the nod by city leaders in early July, lightblueline project organizers and volunteers plan to paint blue waves in the center of 68 city streets and affix medallions on adjacent curbs to demonstrate the impact of a 7-meter sea level rise.
Organizers said the project will raise public awareness about climate change. Opponents decry the project, calling it a waste of city funds that will mar city streets and prove ineffective in provoking a discussion of climate change.
Yesterday, Councilmember Helene Schneider took the money issue out of the picture, raising $12,000 from private sources to offset the city funds slated to go to the lightblueline.
“I don’t want to see this project die because a small group who refuses to acknowledge near scientific certainty of climate change has glommed on to this $12,000 as a reason this project shouldn’t move forward,” Schneider said. “I welcome a debate and dialogue on the real issues of climate change facing our local community.”
Councilmember Roger Horton, who voted against the proposed art project, said he still believes educating young children about climate change requires a more direct and hands-on approach. He pointed to a city contract on the Council’s agenda today that will partner the city with Art From Scrap to offer youth watershed education programs as an example of more effective way to get kids involved and educated.
“My thinking is all directed toward education of youth at the youngest possible age,” Horton said. “We need to focus on the quality of preschool and elementary education.”
Although she initially voted in favor of the lightblueline project, Councilmember Iya Falcone also said she doesn’t believe the project will raise enough public awareness. The moment she voted, Falcone said, she regretted her decision.
“I was not supportive of the project going into the hearing,” Falcone said. “I think that bringing people to a heightened awareness about global warming is done through education. I don’t believe that a line drawn on the street does anything to heighten that awareness.”
Bruce Caron, creator of the lightblueline project and www.lightblueline.org, countered those arguments, saying the amount of buzz in the community over the line before it is even painted on city streets is proof that it will spark a discussion of climate change.
“We love the fact that the public seems interested in having a conversation about this,” Caron said, “and we hope it continues and people become more aware about the potential effects of climate change on Santa Barbara.”
He attributed a negative response from members of the community to a misunderstanding of the project and unfair representation in local media. The lightblueline will be restricted to the center of streets, not near parking spots, the gutter or crosswalks, Caron said, and city transportation staff told him the design will not disrupt or confuse motorists.
“We worked hard to make it look elegant and easy to understand,” Caron said, “but if someone has a way to make it look more elegant, we’re open to that.”
Professor James Frew - an associate professor of environmental sciences and management at UC Santa Barbara and a board member of Caron’s nonprofit organization, New Media Studio - also dismissed arguments that the 7-meter measurement is arbitrary and not based on science.
“The 7-meter number was not pulled out of thin air,” Frew said. “It is calculated out of straightforward, defensible research. The amount of ice on Greenland is sufficient to raise the sea level by 7 meters.”
Caron and Frew said the lightblueline is meant to provide a context for the Santa Barbara community to better understand the impact of climate change on their city, not to show exactly where the water will be at a specific date or time in the future. Frew said even the most conservative scientists agree that the sea level is going to rise.
“The only thing to debate about the 7-meter contour is, do you expect it now, or do you expect it later,” Frew said. “It might be 1,000 years away still. On the other hand, it could be 100 years. ... It’s not going to happen in 10 years. That is a time window to start making changes to get us off the track of this happening.”
Support in the scientific community for his project is overwhelming, Caron said. When he approached a group of UCSB professors, he said they called it a “great idea” and suggested painting several lines instead of just one.
“Scientists are getting really frustrated that they work diligently to come up with information that isn’t being translated into public policy or public awareness,” Caron said.
Officials from the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association recently announced their opposition to the lightblueline, but instead of attacking the science behind the project, they went after its potential impact on city property values.
“This isn’t about whether or not global warming is actually occurring and what the implications of that are,” said Joe Armendariz, executive director of the association. “We are simply pointing out that the City Council has placed an arbitrary new value on local properties by their decision to pursue this new policy.”
Tobe Plough, director of the association, said real estate agents are now obligated to tell potential buyers that those properties located on the oceanside of the line could end up in the Pacific Ocean. Lightblueline organizers said anyone purchasing a home in Santa Barbara’s low-lying areas is most likely going to be aware of the threat from not only sea level rise, but tsunamis and storm surges as well, which they said also come close to that 7-meter designation.
Caron reiterated that the line is not designed to be a guaranteed marker of where waves will be crashing in the future, but rather to encapsulate Santa Barbara’s vulnerability to climate change in a way that everyone can understand.
“We are announcing the problem,” Caron said. “The better people understand the problem, the better they are going to make good decisions about how to work to stop it.”
Councilmember Schneider said more than 100 community volunteers and middle school students are already involved in the project. A meeting for those interested in volunteering will be held this Saturday at MacKenzie Park at 6 p.m., Caron said, adding that the paint is slated to hit the streets on October 6. Tomorrow, the Historic Landmarks Commission will review the project to determine its impact on historic districts in the city.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
BY ERIC LINDBERG