Helping businesses reduce their environmental impact, distributing electric vehicle chargers to city residents and encouraging the development of vacant lots are some of the projects the Long Beach Office of Sustainability is tackling in the upcoming year.


The 2018 Office of Sustainability Work Plan outlines 13 initiatives to reduce the city’s impact on the environment, five of which are ongoing field work programs. The plan is based off the Sustainable City Action Plan that the council adopted in 2010. According to Larry Rich, the city’s sustainability coordinator, the 10-year action plan provides an outlook for environmentalism in Long Beach.

The City of Long Beach’s Sustainable City Commission Chair Coby Skye, left, and Sustainability Coordinator Larry Rich are pictured in Willow Springs Park, located on Orange Avenue near Willow Street. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Anne Artley)


Rich and Sustainable City Commission Chair Coby Skye said the office is working on all of this year’s projects in equal measure. Many are continuations from previous years.


For example, in 2011, the office of sustainability launched its Green Business Recognition Program to promote city businesses that had implemented sustainable practices. This year, the office has decided to apply for a grant from the California Green Business Network to relaunch the program. The Network, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, helps businesses institute environmentally friendly practices.


“Rather than reinventing the wheel, we wanted to take advantage of a California-based organization with the same main purpose,” Rich said. “The Network has its own checklist of measures that businesses should be taking to reduce their environmental footprint but also improve their bottom line.”


Rich said another reason the office decided to apply for the grant is to provide additional funding to market the program to underserved communities.


“There’s a good proportion of Long Beach that falls within the state’s definition of a disadvantaged community,” Rich explained. “The label is related to residential incomes, but there’s also a newer definition that factors in environmental challenges and pollution levels. Because the city is adjacent to the ports and major refineries and freeways, there are neighborhoods heavily affected by pollution.”


According to Rich, the funds from the Green Business Network grant would not go directly to businesses in the city. Rather, they would be used to market the program to organizations that may be more difficult to reach, such as a business whose owner does not speak English.


“It also makes [these businesses] more aware of other services,” Rich said. “For example, Southern California Edison has a program where they’ll upgrade the lighting in small businesses. They’ll change fluorescent lights to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which will save money on the electricity bill.” LEDs are the most energy-efficient lighting technology, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.


The work plan also includes a partnership program with Southern California Edison. According to Rich, the electric company has worked with the city for eight years, providing cash incentives to identify and implement energy-efficient projects at city facilities.


“We’re just coming off an extensive street lighting retrofit, in which the city’s 23,000 streetlights were changed to LED lights,” Rich said. “LEDs use half the electricity of our previous light fixtures.”


Mercedes-Benz is another project partner, as the car manufacturer has donated almost 300 electric vehicle (EV) home chargers to Long Beach residents who own electric cars. The effort was part of the city’s charger giveaway program from last year’s work plan. The office of sustainability is expanding it this year by giving away level two chargers, which provide more power than the level one.


“There’s some cost involved that the resident needs to bear, but the value of the chargers that we’re giving away is around $300 to $400,” Rich said.


The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Program, another measure carried over from last year, allows private property owners to contract with the city to develop their vacant lots for agricultural purposes, thus earning a reduction on their property tax.


“The property owner of the vacant lot would need to be the one to build a relationship with a farmer or a community garden organization. The city is not involved in that,” Rich clarified. “We’ve heard from lots of potential farmers and gardeners who are looking for vacant lots, but we haven’t heard from many property owners. This year, we need to do a more proactive, targeted effort to make them aware that this program exists.”


As another property improvement project, the office plans to continue scheduling cleanups and tours at Willow Springs Park, located on Orange Avenue near Willow Street. This year’s goals also include creating a native plant nursery.


“A lot of local nonprofits have participated in the park cleanups,” Skye said. “There’s been amazing work to revitalize Willow Springs Park and make it a resource to the community.” Past cleanup participants include groups from Molina Healthcare and California State University, Long Beach as well as the local chapter of the Sierra Club.


Aside from the partnerships with Southern California Edison and Mercedes-Benz, Rich explained that the work plan initiatives are funded by an operating budget set by the city.


“It’s really a pleasure working with the Office of Sustainability staff,” Skye said. “They really see the bigger picture and how all of these programs interconnect to support one another.”