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Green Economy Plan 

New report lays groundwork for Sonoma and Marin sustainability


Attention North Bay: "Vital Change" has arrived, and you've got to get your eyes on it! Not only is a report of that name newly released, but its contents live up to the title in at least two radical ways. First, those of us (painfully) familiar with committee reports will be stunned to find that this 44-page write-up by the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay is—drum roll, please—thoughtfully transparent and pleasurable to read. Yes, that's what I said. Parts are even fun to read. The radical part here is that this succinct, clearly written report is accessible to everyone.

It's a grassroots investigation into a local green economy. Not the business-as-usual approach. Old-school methods for dealing with economic decision-making pushed the public out of the room and shut down dialogue with eye-glazing sentences glued together with obscure words no one uses in conversation. (Hey, isn't that how the banks got all that power?) But this document comes from locals who love the North Bay; it's a jargon-free narrative that speaks in the voice of those who live here.

Fully titled "Vital Change: Reconsidering Water, Food, Conservation, Healthcare and Commerce," this report invites everyone into a well-told story about the elements of our lives we must look at together. Those behind the report are locals pursuing a "civic initiative to transform Marin and Sonoma counties into a more resilient region" that is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. They are pro-local, pro-community members who say that "history shows us that the collective genius of communities is powerful and effective when harnessed by people working together."

In this refreshing narrative, we read our own Sonoma-Marin survival story with good and evil elements, a work-in-progress as told by hundreds of residents who attended eight public forums in Santa Rosa, San Rafael, Novato, Petaluma, Mill Valley, Sonoma, Point Reyes Station and Sea Ranch. Our story was further told by experts at hearings during the 18-month investigative process, which peered into even the most challenging arenas, such as local poverty and economic justice.

The language in this report is down-to-earth and not at all like a government document, where the words are so pummeled by the cultures of law, engineering and the politics of obscurity that hardly anyone understands them. Instead we find gems like this one: "All life on earth is connected through water; we should use it with respect for its life-sustaining gift." Once direct, inclusive language has been allowed in a document, empty formality falls away, feeling and thinking are engaged equally and real exchange can occur. It is always language that decides who gets included or excluded from a discussion.

The second delightfully radical aspect of "Vital Change" is the lucid presentation of complex issues. For example, the section on civic currency—my favorite part—elegantly sums up the world's core social problem. "The quality of life and basic living needs of those who are not in line to gain from [current] business models are sacrificed to the pursuit of profit by those in positions of economic power. The have-nots are paying—with their health, wellbeing and sometimes their very lives—to support the overconsuming lifestyles of the haves." There are seven pages of thoughtful local approaches to this problem provided by the people who live here, people from all walks of life who participated in the discussion. It's a good start.

Please read this report. Use it at town council meetings. Offer it as a wedding gift. Put a copy in your doctor's waiting room, on your aunt's coffee table, in the hands of your mayor. It's the distillation of local thoughts, brainstorms, statistics and yearnings. Let's study it together and pursue the collective genius among us.

Hats off to MarinLink and to commission members from both counties. In Marin: Norman Solomon, Ginger Souders-Mason, Stephen Burdo, Jonathan Frieman and Peter Richardson with help from Whitney Merchant and Anita Fieldman. And in Sonoma: Lisa Maldonado, Will Pier, Caroline Bañuelos, Rue Furch and Judith Newton with help from Julie Combs. View the report at

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