July 16, 2024
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CEC aims to utilize the community in new State St. home


The Community Environmental Council’s new building on 1219 State St. (courtesy photo)

By Holly Rusch

Special to the Business Times

At 1219 State Street, the Community Environmental Council is putting the finishing touches on a new building space — one with high, spacious ceilings, sustainable wood features and a large ficus growing in the middle of the room. 

The organization, founded in 1970 as one of the nation’s first ecology centers, has a long history of climate-based activism and policy advocacy; from working on California recycling laws in the 90’s to securing the Central Coast’s first wind farm in 2019. 

CEO Sigrid Wright said that their new building dubbed the Environmental Hub, will be a space to cultivate the CEC’s core values of community-building and grassroots organization.

“The type of climate work that we do really requires the community,” she said. “It requires people to come together so it’s not just us, obviously, solving the problem, but it’s creating space for the public to come in. And so that’s how we landed here.”

The Hub will be an opportunity to centralize many of the CEC’s policy goals and incorporate the public, Michael Chiacos, the CEC’s Director of Climate Policy, said. It will also be a zero net energy building, in alignment with a broader policy goal of the CEC to move the entire Central Coast region towards a zero carbon economy.

“One of the things that we’re most proud about is that our region is moving to 100% renewable and clean electricity much faster than the state as a whole. Many, like the city of Santa Barbara and most of Ventura County, are already being served with 100% renewable and clean electricity, which we’re really excited about,” Chiacos said. 

The organization is focusing on the decarbonization of the transportation and building sectors as a whole, with a special emphasis on cities like Santa Barbara, which Chiacos referred to as “lighthouse communities” that can set the tone for broader statewide policy. 

“Our cities can be these lighthouse communities that can really push the edge and adopt the policy, make the plans, put the infrastructure in more aggressive goals and adopt electric vehicles faster, get to 100% renewables, get natural gas out of our building sector faster than other regions. And then the things that we learned here can then ripple out and affect other cities in California,” he said. 

Kathy King, CEC’s Director of Climate Education and Leadership, sees the new building as an opportunity for the CEC to have autonomy over hosting events and bringing local entrepreneurs and activists into the space. 

Previously, the CEC owned a three-acre property where they hosted summer camps and community gardening, according to King. But the new, technologically advanced downtown building is a chance for expansion of a different kind. 

“It was always something to look back on with fondness that CEC had the ability to host its own programs in the space that they also owned. And so we’re back, we’ve come back around to that, only this is a lot less rustic and a lot more state of the art and very cool,” she said. “We’re just going to be able to generate all this foot traffic and all of this interest.” 

King referenced rotating art exhibits as one potential of the space, with the first, featuring the world of the monarch butterfly by environmental artist Elizabeth Weber, to be displayed at the Hub’s grand opening on June 6. Their plastic-free July programming will feature a July 27 exposition with the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, local nonprofits and sustainable businesses. 

She also sees the space as an opportunity to foster the CEC’s ambitious goals and programs, including educating residents on electric vehicles, increasing charging stations, pushing for renewable energy as a whole, and nature-based solutions to carbon reductions. 

“The clock is ticking. We have about another seven years to really get emissions under control and reduced significantly before so that we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” King said. “Our mission is twofold in the sense that it’s about doing this quickly, but also doing this equitably.”

CEC also hosts a climate stewards certification program, where members of the community can learn about climate activism, resilience and come away with plans for environmental advocacy within their own jobs and communities. 

According to building designers, Andrulaitis + Mixon architect Joe Andrulaitis and MN Studio’s Melissa Mohr Brown and Natalie Greenside, the Hub was designed to visually reflect CEC’s climate advocacy. 

“CEC is an environmental company, and we wanted to bring some nature into the space,” Andrulaitis said. The building opens with lower-ceilinged office spaces, a state-of-the-art soundproofed media lab and sustainable corked flooring.  

“Maybe this feels like going through a forest and a grove of trees. And then when you escape this narrow hallway with the low ceiling…that’s the main space that we see where we offer lots of light, lots of skylights, and then we have a tree,” he continued. 

A large atrium, where the ficus is planted, will be available for programming usage, including film screenings and lectures. The 10,000-square-foot building has an open floor plan, with a community room for for-profit, non-profit and some hand-selected grassroots organizations to utilize at varying rates. 

While Wright is excited to offer the downtown location for most any group who can make use of it, she quipped that there might be a few organizations turned down — “we reserve the right to say ‘thanks, no thanks’ to Chevron.”  

A second floor overlooking the atrium hosts CEC’s main offices, which feature movable desks to encourage collaboration — an ongoing theme throughout the space, according to Wright. 

“Really, one of the things you need to do is shut up and listen and really not come out to the community like, ‘we have all the answers, here’s the plan,’…we’re working with more intention to go to the place where people are at and asking them what ideas they have or what experiences they’re having,” she said. “So how would that incorporate here again — trying to create a convening space that feels open, flexible, usable, welcoming.”

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