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    The Compost: Sustainable homes, jobs, wine and more at free event
    • October 10, 2023

    Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…

    Would you live in a hexagon-shaped home if it was climate-friendly?

    What about a dome?

    Those are some of the designs chosen by student homebuilders from across Southern California and beyond who are competing in the inaugural Orange County Sustainability Decathlon at the OC Fair & Event Center. I talked to some of those students about their homes, and I spoke with event founders about how this all came to be, for a recent story. The free event is now halfway over, but there’s plenty of time to catch the second half!

    During the first half of the decathlon, which ran Oct. 5 through Oct. 8, visitors got student-guided tours of the homes built by teams from UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Long Beach, Cal Poly Pomona, UC Riverside and more. They could also watch a fashion show with thrifted clothing, a falconry presentation with live birds, a symphony performance and more. If you missed it, you can watch the opening ceremonies and speakers from the first half of the event on the OCSD23 YouTube channel. Or hop over to Instagram to see highlights, including interviews with many of the student teams.

    Here’s a smattering of online feedback from visitors who’ve made it out so far:

    “The students did such an amazing job. The future is bright!”
    “Good stuff!”
    “So neat to have this in Costa Mesa!”
    “Great job everyone! You make your schools proud!”

    Now the volunteer crew behind the festival is getting ready for the second half, which kicks off Wednesday and runs through Sunday evening. Some key events for the second half of the festival include:

    Guided model home tours from 3-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
    An awards ceremony from 2-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday to recognize different elements of these sustainable student homes
    A job and school fair focused on careers in sustainability from 3-6 p.m. Friday
    A sustainable beer and wine garden open 3-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
    A presentation on building homes using concrete made from hemp from 4-5 p.m. Thursday
    A demonstration of technology that can extract water from air from 6-7 p.m. Friday

    The event is free to attend. But if you visit and register to attend, you’ll get access to download a free app, which has details about events each day.

    — By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter


    Santa Susana site sparks new concerns: A watchdog group is raising concerns about possible water contamination from Santa Susana, a hilltop site between the Simi and San Fernando valleys that suffered a partial nuclear meltdown decades ago. Local officials tell our Olga Grigoryants that the water is safe and they’re working to address the pollution. …READ MORE…

    Meat processing plant is a smelly neighbor: Vernon residents who live near a plant that processes meat parts have complained about putrid smells for years, until air quality officials finally shut the facility down. But a deeply reported series by Julia Barajas with LAist reveals the company has partially reopened the plant and is suing air regulators in hopes of getting back to full-scale operations. …READ MORE…

    Edison sued over wildfires: Orange County is suing Southern California Edison and T-Mobile, claiming that the companies’ failure to maintain equipment caused the 2020 Silverado Fire and the 2022 Coastal Fire. Our Sean Emery reports county agencies want to recoup their costs for dealing with the two wildfires, though no price has been given. …READ MORE…

    Background: The state forestry department also sued Southern California Edison and T-Mobile last year over the Silverado Fire.

    Weigh in on creek project: Since the 1980s, federal authorities have discussed replacing trees and other greenery surrounding the Santiago Creek bed in Santa Ana with a flood control channel. The goal is to prevent flooding in the area during heavy rains. But area residents are now pushing back against the idea of ripping out the natural habitat to send more rainwater out to the ocean, our Destiny Torres reports, with comments on the proposal accepted through Nov. 14. …READ MORE…


    Remembering our smoggy past: It’s sometimes tough to make younger folks and Southern California transplants grasp just how severe our smog problem was before key environmental protections started to kick in half a century ago. Just point them to this new column from the L.A. Times’ always great Patt Morrison to get them up to speed. …READ MORE…


    Train ride gets even cleaner: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner passenger trains, which run through Southern California, are now operating on renewable diesel. Annika Bahnsen reports the change will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 63% throughout a train’s lifecycle. …READ MORE…

    Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.


    Wild burros prompt new law: Wild burros in the Inland Empire — and problems they cause — are the focus of a new state law that Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed, which lets counties work with nonprofit groups to care for, remove and relocate burros. Jeff Horseman reports an area that runs roughly from Colton to Moreno Valley is home to the largest undomesticated burro population in California. …READ MORE…

    Debate over solar payments pivots to apartments: On Thursday, Ben Christopher with CalMatters reports the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on whether to reduce payments that owners of solar panel-equipped apartment buildings get for electricity generated on their rooftops. It’s similar to a controversial change the commission approved in December for single-family homes. Environmentalists say both policies will hurt California’s climate goals. …READ MORE…

    Dive deeper: Sammy Roth, who’s now the first climate columnist for the Los Angeles Times, says California needs to get its act together on rooftop solar.

    New limits on port emissions debated: Local air quality regulators are considering new rules that would require companies to reduce emissions at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which contribute to higher rates of asthma and other illnesses for nearby residents. But our Donna Littlejohn reports business groups are pushing back, warning the rules will hurt jobs, the local economy and the nation’s supply chain. …READ MORE…


    The beach is back: A stretch of Capistrano Beach is usable again, after crews moved enough sand to fill 13 Olympic size swimming pools from the Santa Ana River to the coast to replace eroded sediment. Locals say it’s cause for celebration, though our Laylan Connelly also has words of caution about the need for ongoing sand replenishment. …READ MORE…

    Miracle water year: California ended its water year on Saturday with enough rain and snow to fill the state’s reservoirs to 128% of their historical average, Adam Beam with the Associated Press reports. That makes the past water year, which runs through Sept. 30, among the wettest in recorded state history. …READ MORE…

    A ladder along Annie’s Canyon Trail, which goes through a sandstone canyon in Solana Beach. (Photo by Brooke Staggs, Orange County Register/SCNG)


    Easy ladder hike with bonus wetlands: Want a short hike that takes you by bird-filled wetlands, through a narrow slot canyon and has views of the ocean? Annie’s Canyon Trail in Solana Beach is just 1.5 miles if you start from the Rios trailhead like we did. But it packs so much in! This trail has been on my list since I first read a couple years ago about how a local woman named Annie bought this land. Apparently the canyon was long known to locals as the Mushroom Caves, with walls covered in graffiti. After Annie bought it to preserve as a public trail, volunteers marked the path and cleaned the graffiti to reveal these golden sandstone surfaces. The short canyon gets very narrow at times. There are some big steps up and one fun ladder to navigate, but it’s otherwise an easy trail. Just make sure that when the path forks, you follow the sign to the “hard” portion through the canyon so you’ll be going up the one-way path!


    Get paid to rip out grass: For this week’s tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… Single-family homeowners in Los Angeles’ disadvantaged communities will soon be able to apply for rebates for replacing their lawns with water-efficient landscapes. The Department of Water and Power just got $14.9 million in state grants to help fund the rebates. Residents are encouraged to watch their water bills for details, which are coming soon. …READ MORE…

    Thanks for reading, Composters! And don’t forget to sign up to get The Compost delivered to your inbox.

    ​ Orange County Register