CEC hosted nearly 100 local residents, students and elected officials at our 10th Anniversary Celebration on January 9 at the Burlingame Women’s Club. Speakers included County Supervisor Dave Pine, Burlingame Mayor Emily Beach, three college students who received scholarships from CEC, Burlingame High School senior and filmmaker Jeffery Chen, and donor Sterling Franklin.
This was our opportunity to share our history, achievements and goals with our members and interested guests. Our roots actually go back to 2007, when then-Mayor Terry Nagel convened the Green Ribbon Task Force, a committee charged with planning a more sustainable future for Burlingame. This committee drafted Burlingame’s first Climate Action Plan (CAP), and one of the requirements of this plan was to support a volunteer citizens’ group to do outreach and education on environmental issue. When the Burlingame City Council approved the CAP in 2009, a few Task Force members and many other volunteers took on that mission and became the Citizens Environmental Council of Burlingame.
Mayor Emily Beach presented a city proclamation and congratulated us on our longevity and accomplishments. She expressed how important advocacy is from groups like ours to tip the balance in negotiations among competing interests. Environmental advocacy has always been one of our missions. One of our first proposals to the City Council was to limit the use of leaf blowers. It became a contentious issue, but the Council came up with a clever compromise that satisfied both sides.
CEC has always monitored the city’s compliance with the CAP, and in so doing we encouraged the city for several years to create a sustainability coordinator position. When they finally did, and hired Sigalle Michael, it made a huge difference, as she began to routinely implement policies and programs that didn’t previously have a voice in city government.
In recent years we have broadened the reach of our advocacy, collaborating with groups like the San Mateo County Beekeepers Guild, Sustainable San Mateo County, TEAMC (on public transit improvements), Commute.org, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Campaign on Fossil Free Buildings in Silicon Valley. We are eager to partner with any regional groups that share our mission.
We also collaborate frequently with the City of Burlingame. We cross-promote each other’s programs, and each year we work with the Burlingame Public Library to present “Green Programs on Hot Topics.” This series of six programs per year includes lectures, films, demonstrations and workshops on important environmental themes. Attendance has grown steadily over the years.
Supervisor Dave Pine presented us with a proclamation from San Mateo County and described how rare it is for a city to have a group like ours. He especially valued our work with youth, as the younger generation will have to live with climate change and work to solve the environmental problems that have developed in past decades.
Working with young people has become a principal focus of CEC since 2016, when we began giving scholarships to Burlingame High School graduates who showed a commitment and potential to work in environmental fields. Since then we have granted 10 scholarships totaling $13,500. In 2019 we contacted past recipients to see what they had been doing, and we were thrilled to see how much progress they had already made toward their goals.
Three of these students spoke at our celebration. Alexander Vina is a junior at Chico State, where he majors in Environmental Science with a focus on Applied Ecology. Last spring he worked on a project with the City of Chico, using goats to graze areas of high-fire fuel loads to mitigate wildfire threats.
Madeline Tragoutsis, a sophomore at Santa Clara University, has a double major in Environmental Studies and Political Science. She is working on a project studying the invasive Asian clam population in Lake Tahoe. She is also in the pre-law program and hopes to become an attorney specializing in environmental issues.
Isabela Acenas, a junior at New York University, has been awarded grants to travel the world. She set up a sustainable irrigation project in rice farms in the Philippines and studied sea level rise in Abu Dhabi. Last summer she served as a delegate to a U.N. Climate Conference in Abu Dhabi.
In 2018 we began a paid High School Environmental Intern program, based on a suggestion and funding from our principal donor. With city support and the assistance of Sigalle Michael, we worked with eight students from five high schools who investigated the sustainability of their schools and designed projects to enhance their schools’ sustainability. This program caught the attention of the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), which expanded the program countywide in January 2020. CEC is now collaborating with SMCOE, the County Office of Sustainability and Peninsula Clean Energy on the Youth Climate Ambassadors program. We are working with 59 students to develop their skills and knowledge to become effective environmental advocates.
Our third youth program is our Student Film Fest, which is open to students in grades 4 through 12 throughout San Mateo County and is cosponsored by the Burlingame Environmental Club at Burlingame High School (BHS). Now in its third year, this program was inspired by BHS student Jeffery Chen, whom we met when he made a very clever video on climate change in eighth grade. In ninth grade he did a film on the problems associated with single-use plastic water bottles which took first prize at two environmental film festivals. CEC hoped we might encourage other students to do short environmental films, so we underwrote prize money and expenses, and Jeffery and his new Environmental Club at BHS took responsibility for organizing the project. They did a great job. More than 60 students submitted films during the first two years.
Jeffery thanked several of his teachers and to CEC for our support. He also filled us in on his experience with the 2019 Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global contest for high school students to create short films on big scientific ideas. Jeffery entered his film on neutrino astronomy, and it took first prize among 11,000 entries! It earned prize money of $400,000, including a $250,000 scholarship for Jeffery, $50,000 for his science teacher and $100,000 for a new science lab at BHS. We are proud to have collaborated with Jeffery and will be following his promising future with great interest.
Sterling Franklin, trustee of the Morris S. Smith Foundation, traveled from Los Angeles to attend our event and meet many of our directors and supporters. We are grateful for the generous financial support of the Smith Foundation, which underwrote our scholarship and intern programs and pledged the matching grant for our membership drive during 2019. Mr. Franklin congratulated us and offered advice on fundraising and working with donors.
Many thanks to Shirley Lee, Eileen Kim and Christine Yballa, who planned this great event and managed food, drinks and logistics. Thanks also to Laurel Kane, who decorated the room, and to Molly Wantuch, who helped with setup and cleanup. And thanks to Terry Nagel and Doug Silverstein, who managed publicity, fundraising and communications. They attracted attendance well beyond our initial expectations and funds to cover most of the expenses. We also want to thank all who attended, contributed and made it an engaging and fun social event.
CEC Receives Sustainability Award from Sustainable San Mateo County
State Senator Jerry Hill presented a Sustainability Award to the Citizens Environmental Council of Burlingame (CEC) at Sustainable San Mateo County’s 20th annual Awards Dinner on April 4, 2019.
He recognized CEC members for their grassroots work since 2009 in influencing city government and building environmental awareness through free public programs, student internships and other activities. CEC President Mike McCord and Director Eileen Kim highlighted our work in a video presentation.
More than 250 people attended the gala event, which took place in the Bayview Dining Room at the College of San Mateo.