Judy Corbett, a longtime Davis resident, is stepping down after three decades as executive director of the award-winning Local Government Commission. This Sacramento-based nonprofit works with local government leaders throughout California to promote livable communities that include healthy, engaged people; a healthy environment; a more sustainable economy; and an equitable society. Courtesy photo

Local News

Climate Solutions Awards go to Corbett, Davis Flea

Join the fun

What: Earth Day celebration/John Muir’s 175th birthday party, featuring a slide-show talk by author Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis and presentation of Cool Davis’ 2013 Eco Hero and Climate Solutions Awards

For kids ages 4-10: An adventure outing with Nature’s Theater, plus birthday cake and party favors

When: 3-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

How much: A “birthday gift” of $5 to $10 per person is suggested

By Julie Sontag and Julie Cross

Each year, Cool Davis recognizes visionary Davis residents who model how to incorporate sustainable practices into their civic and everyday lives. The organization seeks to honor some of the hidden heroes among us who are forging and implementing new ways to live lightly with less impact on the environment.

Acting out of personal conviction, they are just doing “the right thing” for themselves, their community and their planet. This year’s Eco Heroes are Dani Lee, Robyn Waxman and Diane Swann.

Climate Solutions Awards, which go to local businesses or organizations for exemplary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will be presented to the Davis Bike Collective (Jason Moore), the Local Government Commission (Judy Corbett) and the Davis Flea (Lauren Norton).

As they model ways to reduce their environmental impact, they become leaders in creating options to conserve resources, reduce fossil fuel dependence and stabilize the climate.

Judy Corbett

“It feels better to do something than nothing.”

That’s how local environmental hero Judy Corbett describes what has motivated her life’s work.

It’s an understatement, coming from a woman whom Time magazine has named a Hero for the Planet.

Corbett has spent the past three decades as executive director of the award-winning Local Government Commission. This Sacramento-based nonprofit works with local government leaders throughout California to promote livable communities that include healthy, engaged people; a healthy environment; a more sustainable economy; and an equitable society.

The Local Government Commission promotes this by producing and sharing practical resources and by bringing local government officials together to learn from one another and from experts as they create local solutions to increasingly global challenges.

Corbett has long been interested in how we’re affected by the design of our built environment — our cities, neighborhoods and buildings. Her background in science and interest in psychology led to a master’s degree in ecology at UC Davis.

When Corbett and her then-husband, Mike Corbett, proposed developing Village Homes in Davis in the 1970s, their plans for a community that placed humans over cars and promoted energy efficiency were not exactly welcomed with open arms. Narrow streets? Natural drainage? Pedestrian and bike paths? These weren’t the norm. Getting Village Homes approved wasn’t easy, yet today it’s a much-loved Davis icon.

Based on her education and experience, Corbett saw that to humanize our built environment and promote more sustainable development, land-use patterns would need to change. Working with local elected officials — mayors, city council members and county supervisors — offered the most promise: They have the final say over what gets built, and it’s easier to initiate change at the local level.

So in 1979, Corbett convinced then-Gov. Jerry Brown to establish the SolarCal Local Government Commission. In 1983, it became a nonprofit and broadened its focus as the Local Government Commission. Since that time, Corbett has worked with local government officials to encourage development that considers the well-being of both people and the environment.

Corbett and the Local Government Commission have been promoting “smart growth” since before the term was coined. She helped draft and spread the Ahwahnee Principles, which inspired the smart growth and new urbanism movements. The principles “provide a blueprint for elected officials to create compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented developments in their local communities. Cities and counties across the nation have adopted them to break the cycle of sprawl.” Download a copy at http://www.lgc.org/ahwahnee/index.html.

We can all thank Corbett for helping local governments make the Ahwahnee Principles a reality across California, including right here in Davis. The community’s vibrant downtown area, with Central Park and the Farmers Market, businesses and nearby housing, and a variety of ways of getting around, is “smart growth,” as are clear city boundaries that help Davis preserve farmland and avoid the financial and environmental costs of leapfrog development.

After 30 productive years and numerous awards, including the Distinguished Leadership Award for a Citizen Planner from the American Planning Association, Corbett has decided it’s time for change. She’s stepping down as the Local Government Commission’s executive director, but will remain involved.

Corbett looks forward to continuing her work with officials in crafting policies and programs to meet the challenges of restricted budgets and the effects of climate change, as well as California’s water and energy scarcities. She sees opportunity as communities and officials become more interested in and open to new ideas.

She’ll also enjoy spending time with her 2-year-old grandson, who will soon be her neighbor. Her son plans to build a house on the last unbuilt lot in Village Homes, where he grew up riding his bike on the paths and enjoying the benefits of living in a neighborhood where people know one another.

Davis’ own Hero for the Planet looks forward to watching her grandson do the same in the neighborhood that helped propel her to combine her knowledge of local government, development and ecology, and her ability to work with officials, to launch a career whose positive effects will outlast us all.

As Corbett said about having her grandson live nearby, “What better reward in the world is there than that?”

By promoting livable communities that take care of people and the environment, Corbett and her nonprofit have made California a better place. A young organization just starting up in Davis aspires to make a contribution, too.

Davis Flea Market

Americans love their stuff — in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent $1.13 trillion on discretionary purchases. While much of that is consumables or entertainment, a sizable proportion is on objects — clothes, toys, household items, etc. With spending like that, it’s no wonder that the amount of landfill waste has tripled since the 1960s. We buy stuff, we throw away packaging, we throw away used stuff and we buy more.

Enter the Davis Flea Market, an environmentally sound way to repurpose some of that stuff into a new life. Vendors pay a small fee —reduced for students and charities — which in turn pays for musicians to perform during the Flea (as well as equipment rental, permitting and insurance.)

Since its inception in January 2012, the Flea has allowed hundreds of people to find the object of their desires from dozens of vendors — and, in the process, rescued some stuff from the waste stream. As a byproduct, the Flea pulls money into the local economy, helps eliminate travel, provides employment for musicians and builds community. For all this, the Davis Flea Market is a 2013 recipient of the Cool Davis Climate Solutions Award.

The Flea is the brainchild of director Lauren Cole Norton, who somehow fits operating a large pop-up retail business into an already crowded schedule of musical performances, writing, business development and career.

“I have always dreamed of running a multi-purpose venue,” Norton says, “a place where motivated and creative people could try out an idea without a huge financial commitment. It was something I was able to do living in Dublin after the crash, when empty office buildings became makeshift art studios, theater spaces and flea markets.”

Norton has certainly realized her dream: With the assistance of a rotating cast of volunteers and interns from UC Davis and Davis and Da Vinci high schools, the Davis Flea has grown from the first one, held on E Street Plaza in January 2012, to the most recent incarnation, a two-day pop-up in the former Dimple Records space over Easter weekend, with 50-odd vendors running the gamut from gently used children’s toys through vintage clothing and on to art made from repurposed objects.

Amanda Maples, who designs art incorporating vintage silverware, is a regular vendor at the Flea.

“The Davis Flea Market encourages home-grown community and cooperation like no other event in Davis,” Maples says. “It incorporates creative reuse, skill shares and appreciation of the arts. Every month people turn potential ‘rubbish’ into art and a sense of shared Davis pride.”

Despite its popularity, the future of the Flea is uncertain.

“The Flea needs a permanent home, and it also needs to start making a profit,” Norton says. “I thought this would be a fun side project, but it demands a lot more of my time than I originally anticipated! Lots of bands want to play, and we get all kinds of applications from prospective vendors — it takes a huge amount of coordination to put it all together. “

A home for the Flea is one of the challenges. At the request of Davis Downtown, the E Street Plaza is no longer available to the Flea on Sunday afternoons, and the cost of renting Central Park is prohibitive. Norton is reluctant to move the event from downtown.

“Losing the E Street Plaza space was a major blow. We had worked so hard to put together a beautiful and highly popular community event celebrating music and performance — a goal we thought was very much in line with the downtown Davis mission to create an arts and entertainment district.”

Norton expects to announce a new venue for the May Flea Market. To find out more or apply to be a vendor, visit www.davisfleamarket.org or friend Davis Flea Market, CA on Facebook.

Special to The Enterprise

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