Santa Monica divests the city (and cemetery) from fossil fuels

The home of tennis star May Sutton, astronaut Sally Ride, and actor Glenn Ford is divesting from fossil fuels.

We’d been hearing rumors for a couple months that Santa Monica had divested from fossil fuels, but it’s only in the last few weeks that we’ve gotten all the details on the lengths this sunny, sea-side California city has gone to clean up its portfolio. Last November 27, just weeks after we kicked off the national fossil fuel divestment campaign with the Do The Math tour, Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown brought forward a resolution directing city staff to “evaluate how best to divest fossil fuel investments from the City’s portfolios, and return with policy options as part of the February mid-year budget review.”

In February, city staff presented the council with their findings. Santa Monica didn’t currently invest it’s city funds in the fossil fuel industry, so there was no money there to divest. The city’s pension fund was tied up in CalPERS, California’s mega pension plan, so while the city could help push for divestment at the state level, there was no immediate step they could take on that front, either. There was one city fund that did have a substantial amount of money that could be divested, however: the Cemetery and Mausoleum Perpetual Care Fund.

As it turned out, Santa Monica’s fund to maintain the Woodlawn Cemetery and Mausoleum is the size of many college endowments, generating returns of roughly  $400,000 annually. According to city staff, approximately 10% of the Cemetery and Mausoleum portfolio, about $1 million, was invested in fossil fuel companies, generating about $30,000-$40,000 annually in interest and dividend income. The staff noted that these investments could easily be replaced with investments in other sectors.

Under the leadership of Councilmember McKeown, the city council decided that it would go ahead and divest the cemetery. As Gigi Decavalles-Hughes, the Director of Finance for the city, told the council, under the action, “No further investments would be made in fossil fuel companies in either the Cemetery and Mausoleum Perpetual Care funds or any other City investment portfolio.”

What would the current residents of Woodlawn Cemetery think of the city’s decision to stop funding their upkeep with investments in fossil fuel companies? I suppose we’ll never know, but if the dead could speak, I think a good number of them would support the decision. Woodlawn “resident” actor Leo Carillo, for instance, served on the California Beach and Parks commission for eighteen years and has a number of parks and trails named after him.

One person I’m sure would have supported the cause is Woodlawn celebrity Christabel Pankhurst, a proudly militant suffragette who fought alongside her sister and mother in England for the right to vote during the early 20th century. As Christabel said once, “We are here to claim our rights as women, not only to be free, but to fight for freedom. It is our privilege, as well as our pride and our joy, to take some part in this militant movement, which, as we believe, means the regeneration of all humanity.” I bet Pankhurst would be proud, that nearly a century later, her new home is stirring up some good momentum for another important cause.

Many thanks to the City Council of Santa Monica and all the residents and activists there for joining this movement!