A coalition of California’s biggest — and greenest — cities is sharing success stories in municipal ordinances and policies aimed at sustainability.

It’s all about sharing best practices at the Web site started this fall by Green Cities California — a coalition of nine cities and one county (Marin).

“It’s an opportunity for other cities to design their own program, to look at our Web site and emulate what we’ve done,” said David Assmann, the deputy director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment and a steering committee member for Green Cities California.

On the site, you can study a roadmap of how Pasadena implemented green building standards, Marin County set up a climate protection plan and Los Angeles partners with businesses and nonprofits with a goal of planting a million trees.

The site started with 50 best practices in these categories: energy, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, environmental health and water.

“It partially grew out of fact that we’re always getting calls from cities and counties that would like to implement an ordinance or get the background on a policy,” said Assmann. “This way, we let lots of jurisdictions get the information.”

GCC is using collective power to prevent multiple cities from reinventing the wheel on particular sustainability issues. 

“There are probably 30 cities in the state working on a plastic bag ordinance,” said Dean Kubani, the director of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment and a steering committee member.

The coalition is preparing a master environmental assessment that will provide a template for cities to use in preparing such an ordinance aimed at plastic bags and other single-use bags.

“It should be easy and cheap for them to take the master environmental assessment and plug it into a modified environmental review process,” which otherwise might be too expensive for individual cities to contemplate, Kubani said, especially as they consider threatened lawsuits against such ordinances by plastics industry groups.

That report, which will include research of environmental consequences of paper vs. plastic, is expected to ready by March, said Carol Misseldine, coordinator of the GCC and a sustainability consultant for Mill Valley. The report is funded by grants and contributions from coalition members.

Cities around the state are taking notes on Santa Monica’s ban on polystyrene (include Styrofoam) and other non-recyclable food service containers, said Assmann.

The Santa Monica ban is more comprehensive than some, said Kubani.

Since it took effect in February 2008, the city has been pleased with the level of compliance. “We expected more scofflaws,” said Kubani.

With other cities enacting similar policies in the last year, the number of Los Angeles-area commercial distributors of takeout food containers that meet Santa Monica’s requirements has mounted from 16 to 76, Kubani said.

Santa Monica restaurants can tap that list on a city database. (Click here for a photo of Styrofoam-heavy debris on a Santa Monica beach after a heavy rain has flushed out the storm drains.)

At a 2006 national meeting of sustainability directors in Colorado, the representatives from Golden State cities decided to set up Green Cities California to share information. The idea is to use the flexibility and responsiveness of city governments in a collective way.

“It’s a regular group of cities getting together not only to share information but to help the recognition that we’re all working on similar things to promote sustainability,” said Kubani. “We knew we could also band together to try to influence state legislation … In some ways symbolically and in order to gain press attention and get the discussion going, we can have a significant influence on markets if we band together to do certain things.”

The coalition has agreed that all jurisdictions commit to the use of 100 percent post-consumer, recycled office paper and to stop buying plastic bottles of water for city functions.

The coalition has a committee to screen applications for city policies and laws to be listed on the new Web site as best practices. Cities that are not GCC members can apply to have their best practice spotlighted.

The coalition intentionally set a high bar for membership. Jurisdictions must adopt a local sustainability plan and meet terms of the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords and the Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

The members of Green Cities California are Berkeley, Los Angeles, Marin County, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.

Lance Howland can be reached at lancehowland@aol.com