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Ross Chun: Green Councilman in a Red County

Making Aliso Viejo a greener city is great, says new Councilman Ross Chun, so long as businesses have a choice.

Don’t call Aliso Viejo City Councilman Ross Chun an “environmentalist.”

The Eco-Stride CEO puts on environmental fairs across the county and has been a longtime contributor to the Nature Conservancy. He was endorsed by the Sierra Club.

But Chun says the term "environmentalist" doesn't fit.

"I’m surprised when people call me an environmentalist," Chun said. "The first person who was really doing a lot of that was (city council opponent) Mike Munzing. He was telling people two things: one was that I’m an extreme environmentalist; and the other was that I’m a global warming alarmist."

Chun says he and Munzing laugh about that now, but the term "environmentalist" still rubs him the wrong way.

"To me it sounds like I’m a protester chaining myself to a fence somewhere," he said. "There are some people that really label me as an environmentalist. But I like to consider myself a businessperson who is environmentally aware."

Chun got his start in local politics while serving on the Aliso Viejo Community Association, one of the nation's largest homeowners associations. From there he made the leap to city council, where he's currently serving the first of his four-year term.

When it comes to green issues, Chun says that may have started with his wife Suzanne, who once worked in the customer service department of the National Geographic Society in Maryland.

Or it may have started with a creek cleanup he organized with local Girl Scouts six years ago.

"It was like ‘wow, these were young students, and this is something I’m interested in,’ so I started coming up with ways to get them connected with environmental causes," he said.

Now Eco-Stride does just that, setting up Eco-Fairs around the county and pairing Orange County students with environmental projects. The first large-scale project was an organic garden built in 2010 at Sage Hill School in Newport Coast.

"To me it’s the most logical extension of the school," he said. "They plant a garden with organic vegetables so that it shows students what it looks like while they’re growing in the ground. They can pick the vegetables; they can actually eat the vegetables. When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know what a carrot looked like when you pulled it out of the ground. These gardens are great teaching experiences for the students, and, I think, the teachers as well.”

Chun is happy to push for a greener future. But, he says, when that comes at the expense of business, he draws the line.

"I’m all for energy efficiency and conservation, but if it gets to the point where it’s so costly the business can’t survive, of course, it doesn’t make sense anymore," he said.

Chun is keeping a close eye on the Green City Initiative, which does things such as assess Aliso Viejo's greenhouse gas emissions.

And he'd like the city to build bike racks and other cost-effective features to encourage walking and biking around town.

"I want to see if I can help things run more smoothly in that regard," he said.

Editor's note: Ross Chun's wife Suzanne worked in Maryland in the customer service department of the National Geographic Society.

Corrine K February 06, 2013 at 05:42 AM
Be proud to be an environmentalist. You wear it well, and the city is glad you are looking out for our resources.
Greg Gantman February 06, 2013 at 07:26 AM
This is proof of doing the right thing, coordinating environmental education with students and making a business from this.
ChristieD February 06, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Absolutely the right thing to do for our awesome community here in Aliso Viejo! We want our city to remain beautiful and healthy and to stand as an example for a green yet pro-business community! Thank you Mr. Chun!
Kathryn February 06, 2013 at 10:04 PM
PLEASE help educate our community and, especially, the HOA's that planting drought resistant plants doesn't mean they can't be green!!! Xeriscaping can increase home values and provide beautiful focal points within our neighborhoods. Vista Pointe Ridge recently underwent an expensive recall (which failed) but the "recall" slate was voted in two months later all over a common area renovation project that removed turf and replaced it with drought-resistant landscaping (with color) in an effort to reduce costs and conserve water. People were told that a "desert theme" would be planted over the entire slopes and we often heard that people didn't want cactus and an AZ landscape - they were completely uneducated to both drought-resistant landscaping and the need for water conservation in our area. We need your support that we can go "green" and remain green!!!
Kathryn February 06, 2013 at 10:06 PM
Totally agree! It's the right thing to do!
Kathi February 06, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Well, sounds like a good idea the way he is going about it. The organic garden at the school sounds like wonderful idea. My cousin has a business refurbishing properties to be environmentally friendly. Making those services available, without forcing them on people is a great idea! I am somewhat concerned about the city's green initiative in that it seems to focus on pc ways to be environmentally friendly--such as restricting parking to force people to not drive. & they haven't even done anything about all the red arrows that keep cars waiting at them when they could have easily turned 10x, all the while the car is emitting whatever cars emit. I'm all for positive steps toward being friendly to the environment--such as making recycling easy & having bike paths, but not taking coercive steps. I'm wondering if they city has a way for HOs to easily dispose of hazardous waste such as batteries without going to the dump? If they make it easy, more people will do it, if not, most or many will just toss them in the trash. I was disappointed when moving back to AV to find that my complex does not have recoiling bins like I was used to in MV. It bothers me to throw out stuff that could be recycled. Don't really know the political scene here but he sounds like he is taking a very sensible approach in his own biz & also for the city.
AVResident2 February 06, 2013 at 10:42 PM
Aliso Viejo has always been business-friendly. What’s wrong with being both a businessman and an environmentalist? AV has plenty of them; and one interest doesn’t negate the other.
Kathi February 06, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Well they certainly don't have to negate each other but there are very many instances in many places where they have. & in fact some of the AV Green initiative proposals seem to fall into that category such as cutting parking to apparently try to force people not to drive to shop. Not real practical for many of us who live sort of far say from Trader Joe's or Lowes or practically use other transportation even to get there, let alone cart a lot of stuff home. & not very business friendly unless they provided a practical alternate way to shop those businesses. So hopefully he can persuade fellow council members toward positive encouragement toward environmentally friendly actions rather than coercive ones.
Kathi February 06, 2013 at 10:56 PM
Another point on all the environmentalist proposals. Some of the things proposed to help 1 aspect of the environment can be bad for other areas. Such as wind farms that can harm birds. Or putting down artificial turf to save water, but then you have that plastic or whatever it is that does not process CO2 & may have other less than friendly effects. Or the MTBE for air quality that polluted our ground water. Wondering about electric vehicles when we have had shortages of electricity w more probable & of course batteries are hazardous waste. Would be nice if they took a more holistic look at proposals' net effects on the environment as well as business so they aren't saving electricity by creating more hazardous waste, etc. & use the least intrusive regulations to accomplish a goal.
Peter Schelden (Editor) February 07, 2013 at 12:28 AM
Hi commenters, I just wanted to thank you for making this productive conversation about your community happen. Whether you're for environmental regulations or against them, it's ultimately good for Aliso Viejo for you to hear one-another's points of view and discuss them civilly.
Kathleen K February 07, 2013 at 07:38 AM
I'm happy to see Mr. Chun stays true to his commitments. He campaigned as a pro-business candidate, dedicated to the community and education. True to form, he is bringing a new level of integrity to our city council. Hopefully, the rest of the council will follow his lead.
Kathi February 07, 2013 at 08:01 AM
Would nice if they could promote organic gardens in the local AV schools. I do remember reading about a proposed demonstration project that was a dream of a young cancer patient who lost her battle w cancer. Not sure the status on that, but sounded like a good demonstration project. Even in smaller housing it can be possible to have at least a small organic garden. I'm fortunate to have small patio yards where I'm growing organic kale & some other things. There is a special feeling to growing your own veggies that you can then enjoy. & some especially just taste so much better than most store bought ones--such as tomatoes. & that is 1 thing I will agree w Michelle Obama on--encouraging gardens for schools & neighborhoods to encourage healthy eating habits.
Annie February 08, 2013 at 01:03 AM
I could not agree with you more. It may seem unconventional to many who are unaware of the water usage and effects on the natural environment, but xeriscaping is a wonderful and cost-effective strategy for managing resources efficiently. The City of Tucson is a wonderful example of a city working within its *natural* surroundings instead of creating an artificial utopia. There are flowering native plants (NOT drought-resistant flora that receives incessant watering from the city) for every season; our city would be smart for using those instead of their current choice. I cannot blame Mr. Chun for not wanting to be labeled an "environmentalist" when many people take the ignorant positions Mr. Munzing repeatedly conveys. Caring about the environment today is the only way it is going to look somewhat similar in the future. Supporting fiscally-responsible green initiatives should not be an area of contention. Cities all over the state (let alone nation) have been doing this for decades; as far as I am concerned, Aliso is dropping the ball on showing up late to the party.
AlisoMomof4 February 08, 2013 at 05:44 AM
The Savannah's Organic Ranch group has put gardens in several Aliso Schools. I have seen Mr. Chun speak on their behalf and I belief he works with them to install the gardens. You can call him an environmentalist (and I agree that's a compliment), but I will call him an Idealist. He is working to better the community. Thank you Ross Chun!

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