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