Spring, 2013
Bill Monning ’69

Bill Monning ’69

Sustainability is good
for the planet and good
for the people

Senator Bill Monning ’69 says he originally ran for State Assembly in 2008 “as part of my mid-life crisis.” His two daughters were grown, and his wife, a family practice physician, was working long hours herself. But anybody following his career could have predicted that Monning would turn to full-time public service.

Monning is a two-time Fulbright scholar who has worked around the globe. He had a general law practice, worked with farm workers and human rights organizations, and was the executive director of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He also taught and practiced international trade negotiation, conflict resolution, and mediation. Public service and social justice have been constants throughout his career.

Monning lives in Carmel, and his district spans from San Luis Obispo through Monterey, Santa Cruz, and southern Santa Clara counties, an area roughly the size of Connecticut. He balances the needs of nearly 950,000 diverse constituents, from farmers to fishery workers. In his district, as well as in Sacramento, he draws on his experience as a mediator to create legislation that addresses two areas he sees as vital and intertwined: sustainability and public health.

“I think of keeping our environment pristine as a public health issue,” says Monning, who chairs a sub-committee on health and human services. “California has unparalleled natural resources. Our geographic and biological diversity are as rich as our human resources. We have one of the most varied populations on the planet, famous for innovation and our pioneering spirit.

“You cannot tease out one element of the natural world that is paramount. You might say water, but after a bit of reflection, you see that everything in the natural world is intertwined. The same thing is true of our human resources. Good health, good education, good jobs all relate to one another. A healthy population learns better, works better—the more they learn, the more they are likely to be healthy. So when I think of our state’s most precious resource, people come to mind, and people need a healthy environment, in every measure.”

At Prep, Monning was Commissioner of Academics and Athlete of the Year; his activities ranged from football to Math Club. He says his more formative experience, though, was participating in the Coro Program, which brought together high school students from all over Los Angeles during a time of seething, exciting cultural ferment.

“We engaged in candid dialogue with contemporaries growing up in East LA and Watts,” he says. “I gained insight into the social and economic diversity in our society and the determinant of race as it impacted economic and educational opportunities.”

Bill Monning ’69

Monning says he treasures his Flintridge mentors, “from middle school teachers Ma’am Campbell and Ma’am Calloway to coaches Wood, Bradbury, and Smallwood, to high school faculty members Cavanagh, Plumb, Neupauer, Fasken, Poland, Smith, Jardine, Acosta, and DiazGranados.”

Monning’s father was a Caltech-trained engineer who worked for LA’s Building and Safety Department. Each year he got gifts from developers and contractors, and each year Mr. Monning sent them back with letters explaining why he couldn’t accept them. “I learned about integrity and service from him.”

When Monning was just 15, his father died. “The ‘Flintridge Family’ sustained me,” he says. “They helped me, all the way to graduation and Berkeley. I trace all my opportunities to my education.”

Monning was elected to the State Senate last year, after serving as an assemblyman from 2008-2012. He was a member of the Coastal Conservancy during his tenure in the Assembly and now serves on the Senate Committee on Natural

Resources and Water; his district includes 200 miles of coastline. As an assemblyman, Monning passed a law that helped establish labeling standards for sustainable seafood. He worked to create a coastal trail in Big Sur and helped to establish the California Health Benefits Exchange. Now, as he begins his term as a senator with budget negotiations, he keeps his eye on sustainability and public health.

Bill Monning ’69

In the 1969 LOG, Monning’s Flintridge peers named him “Most Optimistic.” He says he has moments of darkness and pessimism, but he remains “a strong believer in the power of people to make a difference through principled dialogue and concerted action. I have found that a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook can be contagious and represent a more healthful approach to life.

“We are given, in news headlines, every reason to lose faith in human kind,” he says. “Our media does not always report the good deeds of people. But when I am out in my district, my faith in the human condition, and the sustainability of the human condition, is restored with surprising frequency.”

— Mel Malmberg