The Community Environmental Council’s Green Gala and fundraiser held at the Santa Barbara Armory last month attracted a festive crowd of environmental activists and “green friendly” enthusiasts from within the community who support conservation efforts to live green and fossil free.

The mission of the CEC is to identify, advocate, raise awareness and develop effective programs to solve the most pressing environmental issues that affect the Santa Barbara region. For more than 40 years, the organization has been at the forefront of environmental sustainability, change and progression in the region. From promoting locally farmed organic foods, creating zero-net energy buildings and solar-powered homes and installing electric vehicle charging stations to implementing community-based recycling programs, the CEC is dedicated to reversing the degradation of Santa Barbara’s natural environment.

“The world we want is to harness power from the sun and the wind. This world embraces LED lights that will last your lifetime and green buildings that generate all the power they use and electric vehicles with no tailpipes, getting 100 miles per gallon,” said Eric Lohela, co-chair of the CEC Partnership Council. “The world we want doesn’t waste energy on stuff that gets used once and then thrown away.”

The organization’s primary focus is building a community-based movement that transitions the region off fossil fuels in one generation, with a goal of being “Fossil Free by 33” (2033).

Climate change and reliance on foreign oil coupled with the rising cost of energy and increasing heath problems stem from more than a century of fossil fuel usage, and CEC outreach programs raise community awareness to foster solar incentives that reduce energy use and global warming pollution.

The CEC’s “Solarize Santa Barbara” program has helped 57 homeowners install solar panels, and the organization is currently supporting four large-scale solar projects aimed at adding 800 megawatts of solar energy in Santa Barbra and San Luis Obispo counties.

Additionally, the CEC built 100-plus charging stations for electric vehicles this year with the Central Coast Plug-in Campaign and hosted three car shows to promote electric cars in Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Greeters at the Green Gala were adorned with face paint and dressed in green sequined costumes designed from repurposed materials, welcoming attendees who passed through the Armory’s doors into an environmental oasis created by Merryl Brown Events.

The spacious room was filled with LED lights, and a beautifully decorated long table filled with silent auction items divided the room from entryway to dance floor and lounges.

Partygoers mingled around the room, sat at tables with exotic floral centerpieces, or stopped by the Green Bar for complimentary cocktails and artisan beverages from Telegraph Brewing Company, Lieff Wines, Green Star Coffee and others.

Christopher Lloyd and Billy Baldwin bring the star power. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

Christopher Lloyd and Billy Baldwin bring the star power. Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

Dozens of Cirque du Soleil performers twirled fire batons, juggled and danced around the room with performers on stilts captivating the festive crowd.

CEC supporters and actors Billy Baldwin and Back to the Future star Christopher Lloyd brought a bit of additional star power to what was called the “Eco-Chic Party of the Year.”

“It’s so vital to find ways to protect the environment industrially and in our private lives,” Lloyd said. “This organization strives to make everybody more aware and conscious of finding ways to help save our planet, and it’s not a fantasy hoax. We need to join together, buckle down and get to work.”

Many guests adorned mostly in green attire surrounded an L-shaped stage positioned in the center of room that was decorated in moss, wood stumps and colorful flowers that also doubled as a buffet table featuring an array of tasty organic vegetarian dishes and flatbread pizzas and tapas courtesy of Full of Life Flatbread.

At a far side of the room, two large video screens projected informative graphics and nature-inspired themes, such as incredible mountain peaks, glorious sunsets, mystic valleys and enchanting ocean images.

Up above, perched on a platform overlooking the dance floor, stood DJ Derek Monteiro, who spun a pulsating mix of electric, pop and rap music tunes.

Hal Conklin, a former Santa Barbara mayor and founding member of the CEC who served as co-director for 10 years with partner Paul Relis, told Noozhawk that the organization was established in 1970, a year after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that devastated the coastline and wildlife.

“After the oil spill of 1969, we wanted to create positive programs that could be alternatives to the use of oil,” Conklin said. “So we started the first recycling program in Santa Barbara, which became the model of California for all the recycling that is done today. And in fact, we wrote the recycling laws of California in 1978.”

The CEC’s focus on education creates pilot projects and pioneers new ideas to spearhead the development of the city’s “Cultural District,” creating the first community garden in 1970 that became the city’s community garden program and implemented the “Plan for East Beach” to protect the waterfront from mass commercialization. This initiative resulted in the emergence of Chase Palm Park, the refurbishment of Stearns Wharf and the development of the former Red Lion Inn, now Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

A hush fell over the crowd as the buzz of the music pulsated down and the house lights dimmed for a brief evening program and live auction, and the room filled with hundreds of sparkling LED lights and hypnotic voices chanting “Bring Back the Light” and “Say Goodbye to Fossil Fuels,” flowing urgently over the beat of Samba drums.

Following this inspiring light presentation, an enthusiastic Lohela rushed to the stage and addressed the crowd of supporters.

“Tonight we invite you to shine your light and tell us how you are part of the solution,” Lohela said. “Do you drive clean, eat local, do you go solar? Do you conserve energy? Ditch plastic? The world we want exists today, right alongside that other scary version. And we are at a tipping point, deciding right now which one we’re going to live in. Now is the moment to choice another path.”

Lohela went on to list the CEC’s Earth-friendly innovations, including green solutions for waste disposal and promoting a clean energy economy.

The “Rethink and Drink” program at participating schools is designed to urge students to cut down on plastic water bottle usage and waste with the installation of 12 water refilling stations in nine schools. Promotions with the help of local bike advocates encouraged 1,500 people to ride their bikes to the 2012 CEC weekend Earth Day Festival held earlier this year.

“Sustainable energy is important to this community. It’s important for every community that we try to find energy resources that don’t derive from fossil fuels that includes coal, oil, and natural gas,” Lloyd said. “We somehow in the next decade have to get off of that because they all pollute.”

The CEC graciously thanks the many sponsors of this year’s successful Green Gala, the eco-chic party of the year, including the partial list below:

» Tree House Sustainers: Classic Party Rentals and Kind World Foundation

» Tree Dwelling Benefactors: Alma del Pueblo, Aurora and Rick Grimm, MarBorg Industries and Southern California Edison

» Eco-Chic Table Hosts: Adesso, Agility Capital, Allen Associates, Be Green Packaging, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, Christoff and Lemert, Cox Communications, Jean Schuyler,, MedBridge, Purnell, Carrie and Shawn Riley, Victoria Garden Mews and Wells Fargo Private Bank

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.