Before you write off Santa Monica as a surf camp for liberals, lend an ear to the city’s assistant director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, Shannon Parry. “People always say, ‘Of course you can do that. You’re Santa Monica.’ One of the things we always say is, ‘Santa Monica hasn’t always been Santa Monica,’” she says. “This was Dogtown. This was dilapidated piers, burnt-out buildings, and skate rats.”

The city, surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles, still has its share of regional problems — air quality, traffic, homelessness — but its Dogtown days are long over. Cleaning up the beaches increased tourism, a major contributor to the local economy. And the city, population 89,000, is now home to the corporate headquarters of big players like Lionsgate Films and Universal Music Group. “Fortunate People in a Fortunate Land” indeed.

Parry says Santa Monica’s active and engaged community deserves the credit for where the city is today. Residents show up at city council meetings and events and vote in droves. In the last off-cycle election, the city had 65 percent voter turnout. “The things we think of Santa Monica being now are really things this community has said are important and makes happen,” Parry says. And for nearly 20 years, Santa Monicans have made a concerted effort to green their city.

Shannon Parry.

Parry’s own story is full of fortune, too. While working as a mountain guide, the velcro peeled off her Patagonia bag. When she returned it, she got to talking with the Patagonia salesperson about how she desperately wanted to get a job in sustainability but didn’t know where to start. The employee gave her a tip about a job with a Santa Monica nonprofit. One job led to another, and a few years later, she got to tell her tale to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard at Santa Monica’s Sustainable Quality Awards. She thanked him for launching her career with a faulty product.

In this fifth installment in our Knope and change series, I talked to Parry about Santa Monica’s bike valet program, Keanu Reeves, and what a ferris wheel can teach us about solar power.