Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP)

The Next STEP Newsletter: History and Design

The Next STEP newsletter provides empowering information about how to avoid everyday toxics and choose healthier alternatives. It's your friendly guide to less-toxic, earth-healthy living!

Produced by citizen volunteers, this newsletter implements the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP), an innovative City program to reduce toxic use and exposure in Sebastopol, thus creating a healthier and safer town for everyone.

This newsletter is sent bi-monthly to all City residents in their water bills. It's also available online; see Recent Issues and Online Topic Index.

You can sign up to receive email alerts when new issues are posted. See our Email List Signup page. Read more about our project below and on our About STEP page. I hope you find this information interesting and useful!

About The Next STEP Project & Design
A Personal Note from Patricia Dines, Editor of The Next STEP newsletter • Printed in the May/June issue of The Next STEP

As most readers probably know, The Next STEP (TNS) newsletter is designed to offer you useful, high-quality, and inspiring information that helps you avoid our culture's increasingly-prevalent everyday toxics and choose healthier options instead. "It's your friendly guide to less-toxic living!"

You likely also know that TNS is produced by volunteers, as a service to our community; and that STEP stands for "Sebastopol Toxics Education Program."

However, there's more to this story -- because this newsletter is more than just a publication. I call it an "innovative City-community collaborative project." That's because our goal is deeper than just individual gain, but to help residents work together in creating a healthier and safer town.

The project's foundation is the City of Sebastopol's declaration in May 2000 that Sebastopol would be a Voluntary Toxics-Free Zone. In its resolution, the City committed to avoiding the use of toxic pesticides on City-owned property, including in parks and play areas, and to helping residents voluntarily reduce their use of toxics by various possible means. (See

The City Council said that it made this resolution "because we want to live in a safer environment and leave our children and their children a healthy world in which the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink." Isn't that a wonderful vision for a City to have?

Unfortunately, though, the City didn't have the funds or in-house knowledge to produce these public education projects. Thus it turned to the community and asked our help in making them a reality.

One of the projects discussed was a newsletter, and since toxics issues have been one of my specialties as a professional freelance writer, I was a natural choice for Editor. I chose to take on that responsibility, even though it's been a lot of work without pay (and I have bills like everyone else). But I loved that the City had this vision, and I was enthralled by the opportunity/challenge of working with the community in making such a shift for our shared well-being.

Thankfully, a few other folks stepped forward to help, and thus in 2001 The Next STEP was born. The City decided to put TNS in the water bills, to protect our shared water supply from toxics, and as a convenient way to reach most residents without any added postage cost.

In the 12 years since then, many other community members have stepped up to support this project in various ways, including writing articles and stuffing mailings. I've been grateful for everyone's participation, and enjoyed the chance to engage with other folks who care.

But it's also been our full responsibility to do everything needed to create this newsletter. Thus we do extensive research by reading a wide variety of sources; distill down what we assess ar the key facts and actions readers can take to protect themselves; write our findings in an accessible way, with citations; do the graphic design; and deliver a final newsletter to the City. The City then copies it in-house and distributes it to you.

Thus, the City benefits by having an innovative and successful project that serves the town and its vision, with very little cost or effort required from them. It's a win/win/win!

Over the years, the specifics of this newsletter have been collaboratively shaped by its stakeholders, including newsletter volunteers, City staff, the City Council, and readers.

For example, from the start we've done an annual reader survey to make it easy for readers to share their needs, which we then always seek to incorporate. So, in their replies, readers often ask us to describe clear tangible actions they can take to avoid toxics exposure, and thus we seek to consistently provide this "easy action" information.

Another choice you might've noticed that we made early on has been to serve you by discussing both individual and community-level actions you can take to protect yourself, your family, and our community. We do this because we observe that individual action and product choices, while important, aren't sufficient.

For instance, what can we do when products have toxics that aren't revealed on the label? Or someone else is using toxics that impact us? What if the government is considering requiring better labeling or controls, or potentially exposing us to added toxics? We take our mission seriously, and notice that sometimes protecting ourselves requires that we address the decisions that make hidden exposure possible.

The outcome of all our collaborative efforts is this newsletter. Ta-dah! We truly are delighted to hear that it's working for so many of you, and that you're making use of our information. And I remain grateful that the City and community have cared enough to maintain this wonderful goal and vision for our community.

I also hope that TNS helps you feel a little more empowered overall. I think it's exciting to know that we aren't powerless to external harm, and that we together can tangibly create a healthier, safer world.

You can find more specifics on all of this below.

To read The Next STEP newsletter, access our Online Topic Index, and signup to get TNS by email, see:

Signed, Patricia Dines
Editor and Lead Writer, The Next STEP
Freelance Writer Specializing in Environmental and Community Issues


1) The Next STEP newsletter was created based on the City's declaration in May 2000 that Sebastopol be a Voluntary Toxics-Free Zone. (For this resolution, see

The Sebastopol City Council made this resolution, it said in a letter in the first edition, "because we want to live in a safer environment and leave our children and their children a healthy world in which the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink."

In this resolution, the City of Sebastopol committed to avoid the use of toxic pesticides on City-owned property, including our parks and play areas. It said, "We did this because we believe that we should set an example and not ask our residents to do anything we ourselves are not willing to do."

The City also committed to educate and involve its citizens in this project, and described various ways they might do this. I think the only community education project that moved forward was the newsletter. It was decided to put it in the City's water bills, both to protect our shared water supply from toxics, and as a convenient way to reach most folks in town without incurring any added postage.

2) Unfortunately, the City didn't have the funds or toxics knowledge to produce such a newsletter. Thankfully, community members stepped up to create the content from start to finish, thus making this project possible.

3) I characterize this newsletter as a City-community partnership or collaborative project. Each edition of The Next STEP newsletter has an information box that says:

"The Next STEP (TNS) is published six times a year by the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP). STEP is a project of the City of Sebastopol, implemented by local citizen volunteers. STEP's mission is to support city residents in reducing their toxic use and exposure, creating a healthier and safer Sebastopol for everyone."

4) The editorial design of the newsletter has been shaped and co-created over the years in collaboration between all the stakeholders -- the volunteers who create the newsletter, the readers, the City staff, and the City Council. We always make it easy for people to share their needs, and look for ways to integrate them whenever possible. This design was also overtly affirmed as appropriate and appreciated by the City Council when we went before them to discuss our plans in 2009.

5) In our annual surveys, we get an approval rating between 85 and 90%. People value what we're doing. Even better, 60 to 70% of respondents say they've taken concrete action as a result of what they read in the newsletter, including reducing their personal use of toxics. That's always thrilling for me to see. (You can see the results of our latest survey at Also, I've been honored that twice the Sebastopol City Council has officially commended me for my work on this project and contributions to the City's well-being. This project is working!

6) I am grateful to the many folks have contributed to The Next STEP project over the years. This includes:
* The City staff, City Councilmembers, and community members who initiated this innovative protect to protect its citizens;
* The City staff and Councilmembers who have given it ongoing support over the years;
* The readers who have stepped forward to make use of this opportunity to improve our lives; and
* The community volunteers who have supported it in various ways, including writing articles, stuffing envelopes, and more.

7) I think this project is a wonderful example of a government body and the community working together to help citizens protect themselves, as well as their community, environment, and future. Isn't it great to know that we don't have to be passively afraid of everyday toxics in the world around us? And that we instead can take constructive action to protect ourselves and tangibly help create make a healthier, safer world? Wouldn't it be great if more cities did this with and for their citizens?

* For more positive feedback on this project, see STEP-Accolades.

* For a humorous version of this story, see

* If you want to get announcements when each STEP newsletter is put online, I invite you to sign up on my very low email list at You don't have to live in Sebastopol to receive these!

Also, I have an option there for you to sign up for a STEP priority action alerts list, so you be informed if there any future developments in this process or STEP in general.

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Page last updated 11-12-15