From left: SBCCOG Executive Director Jacki Bacharach presents “South Bay Sustainability in Action” Photo Contest Winners Jeffry McBurney and Starr Nagdev with their first place certificates at the 24th General Assembly on March 28, 2024. 

And the Winner(s) are…


Rudecinda Sepulveda Dodson Middle students enjoy radishes they planted and harvested in a sustainable garden at their school in Rancho Palos Verdes. Photograph by Jeff McBurney; Location: Rancho Palos Verdes

Last fall the South Bay Cities Council of Governments hosted a “South Bay Sustainability in Action” Photo Contest to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its South Bay Environmental Services Center program. Attendees of the 24th General Assembly were invited to select the finalists through an online vote. Among 10 finalists chosen, two tied for first place. The winners depict children in the South Bay learning about sustainability in their backyard  

First Place Co-Winner Jeff McBurney

Jeffrey McBurney is a horticultural teacher at Rudecinda Sepulveda Dodson Middle School in Rancho Palos Verdes. In his winning submission, titled “Middle School Students Making Incremental Change in Their Corner of South Bay Los Angeles,” he captures his students’ hands reaching for radishes they planted and harvested from seed.  

“I am excited to win because their hands are at the center of it…. And they [the students] come from a variety of cities all throughout the South Bay,” McBurney said. “The South Bay is a biodiverse place from the humans right down to the microbiome in the living soil. All kids in schools can be powerful drivers of change and this photo puts their work towards sustainability at the center.” 

He also ties the significance of hands back to the General Assembly’s theme of artificial intelligence. “AI really struggles to create images of human hands correctly. One way we can celebrate the importance and authenticity of human connection and interaction would be to capture more hands at work. Even the hands working to create AI that can serve as a powerful tool for us to use towards the improvement of sustainability, which includes improvements in human wellbeing,” he said.  

McBurney grew up in rural Northern LA County and attended University of California, Davis where he said he constantly considered changing his major to agriculture. In addition to his current teaching role, he now serves as a literacy coach and climate literacy advocate.  

In the photo, McBurney’s students had just completed the planting and harvesting project as part of their first unit in his class following an upgrade to the school’s garden space. His horticulture classes are now engaged in a unit about biodiversity and ecosystem health called “The Symbiotic Schoolyard,” that culminates those same hands pictured, planting more than 100 native plants around the garden’s border “giving a native plant hug to green space and supporting wildlife.” 

Referencing San Gabriel Valley’s Emerald Necklace Park System as a model, his sustainability hope is that the South Bay finds more ways to capture its rainwater in the future.  

First Place Co-Winner Starr Nagdev

Silver Spur Elementary School students collect waste from Malaga Cove storm drain and Malaga Beach on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and record findings to create a data profile. Photograph by Starr Nagdev; Location: Palos Verdes Peninsula

With the second winning photo, photographer Starr Nagdev, a 4th grade teacher at Silver Spur Elementary School in Rancho Palos Verdes, aimed to capture a collaborative local program inspiring blossoming scientists to enact change.  

The photo depicts Silver Spur students participating in a Community in Action project hosted by the Palos Verdes Unified School District (PVUSD) as part of the Blue Water Task Force. Students of the project helped collect trash found at the Malaga Cove storm drain, to prevent it from landing in the ocean.  

The Blue Water Task Force, supported by the Surfrider Foundation and West Basin Municipal Water District, gives students the opportunity to make “hands-on change.” Students enter data from their collection efforts into the Surfrider portal to ultimately support city-wide solutions for diverting waste from the ocean.  

Nagdev’s hope is that the photo’s success helps get the message out that “kids are interested in being part of this change and community partners are here to help.”  

Nagdev grew up in El Segundo riding her bike across town and spending long summer days at the beach.  

“The beauty at our fingertips makes me want to fight to ensure that all children have this access and opportunity to be out in nature,” she said.  

After studying urban programming and planning in college, Nagdev went into the non-profit sector. Years later, she found a love for teaching and the sciences allowed her to bring hands-on learning to young elementary students.  

“The more I learned, along with my students, I realized that more could be done to address green technologies and promote green activities within the schools,” she said. “My students were really my catalyst in driving the desire to create both learning opportunities and cultivate a shared passion of being outdoors.” 

Nagdev chairs the PVPUSD Sustainability Committee, which she credits with giving her the understanding that environmental literacy and efficiency must be developed through sustainability systems. This includes adopting green practices in custodial work, within supply ordering, and a general sustainable culture shift.  

“We will be creating students and future adults who naturally think about sustainable practices—intuitively growing humans who will naturally act in a way which will contribute to the greater good of our community and society as a whole,” she said. “What an incredibly powerful image does that create and how could I not want to be a part of that? This is what sustainability looks like to me and hopefully will serve as my contribution to my community. This is the way forward.” 


Here are the additional eight finalists in no particular order.


Children Who Helped Clean Up the School Garden at Madison Elementary School in Redondo Beach Pose with Their Harvest – Submitted by Cindy Carcamo; Location: Redondo Beach


Collecting Water in a 50-Gallon Rain Barrel During Hurricane Hilary – Submitted by Birute Prasauskas; Location: Lomita


Home Native Garden in Redondo Beach – Submitted by Carl Leach; Location: Redondo Beach


Cleaning Up the Hermosa Beach Greenbelt – Submitted by Jacob Varviragos; Location: Hermosa Beach


Palos Verdes Peninsula Student Completing a Waste Characterization Project on the Coastline in Partnership with the Surfrider Foundation, Sponsored by West Basin Municipal Water District – Submitted by Starr Nagdev; Location: Palos Verdes Peninsula


Palos Verdes Peninsula Student Completing a Waste Characterization Project on the Coastline in Partnership with the Surfrider Foundation, Sponsored by West Basin Municipal Water District – Submitted by Starr Nagdev; Location: Palos Verdes Peninsula


Cleaning Up the Ocean from Kayaks and SUPs in Redondo Marina, Sponsored By Waterfront Education Discovery Leaders Program – Submitted by Valerie Neri Munoz; Location: Redondo Beach


Nature Walk at Wilderness Park in Redondo Beach – Submitted by Jacob Varviragos; Location: Redondo Beach