TORRANCE, CALIF., April 23, 2024The South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) has selected two Rancho Palos Verdes teachers as winners of its 2023/2024 “South Bay Sustainability in Action” Photo Contest. The winners tied for first place among 10 finalists chosen through an online vote of attendees of the SBCCOG’s annual General Assembly event. The March event serves as an opportunity for the region’s thought leaders to gather, share ideas and discuss important issues to the South Bay subregion. The winning images depict South Bay children learning about sustainability in their “South Bay” backyard.  

Last fall, the SBCCOG launched a photo contest to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its South Bay Environmental Services Center (SBESC) program. The SBESC operates with its partners Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, SoCalGas, Southern California Regional Energy Network, Water Replenishment District and West Basin Municipal Water District to provide energy efficiency, water conservation, shared mobility options (e.g., van pool and carpool), telecommute and travel information, and recycling resources to cities, school districts, businesses and residents.  

First Place Co-Winner Jeff McBurney 

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

Winner 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 ties the significance of hands back to this year’s General Assembly theme which addressed the impact of artificial intelligence on the South Bay subregion. “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,” he said. 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.”   

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 teaching role, he 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 (PVPUSD) 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, overseen by the Surfrider Foundation and funded by West Basin Municipal Water District, gives students the opportunity to make “hands-on change.” Students enter data collected 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 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.” 

The contest launched October 12, 2023, on Finalists were selected by the SBCCOG based on their demonstration of sustainable action in their community and being a good steward to the South Bay. The winners and finalists can be viewed at 


The South Bay Cities Council of Governments (SBCCOG) is a joint powers government agency of 16 cities and the County of Los Angeles which share the goal of maximizing the quality of life and productivity of the subregion. Within this structure, cities and Los Angeles County maintain the qualities and characteristics that make them unique and independent, while also coming together collectively to address issues of common interest for a greater good of the communities through partnership, persuasion, performance and advocacy. For more information about the SBCCOG visit