Optimism Trumps Reality: Gold Lauds LA City’s Sustainability Plan

Mark Gold

Mark Gold: Major props to Mayor Garcetti, Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Petersen, and the whole city family for their first ever Sustainable City pLAn. The administration was generous enough to let me work with them from the beginning of this 18 month endeavor and I came away impressed with the comprehensive content, the goals and metrics, and the universal buy-in from city departmental leadership. Remember, through the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, I'm the lead author on LA County's first-ever environmental report card. We just gave the entire region a combined C+ on their air, water, ecosystem health, solid waste, energy and greenhouse-gas emissions, and environmental quality of life. Despite our tough grading, I'm optimistic that implementation of the city's ambitious and comprehensive plan could move them to the honor roll in the next decade or two.

There are numerous highlights in the plan that stand out to me as transformative. In the water world, the commitment to reduce imported water to only 50 percent of supply by 2035 is an enormous deal. Last year, nearly 90 percent of our water was imported from more than 200 miles away. Local water self-sufficiency enables us to live within our means and also provides tremendous resiliency in case of an earthquake—a major priority for the mayor. Also, I'm partial to the stormwater goal of raising the GPA on the Beach Report Card to 4.0 for dry weather and 3.5 for wet weather by 2035. A great deal of fecal indicator bacteria source identification and abatement, as well as stormwater infiltration, will have to occur to make the grades.

The greenhouse-gas emission targets may be even more transformative. 60 percent reduction in emissions from the 1990 baseline emissions by 2035 and 80 percent reduction by 2050 are goals that could transform the energy mix in the city. The city currently gets 42 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants. Former Mayor Villaraigosa made the commitment for LA to be coal free by 2025 and this will greatly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. However, what will be the energy mix that replaces the coal? Gas fired power plants or renewables? The ambitious greenhouse-gas targets, in conjunction with Governor Brown's 50 percent renewables by 2030 target (that hopefully Senate Pro-Tem de León will shepherd through to become law this summer), will lead to a very different LA energy future. The energy conservation goal of 30 percent for all buildings by 2035 also is an enormous game-changer.

Another ambitious goal is changing our mobility. Currently, only 26 percent of our daily trips are through walking, bicycling, or transit. By 2035, the Garcetti administration is shooting for a goal of 50 percent car-free trips. Of course, that only can occur with greater expansion of our improving mass transit (support Son of Measure R in 2016!), more bike lanes, and more walkable streets. Maybe most importantly, the youth shall lead in breaking our addiction to car trips. The mayor's focus on expanding affordable housing near transportation hubs also will help in this regard.

Another big goal is zero waste by 2025. That's just around the corner. The Bureau of Sanitation has been moving quickly toward zero waste for a few years now. I hope that the new solid waste franchise program for collection and hauling will give better data on waste diversion and the effectiveness of the city's recycling programs. Although the city has been a leader in exceeding CalRecycle diversion targets, the actual data on the recycling programs has been lacking. For example, UCLA couldn't find the mass of paper recycled for any of the 88 cities in LA County.

The final goals that I'll highlight are in the areas of social equity. The Garcetti administration embraced the fact that we have severe environmental health inequities in various communities in LA including Wilmington, Watts, Boyle Heights and Pacoima. That admission was bold in its own right. They embraced the “Clean Up Green Up” efforts to eliminate these inequities. Also, they set the stretch goal of zero unhealthy days for air quality by 2025. One goal that takes on the environmental health inequity directly is to reduce the number of childhood asthma related emergency room visits to 8 per 1,000 by 2035. Currently, some neighborhoods south-east of downtown have rates of over 30 emergency room visits per 1,000 children: completely unacceptable and far above the city-wide rate of 9 per 1,000.

There's something for everyone in the pLAn. It is a comprehensive blueprint for LA's sustainability and it is tailored to our city. Sustainability in LA is a lot different than sustainability in Copenhagen or Sydney, and the pLAn embraces those differences and the city's diversity. Also, the goals and metrics will prove to be excellent tools to assess the sustainability progress of individual city departments and the city as a whole. UCLA has embarked on the Grand Challenge of working with the region to get to 100 percent local water, 100 percent renewable energy, and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050. Mayor Garcetti's pLAn puts the region on the right track for us all to thrive in a denser, hotter LA.

An excerpt from the Sustainable City pLAn:

We love LA. To ensure our bright future, we must protect what makes our city great: our incredible natural environment, our diverse economy, and the people that make our city thrive.

Los Angeles is facing a “new normal” of challenges to our environment, economy, and equity, and we have responded by:

• Developing strategies to address current and future climate change impacts on our neighborhoods, including persistent drought, extreme weather events, and increasing extreme heat days;

• Preparing our city to be more resilient in the face of the “Big One,” doing all we can to protect our residents and our economic lifeblood; and

• Delivering back-to-basics results that improve the quality of life for all Angelenos by breaking through barriers, creating new tools, and connecting the dots.

Future challenges loom. We will either do our share and come together with other Mayors to avoid the catastrophic impacts of global climate change—or continue making the planet hotter.

We will either ensure all our residents can find safe, attractive and affordable housing with many options for moving around our vast region—or we will forever be playing catch-up in our efforts to create a truly livable city for all.

The good news: Los Angeles is a leader in many sustainability areas. LA has the most solar power of any city in the nation. Our region has the most technology jobs in California, and LA is on track to add more green jobs than any other city in the US. We are working to clean up and green up our most polluted and underserved neighborhoods. Through our region’s transportation investments, we have embarked on the largest public works program in US.

Immediately and over next 20 years, the pLAn sets a course to guide the policies and changes we must make to sustain the City we all love.

Now the real work of implementation of the pLAn begins. In the months and years ahead, we will continue to roll out policies, detail initiatives, and accomplish outcomes in the pLAn. Each year we do an annual report, and make adjustments to the pLAn—along with a major update every four years—based on what we learn, what’s working, and how our elected leaders shape our laws.

It is also important to note that Los Angeles will continue to lead on climate change by working regionally, nationally, and globally. This includes the work through C40, as well as the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda Mayor Garcetti created with other Mayors. Whether it is mitigation, resilience, or adaptation, climate action must cut across everything we do.