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NOTES from the California VERDE XCHANGE

City sustainable plan

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During the summer of '07, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti took the City Council on its first retreat in history, where they spent a day-and-a-half in San Pedro looking at the next two years. One of things that came out of that retreat was the desire to be proactive and have some in-depth conversations about a legislative agenda to improve this city.

They identified five areas to address:

  • housing and homelessness
  • traffic and transportation
  • public safety
  • infrastructure
  • the environment
They started with the environment and started the process of writing the city’s sustainable city plan— a "greenprint" for measuring success in making Los Angeles the most sustainable city and growing the economy in an environmentally sensitive way. Over 80 motions and over 100 suggestions were made, building on the weaving together of our existing environmental policy.

The good news is that Los Angeles—except for our use of public transit—is already, by almost all measures, the greenest big city in America. This is based on solutions already implemented, such as our clean fuel fleet of vehicles, the amount of renewable energy that we’re producing, and our recycling measures.

  • Los Angeles recycles 62 percent of all of the waste in Los Angeles, and we’ll probably be at 70 percent within the next three years.
  • LA has greatly reduce air pollution, but because of our car dependency and our terrain, we still have the worst air in America.
  • LA has laid down one of the largest public transit systems in the country, including our rail, but we’re such a huge city that it’s still wholly inadequate for our needs.
  • LA has been measuring our carbon output for close to a decade in the city.
  • The Port of L.A. is the first port in America to have a plug-in tower for ships, converting the entire fleet to plug-in for electrical power

The next five goals for the city’s environmental agenda

Los Angeles owns major properties that affect environmental conditions: it has the biggest port in America, one of the largest airports in America, and the largest municipal utility in America. Much of the work to be done includes the impact of these properties. The five top goals include:
  • ONE: coordinating environmental policy and helping to change the way city departments, including our proprietaries, do business internally and externally.
  • TWO: write a sustainable city plan that will hold us accountable to specific, numerical, and measurable goals
  • THREE: systematically implement clean water throughout our city. We should build our parks with soil that refilters water into our natural aquifers. We need to continue our momentum along the Los Angeles River,
  • FOUR: continue regional work to clean our air. The biggest impact we will have is at the port, and moving all those idling ships off of dirty bunker diesel to clean electricity and finally getting something passed for the trucks to clean themselves up and to help those small truck owners convert their vehicles or buy new ones.
  • FIVE: meet the goal of a park within walking distance of every person in Los Angeles
  • SIX: we have to continue the momentum we’ve made in changing how we deal with waste.

We have the most innovative food-recycling program in the country.

We just added apartments to our bulky item pickups and our recycling.

We need to look at ways to get a zero-waste city, and I’m glad that we’ll have had, by the time you print this, a conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center dealing with how we get to a zero-waste city.

LAX airport cleans the air and reduced its carbon footprint while it renovates its facilities

We have to modernize an airport that has become an embarrassment to travelers and a less-than-optimal environmental actor in the city. First and foremost, we have to be ready for the next generation of planes

There are no existing measurements by which an airport can be considered green, so we’re writing the books ourselves.

I give a lot of credit to LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey and the Airport Commission for adding recycling throughout the airport and for looking at the most environmentally sensitive ways to build.

Airports and air traffic are widely cited as one of the largest and fastest-growing sources of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Board of Airport Commissioners has adopted a sustainability program that is comprehensive not only regarding how LAWA operates, but also how they develop. On the development side of things, everything built will have a LEED certification where applicable.

Tom Bradley International Terminal's upgraded design standards will possibly be the first LEED-certified terminal renovation program in the world.

People involved in airport management weren’t brought up and trained in environmental sciences, yet the climate change and emissions reductions movement has begun to dominate the public environment. Somebody said that the key attribute of the 21st century is that everybody will be learning throughout their lives. That is certainly a requirement for airport directors these days because, you’re right, the whole idea of environmental sensitivity and green values was not something that was a formal part of the traditional professional-life education. We bring folks that are passionate about creating a sustainability program and are able to drive the values and principles of sustainability throughout the organization, incorporating them into everything we do.

Making regional airports a more viable part of the air travel

Ontario and Palmdale regional airports are alternatives to LAX. The surface transportation network that brings passengers from the population base to these airports is absolutely critical.

People who live close to these airports need to make it a major objective to fly out of these airports, or else we will lose the service.

There is no mass transit into any of LAWA’s airports (i.e., the Green Line and mass transit lines don’t reach the LAX). In this day and age, it would be ridiculous for us to not have a mass transit node that feeds into LAX. I say that with some chagrin because LAX is the only major airport I know of that doesn’t have direct freeway access.

The future will absolutely require looking at an airport as an intermodal transportation mode. We need a mass transit connection somewhere close to the central terminal area at LAX. Part of our long-term development plan is to provide an automated people mover from someplace east of the central terminal right now, which would also logically be a transit stop. Combining a transit stop with the automated people mover provides a convenient transfer so that folks never have to use their automobiles and can still get directly to their terminals.

"Do Real Planning" document

The goal is to become a magnet for green innovators around the country and around the world.

We have started the Apollo Alliance to train a workforce that will be ready in the green building and clean energy sectors in some of the most job-deficient areas in Los Angeles.

We have re-upped our commitment to a solar program that will be second-to-none in the country, distributing power throughout the city of Los Angeles and continuing to bring the solar industry here.

Statewide investment of public monies

How might CalPERS and CalSTERS and the other large global pension funds provide better incentives for bringing new clean and green technology innovation into the marketplace? Do they have a role in addressing climate change?

What Green Wave, Phil Angelides, and CalPERS spearheaded in California has had tremendous ripple effect and tremendous direct effect. That’s a modest amount of capital, so how do we shift from this being seen as a boutique niche opportunity where you can get great return, 30-40 percent, to being the standard for business—where every investment should consider sustainability as one of the key filters, along with IRR?

Maintaining a strong society requires keeping those pension funds healthy and strong. It requires balance, but that’s sustainability: the balance of the economy, the environment, and the community.

December 10, the same date that Al Gore receives the Nobel Peace Prize, of the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Los Angeles, and of the U.N. conference that will take place in Bali. How significant is December to the world’s effort to curb carbon emissions?

A great company started recently called Nau, which is taking it a notch up from what Patagonia has done. They’ve also added a greater sense of style than Patagonia, and they’re starting with a commitment of five percent gross revenues going to charities. That’s really shifting the sense of shareholder value to one of public good. How are you going to have an economy that achieves any reasonable rate of growth if we destroy the place from which we get our natural resources and make it uninhabitable for humans?

California is really the place of so much innovation. It continues to be true today and will continue to be so in the future.

Water for Southern California

We are very fortunate in Southern California to have some great groundwater basins. San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel, and Orange County all have very productive groundwater basins. However, through the years of industrial manufacturing throughout Southern California, we’ve lost a lot of production from our basins due to pollution. We are in the process of cleaning that up. Funding is needed to advance cleanup and make it happen faster so we can rely on the basins even more. We’ve made great investments in our ability to retrieve water from the basins, clean it up, and move it into our drinking supply. But to really use the basins productively requires us to have some imported supply to bring in and recharge the basins.

Our board subsidizes local reclamation and recycling projects up to $250 per acre-foot to make these projects economically competitive and to help bring them on line quickly. We’re not going to be developing any million-acrefoot projects of new supply anymore. Instead, you’re going to see a lot of little pocket plants where we recycle and reclaim water to use for irrigation.

These small, 5,000-acre-foot projects will be scattered throughout Southern California. It’s really the future of our water supply.

In a state where 80 percent of the developed water supply is consumed by agriculture, why haven’t we developed markets to efficiently move water from one place to another?

I think part of the reason is that it simply wasn’t necessary. By and large, people look at California as being a relatively arid state, but that’s not really accurate. Pockets of it, and where the people are, tend to be arid. We’ve invested in tremendous systems to move water.

Development of Water Markets and High End Agri Crops

So, the push toward markets has been somewhat slow and stagnant because the need hasn’t really arisen yet. I think as you see the water supply tighten up, and we’re seeing it tighten up now, you will see markets develop, and it’s just a function of what’s needed for the time.

One of the things that you have to watch in the trends is that 80 percent of developed water is used by agriculture. A decade ago, most of that agriculture was row and seasonal crops. You’re seeing that shrink as agriculture shifts toward high-end crops in California. We’ve shifted to nuts, stone fruits, and grapes, particularly grapes. These are very valuable investments, and farmers have the ability and the need to pay more for water to protect that investment. So the trend in water markets will cut several ways.

Over the last five years, we’ve been engulfed in a drought here in Southern California, without really any impacts. We’re only now starting to get a little concerned, based on the judge’s order. So, it’s worked well, I believe, in Southern California, but by and large, it’s because you had a regional agency like Metropolitan. Most of California doesn’t have the same regional approach, so there is a more mixed record as you look around at the rest of the state. A more centralized planning resource at the Department of Water Resources would definitely help, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards.

The Delta is the number one issue facing California right now.

The Delta is the hub of our water system in California. Two out of every three Californians receive water that moves through the Delta. All our Central Valley farmland relies on water that moves through the Delta. Currently, we have a broken system.

California desperately needs a conveyance fix, whether that’s a canal or armoring the system inside the Delta. If we don’t solve this issue, Southern California is going to be looking at rationing sporadically through the upcoming decade, and we won’t be able to plan our water supply. We’ll be the victim of what local weather brings and what a judge decides.

How has the civic and business leadership allied with MWD to solve the water challenges for Southern California?

My experience has been that developers and the chambers have been very concerned and have worked very closely with us, so I think that has been very positive. What I think has, unfortunately, derailed the ability to solve the Delta issue, has been the partisan debate over surface storage. It’s been unfortunate because, for some peculiar reason, surface storage has become Republican and groundwater storage has become Democrat. These are all just tools—they’re good tools when you mix them both. We’ve built surface storage in Southern California and we do groundwater storage. They complement each other.

Cap and Trade vs. Carbon Tax

Cap and trade policy to reduce carbon emissions, rather than a carbon tax--the preferred method of former Vice President Al Gore.

The Race is On...Who will be "the greenest city in America"?

800 mayors across America had adopted Kyoto in light of the federal administration's failure to enact any meaningful climate change legislation.

State Controller Chiang shone the spotlight on the entire world as a whole. He expounded on the need for global leadership and an economic partnership with China, specifically.

BLOGS on Xchange:

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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