Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

As Cancun ends: how LA's done with its carbon policies in the last year

I've been interested in LA's advances locally in efforts to reduce carbon - and I've been using Cancun as an excuse to look at how far and how fast this issue has moved in the last year, since the UN talked in Copenhagen. Finally, then, here's a wrap up for this year.

In 2007, the city started in on Green LA - which the mayor's website says "sets Los Angeles on a course to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, going beyond the targets of the Kyoto Protocol and representing the most ambitious goal of any large US city."

LA's CARBON CALCULUS: OVERVIEW

The cornerstone of the city's climate policy is work directed at cutting carbon. LA is improving the city's energy mix to reduce the creation of carbon and other greenhouse gases. As his second term began in 2009, Villaraigosa set  two new goals:

o Los Angeles will be a coal-free City in 2020.  As nation’s largest municipally owned utility, LADWP will deliver 40% renewable power, with the remainder coming from natural gas, nuclear, and large hydroelectric.
o Wider use of solar, wind, and geothermal technology will reduce LADWP’s carbon-emissions by up to 60% from 1990 levels.

ENERGY MIX: A MIXED BAG

Coal goals are very much at the front of envrionmental debates. At the recent CicLAVia, anti-coal activists were pleased to put LA City Council President Eric Garcetti on the spot:

“[Council President Garcetti], we are gathered here to get LA off coal and I would like to put out a challenge- that we are going to get the city off coal, invest in our local economy and clean up our electricity supply,” Corcoran said to Garcetti during the rally.

“We can and we will,” the Council President responded.

Getting the city off coal is still seemingly a priority. Mayor V SAID it was last summer, in his second inaugural. (After which I asked David Nahai a few times: are you serious? are you sure? And to which he responded, yes.) But there's new controversy about when that will happen, created within the DWP itself. In a recent LA Times article, David Zahniser asked Beutner about the utility's energy mix.

Beutner, who has been running the DWP on a temporary basis since April, has questioned the 40% goal, the brainchild of his predecessor, S. David Freeman. In an interview, he also said Villaraigosa's previous target of 35% had no science or "economic means testing" behind it.

You can see forward motion, to a certain extent, in the DWP's Integrated Resources Plan. But you can also see in that plan the scars of the ECAF fight back in spring - less money's been raised from ECAF. So basically, you can see the limits in that work in the political fights that have taken over the DWP's headlines.  From the same article:

Villaraigosa set the 40% renewable target during his second-term inaugural address, part of his bid to make Los Angeles "the greenest big city in America." But Beutner has dismissed that figure as "arbitrary," and the DWP, faced with resistance to the higher electricity rates needed to obtain cleaner power, is looking to scale back the target, according to a draft plan being circulated by the utility.

The proposed 20-year plan calls for the DWP to reach a 33% renewable energy target by 2020, putting it in line with state regulations. That move would cut costs to the utility's residential and business customers by up to $2.4 billion over 20 years.

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said that plan does not stray at all from Villaraigosa's inaugural vision. The utility always planned to get to 40% in part by using more renewable power sources and partly by making its customers more energy efficient, he said.

CARBON & CLEAN AIR: well, LA caught a break here in the last year...in the sense that a court sided with environmental groups including the NRDC and the City of LA:

From October 2008 through May 2009, the Clean Trucks Program replaced 4,500 dirty diesel trucks with new or retrofitted trucks that emit far less pollution.  During the second half of 2009, most of the remaining fleet will also be replaced, resulting in dramatically lower air pollution levels in the harbor area and neighborhoods along the freeways that serve the ports.
LA's also trying to move along clean tech: the specific or near term impacts for climate change aren't necessarily clear.

PLANNING: "Without a plan, there's no attack. Without attack, no victory." Acky, One Crazy Summer

LA's plans for the kind of city that spends less carbon are...uh, in progress.. Garcetti's district provids one recent example, cited by the LAT's architecture critic: 

Take a recent flap over proposed town houses in Echo Park — and City Council President Eric Garcetti's reaction to it. Garcetti is knowledgeable and thoughtful on issues related to density, growth, transit and park space. But like any L.A. public official, he remains vulnerable to the prevailing political winds, which often blow strongly against the idea of a denser city. Earlier this month, his office announced that it would not support construction of the controversial eight-unit project, which would be in Garcetti's district.

The project, made possible by the city's 6-year-old small-lot housing subdivision ordinance, would build eight town houses, each about 19 feet wide and 45 feet high. Critics in the neighborhood called that level of density unreasonable, and Garcetti agreed — a sign that L.A. to a large degree still sees itself as a single-family metropolis, a place where even three-story town houses can seem as threatening as skyscrapers.

More and more, I am convinced that the gap between those who welcome additional density and crave mass transit and those who are on guard against such change is widening, and indeed will come to define the political landscape in Los Angeles for the next decade or two. To a certain extent, CicLAvia and events like it have a role to play in helping bridge that gap, mostly because they provide a way to see the cityscape with fresh eyes and at unusually close range.

GREEN BUILDING: under construction

According to the city's own materials, green building efforts have put LA "on course to cut carbon emissions by more than 80,000 tons by 2012, the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road – surpassing any other major city in the country."

Two years ago, LA passed an ambitious green building law. The plan creates a series of requirements and incentives for developers to meet the US Green Building Council’s Energy and Design (LEED) standards – the country's strictest environmental building standards.

The law will require new commercial buildings and high-rise residential structures over 50,000 square feet to meet LEED standards, including drought-resistant landscaping, use of recycled materials, and energy efficient heating, cooling, and lighting. This makes LA the latest of 14 US cities that have required private developers to meet greener building practices.

But now the state's green building plan takes effect in January. So - familiar refrain - between that and the slow long tail upward from the financial apocalypse, it'll again be some years yet before we know how successful this is.

And as for LED LIGHTS: Not new. Still warming up though.

Bottom line: If you're counting up LA's accomplishments, maybe don't punish the city of LA for being on top of it. The city's way ahead on some things - it's fun to point out to San Franciscans, for example, that LA developed a green building ordinance first. But - if you've been watching LA's climate and energy efforts - is there anything you expected this year that you didn't get?

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