It’s not every day that a mayor’s debate explicitly focuses on environment issues, and that’s why I wanted to pay attention to the one held Saturday night, even if it meant A Martinez got to make fun of me on Take Two.
I was spending a lot of time at City Hall and LADWP press conferences a few years back, after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa set the goal at his second inaugural to get L.A. off of coal entirely by 2020, after the proposed carbon tax that never really got off the ground, after Measure B. Less so now, but I thought it would be good to check in.
First, let’s give Los Angeles the credit it’s due. It’s a major megalopolis that is moving its utility’s energy from coal to renewables. The ports are trying to green up, and while an entire class of guys has been put out of business there, and fewer trucks serve the port, the trucks that do work the harbor are cleaner. L.A.’s replacing its street lights with LEDs, a mundane but valuable efficiency. All of it is significant, because changing environmental policies in the city is like turning a major ship on roiling seas.
All that said, in a debate like this, with the major candidates including 2 sitting city councilmen and the city controller, we heard that what success L.A. has achieved has many parents. District 13 councilman Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel and District 9 Councilwoman Jan Perry all took some credit for pushing the Department of Water and Power toward renewable energy and holding the DWP's feet to the fire. Greuel and Perry claimed credit for park space. Garcetti and Perry claimed credit (and in Garcetti’s case, gave some away) on cleaning up stormwater generally and the L.A. River's trash specifically.
Speaking of the river, it's Garcetti's favorite place in the city. Greuel and former U.S. attorney Kevin James share Griffith Park's hilly vistas. Perry used the question to call attention to a reclaimed bus yard that became the Augustus F. Hawkins Wetlands Park, one of two such parks in her district. "My favorite place to visit is Slauson and Compton on a Sunday afternoon at 4 o’clock when the sun is going down and the birds are coming in and the kids are playing and the turtles are swimming and the children are delighted because they’re seeing things they never have seen before in their own community," said Perry.
Garcetti used the debate to introduce a plan to create 20,000 jobs in Los Angeles: "Good jobs, green jobs, right here in Los Angeles. Jobs in solar installation, jobs in energy efficiency, and jobs in green manufacturing. We don’t have to choose between the environment and jobs." Perry touted her job creation skills, practiced in downtown's revitalization, but didn't necessarily connect them to the environment.
James' talk about climate and pollution solutions focused on the harbor area, which makes sense. His suggestions are somewhat aggresive, ambitious, and in some cases expensive, which at least put some zip into the discussion. "Green Rail Intelligent Design [sic; I believe he means development] is a superdock system that can clean the air around the county’s largest polluter, which is the ports," James said. "It moves our containers through a tunnel that is electrically powered to get it to the Inland Empire and it does so by taking millions of truck trips off the road without that kind of emissions, the problems that we have there." The GRID project is somewhat fascinating. The only number I've seen associated with it is in the double-digit billions, putting it somewhere around the size of Boston's Big Dig.
The only real sparks flew towards the latter part of the debate, when James and Greuel had the opportunity to direct questions toward each other. James asked Greuel why she hadn't done more about a 10-year old audit of the Fire Department's abysmal response times. Greuel used her question to point up James' Republican and conservative credentials. "How can you possibly expect to be a credible or effective mayor asking president Obama for help when you spent years on a radical right wing radio show, talking and demonizing the president, calling him names, and even going on national television, comparing him to Neville Chamberlain?" she asked.
Everybody said they wanted to get off of coal, but nobody committed to when, or more specifically, to the 2020 deadline Villaraigosa originally set. (Garcetti did say he had a plan, though not what it is.) Everybody wanted to set a moratorium on fracking, which maybe is an okay litmus test, but it’s not clear exactly what the city could do. Everybody likes green space and parkland, which is something that the Department of Recreation & Parks is already working on: nobody had particular innovations about how to increase parkland. Everybody said they wanted better mass transit. Nobody volunteered details about how to pay for it.
I hope the fact that this is the first debate doesn't mean it's the last time people running for mayor talk about LA's green issues, because I'd like to hear more.