Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Garcetti names LA’s first Chief Sustainability Officer

Matt Petersen

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Global Green USA CEO Matt Petersen, LA's first Chief Sustainability Officer, says “cities are on the front lines of solutions to climate change and creating a clean energy economy.”

Signaling he intends to focus on creating a more environmentally-friendly Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti Friday named Global Green USA CEO Matt Petersen as the city’s first Chief Sustainability Officer.

“I am proud to have him lead my citywide effort to make every neighborhood healthier, create green jobs, and hold every city department responsible for cleaner air and water,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Since 1994, Petersen has led Santa Monica-based Global Green USA. It is the American affiliate of Green Cross International, which was founded by former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to “foster a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future,” according to the group’s website.

Petersen, 46, has worked to create greener cities and advance solar energy and fuel-efficient car markets, according to the mayor’s office. In 2008, Time Magazine recognized him for helping New Orleans rebuild a greener community after Hurricane Katrina.

“Its something I’m very excited about and I’m very honored,” Petersen said of his selection. He said he’s known Garcetti since the mayor’s days as a city councilman who met regularly with environmentalists. Petersen said he was “very active” in Garcetti’s campaign for mayor.

“Cities are on the front lines of solutions to climate change and creating a clean energy economy,” he said. Petersen mentioned all of the usual green goals: more mass transit, more solar energy, more local water supplies, and more energy efficiency. He also said he’d like to see L.A. allow more food to be grown locally by small farmers.

“That’s going to require not just the city creating new zoning ordinances, but looking at urban banks and how they can lend to small businesses that they are not used to seeing,” Petersen said. “That’s going to require some education and risk on behalf of the private sector – and some encouragement.”

Asked about a controversial $500 million plan for a massive railyard at the Port of Los Angeles near Wilmington, Petersen said it had “great attributes.” The city council approved the project with Garcetti’s support earlier this year, but legal challenges are expected over how much air pollution it might produce.

“Matt historically has been a pragmatist,” said Mark Gold, associate director of the UCLA Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and the former head of Heal the Bay. “He’s a very smart, articulate guy. He is not a lightning rod in the environmental community.”

Other environmentalists withheld judgment of Petersen.

“We hope he is interested in paying attention to the most poor,” said Leonardo Vilchis of Unión de Vecinos, an environmental justice group based in Boyle Heights.

Petersen will resign his position at Global Green USA, but remain a member of its board of directors. He said he earned $180,000 a year at the non-profit. The L.A. city government job will pay $163,000.

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