Take Two for March 18, 2013

The impact of Villaraigosa's three main green talking points

Mayor Villaraigosa praises Los Angeles’ new Cleantech Incubator.

Jerry Gorin/KPCC

Mayor Villaraigosa praises the new Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.

Three of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s green talking points have wider implications, either beyond the city or beyond environmental policy or both.

What’s happening now with the Clean Trucks Program could set precedent for port operations nationally. A proposal to raise DWP rates to help the city transition away from coal led to more oversight of the utility as contract negotiations loom. And believe it or not, LA’s urban forestry program is setting a national example. 

Clean Trucks Program 

The Clean Trucks Program is the keystone of the Clean Air Action Plan at the port: the mayor credits the program for cutting emissions from the older, dirtier diesel rigs it forced trucking companies to replace with newer, cleaner ones. It functions through agreements between the port and its concessionaires, the trucking companies, which would agree to provide maintenance and financial records, carry placards with identifying information, and park off-street. 

Both the port of Long Beach and the port of Los Angeles set these agreements up; in Los Angeles, port officials included requirements that drivers become employees of the companies, at the behest of the labor community, and in an effort to shift the burden of equipment replacement from the drivers to the companies. 

The American Trucking Association appealed these agreements in federal court, and the dispute has wended its way upward. Now the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the dispute this spring, with a decision anticipated this summer. At issue is whether port officials have the authority to make these agreements and limit pollution from trucks that move goods, or whether federal law pre-empts these rules as local measures that affect the price, route, or service of any motor carrier. 

Trucking companies say they don’t dispute environmental goals at the harbor. But they say the rules are bad precedent for other communities. 

A “Carbon Tax” Proposal 

In 2009, the mayor’s office announced with the LA Department of Water and Power a proposal for a “carbon tax” – a rate increase that would fund a “lockbox” of revenue to be spent on energy efficiency and renewable energy. Polling done by the city suggested Angelenos would see rate hikes of $2 a month for such a plan – and that those ratepayers wouldn’t mind paying a little extra for a green cause. 

But public reaction played out differently than expected.  City council members said the proposal to raise the energy cost adjustment factor raised questions about the DWP’s transparency on the issue of rates and reactivated historic mistrust among the city’s utility and the public. LA voters later approved an Office of Public Accountability, whose employee, Fred Pickel, now serves as a ratepayer advocate for Los Angeles. 

Million Trees Los Angeles 

In 2006, LA launched an effort to plant 1 million trees. The program was mocked along the way, but now the mayor’s office says the city has planted 380,000 trees within the last 7 years, at a rate six times that of the last two administrations. 

A study in the Journal of the American Planning Association backs up LA’s claims. It  found that Million Trees was launched with unrealistic expectations about program cost, but authors praised LA’s use of focused corporate sponsorship once Million Trees got overhauled. Nowadays, nonprofits working with the city must steward the trees they plant for two years after they go into the ground. The report concludes that’s working. 

(Incidentally, so does Take Two host Alex Cohen…who has one of those 380,000 trees planted in front of her house. It’s gotten pretty big, she says.)


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