As the race for Mayor of the Great City of L.A. continues to heat up, a critical question that candidates will have to answer to the public will be: How will you address the many environmental challenges that have long plagued L.A.-water, air, congestion, open space, etc. To assemble the six leading candidates for such a discussion, Heal the Bay Board of Governors and Edelman Public Relations, L.A. recently sponsored an Environmental Mayoral Forum. (Xavier Becerra was the only candidate not in attendance.)
Joining me are five of the 24 candidates on the ballot: Joel Wachs, Antonio Villaraigosa, Steve Soboroff, Kathleen Connell, James Hahn.
As you know, the City deals with technology, infrastructure, design, traffic, and development. Out of that come congestion, air quality issues and land-use. So what is your vision for improving the quality of life in Los Angeles?
L.A. Recreation & Parks Commission
My plan is the plan of a problem solver, not a politician. It's called the "Greening of Los Angeles," and all seven steps are underway.
LAUSD is the second-largest owner of asphalt in the State of California-next to Caltrans, a dubious distinction. Andy Lipkis called me and said, "We need to green the school yards." So we stopped the LAUSD from repaving 20 million square feet of asphalt at 437 schools, and it's going now into grass and trees. It's the largest greening program in the history of the City, and it doesn't cost the taxpayers any money.
The second is a "Rails to Trails" program-turning abandoned rail right-of-ways into jogging and bike paths. I've also worked with the people on the Alameda Corridor project-which is a huge project for the environment of Los Angeles to take truck traffic off our freeway system.
The third is a "Brownfields to Greenfields" program. We're in the worst shape of any city in the country. [W]e think our program is great, and it isn't. New York has a program, about the same as ours, and they think theirs is bad. Pennsylvania has a program that did 400 conversions in the last year-and that is where we need to mold ourselves.
[A]s Mayor, I am going to appoint a Deputy Mayor for the Environment, and raise the level of awareness for environmental issues in L.A. like never before.
James Kenneth Hahn
Los Angeles City Attorney
[W]hen [people in L.A.] talk about quality of life, they're talking about their environment-what kind of block they live on, what kind of neighborhood. I see the City of L.A. as the best place on earth, but it has some problems . Because of our climate and our geography, we've historically had an air pollution problem. We need to continue pushing the big three automakers to make cleaner vehicles because cars are the biggest source of air pollution in this City. We also need to stop buying diesel cars and trucks, [and instead] buy clean-burning vehicles for our City fleets and the MTA.
When we look at water quality, we need to look at this whole region as a watershed. We need to understand that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring water all the way from the mountains, and then spend hundreds of millions more to rush that water back out to the ocean-only now loaded with debris and pollutants. We need to change that attitude so that we talk about water as something that needs to be conserved, appreciated, and understood as a precious resource.
As City Attorney, I started a strike force against the people polluting our sewers. I also started a strike force against people who were polluting our storm drains. My prosecution has resulted in over $1 million in contributions to organizations like Heal the Bay and the Audubon Society-groups that are working to mitigate the damage caused by all the industrialization of this area. I believe that if you commit a crime, you have to do something to make it better. And we've [imposed] some of the largest fines ever on polluters at the shipyards down at the Harbor.
There is nothing more important for us in government to do than to leave this planet in better shape than we found it.
Antonio R. Villaraigosa
California Assembly Speaker Emeritus
The best way to describe your vision is to look at your track record . When I was elected to the California State Assembly, Sacramento was in gridlock, [and] there was very little in the way of environmental initiatives. I led the fight to protect the SCAQMD at a time when the radical right in this State was trying to eliminate and curtail the activities of that department. I was the author of the largest cleanup of the air since the Clean Air Act, [an act that puts] $15 million in the budget every year to retrofit diesel engines . I led the fight for the largest parks bond in the history of the country and the first one to focus almost half the money in urban parks where the people are. I led the fight for $88 million to clean up the L.A. River and to start the process of creating an "emerald necklace" of parks along the River. And directly after the new Davis Administration came about, [I directed $20 million towards] cleaning up our water and enforcing our air quality and environmental laws.
I want to live in a city where we clean up the L.A. River no matter how much it costs, where we commit ourselves to expanding conservation and recycling-not just to individual homes, but to apartment dwellers and commercial properties as well. I want to live in a city where we don't expand on the dump at Sunshine Canyon because we're doing everything possible to recycle and conserve, where our children have places to play, soccer fields and baseball diamonds . I want to live in a city where we not only move to clean vehicles, but actually commit 50% of our fleet to clean fuel, where we say that every single department-including L.A. Unified-is engaging and recycling.
[W]hat we need is bottom-up government, not top-down. I'm proud to say that I've been endorsed for Mayor by the Sierra Club, the L.A. League of Conservation Voters, and frankly, some of the most progressive environmental leaders of this City.
California State Controller
From the viewpoint of education, we are one of the few cities in this country that fails to locate our schools near open space and parks-and that needs to change. We will be building 100 schools over the course of the next three years, and it is imperative that we have the open space of our parks associated with our schools.
An environmental strategy has to have three components. It has to deal with restoring the wetlands and the brownfields of L.A.; preventing further environmental damage to our land and resources; and most importantly, expanding those resources.
I have a record as the Chair of the State Lands Commission in doing all three of these things. From 1995 forward, we've stopped the drilling of oil off the coast of California [in partnership] with the Clinton Administration. And we will continue to battle for that in an administration that may not agree. Importantly, we also put new monitoring devices on those oil wells in order to prevent oil spills like the ones plaguing Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
I am very proud of what we have done to restore the wetlands in Bolsa Chica, Orange County and San Diego . And I recently took an independent stand to consider making the entire area of Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands into the largest open space property in the City of L.A. I stood up against the special interests and those who feel that we should continue business as usual. And I have demanded and am performing an environmental impact statement on that piece of land. Over 1,000 acres of land will be available for our children and our grandchildren because I had the courage to say what the City hasn't for the last 10 years.
Los Angeles City Councilman
We simply can't survive as a city if we don't become a sustainable city. You can't have a healthy economy without a healthy environment, and you don't have to sacrifice environmental protection to grow the economy. All of us talk about things like resource conservation, reducing pollution, sustainable building, providing mass transit and alternatives means of transportation. But as Antonio said, it isn't so much what you say, but what you do.
They say L.A. is a "can-do" city. The question is, what do we choose to do? I've watched City Hall bend over backwards to help billionaire developers build sports arenas Downtown or put warehouses on the Cornfields, and yet it could take a community years to landscape a median strip or plan a community garden. Sure, we can talk about converting brownfields into greenfields. But not when nobody is saying "No" to the developers who want to build on those greenfields, when only two of us on the Council were even willing to vote against Roski and the Cornfield project because of the influence of developers and lobbyists in City Hall.
This has been my history for 30 years in City Hall. When I fought Occidental Petroleum back in the ‘70s with Jim Solomon to stop the drilling on the beaches, we fought lobbyists and campaign contributors. When Tom Bradley appointed me to lead the Commission that started the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, who did we fight? The developers who wanted to tear those mountains down. When we wanted to stop the spraying of pesticides on our City, who did we have to take on? The agricultural industry, which didn't want to pay the costs. Who are we taking on now in battling Chromium 6 contamination of our underground water supply? Again, people who are more concerned about the dollars than they are about your health.
I was proud to call myself an environmentalist long before it was fashionable. I ran on an environmental record in 1971, and I've maintained an unblemished record to this day.
More than anything else, I want people to learn about the importance of the environment. I want the public to understand that each of us has a role to play in cleaning up our air and water and building a sustainable environment.
Let's turn to water. MTBE, Chromium 6, arsenic and solvents; groundwater, storage basins, contamination. The City has numerous problems with wastewater and storm water management. As Mayor, what will you do with [DWP and the Bureau of Sanitation] to be more sensitive to environmental needs?
Most importantly, [I want] to work with organizations like Andy Lipkis' TREES project, which focuses on smart [solutions] with respect to storm water runoff and contamination .
[O]ne of the first things I did was to negotiate a settlement with EPA over the failure of previous administrations to deal with the problem of Hyperion.
The infrastructure is old, [and] we need to continue to repair it. People say we can't afford to do storm water runoff cleanup. But I don't think we can afford not to. It's time to really start looking at water as a precious resource from its [source to its disposal].
The basic problem is twofold. One, the decisions are so often influenced by costs. And two, decisions are often made in secret and information is kept from the public.
We simply can't afford a city that allows the kind of contamination of our water supply that we've seen. For more than two years, the DWP and the region's water master kept much of the information about the seriousness of hexavalent chromium in our groundwater from the public. The worst kind of government is one that leaves people out of it because it makes them cynical.
I'm delighted to hear what the City has done [with Hyperion]. But let us remember, it's done it under consent decree .
[But], if we can deal with open disclosure of environmental hazards, institute a comprehensive education policy, enforce our regulations and take a zero-tolerance attitude towards trash, and invoke long-term planning and vision for making it happen-backed up by investment-the City of L.A. will have an environmental policy that works.
The rhetoric that we need huge amounts of infrastructure work in L.A. is not meaningful because we don't have the resources to do everything. We have focus on the most important areas. For example, [the Cool Schools program] has been the largest deterrent to runoff into the Santa Monica Bay in City history-and it didn't cost any money. It was a matter of being creative.