One of the most politically influential environmental organizations, the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) practices vigilance over all political activity in the state of California. To take a barometer reading of recent legislation impacting land use and development in the state, especially SB 375 and L.A.'s solar roof initiative, Measure B, TPR was pleased to speak with CLCV's Southern California director, David Allgood.
One of the most significant legislative land use and transportation bills in the country-SB 375 by Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg-was passed this year by the California Legislature. What was the bill's significance?
The legislation, which was signed by the governor and passed with some Republican support, will finally allow California to get a grip on uncontrolled development. In the past, there have been undeveloped areas that lack infrastructure of any kind, and has created California's history of sprawl. SB 375 turned that on it's head. It gives incentives to build within already existing urban areas and prioritizes investment in infrastructure in areas that already have some infrastructure. It saves a great deal of open space and will bring efficiency and, ultimately, tremendous improvements to California from a CO2 emissions point of view.
SB 375 took more than two years to pass. What role did CLCV play in the bill's evolution, and are you satisfied with its results?
We are all pretty pleased with the results. First, kudos to Darrell Steinberg for his patience and skill in getting this passed. In the beginning, there was tremendous opposition from a variety of sources-local government, building trades, and all of the usual suspects that don't want to see any changes in the status quo. CLCV's role was to bring our membership and grassroots pressure to bear. Our board chair, Tom Adams, was instrumental in creating the bill and negotiating with some of the interest groups that finally came on board to support it. CEQA has been his life and a big part of his law practice, so he was able to navigate the perilous waters of modifications to CEQA to make sure that the CEQA protections remained strong, but nonetheless that a good bill passed.
How will we know that SB 375 is working, especially in Southern California?
There are a couple things. You are probably aware that Measure R passed overwhelmingly in the last election. That transportation infrastructure funding, in combination with SB 375, should provide an early litmus test as to whether or not it's going to work. I'm pretty confident that it is going to work. Measure R sent a message to the governor and others around the state who govern transit funds that people are not only hungry for investment in transit but are willing to pay for it. We keep balancing the budget by eliminating services, and transit is always the first to go. It's understandable that we have to protect our education and healthcare, but at the end of the day, we can't avoid building transportation infrastructure if we expect to have a healthy economy. SB 375 and Measure R are going to be a demonstration that the law will work as advertised.
At the end of the 2007 legislative session, the League of California Cities "reluctantly" withdrew their support for SB 375. What changed that reversed the league's position?
There were some intense negotiations with the principal author and the other parties involved. The League of Cities, as it was characterized to me, was being consciously protective of their turf. There were a lot of people in that position. The almost nonstop negotiations that took place right up until the final process of the bill served to build the trust that everybody needed-it was just good negotiation and trust building. I know that Darrell, Tom, and others spent more time than I would have patience for trying to set aside the concerns of all the parties.
Another important environmental bill that passed the Legislature in 2008, but was vetoed by the governor, was SB 974, a port container fee bill by Senator Alan Lowenthal. Share with our readers CLCV's interest in that legislation and what its veto means regarding the region's ability to deal with environmental degradation in the communities adjacent to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
To frame the issue, the background of need for SB 974 was the non-stop series of early deaths, by the thousands, directly related to port pollution, particularly in Southern California, but all around the state. We have been working with Senator Lowenthal since he conceived this idea in an earlier bill before SB 974. Finding the funding to end the assault on people's health due to goods movement is critical. Certainly the Ports of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach recognize this.
During the first go around with SB 974, when the governor first defeated it, we were very disappointed. Alan brought it right back. He worked hard to meet with the governor and find out what his concerns were about the first permutation. We tried to address all of those needs, and I think the governor showed a distinct failure of leadership and vision in vetoing this bill. It was probably the most outrageous veto of the year. It belies his posturing as a green governor that he can't understand that saving people's lives, having the polluters pay for the damage they cause, and walking away from the opportunity to create a funding stream to address those issues shows an act of cowardice. The governor should reconsider his position. I hope Senator Lowenthal-and I haven't had a chance to talk to him since the veto-persists in bringing the bill back until he convinces this governor, or some governor, that this is a needed step.
TPR interviewed CLCV's Board President Tom Adams in September 2007, and he offered that CLCV is a "political arm of the environmental community." Let's turn to the election this past November 2008. Are you happy with the voters' choices?
Generally speaking, yes. The voters chose wisely on the initiatives on the state ballot. They rejected two flawed alternative energy initiatives, Props 7 and 10, and committed themselves to high-speed rail and building the infrastructure that we're going to need to move on into the future. We're pretty pleased with the election at the legislative level. We increased environmental membership in both the Senate and the Assembly. This election turned out as well as anybody could have hoped.
Let's turn your attention to state and local government environmental policy. Can you comment on an opinion piece by L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten in late November titled: "Solar Plan Risks Scorching L.A.'s Political Future"? The column focuses on the mayor of Los Angeles' solar roof program that the City Council of L.A., bypassing the DWP Commission, is putting on the March citywide ballot. Rutten opines that if the public likes how the state makes policy, it will love this initiative. Do environmental leaders in California now advocate designing and regulating climate change policy and regulation by initiative?
Having looked at the solar roof initiative we think it's a good measure. We hear a lot of talk about development and turning to the building of sustainable infrastructure for energy generation, but it has all been talk. This is actual action. I've talked to a number of solar manufacturers. Some of them oppose it and some support it, but they all understand that this is a huge first step. This will increase solar power generation by more than 50 percent. The generation will have a beneficial impact on manufacturing of the solar cells themselves. It will give us a reliable, sustainable peak-energy load.
Didn't the CLCV oppose the two renewable energy initiatives on the 2009 state ballot? Is it unusual for environmental leaders to support a solar roof initiative that has not been reviewed by the LADWP commission, nor been evaluated, nor been priced?
That's a good question. We looked at the numbers that were put forward by the advocates and there seems to be a consensus that this is probably not going to require substantial bond funding. The fact is that it will create a substantial amount of solar energy for Los Angeles. It was vetted by the City Council, unlike Props 10 and 7, which were basically written and presented fait accompli to the voters this winter.
Are you in favor of establishing and budgeting city level energy and sustainability programs by initiative?
I have to say "yes," in this regard. Our elected officials need to hear from the public that they're in support of the expenditures for sustainable infrastructure. That's what Measure R's message was-beside the message that we're going to actually build this stuff. It's the same with the high-speed rail: the public has said over and over again, "We want to build sustainable infrastructure for the future." If we have to wait for state or local government and someone to have the courage to actually go out and propose this to the public, fund it, and pass it, then we're all going to be wondering 20 years from now, "Why didn't we do this 20 years ago?" The legislative and commission process should be used, but we've been waiting a long time. How long have you been waiting for a subway system in Southern California?
President Obama promises to increase reliance upon renewables from less than two percent to 20 percent of our country's energy portfolio. Obviously, constructing more transmission capacity is going to be a challenge. What contribution will the environmental community make to reach the energy independence goals of the new president?
The environmental community is not necessarily of a single mind on things like transmission siting. There's going to be a vigorous debate there. I would hope that the debate could happen in an expedited sort of way. I would also hope that we not suspend the debate and move forward without considering all the potential impacts of issues like siting. Frankly, however, the biggest environmental issue of our time is global warming. The impact that global warming is going to have on every aspect of a healthy environment demands that we take a careful look, but that we also expedite it as quickly as possible while creating infrastructure that cuts back CO2 emissions to a rational amount. Thinking in terms of transmission issues: if the ecosystem you're protecting is going to be negatively and devastatingly impacted by global warming, what sense does it make to block implementation or building of infrastructure that is going to delay global warming? That has to be the screen that we evaluate on these projects. I know the environmental community is going to be of several minds on this. But, at the end of the day, if climate change continues the way it has, we're going to see devastating impacts on ecosystems all around the world. That has to be the primary consideration of the environmental community.
What are your hopes and expectations regarding the focus of the annual VerdeXchange Conference-a gathering of global leaders in clean energy, green tech regulation, finance, and environmental stewardship-being held this January in Los Angeles? What needs emphasis at this conference?
We should be leading with pragmatic solutions to creating sustainability. We have to begin by pushing for those solutions that are obtainable quickly to create a climate of success. People talk about the hydrogen highway and how that's going to be the panacea for the future. It is going to be a generation or more before we get hydrogen into a form where we can use it as fuel efficiently-without burning fossil fuels and using huge amounts of non-sustainable energy. There are things we can do right away that have to be implemented now. We need to push conservation first and with as much emphasis as possible in order to buy time to implement new technologies. We need to be looking at the technologies that are available now and get those on line in a significant way.
We need to engage people: from individual families to the federal government in a way that says, "we are all in this together." We need to be educating everybody-and the people are ahead of the government in this-that this is a serious problem that we can't just keep turning our back on. All of us have to look to our own lives to see what things we can cut back on. We're in a battle for the health of the planet, and we can't keep diddling.
AB 32 passed years ago. It was just implemented early this year. In the meantime, how much more CO2 went into the atmosphere? We still haven't passed a statewide ports bill. We're facing premature deaths among thousands of people. We need to take action as quickly as possible, but we need to prioritize those things first that have impacts quickly, and then look out to make investments in new technologies and new infrastructure.