Jon Christensen, the LA Observed columnist who is also the editor of Boom: A Journal of California and with the environmental institute at UCLA, has an essay about his newly embraced hometown of Los Angeles in High Country News. It's a generally upbeat take on LA as a reformed partner with the environment. "Under cover of one of the worst environmental reputations on the planet, Los Angeles is becoming an unlikely model of sustainability," he argues in Brave New LA. He is quite laudatory about Mayor Eric Garcetti, given how early it is in the new administration. Emily Green writes a lot about environmental issues in Los Angeles and across the West, especially on water, and she's not buying Christensen's rosiness. She respects him, but "bullshit is just bullshit," she writes at her blog, Chance of Rain. Strong words for a fellow traveler on the green side of things.
Chistensen’s been in LA for a year, he says in his essay, and — touchingly — he sounds almost giddy with a newcomer’s wonder at the region’s geography, diversity and dynamism. But boil down the essay and Brave New LA is pure politics. It’s a policy wonk delivering a flattery-laced pre-nup for a marriage between UCLA’s green team and the City of LA’s new mayor, Eric Garcetti.
Those of us who lived in Los Angeles through the Villaraigosa years might question the wisdom of writing reviews before watching the play. Or not. There’s something endearing about Christensen’s waving his wand over time and place as if to make his paradox-loving version of things true. But with Brave New LA, I think that he crossed the line from reporter to advocate and became bedeviled by his own optimism. Admire him as I do, this is a trip to the woodshed.
She goes through a point-by-point critique of the piece — some of her objections are to tone, such as High Country News' choice of style in referring to the DWP on second reference. She's got a point about Garcetti's actual record on issues like the DWP being unwritten thus far, with enough signs in his City Council record to make water activists nervous. Christensen responds in a comment:
Thanks for the welcome to LA. I welcome the debate, though, speaking as one journalist to another, I’d prefer to have it without unwarranted and unsubstantiated innuendos about my motivations. If it would be useful, we could continue the discussion here or perhaps meet sometime in person? Or organize a salon to discuss LA, water, and our love for the American West and other common ground?
A few minor corrections. Boom: A Journal of California is a quarterly magazine published by UC Press, not by UCLA. The “Water and Power Department” usage is a style choice made by High Country News after the first use of LADWP’s full name in the essay. And the matter of density is a subject of great debate, which I did not have space or inclination to rehearse in my short essay in HCN. Suffice it to say that depending on how you measure density, what you include in “Los Angeles,” and what you call “urban,” LA is, arguably, the most dense urban area in the country, according to the Census Bureau.
The rest, I think, is fair debate.
With deep respect for you and your work.
P.S. With your evident interest in bullshit, I would recommend highly “On Bullshit,” a short book by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt that attempts to lay down a theory of bullshit. Technically, I don’t think my essay qualifies. But I would, naturally, argue that. So let’s call that fair debate too.
I'm told they have since communicated warmly through back channels.