The floodgates open this week on commemorations, celebrations, and media coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, from which water first flowed down the Cascades into the San Fernando Valley from Owens Valley on November 5, 1913. This week and next will feature a lot of looking back and looking forward. (We're doing some celebrating of our own at Boom: A Journal of California and hope you can join us at one of our events.)
Very few centenaries have the palpable quality of seeming as much of a pivot point as this one does. After all, 100 years is just an arbitrary round number. But there is something in the air -- or is it the water? -- in LA these days. The fact that this centenary coincides with a new mayoral administration in Los Angeles adds real politics to the symbolism. The next 100 years of water in Los Angeles begins with the next eight years, assuming that Eric Garcetti could have two terms to shape the vision of environmental sustainability that he has begun to articulate in his first months in the mayor's office.
One thing is very clear about the next 100 years. It will require a different kind of leadership than the first 100 years. William Mulholland's bold, forceful advocacy of a single-minded vision -- embodied in his famous phrase at the aqueduct's opening, "There it is. Take it." -- just doesn't work anymore.
The role of the chief engineer -- Mulholland's title, which conferred an authority that could not be questioned in his day -- has fundamentally changed. The leaders of today need to be multidisciplinary facilitators of large, diverse communities with different interests, comfortable with science and engineering, to be sure, but the social sciences too, politics and economics, the design disciplines, and the humanities and arts. They have to be good listeners and good storytellers. They need good people skills.
That was the message that more than a dozen California water honchos conveyed to young leaders in training in the Coro Fellows Program, which held its annual water leadership conference in LA last week. For Coro, the complexities of water management and politics are a perfect way to explore the diverse skills needed by a new generation of leaders. But there was a troubling undercurrent in the conversations too. Many of the current generation of leaders at public agencies said they feel very constrained by rules that prohibit them from being public advocates like Mulholland was in his day.
This is too bad. Mayor Garcetti and other elected officials should find a way to let leaders in the trenches vigorously articulate a vision, a story for the next century of water in in our communities. Then we can have the fully informed conversation we need about what comes next. (JC)
Last week, Mayor Garcetti invited leaders from the environmental community to his office to meet with him and his new chief sustainability officer, Matt Petersen, former President of Global Green, the Santa Monica-based American affiliate of Green Cross International.
Garcetti emphasized that in his view "sustainability" must include not just the environment, but also the economy and social equity. Among the priorities Garcetti and Petersen outlined in the meeting were: increases in clean, green jobs; an expanded solar feed in tariff program -- in which customers get credit for energy that gets fed back to the grid; improvements in the city's integrated water approach and major reductions in imported water -- this year LA is importing an astounding 89 percent of the water it uses, a dismal figure for a city that aspires to sustainability; a successful "clean up, green up program" to improve environmental health equitably around the city; growth in green building developments citywide; more vegetation and green spaces along city streets, permeable areas to infiltrate runoff into underlying aquifers, bikeways, and pedestrian friendly sidewalks; and last but not least, revitalization of the LA River. The mayor was getting ready to fly to Washington, DC, to lobby for support for "Alternative 20," the most ambitious alternative in the recent Los Angeles River Ecosystem Feasibility Study released by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The mayor also said he hopes to have the city provide advice and services directly to the public to improve sustainability. The vast majority of residents are not well versed in the latest techniques to capture stormwater, reduce energy use, or include green building components in new developments and remodels. As we pointed out a couple of weeks ago, it's hard for planning staff, who check off on building permits, to keep up with new technologies in these fields.
Garcetti said that sustainability is one of the key values in the draft budget guidance document his administration has developed, as well as accountability and performance measurement standards for department general managers. He said he is determined to foster greater collaboration across departments to develop and implement solutions to complex environmental problems. Both the mayor and Petersen emphasized the goal of completing a comprehensive sustainable city plan for LA by the end of 2014. Vision 2021 LA, which we developed at UCLA, could be a model for that effort. The plan is essential to create connectivity between the dozens of environmental programs proposed and currently underway across city departments.
These are all encouraging approaches. Former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had a strong commitment to specific, important environmental programs. Garcetti is more focused on developing an overarching approach to sustainability throughout city government in order to achieve comprehensive sustainability goals. Meetings with community leaders, such as the one last week, will give such comprehensive plans a much better chance of wide-scale support and, more importantly, of truly integrating sustainability into every aspect of city programs and management. (MG)