Governor's budget goes green: Governor Jerry Brown's 2014 budget proposal is good news for the environment--if it gets implemented. And with the state surplus, there's a good chance it will. Most of the discussion so far has focused on the governor's proposal to use $250 million of revenue from the state's cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions to jump start the stalled high speed rail project. But there's much more green in Brown's budget than this signature controversial proposal.
For environmental protection, Brown proposes spending $850 million in cap and trade revenues in a variety of ways including $50 million for modernization of California's existing rail facilities; $100 million to reduce greenhouse gases through enhanced local transportation, affordable housing near transit stops, enhancing walking and biking facilities, and reducing vehicle miles traveled; $200 million to accelerate California's transition to low carbon transportation; and $80 million for energy efficiency upgrades and projects in low income communities. Smaller pots of the cap and trade revenues are designated for greening state buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and landfills, reducing energy used in water distribution and treatment, enhancing carbon sequestration in wetlands, and reducing carbon emissions from wildfires through better forest management measures. Clearly, a lot of the cap and trade funds would go to very important programs in this budget that would provide lots of environmental benefits to local communities and the state.
Without going into too much detail on the rest of the environmental section of Brown's budget (such as significant and critical investments in maintenance too long deferred at our state parks), one major highlight is significant investment in implementation of the state's water action plan. The budget proposes to shift the Department of Public Health's drinking water regulatory unit to the State Water Resources Control Board, thereby creating more centralized management of drinking water quality in the state. This is a major reorganization that should result in increased accountability, efficiency, and transparency--although there will be important hurdles to overcome in the transition. Another major investment would start new programs and enhance existing programs to better manage and monitor groundwater and protect the right of all Californians to safe drinking water, with a focus on disadvantaged communities in the south San Joaquin Valley and potentially south Los Angeles County as well. This budget demonstrates that last fall's state water action plan was truly intended for implementation, as opposed to yet another ambitious plan on a hard drive gathering dust in Sacramento. And that's major good news for California.
Brown also proposes extensive funding from previously approved bond measures: $77 from Propositions 84 and 1E for reducing flood risks and $472.5 million from Prop. 84 for the Department of Water Resources to implement integrated regional water management plan projects throughout the state. Unfortunately, Brown's budget language doesn't provide any insight on whether or not the department and the Governor's office would provide greater oversight of these projects to ensure that they have the needed cumulative beneficial impact on water quality and supply. Historically, bond dollars going to water projects have had mixed success, with many superb projects and others with minimal value. And the sum of billions of dollars spent on these projects is still failing to combine synergistically to get California anywhere close to water sustainability.
Brown's budget also includes a proposal to change the voter approval requirement for local government public works projects from a two-thirds supermajority to a 55 percent threshold for passage. If approved by the legislature, this would be a boon for green infrastructure projects with multiple benefits for water management--although it would still leave unsolved the growing problem of lack of funding for project operation and management, which cannot come out of bonds.
Whether or not you agree with the specific recommendations in Governor Brown's proposed budget, there can be no question that the administration has the right environmental priorities in proposing major investments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and finally implementing the state's water action plan.
Here in LA, we're sad to say, recent events are not so cheery. We pass along this cry for help for LADWP.
Help Wanted: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Seeks Leader
We are the largest public municipal utility in the United States, providing electricity and water to nearly 4 million residents in the city of Los Angeles. We have more than 9,000 dedicated employees maintaining reliable services across 465 square miles. With city leaders and residents, we share a vision of LA becoming a model for urban sustainability in the 21st century, even in the face of the daunting challenges of climate change, which will make LA hotter and dry up the imported water supplies we have relied upon for a century. We are the workhorses making that vision real. (We like to say mules, actually, in honor of the mules that helped build the first LA Aqueduct that brought water from more than 200 miles away in Owens Valley and made modern LA possible.) We are ditching coal generation of electricity and moving full-speed ahead on renewable, clean energy sources. And we are rapidly moving away from dependence on imported water, which now makes up 89 percent of our supply, to capture more stormwater locally, infiltrate it into our groundwater aquifers, clean up contaminated groundwater, recycle and reuse water, and do a better job on conservation. Though we're proud to say we already have the best record of conservation for any American city with more than a million residents, we know we have to do better. And so do you.
You are a visionary miracle worker with a proven track record of inspiring large organizations, diverse constituencies, and elected officials to pull together through tough challenges. You are an effective communicator who can tell a story about how adapting to climate change will actually make our city better--a story worthy of a Hollywood happy ending. You have the heroic character to quickly transform an entrenched organization in a short timeframe without resources dedicated to change. You are a well-loved manager who supports employees to achieve our mission through their own autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose in their work. In turn, you will enjoy the full, loving support of your employees and their union representatives, who share this vision. City leaders and agency directors are eager to have you join our collegial team, which sees success for one as a win for all. And residents of Los Angeles stand ready to support the rate increases necessary on their monthly bills to move the city to sustainability. (We receive no tax revenue. We depend on revenue from selling water and electricity and bonds for capital improvements. So we depend on the goodwill of our customers, which is legendary.)
Are you ready to hit the ground running? The start date is February 1, 2014. Email your resume and a cover letter telling us about your vision for a sustainable 21st century LA to Mayor Eric Garcetti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does this job sound too good to be true? For references, contact Ron Nichols, General Manager, LADWP. But do it before January 31st.
Photo of LADWP headquarters by Joshua Llaneza.