Room for improvement on LA's environmental report card

jc-mg-200-names.jpgMark Gold writes: Last week, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA released our "2015 Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles County." This first-ever report card is the result of a two-year effort to grade the region based on 22 separate indicators in water, air, solid waste, energy and greenhouse gases, ecosystem health, and environmental quality of life. Overall, the region received a C+ average on the report card--not exactly an honor roll GPA.

Report Card.jpgSome of the reasons for the poor grade: poor surface water and groundwater quality; too much reliance on imported water; air quality that frequently doesn't comply with health standards; too many individuals commuting in cars as opposed to carpooling, mass transit, bicycling, or walking; highly degraded local streams and rivers; too much reliance on energy from coal; and persistence inequities in environmental health risks in numerous communities in the region.

A day after our report card came out, Mayor Eric Garcetti released the city of LA's first ever sustainable city "pLAn": a comprehensive roadmap that includes environmental, economic, and social equity goals and metrics. The city's chief sustainability officer, Matt Petersen, spearheaded the effort, engaging numerous environmental, business, and community leaders in its development and review. And I have been involved in the effort from the beginning.

Some of the city's goals are extremely ambitious: including zero waste by 2025; a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050; a drop in our reliance on imported water from close to 90 percent to 50 percent; a rise in the percentage of car-free trips from 26 percent to 50 percent by 2035; and a reduction in pediatric asthma risk to a maximum of eight hospital visits per 1,000 children for every neighborhood in the city (some neighborhoods near downtown LA have more than 30 cases per 1,000 kids).

If these ambitious goals are achieved, the very nature and character of Los Angeles will change dramatically for the better. Add in the dozens of other goals and indicators in Garcetti's "pLAn" and you have a vision for an LA that maintains its extraordinary diversity but in a far more sustainable manner that raises everyone's quality of life.

I can't grade the mayor's plan since I helped with it. But I can predict with confidence that achievement of LA's sustainable city goals would dramatically improve the GPA for the entire region. And with his Harvard Westlake and Columbia University education, Garcetti knows all about earning and maintaining a high GPA.

If it is implemented, Garcetti's plan would raise the region's grades substantially in all categories except ecosystem health. The LA plan, like our institute's "Environmental Report Card," is relatively weak in the ecosystem health category because we lack region wide monitoring of our local habitats. And it's tough to come up with a game plan for improving ecosystem health when you don't have an accurate, comprehensive assessment of the current health of ecosystems other than measures of habitat loss and fire risk. The biggest ecosystem health goal in the mayor's plan is revitalization of 11 miles of the LA River--a critical goal, but not one that will do much to raise the C-/Incomplete grade for the region on ecosystem health.

The mayor has a game plan to move the city to the top of the class, but one key set of question is: Where will the resources come from to pay for the city's sustainability transformation? And will the city council embrace the mayor's vision by supporting revenue increases to make implementation of the plan a reality?

The next set of questions involves whether LA--and Santa Monica, which is already on its third sustainable city plan--can inspire the other 86 cities in the region to follow in their green footprints.

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