Welcoming Marcie Edwards back to the LADWP and getting back to the garden with Emily Green

jc-mg-200-names.jpgMark Gold writes: Last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti made what will arguably be his most important hire to date, naming Anaheim city manager Marcie Edwards, a former LA Department of Water and Power employee and former head of Anaheim Public Utilities, as the new General Manager of the LADWP.

The context could hardly be more dramatic. In the midst of a historic drought, state water officials announced that they are essentially turning off the spigot on the State Water Project, which carries water from northern to southern California.

Marcie-Edwards-mayor.jpgLike many people, I am sure, my first response when I heard about the pick was: who? The name was vaguely familiar. Then it clicked. And the more I thought about it, the more I could see what the mayor might be thinking. Edwards will be the first woman to manage the LADWP. That's a big statement. And rather than hiring an outsider, as some of us thought he might, Garcetti has picked a consummate insider. Edwards first went to work at the LADWP as a teenager. She gained valuable experience on the power side of the LADWP, as well as marketing and customer service, as she rose through the ranks in her 24 years. The LADWP badly needs to repair its tattered image, and who better than someone with DWP in her DNA to resurrect public confidence in the agency. Edwards also knows the department's union politics. And in her 13-year tenure in Anaheim, she managed water and power for California's tenth largest city and demonstrated that she has staying power.

Garcetti has said that reforming the LADWP is much bigger than hiring a new general manager. Last week LADWP power broker Aram Benyamin was put on administrative leave, and a press release indicated David Wiggs, LADWP general manager from 2001 to 2004, would take his place as assistant general manager of the utility's power system. It will be interesting to see if there are any other changes in store in the department's management lineup.

Edwards has her work cut out for her with scandals over nonprofit funds at the LADWP, customer service and billing breakdowns, and now an epic drought, along with the ongoing need to re-engineer LA's water and power system into a greener infrastructure, which will require gaining approval for a long overdue, essential, and significant water rate increase. The LADWP will need a long-term, substantial water rate increase similar in scale to the sewer service charge increases of 2011 to bring more widespread water recycling and reuse, stormwater capture, outdoor water conservation, and groundwater cleanup to the city--all of which we will need to make sure LA can be more self-reliant and drought proof.

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Jon Christensen writes: Emily Green and I took our debate about whether LA is sustainable--or not--to Madeleine Brand's new show "Press Play" on KCRW last week. On the air, I confessed that I am still in the honeymoon phase of my relationship with Los Angeles--and I'm hoping it will last. We need to do more, but we're moving in the right direction on numerous fronts: transportation, energy, water, parks, climate adaptation and mitigation.

Emily granted me no quarter, especially on water. She has been a close observer of water politics in LA and around the American West, as a science writer and a columnist for the LA Times, and a freelance journalist and blogger at her own chanceofrain.com. She knows where and when progress has been stymied by political deals and business as usual.

Emily Green.jpgAfterward, Emily walked me over to nearby Pearl Street where two adjacent lots make some of our choices about water crystal clear. Garden\garden is a project of the City of Santa Monica, the Metropolitan Water District, and Santa Monica College. The front yard of 1718 Pearl Street is a typical lawn backed by rose beds and maintained in traditional "mow and blow" fashion. The front yard of 1724 Pearl Street is a native garden of drought-tolerant plants--manzanita, lilac, grasses and wildflowers--permeable paving, and a rainwater infiltration pit.

The native garden cost more to put in: $16,700 versus $12,400 for the "mow and blow" yard when they were constructed in 2004. But the native garden has used less than 20 percent of the water used by the traditional yard (around 14,000 gallons versus 78,000 gallons a year on average), resulting in a lower annual water bill ($14 versus $74 in the first year). And it needs less than a third of the traditional yard's maintenance, monthly versus weekly attention, resulting in lower costs for the gardening crew ($800 versus $3,000 in the first year). The native garden also generates less than half of the green waste that comes off the "mow and blow" yard.

It's hard to imagine the case being made more clearly. Faced with a historic drought, we have good, beautiful choices available. Visit Pearl Street to see for yourself. The image of a typical Los Angeles yard will change. It is changing.

But lest I get too romantic here, let me allow Emily Green the last word. Individual property owners can and should do whatever they can afford to do to use water more wisely in their homes and gardens, she says. The real game changer, however, will be landscaping in public spaces, parks, and around municipal buildings and other public institutions. That's what will really change the image of Los Angeles, reduce our urban outdoor water use dramatically, and provide an example for homeowners and landlords.

Looking around Santa Monica College, which itself has not put the lessons of Pearl Street to much use on the rest of campus, Emily was disappointed, to say the least. And don't even think about getting her started on landscaping around public institutions in the rest of Los Angeles. Then again, maybe we should.

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