For A Safe, Healthy, and Climate Resilient Fifth District
As a member of the Los Angeles City Council, these will be my environmental priorities on Day One:
1. Reduce Vehicle Traffic, Fossil Fuel Dependence, and Carbon Emissions
Reducing vehicle miles traveled, and vehicle traffic, must be a top priority for Los Angeles. Not only is our City suffering the adverse health impacts of tailpipe emissions, traffic congestion has severe negative impacts on neighborhoods and public safety.
Seven years ago, I gave up my car. Ever since, I have walked, carpooled, ride-shared, biked, scootered, and taken public transportation to get around Los Angeles. It is an escape from a car culture that saps our energy and pollutes our planet. This experience opened my eyes to how our City functions at the street level, including walking to and from Court and meetings downtown.
Not everyone can give up their car. But we need to make it easier, more feasible, and more pragmatic for Angelenos who can, to do so.
First, we need public transit that is fast, safe, reliable, and widely accessible.
Second, we need to re-design transit corridors so that cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians are able to share our streets safely, including the expansion, where appropriate, of dedicated bike lanes and slow streets programs.
Third, we need to make it faster, easier, and less costly to build affordable and workforce housing on our transit corridors. This includes prioritizing and streamlining such projects and converting and adaptively re-using more office, retail, and industrial buildings into mixed use, mixed income housing.
Finally, the City must incentivize telecommuting beyond the pandemic. Many people have adapted to – and thrived – in our enhanced telecommuting economy, and this has resulted in a sharp decline in traffic and improved air quality.
While reducing car traffic will have an immediate impact on improving air quality, switching to Electric Vehicles is the permanent transition I will work to advance. I will work with state and federal officials to pass laws to incentivize and encourage more local, decentralized solar energy installation and battery storage. The DWP should finance residential and commercial solar panels and batteries by providing electric bill discounts, amortized over time. I will also advance policies to ease zoning and LADBS regulations on solar installations to accelerate our permanent transition to clean, renewable energy. Our City must use every tool at its disposal to expedite sustainable solutions to achieve our City’s goals of a 100% carbon-free grid by 2035, and to do so, Los Angeles must lead the nation in distributed solar energy.
2. Resiliency and Adaptation: Addressing Heat, Drought, and Other Future Threats to the City and the 5th District
The climate is changing, and our leaders need to be focused on how our City will have to adapt and become more resilient in the face of new challenges. Temperatures in our City are increasing at an alarming rate and have reached dangerous levels, creating a worsening public health threat for our residents as well as perennial high wildfire risk. Water shortages, the increasing threat of wildfires and earthquakes, and other infrastructure deficiencies mean that we must start planning now to protect our communities when, not if, these climate emergencies occur. Preparation for these climate emergencies must be a City-wide effort, involving every agency and department, and every community will need to be engaged – since natural disasters in one part of Los Angeles will affect the entire City and region.
Our city’s utility – DWP – should use every tool available to conserve and reuse water throughout Los Angeles and reduce our City’s reliance on imported water by capturing more stormwater and reusing groundwater.
I will propose a new City Council committee focused exclusively on Resiliency and Adaptation. This committee will develop practical strategies to cool the City, fund resiliency projects, and update the City’s emergency preparedness. Cool roofs, green roofs, green space, tree canopy, wildfire mitigation practices, cooling stations, cool blocks, and resiliency hubs are some of the many strategies available to address these challenges. Much of the work would revolve around connecting residents to resources – and each other. Studies show that a community’s resilience may depend on how well neighbors know each other, and how well neighbors can help each other get back on their feet. When environmental disasters hit – and they will be hitting harder than ever – we need City Councilmembers who will work tirelessly to keep us prepared.
3. Enhance The 5th District’s Parks, Green Space, And Urban Forest
Many of us learned during the pandemic how truly vital public parks and green space are to public health, to our kids, and to our quality of life in Los Angeles. However, Los Angeles suffers from a dearth of parks and green space. According to the Trust for Public Land, Los Angeles’s access to parks ranks 71st among major cities in the United States with only 13% of our land designated for parks.
Meanwhile, the parks that we do have are deteriorating and growing increasingly congested, dirty, and unsafe. Many of our parks lack park rangers, clean bathrooms, and well-maintained playgrounds. It is past due for the City to make a massive investment of Quimby and other City funds to enhance existing parks and expand them physically. As Councilmember, I will be aggressive and innovative in creating new pocket parks throughout the 5th District. I will also fight to protect existing parks and open spaces from current threats of being converted to non-open space uses.
Expanding green space and our tree canopy coverage is an essential air quality issue as well. By many accounts, Los Angeles has the worst air quality of any major city in the country. Not only do trees provide shade, help cool the air, reduce energy bills, and enhance the quality of life in every neighborhood, they also scrub particulate matter from the air and consume carbon dioxide. Protecting and enhancing our urban forest through grants, incentives, and free tree programs is a cost-effective and efficient use of our tax dollars to help the environment and beautify our neighborhoods.
4. Preserve Our Ridgelines, Hillsides, Wildlife Habitat and Connectivity, Biodiversity, and Scenic Resources
The City has a duty to counteract the growing threats of out-of-scale development, climate change, and wildfires. The 5th District is home to some of the most cherished and pristine wildlands and wildlife habitats anywhere in Los Angeles, including the beautiful but fragile Santa Monica Mountains ecosystem. I will fight to limit new development in the Santa Monica Mountains, especially the massive proposed hotel in Benedict Canyon and other projects that would commercialize our fire-prone hillsides.
The City must also promote sustainable communities by advancing sensible wildfire, ridgeline, and wildlife connectivity protection policies. I support strict enforcement of existing as well as additional hillside protections, reinstating the Mulholland Design Review procedure for the Mulholland Scenic Park Specific Plan, and hiring a staff biologist for the City. Finally, I will fight to protect our scenic resources by tackling illegal and un-permitted billboards and signs.
5. Aggressive Inspection, Monitoring, and Phasing Out Of Oil and Gas Drilling
The 5th District has more oil and gas drill sites than any other Los Angeles City Council District (located at West Pico, Hillcrest Country Club, Rancho Park, and San Vicente, respectively). There are 57 active oil and gas wells at the intersection of Pico and Doheny alone. These wells – pumping oil and gas daily under our homes, schools, and places of worship – are aging and deteriorating, some of them originally installed in the 1950s. They pose a clear and present threat to the environment and to our families through higher rates of asthma, cancer, and reproductive and other health complications.
As Councilmember, I will continue my leadership on this issue. Here’s how:
Inspections. The necessary first step is robust inspection of active wells. The City’s continuing failure to perform annual compliance inspections is unconscionable. I will implement and enforce a robust inspection ordinance. I will also ensure that the inspection ordinance funds additional inspectors and that those additional inspectors are immediately hired so that the City can fulfill its duty to protect its residents in the 5th District.
Enforcement and Oversight. I will work to ensure that the City aggressively enforces all applicable environmental laws and stops exempting oil well cases from environmental review. I will champion 24/7 emissions monitoring requirements with recorded data reported to the City on a quarterly basis. I will work to have oil extraction fees re-instituted and pipeline franchise fees increased to pay for more environmental staff and inspectors in the Petroleum Administrator’s Office. The City should also enforce available padlock ordinances (such as L.A.M.C. 12.27.1 for nuisance abatement/revocation) or implement a new padlock ordinance that would immediately shut down any oil activities once a violation is detected. If we can shut down bars and nightclubs for violating City laws, we should be able to do the same for oil operators.
Bonding and Plugging. The City must update and increase bonding requirements, which are woefully inadequate. Bonding requires local oil operators (which have become increasingly smaller and poorly capitalized entities) to have the resources to clean up pollution they cause or plug and cap their wells. Once our robust inspection and enforcement regime is implemented, we will be able to require the plugging of idle and illegal wells.
Phase Out Drilling. I will fight to phase out oil drilling in Los Angeles and work to transition these assets to sustainable uses. Oil drilling should be deemed a non-conforming land use, with a reasonable amortization period for well operators to cease operations. Most importantly, the City needs a vision to transition our local fossil fuel businesses to sustainable green infrastructure industries (including solar, wind, storage, transmission, charging, and hydrogen). We should work with oil operators to implement new uses that can transition these oil and gas sites safely for use as public parks, green space, or housing. It is imperative that we work with our partners in labor to help responsibly retrain and transition workers for other high-paying construction, installation, operation, and maintenance jobs. We need viable alternatives now so our families do not have to continue living next to these dangerous and toxic relics from the past.
6. Robust Enforcement of Environmental Laws in the 5th District, Including the Establishment of an Environmental Enforcement Commission, Compliance Strike Force, and “Greenstat” Program
Environmental laws and policies are worthless without robust enforcement. The City has enacted many good environmental laws and policies, but the City’s repeated failure to enforce those laws is a consistent problem plaguing Los Angeles on every issue in every neighborhood – especially for environmental crimes. For example, the City Controller recently reported that illegal dumping of trash, debris, and hazardous waste has increased 450% in the last 4 years. It is time for the City to enforce its laws against polluters, illegal dumping, blight, littering, plastic waste, and illegal billboards. To achieve this, I will revamp the City’s approach to environmental enforcement.
First, I will establish and fund an Environmental Enforcement Commission that reviews data related to environmental crimes, including LADBS citations, Conditional Use Permits, complaints of environmental violations to the My311 App, and other illegal land uses that violate our zoning laws. The City has powerful administrative tools at its disposal, yet they are woefully under-utilized when it comes to enforcing our environmental laws. Establishing a well-resourced commission for that purpose – that will interface with the various departments and the City Attorney’s Office – is a good first step.
Second, the City needs trained inspectors from various agencies to form a Strike Force for environmental compliance, where they can work in concert to inspect and investigate polluting sources. I would support greater funding for the LAPD HazMat Unit, LAFD CUPA, LASAN’s Watershed Protection Division, and other City agencies to hire and train new personnel as part of this effort, so that our agencies can meet the challenge rather than being constantly under-resourced.
Third, the City needs a “Greenstat” system to hold our agencies accountable for implementing these policies. Oversight and evaluation are basic practices that help determine whether enforcement measures are successful, and whether we are actually achieving a more sustainable City. This Greenstat program would be modeled after the successful Compstat program established by LAPD Chief Bill Bratton. Just as LAPD Division Captains appear before their top brass every month to report on crime statistics and evaluate their performance, a panel of Department Assistant General Managers would be required to report monthly on their progress in enforcing the City’s environmental policies and land use laws. Specific data would be publicly available: How many complaints have been reported? How many enforcement actions have been filed? What are the results of those enforcement actions? What enforcement strategies are working, and which are not?