Regime Change

Good things often happen when governors leave office.

This past December may go down as the most productive month for regional  water quality and coastal ecosystem protection since September 2003. Last month featured five critical positive decisions:

Los Angeles approved the Low Impact Development Ordinance for the city.  The measure will reduce runoff pollution, increase rainwater capture and use, and improve flood control.  Also, Long Beach approved a similar LID measure in its updated building code in November.

Speaking of Long Beach, the city joined Los Angeles County in banning single use plastic bags.  Like the county, the ban will kick in this summer.

The California Department of Fish and Game approved a network of Marine Protected Areas for Southern California.  The network of MPAs marks the next critical puzzle piece in the state’s development of a statewide network.  Now Central California, the Channel Islands and Southern California all have MPAs, which is great news for marine life along our coast.

The Los Angeles Unified School District passed a far reaching water conservation ordinance that will save the school district money, conserve millions of gallons of water annually, and serve as an example for the rest of the state.

The State Water Board voted to uphold the Once Through Cooling policy for coastal power plants in California.  Proposed amendments would have gutted the new policy before it was ever applied.  As a result of the State Water Board vote, the heavily negotiated, 5-years-in-the-making compromise will be used to assess compliance plans from the power plants this summer.  LADWP’s plans for its three power plants should be the first in line to go through the  process.  This was definitely a December to remember.

For the historians among you, September 2003 delivered several great outcomes, most notably the conservation-minded purchase of Ahmanson Ranch and a major section of the Ballona Wetlands, and the approval of the groundbreaking Education and the Environment Initiative that mandates green education in California classrooms. 

So what does September 2003 have in common with December 2010?

Both months coincided with the state Governor leaving office. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis was fighting for his political life during the recall effort. Last month, the man who ultimately replaced him – Arnold Schwarzenegger – exited the Capitol. Sometimes, governors do some extraordinary things on their way out to cement their legacy in the state.

To be fair, Gov. Davis made a bigger environmental push than Gov. Schwarzenegger did.  Of five big December successes, Arnold can only take credit for his leadership in creating MPAs in Southern California.  He had nothing to do with LID, plastic bag, or water conservation wins, and he supported the gutting amendments to the Once Through Cooling policy. 

Although the Governor’s efforts didn’t lead to the December environmental victories, the connection between major success and the end of tumultuous administrations is pretty strong. Major changes seem to occur at the end of political regimes.

President Obama’s administration had a pretty good run of policy success during the end of the Democratic-led Congress.  The repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, enhanced food safety, and the tougher START treaty culminated a couple of years’ worth of discussion in dramatic and rapid fashion. 

Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait for the end of Gov. Brown’s administration before we have a month of wins for the coast to parallel last December. The Brown administration has a tough road ahead of them to solve California’s water crisis and enhance the state’s water quality and marine life protection without new financial resources.  But at least Brown took major steps in the right direction with the reappointment of Mary Nichols as the head of the Air Resources Board and the appointment of John Laird as Secretary of Resources.

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