Memo to Antonio … continued

It's time to treat L.A.'s rivers as habitat rather than flood control channels. Photo:

Yesterday,  I outlined  my top three green initiatives that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should tackle in the remainder of his second term. Here’s a look at some other environmental issues that he should make a priority:

Fast-track city approval of a Stream Protection Ordinance in 2010. The Department of Public Works has spent three and a half years working on a stream protection ordinance.  Based on Watershed Protection Division analysis, there are approximately 462 miles of riparian habitat that would receive some level of protection under the draft ordinance.  Council districts 11 (Rosendahl), 2 (Krekorian), and 12 (Smith) all have over 60 miles of habitat, while 11 out of 15 districts have at least 12 miles of habitat.  The ordinance would protect the city’s remaining stream habitat by requiring development buffer zones of 100 feet for soft-bottomed habitat and 30 feet for concrete-lined channels. We need to start treating streams like habitat rather than flood control channels. Unfortunately, the ordinance has been frozen in the mayor’s office for over two years. If the mayor says he wants to protect L.A.’s streams, the ordinance would likely sail through City Council.  Unfortunately, the ordinance is not on the mayor’s radar.

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Memo to Antonio

Mayor Villaraigosa can accomplish three major green goals if he stays focused in 2010.

Last year marked a difficult time in Los Angeles and 2010 promises to pose even greater challenges due to an unprecedented fiscal crisis.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s promise to make L.A. the cleanest, greenest major city in America has a long way to go, but I really believe that the Mayor’s powers of persuasion and expert use of the bully pulpit can lead to tangible environmental improvements by the end of his second term.  Without the mayor’s leadership, major policies and projects often fall into a state of suspended animation. The Los Angeles Times today published a piece about the mayor narrowing his focus at the beginning of his second term to ensure greater follow through on promises. When Villaraigosa sets his mind to a specific issue, it’s amazing how quickly things can move, e.g. renewable portfolio standards, support for Measure R, the green port program and the promise to get off coal by 2020. However, a great deal more needs to be done to meet his lofty green city goals.

Here’s my take on the three biggest green initiatives that Mayor Villaraigosa should resolve to achieve in the remainder of his term:

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Watered Down Reform


State's water bill is heavy on the pork

The California Legislature approved a water deal this week, but sadly it’s weaker than the proposal that almost got jammed through at the end of session a few weeks ago. Sen. Fran Pavley’s effort to put meaningful water rights reform into the measure fell victim to 11th-hour dealmaking. Pavley’s reasonable initiative was perhaps the most critical part of the package. The proposed bond measure also has soared to over $11 billion (water pork for all!), and claims that the funds have not been earmarked for a peripheral canal and storage may be legally accurate but surely not politically correct. Statements from the governor, water districts and legislators make it clear that the intent of the water legislation is to enable the ill-conceived re-plumbing of the Delta to proceed. 

I certainly wasn’t surprised that a water package passed through the legislature in special session. The water crisis is as big a problem in California as the financial crisis.  However, I am deeply disappointed.

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Victory in Ventura!

Ventura's new progressive stormwater permit bodes well for local wetlands

Ventura's new progressive stormwater permit bodes well for local wetlands and rivers

After a grueling and tense 12-hour hearing, the Southern California Regional Water Board last night approved a new stormwater permit for Ventura County on a 5-1 vote.  The permit follows over two years of contentious debate involving Ventura County, its muncipalities, the Building Industry Assn., the environmental community and the Regional Board.

Over the last year, Ventura County and all 11 of its cities negotiated a far-reaching agreement with Heal the Bay and the NRDC. The six-page pact was incorporated in to the permit during the board vote despite the strong opposition from Regional Board staff.  Here are the highlights: Continue reading

Stormwater Redux

Clearer minds at L.A. City Hall prevailed Monday on the issue of raising stormwater fees. The city chose to develop a game plan for passing the fee rather than rushing it to the ballot.

Now the city can focus on passing the long-awaited Water Quality Plan, the blueprint for cleaning up local polluted waters. In addition, the city can use the plan to educate the public on the stormwater pollution problems and develop support for the initiative.

The ballot should be sent to property owners only when the public understands the problems and solutions, and when there is strong city leadership on a well- crafted campaign.  A new poll to determine the level of public support for an increase is needed ASAP.

The city should use the next two to three months to move forward, not use the recent public outcry about a poorly planned fee-increase as a reason to kill the needed hike.

Again, without additional funds, the chances of the city making our rivers, beaches and bays safe for people and aquatic life is zero.

The Governor Who Cried Drought

drought600Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an emergency on Feb. 27 because of “historic” drought conditions in the state of California.  The declaration led to the usual suspects offering the usual knee-jerk responses. Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared that “California is in one of the worst drought emergencies on record.” Water agencies started issuing releases on the potential to cut back water allocations to 15% of normal levels.

Soon after, State Sen. Dave Codgill (R – Modesto) released a $9.8 billion water bond package (SB 371) that looked like it was excavated from the days of disco.

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Water Crisis in 60 Seconds

stopwatchLast Friday afternoon, state Sen. Fran Pavley hosted a Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing at Santa Monica College, accompanied by state Sen. John Benoit and Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield.  The theme of the hearing was “improving water conservation and management in Southern California.”  Speakers included Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and representatives from MWD, LADWP, Long Beach, Irvine Ranch Water District and the Orange County Water District. TreePeople leader Andy Lipkis served as the token enviro.  They spoke to a standing-room only crowd in a hearing room that normally serves as a classroom.  No room for me.  I was banished to the children’s room next door. I’m not sure why the Senate couldn’t find a room in Fran’s district that could hold more than 60 people.

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Dorothy’s Law

About 125 people came out to the beach at Santa Monica Pier on a cloudy Sunday to share their favorite Dorothy Green stories. Some people came as far as San Francisco, Sun Valley and Denver to reminisce about Dorothy’s amazing achievements, tireless work ethic, big heart, and sense of humor. The County Lifeguards paid tribute to Dorothy, the founding president of Heal the Bay who passed away in October, as one of their own with a boat offshore and Capt. Angus Alexander’s inspirational words at the podium.

Any event with Dorothy had to include an environmental action and her memorial was no different. Paula Daniels, Conner Everts and I put together a version of “Dorothy’s Law”: a common-sense legislative solution to California’s dysfunctional water supply management.

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Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The State Water Board today received a comprehensive water recycling policy for California that the state desperately needs to heed. After five months of intense negotiations, a coalition of water supply agencies, water recyclers, sewage treatment agencies and environmental groups, including Heal the Bay, wrote the policy in response to a draft effort completed by the water board that was universally opposed. 

The fate of the policy lies in the hands of the Water Board, but it is critical for the Schwarzenegger administration, including Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources, and Secretary Linda Adams from Cal-EPA, to use the policy as a springboard for a more comprehensive and integrated water policy for all of California.

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Living Within Our Means

permanent drought

California: permanent drought

Governor  Schwarzenegger and U.S. Senator Feinstein wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times that pitches a $9 billion water bond as the best way to “solve” California’s water crisis.  If this sounds familiar, that’s only because every day is Groundhog Day for California’s water supply.  We heard similar pitches for propositions 13, 40, 50, 84 and 1E. All those initiatives accomplished some great things, but they did NOT solve our water crisis.

As I’ve said before, California is not in a seasonal drought.  We are in a time of permanent water scarcity due to climate change and justifiably reduced supplies from the Delta, Eastern Sierras and the Colorado. Another water bond will not get us out of the crisis.  Just like the legislators wrangling with the state budget, we’ve overdrawn the account and we’re living on credit.  And we can’t rely on the same old sources of revenue to balance the budget — or in this case, to balance the water budget.

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