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Beyond the Election: How Green Will Our City Be?




(Editor’s Note: Living in Los Angeles is a day-to-day experiment requiring patience and improvisational skills. So does governing this sprawling metropolis of 3.8 million people. The city’s next mayor, however, cannot be satisfied with merely coping with issues as they arise, but must be able to look forward and anticipate and define the city’s needs for the next four years. To this end we’ve asked writers to share their thoughts about what lies ahead – and around the corner – for Los Angeles.)

Going green may be all the rage. But get into the weeds and you may lose a few people. Take energy efficiency. Yes, it’ll save you money, create good jobs (if done right) and help us preserve the planet. But walk into a party and start talking about window caulking, attic insulation and compact fluorescent bulbs, and you may soon find yourself alone in a corner.

For this reason, EE (as it’s called by those in the know) has been eclipsed by its sexier, infinitely more photogenic solar cousin. Policy makers struggling to articulate the sheer wonderfulness of energy efficiency have struggled to rally people to the cause (remember the Obama administration’s “cash for caulkers”?).

Yet the stakes couldn’t be higher. Here in L.A., we’re heavily reliant on dirty coal, electric rates are rising and – for the sake of future generations – we need to change our profligate ways. Energy efficiency is the cheapest, best way to do that – and it will lead to local jobs at a time when unemployment is in the double digits in many neighborhoods.

For our economy to thrive, our future mayor and city council members need to have a vision and a program for making us the most energy-efficient city in the nation. Part of that program will be to rally residents to the cause. And an election is a perfect opportunity to do that.

What’s exciting is that whoever is elected will have something to build on. Our current mayor, L.A. City Council and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners deserve credit for stepping up the game on energy efficiency last year.

In 2012, the LADWP board voted to more than double the City’s investment in energy efficiency, moving our public utility from being a laggard to a statewide leader. The change came in large part as a response to a campaign by a citywide coalition of community and environmental organizations and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which demanded that energy efficiency programs help struggling communities save money and get access to good jobs.

The Department raised its goal of reducing energy consumption by 2020 from 8.6 percent to 10 percent so that we are now in compliance with state standards. That reduction is equivalent to taking more than 30,000 cars off the road. And we should really be doing much more. The LADWP has promised to consider a 15 percent goal in the spring.

The Department has also committed to reach that goal in a way that serves all customers – including those typically overlooked by such programs – and to leverage the City’s investment to create good, career-path jobs for unemployed residents.

In the months ahead, the LADWP is rolling out programs to help thousands of small businesses, schools and struggling families – and some of the work will be done (and is already being done) by formerly unemployed L.A. residents who now have a chance at a middle-class career through their participation in IBEW Local 18’s Utility Pre-Craft Trainee program.

With leadership from our new city council and mayor, we can increase the reach of those programs and use them to green L.A.’s neighborhoods one by one. Candidates shouldn’t and won’t talk about the wonders of retro-commissioning buildings. But here’s what they can be calling for in every neighborhood across the city:

  • Jobs for the jobless. Formerly unemployed and underemployed L.A. residents building a better future while upgrading local schools, businesses and homes.
  •  Saving money and the environment. Savings from reduced energy use being plowed back into local businesses, classrooms and communities.
  •  Reimagining communities. Neighborhood councils, local community groups and business organizations working with our public utility to help residents and businesses change their behavior and get access to programs that will green our buildings.

To accomplish this, we need to support quality job-training programs – like the UPCT program – that teach green skills while also giving participants training that guides them toward a career in an industry, such as utilities or construction.

City leaders need to partner with LADWP and community organizations to raise awareness of programs that can make energy efficiency affordable to residents and businesses.

They will need to work to increase funding and resources – through Proposition 39 funds, financing and other sources – to help make L.A. part of an energy-efficient future. And we need to link future funding to a plan to create quality jobs for those who need them most.

There’s room for creativity. Homes and businesses that receive upgrades could get a special green designation that nudges neighbors to do the same. Churches could hold information sessions after services and get members to enroll in the program. Our utility could send electric-powered, energy-efficiency vehicles throughout neighborhoods and sign people up for programs.

Repowering Los Angeles with cleaner energy is the big picture – and the long­-term goal. To get there, we’ll need to repower Watts, Lincoln Park, Pacoima and Pico Union, bringing investment, jobs and savings to L.A., one neighborhood at a time.

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