By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Greens, in fact, are so focused on lowering emissions statewide to fight global warming that they now praise freeway housing projects, forgetting about the young humans involved. And such family dwellings are enthusiastically being green-lighted by the Los Angeles Planning Department, taking its cues from City Council members. Incredibly, Planning Commissioner Michael Woo, a Villaraigosa appointee who sits through endless public hearings for such projects, says he’s not heard one word of opposition from environmentalists about placing children in housing along freeways. After the USC study came out, “it made me wonder why we’re approving so many of these projects,” he tells L.A. Weekly.
Woo says he’s looking into “solutions,” but the proposals to build freeway-adjacent family housing — two years after the USC study was released to much media attention — keep coming. “I’m not sure there’s a political will to stop housing projects at these locations,” Woo says.
And this surprising dynamic is unfolding in a city where supposedly eco-friendly Democrats control almost every aspect of the political scene, its mayor throws out regular “green” buzzwords, and its citizens are sympathetic to environmental causes. By all rights, the green movement here should be enjoying a golden age, not suffering from a lack of political will.
Measure B, the plan to cover hundreds of buildings in Los Angeles with solar panels, is the most talked-about example of a failed green effort that should have been a “slum dunk,” says Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, a leading environmental-justice group based in Huntington Park. But after DWP union honcho Brian D’Arcy and Villaraigosa wrote up a plan that, at its core, critics say, was about expanding the DWP union’s jobs and not about the environment, Measure B could not be saved, even with the backing of major environmental figures including Gold, Mendoza and Jonathan Parfrey, a past leader of environmental projects at the L.A. branch of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Pissed-off voters shot it down.
In Los Angeles, more than 400 environmental groups work tirelessly to close down power plants, improve the water quality in the Santa Monica Bay or plant trees on barren city streets. Filled with committed people who may work with large staffs or only a handful of volunteers, the green groups differ dramatically from one another, falling in three distinct categories: well-funded, well-staffed “mainstream” groups, such as Heal the Bay, Tree People and the Coalition for Clean Air; smaller, socially conscious “environmental-justice” groups that work closely with communities, such as Communities for a Better Environment and Urban Semillas; and less-wealthy, smaller-staffed “grass-roots” groups that also work closely with communities, such as the River Project, the Surfrider Foundation and the Ballona Institute.
Hanscom, the hard-charging environmentalist who has never gotten anything by staying quiet, worked for years with several dozen environmental groups fighting City Hall and property investors in the Ballona Wetlands, near Marina del Rey, a crucial watershed and one of Los Angeles County’s last surviving wetlands. In 2003, the coalition’s relentless efforts paid off — the state bought more than 600 acres of the wetlands to preserve and restore. She says the environmental movement in L.A. has lost its way. She believes it’s time for people to talk openly about a “midcourse correction.”
“On the one hand,” Hanscom says, “I’ve seen really good things happen — we’ve had more access to City Hall in some ways. But people have been timid when using that access. They don’t want to upset anyone.”
Without that push back from activists, says Hanscom, Los Angeles politicians have come to think that environmentalists should be serving them. “They sometimes call me as if I’m one of their staff members,” she notes, “and I’m supposed to do what they say. They have their roles mixed up. I’m here to advocate for the environment, not to advocate for them.”
Wendy-Sue Rosen, vice chair of the Brentwood Community Council, who takes up green causes such as keeping energy-sucking, environmentally intrusive digital billboards out of her neighborhood, says the movement’s softball brand of politics in L.A. isn’t working. “I’ve seen a lot of these organizations honoring [Mayor Villaraigosa],” says Rosen, “but I’d like to know, what are they honoring him for? I haven’t seen the policies that have made this city more green.”
Environmentalists certainly can’t brag about Measure B. For an estimated cost of at least $1.3 billion to L.A. residents, it would have paid for the installation of solar-energy panels on the rooftops of city-owned and commercial buildings. Voters smacked it down after newspaper reports of backroom deals to secure jobs for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the only workers who would have been allowed to put up the panels.
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