Envirowimps: L.A.'s Big Green Groups Get Comfy
So far, 2009 has not been a banner year for the environmental movement in Los Angeles. As the area’s mainstream enviros buddy up with self-described green politicians and deep-pocketed land speculators and unions in Los Angeles and Sacramento, who have seemingly joined the “sustainability” cause, an odd thing is happening: Environmentalists who should be at the top of their game are turning into servants for more powerful, better politically connected masters, and suffering a string of defeats to boot.
The first bruising local loss was dealt on March 3, when voters shot down a controversial, Villaraigosa-backed solar-energy initiative, Measure B, which many prominent environmentalists supported heartily. The stunning defeat came after a flurry of bad press, which accused the mayor and his political friends of secret backroom deals, and criticized the way the measure was rushed onto the ballot, for no apparent reason, by the Los Angeles City Council. The political chicanery turned off the city’s mostly liberal voters, and Measure B went down hard and heavy. The losses kept racking up from there.
On April 29, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder placed a temporary injunction on a key clause of a “clean trucks” program at the heavily polluted Port of Los Angeles, thus allowing independent truckers to continue working for themselves rather than for trucking companies. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters came up with the controversial clause, and environmentalists, according to Coalition for Clean Air president Alberto B. Mendoza, signed off on it.
The federal judge’s ruling may not seem like a big deal, but environmentalists agreed with city pols and the big union that forcing independent truckers to work for a company would ensure that only clean trucks rumble through the port. Their plan, ridiculed as a sop to those who hoped to turn the truckers into Teamsters, went out the window with Snyder’s injunction.
Los Angeles Angels vs. Cincinnati Reds
TicketsMon., Aug. 29, 7:05pm
UCLA Bruins Double Header: M Soccer vs Duke & W Soccer vs Penn St.
TicketsFri., Sep. 2, 5:00pm
UCLA Bruins Men's Soccer vs. University of Akron Zips Men's Soccer
TicketsMon., Sep. 5, 5:00pm
UCLA Bruins Women's Soccer vs. North Carolina Tarheels Soccer
TicketsFri., Sep. 9, 7:00pm
That same day, the American Lung Association scored L.A.’s ozone layer as the dirtiest in the country, and L.A. as the third-worst city for year-round air pollution. The Port of Los Angeles is a very bad actor, its belching emissions creating a dramatic increase in cancer rates in numerous suburbs upwind of the harbor. A federal Environmental Protection Agency study released June 24 says those emissions have turned pleasant, tree-lined places such as Cerritos, miles away, into Southern California’s hot spots for cancer and other diseases.
More bad news followed for enviros, when, on May 10, the L.A. Times reported that major oil companies and gas-station chains collected “hundreds of millions of dollars” from a state environmental-cleanup fund that was meant for mom-and-pop businesses. It was a public-relations fiasco of the highest proportions, with big businesses showing once again that they’re more than willing to co-opt a well-intentioned project for a lucrative payday — and do it gleefully, behind the backs of greens, who had supported creation of the fund.
“This sort of green-washing is unacceptable,” says Marcia Hanscom, one of the rare environmentalists who openly question the effectiveness of the green movement. “Large, polluting corporations should not be allowed to access funds like this — especially when their record profits translate to their not really needing public funds.”
It’s a cautionary tale for this city’s environmentalists, who must increasingly deal with the fact that labor unions, big businesses and politicians are embracing a green economy to solve their own financial and political woes. If the big boys aren’t handled smartly, the green agenda — repairing a damaged planet, and protecting the local environment in which we live — may end up watered-down, even an afterthought. Yet today, in one of the most politically progressive, seemingly eco-conscious cities in the United States, environmentalists have increasingly become a marginalized voice struggling to transition to a strong political force.
“I don’t think the traditional environmental organizations are up to speed of where we need to be,” says Miguel Luna, executive director of Urban Semillas, a grass-roots environmental group based in Northeast L.A., who, though careful not to condemn, doesn’t necessarily go along with the strategies of the big-name green groups here.
Mendoza, president of the influential mainstream Coalition for Clean Air, concurs: “If we don’t become more modern in our approach, we’ll become obsolete.”
Yet environmental groups are trying to raise funds in a terrible economy, which is putting the crunch on a number of green nonprofits, environmentalists aren’t effectively widening their movement to include community groups such as neighborhood councils, and leading environmentalists sometimes act as silent accomplices to the things they criticize. Eco-conscious honchos privately grumble about Villaraigosa’s “lack of vision” and “slow action” on green issues but give him a free pass in public.
“Nobody has come out against [Villaraigosa] because he’s trying,” explains Melanie Winter, director of the River Project, a grass-roots environmental group based in Studio City. “But because of his potential, he’s been a disappointment.”
Under the current crop of politicians, developers have marketed, or “green-washed,” huge buildings to the Los Angeles public as “sustainable” — meaning healthy for the environment over the long term — when critics say they actually create more traffic congestion, more pollution and a plainly lower quality of life.
In Hollywood, the political turf of green-friendly City Council President Eric Garcetti and 4th District City Councilman Tom LaBonge, Bob Blue saw one proposed skyscraper or giant condo complex after another come before the community group he chaired, the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. Outsize projects that ignore local zoning restrictions are now peddled by developers as good because they are “LEED” buildings, meaning they offer such features as low-flush toilets, on-site renewable energy and improved indoor-air-quality standards.
Lost in the push for LEED certification has been the pressing question of whether the environmental benefits of these buildings outweigh the negatives. Do these big structures cause more emissions by attracting increased traffic and encouraging congested streets filled with idling cars, for example, than they claim to reduce? In truth, nobody knows — including the many cities such as L.A. whose development approvals now require LEED standards. “But if you have a project that would normally be four stories high and now it has 20 stories,” says Blue, who supports the concept of LEED design, “it still adds enormous weight to the infrastructure.” There is a “net increase in power, water, sewer, traffic, pollution and impact to the immediate surrounding area.” The community activist adds, “I think that this is being missed by everybody.”
Blue’s hardly alone in his criticism. Rex Frankel, a widely respected independent voice in L.A.’s environmental movement and director of the think tank ConnectingCalifornia.org, says, “If you’re using LEED to justify greater density, it’s a false tradeoff ... we’ll still face more time in traffic, increased smog and other impacts. It’s just another example of green-washing.”
LEED is little-known to the public, but among many L.A. greens it’s an all-but-closed debate — and represents a profound shift. Greens like Hanscom, Frankel, Bruce Robertson, Kathy Knight, Sabrina Venskus, Patricia McPherson and Wendy Wendlandt directly took on City Hall in the 1990s, preventing the City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan from wiping out big chunks of the Ballona Wetlands and very publicly exposing the politicians and their land-speculator friends over absurd “sustainability” claims. Playa Vista’s proponents actually attempted, for example, to call the green median strips at Playa Vista “open space.”
Yet today, Los Angeles enviros are sliding toward the argument that big development is good for the air, land and water, and that tiny bits of green are enough. Bob Blue goes to six to 10 city planning-department meetings a year to keep an eye on these kinds of projects, but he’s rarely seen an environmentalist in attendance. “Maybe one time an environmentalist showed up,” Blue says, “but it was on behalf of the developer.”
Many neighborhood activists believe that environmental leaders need to connect with ordinary citizens like Bob Blue, and learn to play hardball in a city where the political and business establishments take no prisoners. “L.A. is a rough town,” says John White, a longtime environmental lobbyist based in Sacramento. “Like one City Hall insider told me, ‘We don’t cut off noses anymore, but Los Angeles is still like Chinatown.’”
Within the green movement, Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People, and Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay, have reputations as longtime, heavyweight environmentalists with privileged access to the city’s and state’s top politicians. Neither of them, though, want to jump into the rough-and-tumble games of California politics, like the Hanscoms and Frankels of the world.
Lipkis, a likable and dedicated activist, proudly describes himself as politically “naive,” adding that he doesn’t “have a lot of understanding or patience for politics.” Gold, a smart and equally dedicated environmentalist, says that what some see as the hijacking of green issues by politicians, labor unions, developers or speculators doesn’t concern him. “Not even a little,” he says. “That’s not what I worry about. I worry about the economy. I worry about cleaning up the environment.”
This laissez faire attitude toward politics, though, has increasingly left the L.A. greens in the position of followers, not leaders. The River Project’s Melanie Winter, for example, visited New York City not too long ago. The veteran environmentalist saw recycling, open spaces and great parks. When Winter returned home, she found herself literally depressed. “We’re 12 years behind New York in making L.A. a green city!” she says.
One example can be seen in the new trend of land speculators and developers proposing apartment and condo complexes near freeways, in many cases arguing that the buildings are “sustainable” because they bring workers closer to jobs. The developments often get the blessing of L.A. City Council — to the horror of health experts. The University of Southern California and other research institutions now know for certain that children living in these projects are burdened with serious, often lifelong lung and respiratory illnesses caused by a relentless stream of traffic nearby. “They are putting individuals at risk,” says USC professor of preventive medicine Jim Gauderman, of the politicians, developers and greens. His 2007 study made that clear.
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.
When Villaraigosa and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hammered out Measure B, they failed to consult environmental heavyweights Gold and Lipkis. Both have tight connections to the Villaraigosa administration, yet both tell the Weekly they were never invited to the power table. This didn’t stop Gold from granting his full endorsement when the mayor finally came calling — after the fact. Gold even appeared in an online video enthusiastically backing Measure B.
Gold is no Marcia Hanscom or Bill Gallegos. He won’t criticize any aspect of Measure B. “It’s too easy a target,” he explains to the Weekly. Gold feels Villaraigosa’s work on green issues has been “superb.”
Measure B, in fact, was one of those mishandled opportunities — similar to California gay-rights honchos’ bungling of the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 — that can shake an entire movement to its core, prompting activists to demand publicly that their leaders change the way they do business. The gay-rights movement has been going through that transformation since it lost at the ballot box in November. By contrast, many environmentalists are hesitant to accept any blame or criticize City Hall. When L.A. Weekly brought up Measure B with various local environmentalists, for example, many responded with a tense sigh and a word or two about how it’s a “sensitive issue.”
Seemingly in denial, Stephanie Pincetl, director of the Center on People and the Environment at UCLA, blames the failure of the measure on former L.A. City Controller Laura Chick. Chick was considered a hero by many for saying publicly that Measure B, jammed with fine print that all but banned the involvement of the vibrant private solar-installation industry, “stinks.” After Chick made her surprising public break with Villaraigosa, neighborhood activists ramped up their already-boisterous attacks on Measure B. Pincetl is offended by all this. Chick shouldn’t have publicly “turned up the way [Measure B] was allegedly written up in secret,” Pincetl says with disgust. Pincetl even blames “yellow journalism” for hurting the ballot measure.
Parfrey recently jumped the fence from enviro to politico, named by Villaraigosa to the powerful Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners. He shrugs off the Measure B fiasco, explaining, “If you look at the recent environmental initiatives, they all go down” — not quite true, with huge funds for mass transit being approved by voters last November in the form of an increased Los Angeles County sales tax and voters backing Proposition O in 2004, directing $500 million to clean up L.A.’s waterways and beaches. As if reading cue cards, he says the Measure B loss was a lesson of patience in a “long-term struggle” and contends: “We need to have a very robust public-engagement plan, and the [DWP] will be a part of that.”
But what are the chances that DWP, a slow-moving bureaucracy that takes its orders from politicians, and whose union under D’Arcy has long stood in the way of solar-energy development, will really play such a role?
Lipkis of Tree People, whose activism spans 35 years, believes Measure B exposed the greens’ lack of serious political power at the table. “Environmentalists are perceived as not having enough votes,” he suggests, “so environmentalists are perceived as not having enough clout.”
David Abel, publisher and editor in chief of the Planning Report, who followed the Measure B campaign closely, believes that “Southern California environmental leaders underestimate their political power and leverage in setting environmental policy” — which translates into a fundamental weakness in which enviros make ready concessions and let establishment types set the agenda, as long as they can claim an often unprovable win for “sustainability” or the fight against global warming.
John White, a lobbyist for green causes in Sacramento, says environmentalists in Los Angeles are perhaps more influential than those from other parts of California — due to their connections to wealthy political donors in the entertainment industry. If politicians want generous contributions from the Hollywood crowd, White explains, they need the blessings of environmental leaders, and then those pols must campaign on a strong “green” platform.
Yet there’s a disconnect in the minds of the leading environmentalists in L.A. Purportedly progreen politicians control the office of mayor, almost every Los Angeles City Council district, every Los Angeles Unified School Board seat, a majority of seats on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and, for years, both houses of the California Legislature — yet the greens seem oddly incapable of taking advantage of it.
Gold went out of his way to endorse Measure B, even though Mayor Villaraigosa drew it up without Gold’s input. What local union boss would stand for that? Certainly not D’Arcy, the outspoken, aggressive IBEW general manager.
Sacramento lobbyist White says environmental leaders have historically focused on “policy-oriented” work while barely cultivating the skills to deal with bigtime political operators like union chiefs and land speculators. “When dealing with these kinds of political matters,” says White, “it’s not in their experience.”
Environmentalists made a clumsy leap into the political worlds of City Hall and the Teamsters when they were invited to the power table to create the “clean trucks” program at the Port of Los Angeles. The Teamsters and Villaraigosa wanted the port’s long-independent truckers to work for companies. Although the public was told that the reasoning behind this move was to stop Wild West truckers from driving filthy, smoke-belching vehicles, critics saw another motive at work, one that had nothing to do with “clean trucks.” Instead, it was all about stripping the truckers of their independence and giving the Teamsters a major opening to organize the drivers as union members.
Coalition for Clean Air’s Mendoza, whose staff members worked on the plan, says environmentalists backed that controversial clause. “[We] thought it was the best way to ensure that clean trucks would be maintained,” Mendoza writes in an e-mail to the Weekly. “If the trucks are not properly maintained and no one is accountable for that, then the whole purpose of having new/clean trucks goes out the window.”
For Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, though, dabbling in Teamsters politics wasn’t a good route for pursuing “clean trucks” and clean air for the Port of Long Beach, right next door. The Teamsters move was, in fact, a big distraction. “My first job in dealing with the port is to improve the air quality,” Foster tells the Weekly. “Employee status wasn’t a part of the issue.” The environmentalists appeared to get sucked into the Teamsters’ and Villaraigosa’s agenda. But Foster decided against any provision that could threaten “the clean-trucks program with a lawsuit,” he says.
This year, U.S. District Judge Snyder halted the plan to strip L.A. truckers of their independence. Although the trucker clause was peddled as absolutely necessary to achieving cleaner air, Villaraigosa released a statement suggesting the opposite: Despite the judge’s striking of the clause, the clean-trucks plan is “moving full-steam ahead.” The prolabor provision, it turns out, was not crucial to clean air. The environmentalists had gotten entangled in the mayor’s political maneuvering to help the Teamsters, and the lawsuit that went with it.
Mitchell Schwartz, president of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters and a national political operative who headed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in California, says there’s a reason for these missteps.
Environmentalists “sometimes want to be so pure,” he says, that, unlike Schwartz, most don’t have much experience with rough political campaigns. “But that’s not how politics works.” Schwartz adds, “People have to get dirty. You can either get in there, get dirty, and get something done, or you can stand on the sidelines with a beautiful reputation intact and get nothing done.”
“The good news for the environmental movement is its time has come,” says Darry Sragow, a well-known Democratic consultant. “The environmental community is swimming with the current, but that’s just good luck. If you don’t have an ongoing political operation with a political plan that’s run in a sophisticated way, you’re going to run into trouble.”
And Stephanie Taylor, interim managing director of the Green L.A. Coalition, an umbrella group of more than 100 environmental organizations in Los Angeles, doesn’t see that kind of political operation in place. “I don’t know if we’ve figured out how we can reach out in a bigger way,” she says.
One problem may be the lack of Internet savvy among older leaders of the movement. Mendoza, in his 30s, sees a generation gap, with younger environmentalists telling him that older, mainstream groups in Los Angeles have not properly used social-networking tools, such as Facebook and Twitter.
And Taylor and others think the public needs to be far more educated on the issues, in order to intelligently question corporate publicity machines and their adjunct political machines in Sacramento and City Hall. “I think we do need to be more aware and diligent about making sure that the ‘green job’ movement doesn’t take environmental issues away from us,” says Taylor.
Jack Humphreville, who is active in the citywide neighborhood-council movement and helped to lead the campaign against Measure B, says the greens are now in danger of getting “tainted. Environmentalists have to be careful how they approach these things,” he says. Humphreville says a lot of people want to clean up air pollution or restore the Los Angeles River. But there’s a wariness now, as activists allow themselves to “get played” by developers, labor unions, factory owners and politicians. “What the mayor has done is use the environment for his union activities,” he claims.
If they really want to stop this mission drift, says Sragow, environmentalists must elbow their way into power-broker roles. “It’s their job collectively, as a movement, to kick into gear and play offense,” he says. “They have to ask for things.” Taylor of the Green L.A. Coalition agrees, saying, “We have to make sure we’re at the table when these decisions are made about the new green economy.”
But, John White says, they aren’t sitting at the table at all. “Right now, we’re more like the menu.”
For now, green leaders around Los Angeles seem to be opting for a different, and maybe not terribly effective, form of power. Conner Everts, executive director of the Santa Monica–based Southern California Watershed Alliance, notes, “You’ve got a lot of people from environmental groups who have moved into regulatory positions” — plainly put, they are now drawing salaries from the government.
Everts then lists a half-dozen or so men and women who now have jobs with the city or state, suggesting that environmentalists inside these ossified institutions will use those posts to expand the movement’s political power. The River Project’s Winter doesn’t think it works that way. “They do everything in half-steps and baby steps,” she says of these bureaucracies, “but we need to get on our feet.”
The stark difference between the day-to-day work of Hanscom, the grass-roots environmentalist, and Parfrey, the political insider and mainstream environmental activist, proves Winter’s point in spades. When the Weekly talked with Hanscom recently, she was right in the middle of fighting an almost surreal but classically Los Angeles battle — to keep glaring digital billboards, made up of nearly 500,000 piercingly bright LED light bulbs, from popping up immediately next to the Ballona Wetlands, a key ecosystem for migrating birds, shore life and land flora.
As has become common practice under the “green” politicians who control the Los Angeles City Council, mayor’s office and City Hall’s bureaucracy, environmentalists had not even been warned that the city government was considering a hunk of land next to the wildflowers and blue herons as a future billboard location. “All of a sudden,” says Hanscom, “the city has the Ballona Wetlands as part of a billboard ‘sign district.’ It’s outrageous. I even had [prodevelopment] lobbyists and lawyers ask me what they were thinking.”
By contrast, as Hanscom aimed her firepower at City Hall, Parfrey, one of Villaraigosa’s newest political appointees, was getting ready to visit a DWP wind farm way out of town, with the idea of creating “educational tours” for environmentalists. Not necessarily a bad thing but not exactly shaking up the system. If anything, the tours, as described, have the feel of a public-relations campaign for DWP.
The timing of Parfrey’s ascent to an influential political post was troubling to some. The mayor appointed him to the DWP late last year, as the campaign over Measure B began, which caused some critics to ask if he was being rewarded by Villaraigosa for backing a measure many voters saw as having little to do with going green.
“I can see the difficulty Parfrey faces as an environmental lobbyist and activist co-opted into an official capacity by the City Hall political machine,” writes former L.A. Daily News editor Ron Kaye on his blog, www.ronkayela.com. “But ... the question has to be asked whether you’re an environmentalist or a green-washer profiting from public support for a greener world.”
Stephen Box, a bicycling advocate who has worked on green issues in L.A., believes Parfrey and other insider Los Angeles environmentalists are co-opted; blind-sided by digital billboards quietly proposed next to wetlands and in many residential neighborhoods, backtracking on the hard-won 1990s push to require green belts and building setbacks in housing developments, looking away as children get housed along freeways and staying nearly mum on unprovable claims of sustainability by big business and big unions. “It’s a wonderful thing to think you’re working on the inside,” says Box, “but based on the results, nothing is happening.” He sees a “fear” of rocking the boat among insiders, and an unwillingness to “set the bar too high.”
Several grass-roots activists believe mainstream environmentalists aren’t there for them, or won’t share their access to politicians. Bill Gallegos is executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. Although he believes things are getting better, he sees a “deep division” between traditional big groups and his kind of highly local organization, especially on the issue of environmental justice. Gallegos has focused for years on Huntington Park, a tattered, working-class, almost entirely Mexican-American southeast-L.A. suburb. Still, he’s worried about whether Villaraigosa and big environmental leaders will “throw down” with him.
On April 14, Villaraigosa stood on a stage inside the Balqon Electric Truck Factory in Harbor City and smiled at the City Council members and political insiders. Everyone was there for the mayor’s “State of the City” address, and Mark Gold of Heal the Bay was one of the VIPs.
“We are aggressively growing the industries of the future here in L.A.,” Villaraigosa announced. “We need to build a future in which clean technology is as synonymous with Los Angeles as motion pictures or aerospace. Where L.A. is acknowledged as a growing capital of the green economy.”
The mayor threw out buzzwords like “clean-tech corridor” and “green-collar jobs,” and optimistically promised that “if we follow this path, we can turn a new page toward a green tomorrow.”
Gold loved what he heard. “I was excited by it,” he later said, calling it “the kind of leadership we need. We really need to seize the day in clean tech.” When asked who invited him to the State of the City address, Gold said someone from the mayor’s office. It turns out, in fact, that it was a deputy mayor of economic development, not the mayor’s environmental staff.
However subtle, the origin of that invite was a telling sign of how political power brokers regard the L.A. environmental movement. Instead of seeing it as a passionate force to be tapped for improving the air, water and open spaces, powerful people outside it increasingly see it as just another jobs program. It makes some of the greenest greens wonder if their leaders are taking a back seat, as their own movement declines.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.