For the last few years, we’ve heard often that LA’s Green New Deal is a framework for helping the city combat climate change and meet its sustainability goals. But what exactly is the Green New Deal, and just how well is the city progressing toward its ambitious climate-related goals? To answer these questions and more, Victoria Simon, the Executive Officer of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Sustainability visited the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Sustainability Committee this week to provide some key information and updates.
To begin with, Simon explained that because half the world’s population lives in cities, cities are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and thus play a big role in building resiliency and preventing the negative effects of climate change. And Los Angeles, Simon said, has been at the forefront of this effort for a long time. In fact, she said, Mayor Garcetti established the first city-level sustainability office in the world, and immediately began working with other cities around the world to combat climate change.
According to Simon, L.A.’s Green New Deal is the city’s updated Sustainability Plan from 2019. It’s also one of the first city-based climate change action plans compatible with the international Paris Agreement to limit global warming and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, which places Los Angeles the city “at the epicenter for climate leadership.” In other words, Simon said, if our city can meet its climate targets, it will show that other cities around the world can do so too.
Simon said L.A.’s Green New Deal covers 13 distinct topic areas, as shown below, and the city has so far undertaken 485 specific initiatives in these areas. Together, she said, they create a holistic approach to building a more sustainable city.
The Five Zeroes
In general, though, Los Angeles’ Green New Deal (which is funded through a variety of city, state and federal sources, as well as private sector investment incentives) concentrates most specifically on “5 Zeroes” for reducing carbon emissions – goals for creating a Zero Carbon Grid, Zero Carbon Buildings, Zero Carbon Transportation, Zero Waste, and Zero Wasted Water.
Meeting our “zero” goals in these five areas, Simon said, will prevent up to 1,650 premature deaths and 660 hospitalizations each year, save $16 billion dollars each year from those prevented deaths and hospitalizations, and will create as many as 300,000 green jobs by 2035 (and 400,000 by 2050). In other words, she said, the potential benefits of reaching our climate goals are so great “there’s no reason for us not to go full steam ahead.”
And so far, Simon said, the city is making good progress on all of the “zeroes.”
First, toward the Zero Carbon Grid, Los Angeles is now the “number one solar city in the world,” has completed a study that has accelerated our carbon free grid target by 10 years (and become a model for similar studies across the country). We have also more than doubled the percentage of our overall grid powered by renewable energy, deployed more than $300 million in solar incentives, with more than 26,000 solar installations, and have commissioned the largest solar and battery energy storage system in the U.S., as well as the largest, highest capacity, and lowest cost wind farm.
When it comes to Zero Carbon Buildings, Simon said, the city has adopted the most ambitious energy and water efficiency law in the U.S. for existing buildings, has the largest number of buildings in the U.S. with Energy Star certification, saved customers nearly $2 billion through energy investments, was the first city to adopt the Buy Clean CA Act for procurement of low-carbon materials for infrastructure projects, and announced that all new municipal buildings will now be all-electric.
Making progress toward Zero Carbon Transportation, Simon said Los Angeles is definitely the “car capital of the world,” but it is also now the electric car capital of the world. It has installed more commercial EV chargers, “by many thousands,” than any other U.S. city, pioneered the placement of EV charging stations on city streetlights (with more than 400 currently installed), placed the single largest electric bus order in U.S. history, and created the second largest municipal EV fleet, with more than 4,000 vehicles. The city has also created a first-of-its kind enforceable zero-emission delivery zone pilot program, and has instituted several measures to help green the Port of Los Angeles.
Simon said our progress toward Zero Waste (or, more accurately, keeping about 90% of our waste materials out of landfills) “stumbled some” during the COVID-19 pandemic (largely because China stopped buying our recyclable materials and it now costs us money to have them recycled), and some targets in this area had to be put on the back burner for a while. In recent months, however, she said the city has once again “amped up attention on waste.” It is reinvigorating our composting program (soon all residents will be able to use their green bins for food waste)…and just yesterday the Los Angeles City Council approved a new ban on Styrofoam. Simon said each city department has also created its own zero waste plan, so city government can lead by example with things such as zero-waste events.
And finally, addressing the fifth “zero” – Zero Wasted Water – Simon said the city has reduced water usage by 20%, replaced 51 million square feet of turf with more drought tolerant plantings (saving more than two billion gallons of water per year), and worked hard on measures that will help make the city more self-reliant during periods of drought. These include the “Save the Drop” water conservation program, new programs for stormwater capture, and converting the Hyperion water treatment plant to the largest water recycling system in the U.S. by 2035. “Behavior change has really become a way of life” when it comes to water usage, Simon said.
Over the last four years, Simon said Los Angeles has also provided global leadership and cooperation with other cities around the world, with Mayor Garcetti chairing the C40 organization – a group of 97 of the world’s largest cities committed to addressing climate change – for two years, as well as participating in other multi-city and international sustainability efforts.
What Can We Do to Help
To support the city’s Green New Deal and anti-climate change goals, Simon said there are several ways to get involved, most of which are discussed in the Neighborhood Council Green New Deal Toolkit. Suggestions include everything from planting trees and installing solar power to hosting cleanups and low-waste events. She said people can also try to limit their use of single-use plastics (bags, bottles, etc.), and even try bringing their own containers to restaurants to bring home leftovers (despite what some restaurants may tell you, that’s not at all illegal). And, finally, she said, the city is also working on creating dishwashing hubs for farmers markets, so vendors there can sell products in re-usable containers that people can return for sterilizing and reuse.
Simon also urged community members to get involved with discussions of local laws and ordinances, and to follow various climate-related measures as they make their way through city government. “I honestly think the voices from the community make a huge difference,” she said. This includes attending meetings, writing letters, and more…both as individuals, members of groups, and by forming coalitions of local groups to strengthen voices and influence.
Meanwhile, both Simon and several attendees suggested that people can get started by tracking the issues they’re interested in as they make their way through city government. The Los Angeles City Council tracks its work on various motions and issues with individual Council Files, which are searchable by topic, keyword, council member and more in the city’s Council File Management System. When you find an issue or motion you’d like to follow, just click the little envelope-shaped icon on the Council File page for that item, and you will receive updates as it moves through the city’s discussion and approval process.
You can also keep track of City Council and City Council Committee meetings and agendas using this link (items listed on the agendas also contain links to their council file pages).
And to make things even easier, former GWNC Sustainability Committee member Dan Kegel has also created his own easy-to-use search tool for City Council Files, organized by issue and City Council Committee.
Finally, of course, you can also attend the GWNC Sustainability Committee meetings, which are held via Zoom on the second Tuesdays of even numbered months at 7 p.m.
With a new incoming mayor and other newly elected city officials, there will inevitably be some shifts in operations as the new administration gets up and running over the next few months. For the moment, however, Mayor-Elect Karen Bass has offered most city staffers the chance to stay in their jobs at least until April of next year, so no immediate shakeups in the city’s climate efforts are planned at this point, and their work on the Green New Deal will continue.