Taking inspiration from the Congressional Green New Deal proposal, in 2019, the City of Los Angeles put forth a new version of a city-wide sustainability plan entitled LA’s Green New Deal. While LA put out its first city-wide sustainability plan in 2015, this 2019 plan was a genuine revamp, boasting new accelerated targets to green everything from energy to jobs to housing and even put forth the ambitious idea to make all city fleet vehicles zero-emission by 2028.
Dr. Cassie Rauser is the director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge program, a research team working to position LA as the most sustainable mega-city in the globe by 2050. She explains the 2019 plan “as a vision for the city of Los Angeles… a vision of [an] actual sustainable future, a vision where social and environmental equity is very seriously considered and prioritized.”
But is the LA Green New Deal’s vision just another greenwashed slogan with empty promises or does it actually set the stage to rebrand the infamous concrete jungle into a beacon of sustainability for the world?
LA Green New Deal Revamp: Equity
The LA Green New Deal plan has a number of new updates that put equity first when drawing up actionable targets, explains Rauser. The equity questions are some that have never been asked before in such a large-scale sustainability plan and with the in-progress LADWP study, there will be a roadmap on how to reach all targets in a fair manner, which is the first of its kind according to Rauser.
However, as Occidental College’s Cassie Carter adds in her 2020 senior year graduating thesis, the 2019 plan specifically focuses on environmental justice in a way it had failed to in previous versions, but still doesn’t involve the voices of leaders in the LA communities most affected by environmental injustice. Carter finds critically that the plan’s vague definitions of the role of community stakeholders and partners, in addition to the lack of focus on what can be done regarding issues specific to marginalized communities have led to a disconnect between the equity the plan promises and the resulting equity when targets are implemented.
What about the plan targets?
The targets of the LA Green New Deal build upon those in the 2015 LA Sustainability Plan, but with accelerated deadlines and more details for equity targets. There are numerous targets, including goals to supply 100% renewable energy by 2045 and sourcing 70% of LA’s water locally by 2035, but they revolve around 12 primary categories. These categories, which have many individual targets, are the areas that the city of LA sees the need to do better in regard to sustainability. They are: environmental justice, renewable energy, local water, clean and healthy buildings, mobility and public transit, housing and development, zero-emission vehicles, industrial emission and air quality monitoring, waste resource and recovery, and food systems.
As Mayor Garcetti wrote in his introduction to the plan in 2019, through the framework and targets of the Deal, LA will eventually be cutting out emissions the equivalent of the annual emissions of New York, London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong combined. But what is the current status of progress towards these targets?
In April of 2019, C40 had already proclaimed that 90% of the short-term targets like increasing green jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing the use of solar had already been met or surpassed. The mayor’s office website adds that significant progress has been made in advancing renewable energy, clean vehicles, local water, and biodiversity goals for the city, bringing down greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting disadvantaged local communities.
But some are calling the targets themselves into question. As CR Mills of Shelterforce reports, the city’s target for housing in the Green New Deal falls far short of the reality of what is needed.
In terms of the number of new housing units needed, the plan’s “ambitious” target to create 275,000 new housing units by 2035 and only secure 50,000 income-restricted affordable housing units by 2035 is less praiseworthy than a 2018 report from the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that more than 500,000 affordable housing units were needed in real-time to satisfy LA’s severely rent-burdened population. Moreover, Mills writes that the specifics of the affordable housing policies allow for flimsy equity at best given that most units would be privately owned and could potentially have time limits on their fairer rent. In their recommendations, Shelterforce also points out that in this sense, the Green New Deal has not been incredibly ingenious or creative with its solution considering the plan neglects affordable housing opportunities in “locally-owned mixed-income public housing could be built on city-owned land.”
Similarly, some object to the transportation targets outlined by the plan and their feasibility. One target in the Green New Deal proposes cutting the current use of driving in half by 2049 by promoting Angelenos to reduce their daily miles traveled. While the target seems incredibly progressive, in an interview with Inside Sources, Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden argues that working towards this target would not only require a huge technological overhaul but also be fruitless in terms of its impact on emissions for the globe. One of the more exciting targets in the deal–to make all the vehicles in the city zero-emission by 2050–was also called into question by Inside Sources. While feasible, the target fundamentally disregards equity given that transitioning from a gas-powered to electric car would still be incredibly expensive for all of LA’s lower-income populations.
On the other hand, climate activist groups like the Sunrise Movement argue that all the plan’s targets and the plan itself, are not ambitious enough. Drawing upon the research from the IPCC that claims that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut entirely by 2030 or the globe heads toward “‘the point of no return’”, the group criticizes mayor Garcetti’s Green New Deal as operating on a lax timeline that would bring change “20 years too late.”
Flawed from Design
Critically, some argue that the nature of the plan is flawed to begin with. While the plan centers on environmentally-friendly changes in addition to economic revitalization, a brief, entitled and revolving around “Green New Deals”, from the Brussels Office of the non-profit, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, highlights that there will always be disappointment with Green New Deals because environmental goals and capitalistic economic goals fundamentally conflict. If environmental change and real progress towards the IPCC deadline for net-zero emissions would be seriously prioritized, it would require these Green New Deal regions to rethink the growth model of the capitalistic economy that has historically been, and presently is, rooted in an inherent disregard to nature.
The 2019 plan can be a model for the world.
“We’ve said from the beginning, the LA Sustainable Grand Challenge is ‘if you can do it in LA, you can do it anywhere,’” Rauser told me in an interview.
Her words aren’t just motivated by taking pride in the city, the complicated implementation of this plan in a city as culturally, socially, and geographically diverse as LA really allows it to be a framework for cities across the globe, she notes.
While on paper, the LA Green New Deal targets seem to be great markers of a cleaner future, but the specifics might need to be reconsidered. Like Dr. Rauser says, the document is a revolutionary proposal in the fact that it exists and has put down not only the environmental issues but the equity questions on paper. However, as several organizations have pointed out, its deadlines and progress towards equity must be accelerated if we’re to see the plan’s hard work pay off rather than remember it too late as a good effort.
Perhaps, in this sense, it’s time for a new update to the sustainability plan and an even “Greener” New Deal for Los Angeles that factors in the needs of the marginalized Angelenos who need it the most.
What do you think of Los Angeles’ Green New Deal? Do you think the transportation targets fare in terms of being equitable relative to the cost of living in the city? Can economic growth and environmental preservation go together?