Mayor Eric Garcetti released a sweeping plan this week that outlines his environmental and economic priorities and sets measurable goals in a wide range of areas, from cutting smog and reducing the city's reliance on imported water to adding bike-share programs and urban farms. The 105-page report was billed as the mayor's 20-year strategy for fighting pollution and climate change while also addressing poverty and economic inequality.
For those who have been awaiting a vision from the mayor, this is a pretty good start, though it might be a bit too ambitious considering the limited power of one mayor. Can the region with the nation's worst air quality really go from 40 unhealthy smog days a year to zero days a year in a decade? Is it realistic to believe that half of all trips in L.A. will be made by walking, biking or taking transit by 2035?h
The plan also offers shorter-term commitments that the public can — and should — hold Garcetti to. By 2017, even before his first term is up, he wants the city to reduce average per-capita water use by 20%, grant permits for 17,000 new housing units near public transit, create 20,000 "green" jobs and install 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations. And he pledges to secure funding for critical groundwater cleanup.
By all means, go for it. But a vision on paper is meaningless, as the plan itself acknowledges when it notes that similarly ambitious reports have often ended up "gathering dust above the desks of the bureaucrats who commissioned them." The real test of Garcetti's vision is whether he will dedicate the time, energy and political capital to following through on his commitments.
Can he reorient the city's slow-moving bureaucracy to act on some of these common-sense goals? For example, the mayor wants to expand food-waste recycling, but the city has been tinkering with a pilot program for years while cities in Northern California have put in place full-scale food-scrap collection. Garcetti took two small steps forward this week by appointing "chief sustainability officers" in each department to coordinate these efforts and by telling his general managers that they will be judged in their annual reviews in part on how much progress they make on the plan's goals. Next, he needs to flesh out his ideas and begin to explain how he’ll push them through, including setting a legislative agenda for shepherding proposals through the City Council or the Legislature.
Can Garcetti convince skeptical Angelenos and the private sector that he's offering a realistic, affordable plan they should invest in and support? There's a reason L.A. has so far failed to develop a larger recycled-water system or build a waste-to-energy plant. These are expensive and politically difficult projects that require leadership and good management. Will Garcetti have the staying power to help make his vision a reality?