Opinion

Mayor Garcetti has a 'pLAn' for L.A. Or is it really a dream?

Mayor Garcetti gets points for ambition with his 'pLAn.' But some of his goals seem fanciful

Mayor Eric Garcetti has released "the pLAn" of environmentally themed initiatives and wish list items that he hopes will reshape Los Angeles over the next few decades.

It's a laudable effort. As things stand, there's no telling when the drought will end. But even if it starts raining buckets tomorrow, and the reservoirs and aquifers fill up to bursting, L.A. is still a big growing city in the desert with a water problem. And it is surrounded by mountains that are great at collecting air particulates. More so than in many other places,  environmental concerns ought to be among our political leaders’ priorities.

Not that Garcetti is obsessing over the environment to the exclusion of all else: The “pLAn” also addresses poverty and the affordable housing shortage.

"If we don't take the step to set targets, and measure progress to achieve those targets," chief sustainability officer Matt Petersen says, "how will we send the signals to the private sector, to the universities, that this is important as a community to come together?" I agree.

Even if you set the bar high, you'll fall short. Since even modest goals tend to wither away in the face of unforeseen difficulties and bureaucratic intransigence, anything short of an ambitious approach to big problems is inherently doomed.

Unfortunately the pLAn seems to fall into the not-so-sweet spot between goals that don't go far enough and ones that are difficult to imagine achieving without sweeping changes to the political system.

For example, the mayor wants to reduce the average temperature of the city by 3 degrees -- compared with the baseline temperature of nearby rural areas. Setting aside the curiously localized approach – climate change is a global problem that requires international cooperation on a massive scale –3 degrees isn't enough. Average temperatures in California are more than 4 degrees higher than they were at the end of the 19th century. Many experts believe that, even if every country on Earth radically curtailed industrial production, two centuries of uncontrolled emissions of greenhouse gases have caused too much warming to reverse climate change. So a 4-degree increase can't be canceled out by a 4-degree decrease, much less a 3-degree decrease. 

Furthermore, it's hard to imagine electric vehicles, planting more trees or "cool roofs" becoming widespread enough quickly enough to achieve the mayor's 3-degree goal.

So I'm torn. I’m pleased that environmental degradation – which has been ignored during most of my life – is finally being seriously considered by the political class. But it's a bummer to watch the politicians do what politicians always do: compromise, cut the baby in half, knowing that even a "not enough" effort probably won't get done.

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