L.A. on the Record: Climate change is mostly taking a back seat in mayor’s race

The L.A. DWP's Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, shown in 2020, has been the source of health and climate concerns.
The L.A. Department of Water and Power Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, shown in 2020, has been the source of health and climate concerns.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the latest edition of L.A. on the Record — our local elections and politics newsletter. This week’s roundup comes courtesy of Dakota Smith, Benjamin Oreskes and David Zahniser, with assists from Julia Wick and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde.

Heat waves, droughts and intense wildfires: The damaging effects of climate change are occurring more rapidly and with greater severity than previously thought, according to a new report covered by Times staff writer Ian James.

But policing and homelessness have dominated in the mayor’s race. Neither Rep. Karen Bass nor developer Rick Caruso mention the issue of climate change on their campaign websites. City Councilman Kevin de León, who made the topic a priority when he was a state senator, also doesn’t mention it on his site. Neither do candidates Craig Greiwe, Ramit Varma and Gina Viola.

City Atty. Mike Feuer and businessman Mel Wilson have laid out extensive climate policy plans on their campaign websites.

Feuer’s goals include expanding solar programs, conserving water, sourcing more water locally and adding bike lanes.

Wilson’s proposals include reducing greenhouse gases by reducing traffic with “staggered work shifts and telecommute initiatives” and discouraging hard surface materials for sidewalks and driveways and instead using permeable surfaces to capture rainwater and divert stormwater.


And City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the L.A. Harbor area, wants to tackle pollution and fight childhood asthma, according to his site.

Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of the Los Angeles nonprofit advocacy group Climate Resolve, said he’s been volunteering for Bass’ campaign to boost understanding of climate issues.

Among the mayor’s biggest roles when it comes to climate change is overseeing policy at the L.A. Department of Water and Power and Port of L.A., Parfrey said.

Questions remain about how the city will reach its goal of getting to 100% renewable energy by 2035. “What’s the execution?” Parfrey said. “And what’s the price tag?”

The port remains the single biggest source of pollution in California, and the next mayor needs a plan to get port-related machines, such as cranes and trucks, off diesel fuel, Parfrey said.

Other topics, such as a push to phase out natural gas stoves and the city’s use of asphalt to pave its streets, also loom for the next mayor, he added.


Mayor Eric Garcetti, who recently traveled to New Mexico to celebrate a new wind farm that will provide energy to DWP, was asked Thursday at a Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall event to name which important issues aren’t being addressed by the mayoral candidates and the media.

“I’d like to see, hear more talk about climate,” Garcetti said, while also mentioning housing (specifically, changing neighborhood zoning) and positioning L.A. as a global city. Recycled water, electrified transportation, zero-carbon buildings and environmental justice are top issues for the next mayor, Garcetti said.

Morgan Goodwin, senior director of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, told The Times that if greenhouse gas emissions haven’t been sharply reduced by 2030, scientists predict that it’s “game over” for the climate. “If this mayor serves two terms, they will be leading for all of the time we have to [reduce emissions],” Goodwin said.

State of play

—The week started with the news that Caruso was endorsing the recall of L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón. Buscaino had previously backed this second recall push of Gascón, and other prominent candidates, including Bass and Feuer, have at times raised issues with his tenure but hasn’t endorsed the recall effort against him.

Gascón, a former LAPD commander and San Francisco district attorney, swept into office in 2020, beating an incumbent and introducing sweeping reforms to the agency. He said these changes were needed to remake an office he believed was prioritizing convictions and lengthy prison sentences over justice. Our colleague James Queally looks at how a series of news events and a growing political isolation forced him to shift gears a bit.

—For Buscaino, it was bad enough that the Los Angeles Police Protective League — the city’s powerful police officers union — passed him over and instead endorsed Caruso. After all, Buscaino is a former police officer who fought the City Council’s efforts to pare back funding for the LAPD. But last week, league president Craig Lally made things a little bit worse for Buscaino, telling KFI radio’s John & Ken exactly why the union passed over him.

“Joe never articulated a plan on how to win or raise the money necessary to be competitive in this race,” Lally said. “He spent most of his time attacking Rick Caruso instead of explaining his vision.”


Another view of the mayor’s race: A new poll from Loyola Marymount University shows a different shape of the Los Angeles mayoral race than previous surveys, with no commanding front-runner. The LMU poll, which was conducted over more than a month and asked respondents to self-identify as registered voters, put Bass at 16% support and De León at 12%. None of the other candidates in the poll were above single digits. (Worth noting: Caruso entered the race after the poll concluded.)

The city’s largest voting bloc: There’s a hunger for Latino elected representation from L.A. County voters, according to a new survey by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation.

An overwhelming percentage of the 1,500 Latino respondents said they prefer that a Latino represent them, with 46% saying it is “very important,” our colleague Alejandra Reyes-Velarde reports. This data point may speak to the potential of De León if he can turn out the vote in these communities.

Around the horseshoe ... and beyond

NoHo nuisance? Feuer‘s office is taking legal action against a San Fernando Valley landlord, alleging that one of his buildings has become a stronghold for the North Hollywood Locos gang. In a nuisance abatement lawsuit filed last week, Feuer’s legal team said the apartment complex on Vanowen Street has experienced nine shootings in the last 15 months, as well as robberies and other crimes.

Russia’s invasion: Both the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors moved this week to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine. Separately, Buscaino introduced a motion to declare Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, as a Los Angeles Sister City. Such a relationship would allow the city to send “retired” city goods, such as fire trucks and ambulances, to Kyiv with council approval, according to his office.

Court-ordered treatment: As California cities struggle to address a homelessness and mental health crisis on their streets, Times staff writer Hannah Wiley reports that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration unveiled a proposal to compel more people with severe psychiatric disorders and addiction issues into court-ordered care that includes medication and housing.


Down the ballot

Former L.A. City Councilman Nick Pacheco
Former L.A. City Councilman Nick Pacheco talks during a City Council meeting at City Hall.
(Los Angeles Times)

In South Los Angeles, Councilman Curren Price is hoping voters will give him a third and final term representing some of the most impoverished parts of the city. But another familiar political name recently popped up in that contest: Nick Pacheco, the former councilman and disbarred lawyer who served a single term at City Hall.

Pacheco represented the 14th District, which includes Boyle Heights and other parts of the Eastside, from 1999 to 2003. He was unseated by Antonio Villaraigosa, who went on to become mayor, and defeated again in 2005 by another up-and-comer, Jose Huizar, whose career trajectory took a decidedly dark turn in 2020.

So what’s Pacheco up to now? He argues that the city has failed to fulfill its promises on cannabis. The city raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from marijuana sales, he says, and spent too little of those proceeds in low-income neighborhoods like those in Price’s 9th District. “I haven’t been able to convince them to do the right thing, so I have no other choice but to get back in there and right the ship,” he said.

If Pacheco qualifies for the ballot, he will almost certainly have an uphill climb. Price has huge support from the city’s labor unions and is known for working to divert about $90 million from the LAPD budget to fund social programs. And both men are expected to face major competition from college administrator Dulce Vasquez, who has raised more than $200,000 for her council bid, an impressive haul for a first-time candidate.

Speaking of Vasquez, she’s one of several candidates featured in a story from Julia Wick that looks at whether City Council incumbents may be more vulnerable in 2022 than they’ve been in the past.


Even her opponent, Price, acknowledged that the city’s political landscape had shifted.

“I think every election going forward is going to be tough,” Price said, citing a number of factors, including turnout and a new generation of voters who want to challenge the system. “It’s not business as usual anymore.”

Wick writes that ousting a City Council incumbent has historically been a little like snow falling in Los Angeles — not impossible, but exceedingly rare. Over the last quarter-century only two candidates have succeeded in unseating a council member (that number includes Villaraigosa).

But quite a bit has changed in recent years. Five incumbent council members are up for reelection in 2022 and at least three face potentially competitive races, Wick says.

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Quick hits

  • Who is running the city? Garcetti in San Francisco. The mayor is acting more like an ambassador than a mayor on some days. Garcetti met last month with a group of influential Indian Americans in the San Francisco area for a 2½-hour closed-door dinner on bilateral trade, human rights and pluralism, according to Economic Times. Garcetti, who’s awaiting Senate confirmation to be U.S. ambassador to India, told the group that President Biden has told him that the U.S.-India relationship is the most important global relationship in his mind.
  • The latest in endorsements: Caruso picked up the endorsement of former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck — who last month withdrew his endorsement of Gascón. Former City Controller and California Inspector General Laura Chick endorsed Feuer. And state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) backed Bass.
  • On the docket for next week: Bass, Buscaino, Feuer and De León will be taking part in a virtual forum next Tuesday at 5 p.m. on homelessness. More information here.
  • Valley shakeup: Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood) announced he won’t run for the newly created 44th Assembly District seat and instead will seek to replace City Councilman Paul Krekorian for the District 2 seat in the east San Fernando Valley in 2024. Krekorian faces term limits that year.

For the record: Last’s week newsletter referred to Courtni Pugh as De León’s campaign manager. She is his general consultant and the top advisor on the campaign.

Stay in touch

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