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Mayor's sustainability move could help fix the economy

The city Los Angeles Today - Bureaucratic Silosof Los Angeles's financial crisis, with its painful staffing cuts, is deeply rooted in its environmental crisis.

This may sound surprising. It's a perspective that's certainly invisible to most policy makers.

We hemorrhage cash and jobs, in part, because we are hemorrhaging water and energy. The waste of natural and economic resources is intertwined, and it's time to realize that the solutions must be intertwined as well.

Kudos to Mayor Villaraigosa for consolidating the functions of Environment, Energy and Sustainability into his office. This shows that he and his staff recognize the urgent need for coordinating resource management. It's partly because of the uncoordinated way we've managed the environment that we are in today's mess. And it's critical to understand how we got here in order to create a path out.

When cities like Los Angeles were developed, people didn't understand they were building on an ecosystem. Thus government was organized into manageable departments that didn't reflect a living, interconnected system of air, water, soil, plants and animals. As the city grew, departments became bureaucracies, and these organized into what is known in management parlance as "silos," each with its own responsibilities, infrastructure systems, and budgets to grow and protect.

And so, water supply people didn't talk to the flood control people. Flood control people didn't talk to the water quality people. As new problems arose, cities created new bureaucracies and infrastructure systems to manage and solve them without addressing the problems in the underlying systems that caused them in the first place.

The result: today's massive, systemic, overwhelming waste: of vital natural resources, of taxpayers' money, of water, and of human lives.

City may trim tree-trimming

Badly trimmed treeHere's a picture of an illegally cut tree in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles, according to the photographer. Though the lack of foliage makes identification a bit tricky, this multilated tree might be a mature ficus tree, much like the verdant and healthy tree further down the block.

That tree -- the healthy one -- is providing the services that green infrastructure offers us in the city; giving shade and protection from urban heat; filtering particulate pollutants from the air; capturing, holding, and filtering a limited amount of rainwater in the soil if it's planted in the sidewalk, and providing a haven and sanctuary for birds, which, if we were near the tree, probably would be going delightedly and noisily about their business.

I bring this up because the city of Los Angeles, with a ballooning budget deficit, may be facing cuts of as many as three thousand jobs and may eliminate city services such as tree trimming

This is bad news, not just for city employees, but for all the city's residents. These are difficult times for the people of our city, and now, potentially, for the trees of our city as well, because of the threat of damage to our urban forest. In the nearly four decades that TreePeople has been at work in Los Angeles, we have been through several recessions. In bad times, the budget for tree-trimming is reduced, and as a result, tree-trimming is either deferred or the pruning that is done is often much too severe in an attempt to make the pruning last years longer. Trees can be butchered. Many die. Those that do survive lose much of their ability to provide vital and natural urban infrastructure services.

LA's water bucket needs a LID as well as a cork...

Tree and mulch as part of Low Impact DevelopmentCongratulations to the city of Los Angeles' Board of Public Works for taking the first step towards conserving our city's rainwater by passing a Low Impact Development [LID] plan.

This puts us on the path towards water sustainability. It still needs to be approved by the City Council, but this alone is a big step forward.

LID's primary aim is to protect water quality, but its tools can calibrated to substantially augment the supply of water for landscape irrigation, which comprises 40% to 70% of Southern California's overall use, and thus free up a substantial amount of water for the city and its residents.

While enacting a LID ordinance into law will be a critical step, the desired results and changes will occur over decades, not months or years. If Los Angeles is to respond to the threats to its health and viability posed by climate change and the long term water supply emergency, we will need to accelerate this retrofitting process.

Accelerating LID implementation represents the fastest, best way to establish a sustainable clean water supply for Los Angeles.

There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza

Rainclouds over LAThe rains that have fallen in the past couple weeks have given Los Angeles a reprieve from the severe drought of the past three years. In a search for long-term solutions, this past week Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (38th district) convened a hearing of the House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee in L.A..

Those in attendance heard testimony about a diversity of approaches. But they didn't hear much about a critical solution that could be scaled up quickly and cheaply, go far to meet our urgent water needs, and create jobs to jumpstart our economy. That solution is rainwater harvesting.

Despite L.A.'s recent abundant rainfall, experts agree that the drought is far from over. What's more, these rains didn't help L.A. as much as they could, because there's a hole in our bucket. Every time it rains, the City leaks billions of gallons of rainwater, literally throwing it away, right out to sea.

It's not only water that is hemorrhaging. We spend billions of dollars and a substantial amount of California's electricity importing L.A.'s water supply from dwindling distant sources. Making things worse, we also spend tens of millions of dollars more cleaning up pollution that's carried to the ocean by rainwater that falls on the city's over-paved landscape.

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