The Miracle of Main Street: How Eric Garcetti Pawned Himself Off as a Climate Change Leader

PLANNING WATCH-When even the Los Angeles Times questions Eric Garcetti ‘s high profile international role on climate change, you know that there is a mystery afoot.

How did this pretender, marred by so many sins of climate change commission and omission, get himself elected to head the C40 Cities Climate Change leadership group? According to the Times, “This is a network of cities around the word committed to concrete action to combat climate change. Congratulations to him. Now let’s see some action on the ground in Los Angeles.” 

The paper’s editorial page then challenged the Mayor to match the remarkable record of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with comparable projects to drastically reduce LA’s carbon footprint. The editorial also urged the mayor to champion Bus Rapid Transit, bike lanes, safer streets, and additional mass transit. 

While such efforts are welcome, and the Mayor is already an advocate for Vision Zero, his version of safer streets, the LA Times list only scrapes the surface of LA’s climate to-do list. What the LA Times conveniently overlooks is that Eric Garcetti has mastered the dark arts of political magic. On one hand, he colludes with major real estate mogulssupporting a long list of projects that create homelessness, air quality, and traffic congestion. On the other hand, he poses as a leader on immigration, gun control, human rights, and even environmental issues. 

Smiles, expensive tailored suits, and glibness help, but the Mayor’s real trick is to emphasize liberal social issues that do not stand in the way of real estate speculation. Many LA voters see through this charade, but wishy-washy criticisms on climate issues, like those of the LA Times, help placate the rest. The Mayor, like the paper, is an expert at greenwashing. He has learned how to misrepresent real estate speculation as sustainable, compact, and/or transit-oriented development. 

The Mayor, in conjunction with the City Council and the City’s operating Departments, could, however, play a major role in truly mitigating and adapting Los Angeles to climate change. It is not enough to feel the pain of Angelenos subject to wildfires, heat waves, power outages, and rising seas. The officials also need to prepare and adopt a comprehensive plan that identifies existing climate-related policies and programs; determines which should be expanded, replaced, or rolled-out from scratch; and assigns specific City Departments to take the lead on each climate program. 

Most importantly, every climate change program must be carefully monitored and then revised based on its successes and failures. This will determine what actually works versus hype from special interests who reflexively greenwash their highly profitable buildings with hollow claims about Green House Gas reductions. For example, their assertion that people, regardless of their income level, will switch from cars to buses and subways when they move to new apartments located near transit lines must be verified. In this case, the likely finding will be that the only transit-adjacent residents who regularly ride buses and subways are those who are financially or physically unable to drive. 

Everyone else who can afford to drive or take Uber and Lyft, does so. Despite living in “transit-oriented developments,” few tenants will abandon their cars before LA’s built environment becomes transit-centric.

To go down this path is hard, but the route is clearly marked. 

State of California: As I have previously written, the most important step is to update the City’s General Plan, adding an optional but already clearly defined Climate Change Element. The State of California offers detailed models and guidelines for this, which emphasize the following: 

  • State agencies can assist municipalities, free of charge, to inventory, plan, implement, and monitor energy use and Green House Gas (GHG) emission reduction policies and programs. 
  • This process heavily relies upon the expanded use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the preparation of local Climate Action Plans (CAP). 
  • This climate planning process can apply to General Plans, facility plans, land use ordinances and permits, transportation systems, code enforcement, and municipal operations. 
  • The new Climate Change element must be linked to other General Plan elements, especially the Safety Element, because the latter should include an analysis of local climate change impacts and related adaptation programs. 

Local Resources: No one, including the LA Times, the Mayor, the City Council, and the City’s Departments needs to wait for Sacramento before addressing the following. 

  • What valuable programs to mitigate (e.g., bicycle infrastructure) or adapt to (e.g., cooling centers for heat waves) climate change exist among the City’s many operating departments, but need additional funding to achieve optimal results?  

  • How could the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) be fully used to determine the climate impacts of proposed private and public projects, as well as metropolitan-wide trends? 
  • What nearby cities offer easily replicated climate models for Los Angeles, such as the exemplary urban forests in Beverly Hills, Culver City, and Santa Monica? 
  • What City agencies, like LA’s new and barely staffed Office of Climate Emergency Mobilization or the Department of City Planning, could establish a Climate Change Monitoring Unit, and what existing databases could jump start accurate annual assessments of local climate trends and climate-related policies and programs. 

While City Hall officials hem and haw regarding statewide and local climate resources, nothing stops them from taking immediate action on the following to avert a climate crisis already upon us. 

Preserve LA’s shrinking urban forest, then supplement it with proper planting and long-term care of drought tolerant, disease resistant trees. This is strictly an off-the-shelf program that only requires money and staff. While the City focuses on saving mature trees, it can also plant new ones from a master list of 134 tree species already approved for LA’s parkways.  

Repair LA’s sidewalks and intersections. The easiest way to persuade people to walk, not drive, to nearby destinations is to repair LA’s crumbling sidewalks and then install ADA compliant curb cuts and missing streetlights. Like tree maintenance, it will require significant budget allocations to move from dithering to action. 

Nix gentrification scams. I have devoted many CityWatch columns to expose a long list of gentrifying real estate scams, especially the Purple Line Extension Transit Neighborhood Plan (TNP). As I have pointed out, the misnamed TNP has no connection to transit, neighborhoods, or planning. It is strictly an untaxed gift to commercial property owners, allowing them to build taller, larger, denser buildings that will become major generators of profits, Green House Gases, traffic, and homelessness. While this is one of the city’s worst climate sins, all these real estate giveaways need to be round-filed to reverse LA’s cumulative carbon footprint. 

Mr. Mayor, are you listening?


(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He serves on the board of United Neighborhoods of Los Angeles (UN4LA) and welcomes comments and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com. Selected previous columns are available at the CityWatch archives and the Plan-it Los Angeles  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.