L.A. Has Some Pretty Ambitious Plans for a Greener Future

The city’s official sustainability guru talks electric cars, lighter-colored roads, and (of course) water

Balancing the needs of more than 4 million Angelenos with those of L.A.’s strained urban ecosystem is no small task. The city aims to become more water independent (85 percent of our supply is imported), improve air quality, and add more park space. Those efforts are part of L.A.’s Sustainable City pLAn. Released in 2015, it isn’t just focused on the environment, though. “It’s as much about that as it is about equity and the economy,” says Lauren Faber O’Connor, the city’s chief sustainability officer. A native Angeleno who has worked for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, she took the post in June. “Whenever we’re looking at policies to implement in any aspect of the plan,” she says, “we need to start in our most highly impacted communities.” Here’s a peek into her playbook.

The city is banking on plug-in vehicles to reduce smog. “We are moving to all electric, zero-emissions buses. We’re also looking at what we can do to help that transition in the private vehicle market. We set a goal to have 1,000 publicly available charging stations in the city by 2017, and we are at over 1,450 chargers. The LADWP has put forward a plan to move that to 10,000 charging stations in the next five years.”

It’s looking into lighter-colored roads and roofs to keep L.A. cool. “When it comes to the impacts of climate change, extreme heat is a major threat to Los Angeles. We have pilot programs in every city council district to lay down a coating that lightens our streets, and we see an immediate improvement in the temperature on that part of the street. The other piece is cool roofs, which we’ve required on any sort of residential roof or expansion.”

Courtesy Hero Images / Getty Images

Planting more trees is part of the strategy. “[We’re] improving the canopy across the city for shading, cooling, and green infrastructure. Green infrastructure helps with storm water capture, too. We’re looking at the parts of the city that most lack tree canopy—typically in our poorer, most disadvantaged neighborhoods. It creates a lot of health disparities when you don’t have access to green space.”

Becoming less reliant on imported water is key. “Cleaning up the contamination in the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin—one of the largest groundwater basins in the state—is a foundation of our strategy. But so are water recycling and better storm water capture so that we are not letting that water go into the ocean. As we improve our groundwater recharge, we are also improving water quality for the L.A. River.”

And it’s looking at eco-initiatives to grow employment.“Over the last three years we’ve created over 20,000 green jobs. Every aspect of sustainability carries a job opportunity with it—whether that means employing people to change landscapes to more drought-tolerant landscapes or people going to homes and businesses to install solar panels or retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient.”

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