October 30, 1988 - From the October, 1988 issue

A CZAR IS BORN: The Planning Report’s Conversation with Carolyn Green, AQMD’s Deputy Executive Director

Los Angeles’ path to clean air is fraught with conflict and tension. Recent activities by the Air Quality Management District have led to fears of “immediate intervention into land use and transportation planning,” notes former Planning Commission president Daniel Garcia. “The people at AQMD are engineers, not social theorists. As a single-purpose agency, they ignore the realities of growth and employment.” In order to consider the Air Quality Management District and what it portends for growth and development, The Planning Report met with Carolyn Green, deputy executive officer for planning and analysis. A recent SCAG-AQMD report, “The Path to Clean Air” (1987), discusses strategies necessary to reduce the ozone and carbon monoxide levels in Southern California. The report, which recognizes that the cost of attainment will be high, states that “Our historic success in reducing emissions from mobile and stationary sources can easily be overwhelmed by tomorrow’s growth.”

What do you think of the criticism by developers that the AQMD, as a single-purpose agency, is involved in issues for which it has no specialized expertise?

Our programs won’t work if developers think that what we’re saying is crazy. But there is definitely a willingness on the part of the development community to discuss the issues. The BIA has indicated a openness as well. A lot of redevelopment has proceeded until recently without regard for emissions regulation and without taking responsibility for air quality control. But I’m sure we will work together.

How will AQMD now affect developers?

Some people say that the AQMD is running roughshod over local governments in the name of air quality. But when we consider our indirect source review program, what we would be asking developers is that the development project offsets whatever emissions they think it will create. That’s what new industry will have to do. If someone wants to put in a new piece of equipment that is going to pollute the air, they have to clear up a corresponding number of emissions somewhere else to make up for it, so as not to exacerbate our existing problem. That’s what we will probably be saying to developers when there’s a large project or large housing development.

Aren’t local governments already focusing on these issues with developers?

To a great extent local governments are requiring developers to take a look at air quality mitigation measures, but there’s no follow-through to see if it is actually done. City governments adopt all of those measures as part of the development package after you have done the Environmental Impact Report, but 10-15 years into the future, they compare what is actually on the ground with what was approved, and quite often it doesn’t look anything like the initial approved plan. Local governments adopt mitigation measures and then feel it’s up to the developer to carry them out. There’s no mechanism to make sure that gets done.

How do you expect that this new relationship with developers will actually play out with local governments?

Local governments already have regulatory power to insist on various regulations. They can discount filing fees which are not insubstantial; they can encourage commercial projects in job-poor areas and housing development in job-rich areas. Local governments should be better able to maintain a job/housing balance through their regulatory power. While air quality might be considered a political issue at times, it will inevitably be a concern for local governments in their planning. And I think that local economic planning committees could also be doing more.

It sounds as if developers will be asked to shoulder much of the burden for air quality control.

Yes, developers will have to shoulder much of the cost of air quality improvement, but, indirect sources of air pollution stem from land use. You also have to realize that any adjustments that are made will ultimately help developers. By underwriting a transportation system, or by focusing on the jobs/housing balance, developers won't have to spend so much room for parking. Right now with any major housing project, from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 parking spots are needed for each housing unit. If we can decrease the amount of parking needed because of the transportation component of development projects, developers can use that parking space for other possibilities.

For how long has AQMD been overlooking transportation and development issues?

Well, you should realize what preceded AQMD. Air pollution is very old in California. In L.A. County, the Air Pollution Control Agency was started back in the 40's to regulate back yard burning and those things which were going to get rid of smog in Los Angeles. So much for that. But by the early 70's, it became clear that we weren't going to solve the smog problem in Southern California on such a piecemeal basis. Each individual county did what it figured was best. Bad air doesn't observe political boundaries.


In 1976 four counties-- Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino County-- merged by a joint powers agreement and called themselves the Southern California Unified Air Pollution Control District. At the same time they were seeking legislation to form one agency. The AQMD was authorized by state legislation, but unlike other public agencies, it is not funded by tax revenues. Rather, we're funded by emission fees from operators of stationary equipment which pollutes the air. Permits have to be renewed annually, and 90% of our revenues come from fees that we levy on industry.

What did the legislature want AQMD to do?

Our charge and our responsibilities are set forward in state law. We're responsible for stationary source pollution and that includes the individual identifiable sources like a refinery or a power plant or a manufacturing facility, and it also includes smaller things that you really wouldn't think about like dry cleaners or char broilers in Wendy's. In 1987, the legislature passed another piece of legislation, S.B. 151 by Sen. Pressley, which expanded some of the responsibilities and said quite clearly that we also need to take a look at the indirect sources of air pollution--sources that don't necessarily pollute alone and do not need an air pollution permit. This would include an office project or a shopping center, an entertainment facility, or maybe even a housing development project, but because it's there--it attracts additional trips which is a direct source of air pollution.

Are there any commercial buildings which attract jobs or consumers which are not indirect sources?

No. The question then becomes at what level does it make some sense to regulate. Our Regulation 15 ride share requirement says that employers attract vehicle trips. Employers could be using their status to encourage their employees to use other sources of travel than the single occupancy vehicle. They can use incentives like providing preferred parking for car pools or they can offer a free or reduced price on a bus pass. They could provide showers for bikers. Or they could provide disincentives like taking away free parking. The employer is spending a lot of money for parking--it's one of the most expensive land uses we have. Employers could increase employee's pay a certain amount and charge the same amount for parking. The AQMD is doing exactly that with our new union contract, and employees are making more money each month by carpooling. S.B. 151 requires the district to look at the whole issue of economic incentives in the air pollution business.

What authority oversees AQMD’s activities?

We don't really have a specific watchdog like a county agency which reports ultimately to the Board of Supervisors. We have a 12 member board of elected officials, and nine are locally elected officials. But if AQMD doesn't carry out its statutory responsibilities, the State Air Resources Board can review whatever is going on. If they make a negative finding at a public hearing, they can move to adopt a rule or regulation to correct it, but that never happens.

In the recent SCAG-AQMD report, you make emissions projects for the next 20 years. What kind of job is AQMD doing now in air quality control?

Through the Air Quality Management planning process, we publish a Reasonable Further Progress which charts what we have done and what our shortfalls are. There was a problem because there are lots of measures in the 1070 and 1982 air quality plans for the region which called for local governments to take specific actions especially related to land use and transportation responsibilities. But there was no real way to force that to happen, and as soon as oil prices plummeted and gasoline was much cheaper, all of a sudden we saw the quantity of vehicle trips and travel go through the ceiling. As a result, we've got a significant shortfall in our emission reduction progress. We have also not seen local governments take some of the local regulatory functions that they can take.

You mentioned that AQMD called upon local governments to take action. What power does AQMD have to force legal governments to pursue their regulatory power?

We're rather like SCAG--lots of authority but no power, at least in the local government area. There are those who argue that we have become the surrogate regional planning agency. I would disagree with that. I think our power is the power of moral suasion rather than the book-tight regulatory authority that we can bank on in court.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.