November 26, 2002 - From the November, 2002 issue

Antonio Villaraigosa Speaks To Trust For Public Land On The Need For An Urban Agenda

In the midst of announcing his candidacy for Los Angeles' City Council, California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to a national meeting of the Trust for Public Land held earlier this month in Los Angeles. Among the topics covered are neighborhood development, environmental justice, and the need to beautify our urban communities. TPR is pleased to excerpt this speech by Speaker Emeritus Villaraigosa.


Antonio Villaraigosa

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for giving me the honor to speak to you this morning. I've been asked to give a short keynote, and I would like to speak about my vision for a "Greening of Los Angeles."

Back in what seems like long ago and far away, Mikhail Gorbachev said, "We are all passengers aboard one ship, the Earth, and we must not allow it to be wrecked. There will be no second Noah's Ark." So the future I'd like to speak about must be about our stewardship of the planet, of the land, water and air, of our communities, and of our families and children. Because frankly, we won't have a second chance.

We should approach the challenge with the conviction that no human being, no living creature, no habitat, no aspect of nature is expendable. When we do that, the world, and our actions in it, look different than they do when we don't.

Let me give you an example. Last year, a big topic of conversation was the possibility that the Community College District and other major institutions in Los Angeles could be persuaded to adopt "green building" policies that would save energy, save water and create more sustainable built environments. Such policies would revolutionize the way we look at development and its impact on our communities. My friends Tim Carmichael and Felicia Marcus urged the decision-makers to take the leap of faith, to make history by laying out a bold new future. And guess what? It worked! The community colleges, LAUSD, and LA City Hall all have adopted green building policies more extensive than any other in the nation.

Now I'm hearing that architects, engineers and designers throughout the region are taking crash courses on how to create buildings with sustainability in mind because it's good business when some of the biggest institutional builders in our region are building dozens, and even hundreds, of sustainable structures. We just passed the largest local school bond in the history of the nation. That is another opportunity for us to engage in the region of Los Angeles.

These decisions, and your advocacy, are changing the way one of our most important industries views its place and its role in the world. That, my friends, is what stewardship is all about.

And the drive for sustainability won't end with these considerable accomplishments. Everything we can do to design and site buildings and facilities to make more efficient use of energy, water and land are additional steps in the right direction because they help to change our relationship with nature from an antagonistic one to an symbiotic one.

The TreePeople, led by Andy Lipkis, are pioneering an exciting form of sustainability that promises to affect that relationship in profound, and practical ways. Their pilot program in North Hollywood to create full-scale watershed management in urban neighborhoods has the potential to change the way we design our communities. And it could save untold billions of dollars in infrastructure costs that otherwise are specifically dedicated to wasting our scarce water resources in the interest of preventing floods.

For Andy, everything starts with planting trees. But his plan means doing it strategically, and then doing a lot of other things that we never used to think about. What it really means is connecting the dots; thinking holistically. Understanding and acting upon, is the difference between being antagonistic and being symbiotic.

Speaking of built facilities, the concept of "joint-use" has been on the lips of policy makers for several years. For example, joint-use means turning schools into community centers, teamed with libraries, providing space during off-hours for neighborhood needs, and using fields and playgrounds as parks during the off-hours.

In an urban environment where there is not enough vacant land to serve all of our parks, school, housing and economic needs, we actually have no other feasible alternative. But, ironically, for all our well-meaning talk about school-related joint use, the last few times it has been proposed--at such locations as Belvedere Park on the east side, LA City College, and Cal-State Northridge--it has run up against community opposition. Not because it's a bad idea, but because those communities weren't allowed to participate in the conception and planning of the joint-use proposals and didn't trust those officials who were to do it for them in a vacuum.

Shared-use of facilities will not succeed unless the communities around them are part of the decision. But I think we're learning. Genuine community involvement and community empowerment must be made an effective part of our crusade to make a better future.

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It will take hard work, because often people are quick to say "no" to change. But once they understand the issues, they can become change agents themselves. And the quest for equity and justice amidst change will only yield results when communities have a say in what happens to them.

Let me speak about equity and justice as well. I believe Prop 12 to be one of the most progressive public policy initiatives in the nation, because it addresses the issue of equity and justice. We still have a lot of work to do on the environmental movement. We're all for making Los Angeles greener, but we have more work to do in bringing more color to our region. I believe the way that you bring that color and the way you excite those communities is you stand up for equity and justice and all of the very important issues connected to the environment. And that's why I focus so heavily on the urban environment as your mandate. We built a very strategic coalition, not just for now, but for the future of the environmental movement in California.

Our region and our state face major challenges, from housing to mobility to economic progress, in difficult times. These challenges transcend neighborhood boundaries and city lines, as do any possible viable solutions.

But I believe the gridlock we see on these issues in the State Capitol, and in our city and county governments, derives not only from our historically unfounded fear that it could hurt the economy, but also from our inability to involve the public in crafting solutions. Nobody wants to take on the whole burden of solving any one of our major problems, nor should they have to.

Social, political, and environmental justice includes everyone taking on his or her fair share of that burden. And they will only be willing to do that if they have a say in the decision making. Fairness is a concept that for too long didn't factor into our efforts to protect natural resources and provide recreational opportunities in this state. The needs of some were ignored.

But, as a member of this Legislature, I had the opportunity to not only talk about fairness-in the form of an urban perspective on parks, open space, recreation and water resources-but also to do something about it. The $2.2 billion Proposition 12-which at the time was the largest park and resource bond measure in the state's history-combined with additional funding we secured in the state budget to provide unprecedented monies to create parks and preserve open space in California's cities. Inspired by those who were already working to plant green jewels in the asphalt jungle, I was able to convince my legislative colleagues and the governor that it was time to invest in our land and water like never before. The voters agreed and passed the park bond, and a companion water bond, in a landslide.

We also passed bills and provided funds to attack air and water pollution. We listened to people like those of you here today and we took steps to ensure a better future for everyone in California.

I haven't been a member of the Legislature for a couple of years now, but I'm proud to say that I was once associated with an institution that has since gone on to secure even more funding for parks via Proposition 40, and to pass a ground-breaking law to limit greenhouse gases in auto emissions.

The future that lies through California's looking glass will be achieved, of necessity, by small steps, some of which will have large impacts. Those small steps will come about because people like you raise your voices and turn our leaders into your followers.

If we do what we can and what we should, some day I'm thinking we Angelenos will wake up and find ourselves living in a city of villages, where many more of the places we go are places worth going to and living in-where the concept of neighborhood really means what it says. Places where there are parks and schools within walking distance for every child, where water and air that are cleaner than what we enjoy today, and traffic that is more manageable because we've gone truly "multi-modal" and have more opportunities to live near where we work, shop, worship and recreate.

That's the future I envision in this great city of Los Angeles and I like what I see. Thank you. Have a great, green day.

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.