February 9, 2010 - From the Dec/Jan, 2010 issue

Mayor Villaraigosa: U.N.'s Failure at Copenhagen Won't Diminish L.A.'s Success

Since the beginning of his tenure as mayor over four years ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been setting a goal for Los Angeles to become the greenest big city in the country. Now with the failure at Copenhagen casting relief on a lack of progress on the national level, Mayor Villaraigosa is expounding on the accomplishments of L.A. in cleaning up the ports, establishing green building requirements, and the development of renewable energy. The following are excerpts of the mayor making his case to the recent VERDEXCHANGE Green Marketmakers Conference in Los Angeles.


Antonio Villaraigosa

It is important that we come here today-that we gather, business to business, the people involved in this greening of America and of Los Angeles, in the efforts to really exchange ideas, to collaborate, and to help all of us figure out how we address climate change, which is one of the most significant issues facing our generation today. Many of us have heard a lot about what happened in Copenhagen. I can tell you as someone who grapples with fires and floods on what seems like almost a weekly basis, if you don't think that climate change is here, you really don't understand it, particularly if you live here in L.A., and you see the changes-the extreme weather changes. I have been here my whole life. When you look at the fires surrounding our city, when you look at the historic low levels of snow pack, when you see that we have been in this perennial drought, when you realize that the extreme nature of much of these climate effects-things are changing before our very eyes.

As someone who went to Copenhagen, I was very proud of our efforts there. A lot was said about the fact that the nations of the world didn't come together with vigorous agreement. There were issues presented by China's refusal to have accountability and oversight; the advanced, or industrialized, nations' unwillingness to give more to the developing world; and the developing world's unwillingness to accept there own responsibility. Countries were competing to see who could do the least. The cities were competing to see who could do the most. I was there, representing Los Angeles. London was there. Rome was there. Mexico City was there. Toronto was there. Hong Kong was there. When you look at the cities' mayors-and some of them are called governors-every one of them was extolling the successes of their cities over the last few years.

I was proud to say that on Oct. 1, 2008, we hit the Kyoto Accord for our municipal emissions. This year we hit it for the whole city-we hit those accords. And we are not stopping there. When we say we are going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent, we have time lines in between. We're not just setting them out into the future and saying, so I can get an editorial saying, I've got the highest goal of any big city in the country-and we do. There is no city in the United States of America that has a higher goal. But, by 2012, we are going to be at 20 percent renewables. We are at 15 percent today. We were at less than 4 percent four years ago. Our effort to clean up the port, with all of the chattering class' criticism of that effort-70 percent reduction in diesel emissions-is unheard of. The governor was there, the EPA was there, talking about what we were able to do. In two years, we launched about 6,000 new, cleaned-up diesel trucks, electric vehicles even. What we have done there, the reduction in NOX and SOX, is nothing short of amazing. It is the most far-reaching effort to clean up a port in the world.

We are at 65 percent recycling in this city. We are going to be at 70 percent by 2013. We expanded recycling from single-family dwellings to multi-family dwellings. We are at around 80 percent of where we could be in multi-family dwellings. When you look at out LEED Certified buildings-we have more LEED Certified buildings than any city in the country and one of the toughest green building standards, which we worked on with the business community.

Yet, much of what you heard there was new to you. When people ask me, "Why aren't you talking about it?" I say, "We talk about it everywhere we go. But nobody believed it." Now this stuff is incontrovertible. People know that we have achieved these successes. Yet, what does that mean? What does it mean that we have been able to do these things in a city that still has the ignominious reality of being one of the cities with the dirtiest air and the worst traffic?

It doesn't mean much if we're not creating jobs. It doesn't mean much if we're not leveraging what we are doing. I am glad Mark Ridley-Thomas is here today, because the two of us stood together for a proposition after passing Measure R-and he was one of the few people in this town that actually helped pass Measure R. We passed a half-cent sales tax in the middle of a recession, needing a two-thirds vote with opposition from virtually every part of the city. We are going to invest in public transportation and highway repair. We are going to become a more public transit-oriented city. But that is not enough. $40 billion over 30 years-we ought to leverage that. We ought to leverage it for jobs.

We got together and we said, you know what we want? We want a light rail manufacturing facility in the city of Los Angeles. What we developed at the port was a technology advancement program. We had $15 million-a little seed money, I think it was $500,000. A company agreed to put a plant in the city of Los Angeles. They are developing an electric truck for short haul drayages, because electric trucks can't really move the longer hauls. They now have a technology that can transfer to longer drayage hauls. The city of the Los Angeles, along with a growing company, is going to leverage what we are doing at the port.

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We are going to leverage Measure R with a cleantech manufacturing center-and everybody says, "Oh well. Where is it? All I see is a patch of land." Well that's all you see right now. And yes, we didn't get AnsaldoBreda. But we're going to get somebody else. We're going to get an electric car manufacturing facility; we are going to get a battery manufacturing facility. We are going to get those companies in Los Angeles. Everybody acknowledges that USC, UCLA, CalTech, JPL have more capital than virtually any three universities in the United States. They all came together under a consortium, they put an MOU together, and said, "We're always competing. Let's work together with the city of Los Angeles. Let's join this green technology revolution. Let's create jobs here, develop patents here, and use the intellectual capital that we have in this part of the country. Let's do the cleantech manufacturing center, not just of the United States, but of the world."

I was in Berlin. I saw their greentech center. What they are doing there, we can do here. We have more sun than anybody. We are approving-after some controversy-1,200 megawatts of solar by 2020. Why? Because we live in a sunshine city. Why? Because we own the Owens Valley. Why? Because we have more opportunity to develop solar there than even in the Mojave-better sun as I understand it.

When you realize the successes over the last few months, it has to be about jobs-when we connect it to the jobs of the 21st century and people realize the connection between climate change and jobs and skills. Our workforce development efforts around green technology are the most far reaching in the United States of America. At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which I couldn't attend, notwithstanding the fact that I am the first vice president, because of the floods, people were acknowledging all across the country what we are doing around work force development, particularly what we are doing around workforce development for green jobs. When you see that workforce development MOU with the universities, the cleantech manufacturing center, a technology advancement program at the port, and a similar one that we are going to create at the DWP; when you look at the fact that this is already the cleantech manufacturing center of the country; when you look at the fact that this is where the cleantech capital is; and when you look at all those cities: it is great that you are here in the city of Los Angeles. I want to welcome you here...

I want to say to you the following: We want to work with you. We just hired Austin Beutner. This guy has come on board. If you have read his résumé, partner at Blackstone at 29 years old-youngest partner ever-founded Evercore Partners capital fund, and worked for Bill Clinton. His job for President Clinton was to go to Russia to help them move to a market economy. He has unprecedented oversight-over 13 of our departments-in terms of economic development. You are going to see him working with you all and others to bring those jobs in, to leverage the airports, the ports, the DWP-all of the things we are doing around the green economy. When I got up at Copenhagen (and I spoke as much, if not more, than any mayor; I think the only mayor who got to speak more than I did was the mayor of Copenhagen), every time I spoke I said, "I bet you are wondering why the mayor of the city known for the dirtiest air and the worst traffic is up here to today." And then I laid out what we have done over the last 4 years.

I elected to stay here another three-and-a-half years because I am excited about the foundation we laid. I want to do more. And I want to do more with all of you.

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