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Green Infrastructure: Practical Environmental Leadership in the Urban Context
By Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas
Published April 21, 2016

Sebastian Ridley Thomas

Smart public policies can address and solve persistent problems. Sound public policies advance the goals and aspirations of hopeful people in our communities.

Climate change, environmental degradation, toxic contamination, exploitation of resources each plagues contemporary existence and threaten to erode long-term quality of life at home and abroad. The challenge is translating these problems through the practical lenses of everyday living and finding solutions. Most recognize the issues (often attentively when at crisis levels) and others are slower to elevate them in public dialogue. Some chose to deny the reality of climate change–however everyone is an environmentalist when their health, wealth, air, water, or land are threatened.

The answer to this challenge might be found in focused responses using high priority policy issues for communities and working environmental remediation, mitigation, and restoration into existing dialogues. For example, I have successfully worked to increase green space construction, smart transit, green jobs, and the revenues industries pay to prevent toxic spills. The posture that advanced these measures was one of resource stewardship, equity, and requiring responsible corporate citizenship.

That’s why I wrote California’s Assembly Bill 446 of 2015 which extended for the next decade a park construction authority (formally called the Baldwin Hills Conservancy) that has for the last several years built green space in diverse neighborhoods with large African American populations. The work is green infrastructure that creates small business contracting and employment opportunities. The authority reduces blight and improves natural habitat, urban watershed, and recreation areas. There are also significant learning activities associated with the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Facility, and the currently-under-construction Park To Playa thirteen-mile walking path from South Los Angeles to the beach.

I have also given great attention to the issue of green jobs. In fact, there is pending legislation that I have championed (Assembly Bill 1030) to bring monies polluters pay to improve the environment (formally known as Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds or anecdotally as Cap and Trade) to underemployed communities. This bill will continue the goals of the green movement while addressing that which causes great harm to all Californians and the nation: joblessness. If AB 1030 is enacted in its current form, millions of dollars from the State will go into our Workforce Investment Board apparatus to retrain existing workers and bring low-skilled job-aspirants into competition for the abundantly available work in the new economy.

Additionally, I was able to win passage of common sense legislation that will allow Los Angeles alleviate traffic, reduce car tail pipe emissions, improve storm water capture, and green space for one of West Los Angeles’ busiest intersections (Lincoln & Venice Boulevards). These laudable goals are to be accomplished because under my Assembly Bill 810 the State of California will transfer responsibility of this intersection for our State Department of Transportation (colloquially known as CalTrans) to the City of Los Angeles, which will be a much more effective landlord for traffic control, land use and streetscape decisions than the well-meaning staff of a department some four-hundred miles away from Los Angeles.

These actions and many others are a path to engaging in environmental policy that improves quality of life. They don’t have to be marketed as landmark advances in the fighting climate change. These bills and my efforts are simply responding to the issues of the day with informed policy based on constituent input.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas serves the Los Angeles area in the California Legislature

Categories: Op-Ed | Opinion
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