California’s Water Crisis: Promising Way More than We Can Deliver

Source: US Drought Monitor

Even if you don’t pay attention to the news, you’re probably aware that Los Angeles has been unusually dry for the past few years.  If you do follow the news, you may have heard that right now California’s snowpacks are well below their 20th century average.  And if you really pay attention to this stuff, you probably saw the news that the past 22-year period is the driest the American West has experienced in over a millennium.

Scary stuff.  And as the impacts of climate change grow more pronounced, there’s a good chance things will get even scarier.  Since it doesn’t seem likely that government officials or the public at large are going to make any real progress in cutting back on fossil fuels, the weird weather we’ve been seeing for the past couple decades is likely to get a whole lot weirder. 

So what can we do?  Well, the first thing we should do is stop lying to ourselves about how much water we have access to.  A recent study from UC Davis shows that water rights allocations to California’s water users are about five times the state’s annual runoff.  In other words, we’ve promised to deliver about five times more water than we actually have. 

How did this happen?  Well, back in the 20th century, when everyone was convinced that California was going to keep growing forever and that we had endless supplies of everything, Federal, State and regional agencies built a ridiculous number of dams and canals to deliver lots of water to everyone who wanted it.  Two decades into the 21st century, it should be clear to all of us that we can’t keep growing forever and that our resources are definitely limited.     

CalMatters recently ran an excellent piece by Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of California Water Impact Network, where Krieger clearly states the most important takeaway from the UC Davis report: We have to manage our water resources based on the amount of water that’s actually available.  Here’s the link to Krieger’s article. 

Here Is the First Step to a Sustainable Water Policy

California faces huge challenges in meeting its future water needs.  The first step is to be honest about how much water we actually have.  Let’s stop pretending.  It’s time to get real. 

Newsom’s Budget Targets Housing

With the State continuing to enjoy a strong surge in revenue, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes substantial funds to address housing needs.  Newsom wants to spend $2 billion on homelessness, and another $2 billion to address housing in general.  Of course, there are those who say this still isn’t enough, and others who say Newsom’s priorities are wrong, but there are a lot of good things in his proposed budget.  I’m not a Newsom fan, but I think that in some ways he’s on the right track.  As usual, the devil is in the details.

One of the things Newsom wants to promote is urban infill development, in other words building dense residential housing where infrastructure already exits, as opposed to more suburban sprawl.  This is nothing new.  State and local politicians have been pushing this for years, and in theory it makes perfect sense.  One of the main goals of this policy is to make people less reliant on cars, encouraging them to take transit instead, or to ride a bike or maybe even just walk.  The overriding goal is to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is that we’ve been doing this for years and it hasn’t been working.  In fact, it seems like we’re going in the wrong direction.  LA and San Francisco have been building thousands of new residential units near transit hubs, and yet transit ridership has been falling for years.  Worse, in Southern California the rate of car ownership has been climbing steadily since 2000

So what do we do?  Well, there is evidence suggesting that high-priced new development in urban centers is causing gentrification, which displaces low-income transit riders.  I can tell you I’ve seen numerous instances in Hollywood where low-income tenants have been thrown out of their apartments to make way for new projects.  We need to preserve existing housing that’s accessible to low-income households, and to build a lot more affordable housing.  That’s why I’m glad that Newsom is setting aside $500 million for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, and another $500 million to preserve and increase affordable housing stock.  Of course, much more money is needed, since the federal government has slashed funding for affordable housing over the last several years.  But the money Newsom is providing is a step in the right direction. In LA, the vast majority of transit riders live in low-income households. We need to help them remain near the transit hubs they rely on.

Another smart move Newsom has made is to earmark $100 million to support the conversion of office buildings to apartments.  This makes a lot of sense, not just because more people are working from home these days, but because it helps minimize the significant environmental impacts caused both by the demolition of old buildings and the construction of new ones.  As many people have said, the greenest building is the one that’s already standing.   

The funding Newsom has proposed will not solve our housing problems, but it will help.  That is, assuming the legislature supports his budget.  This article from CalMatters offers a more detailed breakdown.   

Newsom on Homelessness: ‘We’ve Gotta Clean Up those Encampments’

Angels Knoll

I love cities.  And I love Downtown LA.  But the older I get, the more I think about the damage that cities do to the environment.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Downtown was largely undeveloped.  In a little over a hundred years, it’s become a dense urban landscape crowded with office buildings and residential towers, crisscrossed by roads and freeways.  As a result, LA is hotter and drier, the air is dirtier, and like every other urban center, we’re contributing to climate change in a big way.

I was wandering around Cal Plaza a while ago, and ran across a piece of Downtown I’d forgotten about. As I looked out over the city in the direction of Hill Street, I saw that directly below me there was a small park.  It took me a minute to realize it was the same park I’d seen many times at the intersection of Fourth and Hill.  It’s been fenced off for years.  Much of the greenery is dry, and the trees could certainly use some attention, but it was so cool to run across a patch of green space in the middle of all the steel and concrete. 

Actually, it’s not technically a park.  It’s a small patch of land called Angels Knoll that had been owned by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).  (I assume it got the name because it’s right night next to Angels Flight.)  When the CRA was dissolved in 2012, a petition was circulated asking the City to turn the land over to the Department of Parks & Recreation.  But that didn’t happen.  As one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels in the Downtown area, the property is worth a fortune.  The decision was made to put it up for sale.

A June, 2021 memo from CRA/LA, the successor agency to the CRA, sets the price of the parcel at $50 million. The buyer, Angels Landing Partners, is actually a joint venture by the Peebles Corporation, MacFarland Partners and Claridge Partners.  According to the LA Department of City Panning web site, the proposed Angels Landing project involves the construction of two skyscrapers, one rising 63 stories and the other rising 42 stories.  In addition to two hotels and 72,000 square feet of commercial space, the project also includes 180 condos and 252 apartments.  Apparently some affordable housing is supposed to be provided, but at this point it’s not clear how much. 

Of course, the project will generate lots of jobs and economic activity.  According to the Environmental Impact Report, it will also generate 10,179 metric tons of CO2 equivalent during the construction phase alone.  Beyond that, it will contribute to the steadily increasing temperatures in the LA area, along with a number of other massive projects planned for Downtown, Hollywood, Warner Center and elsewhere.

And we’ll also be losing one of the few remaining patches of green in Downtown.  City Hall has made its priorities clear.  They want the skyscrapers.  Of course, LA was built by developers and politicians who prioritized growth over everything else.  That’s how LA got to be what it is today.  But the older I get, the more I feel that this addiction to growth is incredibly destructive.  Our warming climate and shrinking water resources are a direct result of unchecked development. 

We really don’t need another skyscraper.  We absolutely need more parks.

Can the City of LA Keep Growing If Its Water Resources Keep Declining?

The City of Los Angeles couldn’t exist without the water it imports from sources far beyond its borders.  While the ratios vary widely from year to year, on average we get about 10% of our annual supply from groundwater within the city limits.  The remaining 90% has to be imported from places hundreds of miles away.

Which means we really should pay attention to the Water Supply Alert issued by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) on August 17.  The entire State of California, and in fact much of the Western US, is experiencing extremely dry conditions.  At this point the MWD is asking for citizens, businesses and public agencies to make voluntary reductions, but there’s a good chance that stricter measures will be needed in the not too distant future.  Through careful planning and good stewardship, the MWD has managed to build up significant reserves which might provide a buffer for the next year or two.  But we can’t be complacent.  This year the California Department of Water Resources has cut allocations from the State Water Project to just 5% of requested supplies.  It’s possible that next year the allocation could be reduced to zero.  On top of that, for the first time ever, the Bureau of Reclamation has declared a shortage on the Colorado River.  Lake Mead supplies much of the water that Southern California relies on, and storage there has been declining faster than even the most pessimistic observers predicted.  Right now the water level is lower than it’s been at any time since Hoover Dam was constructed. 

Which leaves us with the LA Aqueduct.  At the beginning of the 20th century, Los Angeles business leaders were working hard to promote the city’s growth, but they knew that the area’s water resources were limited.  In looking for solutions to this problem, they set their sights on the Owens Valley, over 200 miles away.  Using secretive and dishonest means, the City of LA managed to purchase rights to much of the water in the Owens Valley, and then began construction of the LA Aqueduct under the supervision of William Mulholland.  In LA the completion of the Aqueduct was hailed as an engineering marvel, and for a time Mulholland was celebrated as a hero.  Needless to say, the people of the Owens Valley didn’t see things quite the same way.  For them, the diversion of water resources to the Aqueduct resulted in disastrous environmental impacts, and set the stage for decades of litigation.

Mulholland Memorial Fountain from DWP Photo Collection at LA Public Library

In 1940, five years after Mulholland’s death, a fountain was built at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and Riverside Drive to honor the man primarily responsible for the construction of the LA Aqueduct.  The choice to create a fountain was considered a fitting way to commemorate the role Mulholland played in securing the water that was necessary for the city’s growth.  For decades cool, crystalline plumes arched into the air and cascaded into the rippling pool below.

Today the fountain is dry and it’s surround by a chain link fence.  While a search on the net didn’t reveal any explanation, it seems likely that LADWP shut it down in response to the looming water shortage.  This is certainly a sensible step to take, but it should also raise questions about LA’s future.  Mulholland was celebrated because of his efforts to provide water that would support the city’s growth.  If the fountain is now dry, maybe this should be a cue to start asking how much LA can realistically grow in the future?

While government officials and the media routinely describe the situation as a drought, I don’t think that’s accurate.  In fact, I think it’s seriously misleading.  “Drought” is generally defined as a prolonged period of dry weather.  This implies that at some point the drought will end and things will get back to normal.  But there’s growing evidence that this is the new normal.  Both the State Water Project and the LA Aqueduct are fed by snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas.  The Sierra snowpacks have been declining for years, and climatologists predict that they’ll continue to decline for the foreseeable future.  As for the Colorado River, California, Nevada and Arizona draw more water from this resource than it can deliver on an annual basis.  The construction of Hoover Dam masked this fact for decades, but the rapid decline of Lake Mead should be a wake-up call for all of us.  Right now it seems inevitable that water allocations to all three states will have to be reduced, but this will be a long, contentious, brutal process. 

So if all of the city’s water resources are declining, our public officials need to let go of the myth that LA can keep growing forever.  LA’s 2020 Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP) assumes that all it will take is more stormwater capture and a concerted effort to conserve.  Unfortunately, stormwater capture doesn’t really work when you’re hardly getting any rain.  And while Angelenos have shown a willingness to save water in the past, current forecasts seem to indicate that we’d have to push conservation to a whole new level.  The more you cut, the harder it is to cut further.  The UWMP’s conservation projections are extremely optimistic.  It’s hard to say whether they’re realistic.

The Mulholland Memorial was intended as a monument to the man who oversaw the construction of a massive infrastructure project that allowed the city to grow rapidly.  In the state it’s in now, it seems more like a monument to the folly of those who believed you could build a city of 4,000,000 people in an area with minimal water resources.

We Need to Start Talking about LA’s Water Crisis Now

Map from US Drought Monitor, May 6, 2021

Most people who live in LA are probably already aware that this year has been an especially dry one.  We’ve gotten less than half of our average rainfall.  But it’s really important to say that it’s not just LA and it’s not just this year.  Actually, much of the Western US is dangerously dry, and there’s an increasing amount of research which seems to indicate that this could be a long-term trend.  In other words, it’s likely that things will continue to get drier and hotter in LA, California and the West. 

I’d been wanting to write about this for a while, but LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saved me the trouble.  He recently wrote an excellent piece laying out the serious challenges California is facing, both in the near term and the long term.  To put it briefly, all of California’s water resources are declining.  The snowpacks that feed our rivers and lakes are shrinking.  We’ve depleted much of the groundwater that was so plentiful at the beginning of the 20th century.  And because western states have been taking more water from the Colorado River than is actually available, we’ll probably continue to see reduced deliveries from Hoover Dam for the foreseeable future. 

This is all very bad news. 

Whether or not this dry spell is partly the result of cyclical changes in the weather, research increasingly shows that climate change is going to take a serious toll on LA and the West.  It seems inevitable that some farmland will have to be taken out of production, though that will be a difficult and hugely controversial process.  Many species of California’s trout, steelhead and salmon will probably be extinct by the end of this century.  And while we’ve all seen the horrific damage that wildfire has caused in California’s vast natural forests, we should also be worried about the less visible but still serious impacts to our urban forests.   

Here in LA we may be spared from having to take immediate action to deal with this crisis.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District have been managing our resources carefully, building up reserves that could see us through the next few years.  But I’m afraid this is creating a false sense of security.  The way it looks now, it’s not just a matter of riding out a few dry years until things go back to normal.  This is the new normal.  Even if annual precipitation stays roughly the same in the future, shrinking snowpacks and the decline of the Colorado River mean water deliveries to the LA will continue to fall, and we have limited groundwater resources.  Unfortunately, our local leaders don’t seem to want to deal with this situation.  LA’s Mayor and City Council have been silent on this issue, and I don’t hear anything from the Board of Supervisors, either.  Maybe they think that if they just ignore the problem it will go away. 

This problem isn’t going away.  We need to start dealing with it.  Hiltzik explains how serious and how widespread the challenges are.  The time to act is now. 

Water Created California and the West. Will Drought Finish Them Off?

Is a Hard Rain Gonna Fall?

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Let me start off by asking, Do any of the Angelenos reading this post remember the drought we were dealing with a few years back? If not, don’t worry about it. Most of the people living in this city have forgotten all about it. We had a couple back-to-back seasons of heavy rainfall in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, so everybody assumes we’re back to normal and there’s nothing to worry about. This is understandable because folks at the state and local level told us a while ago that the drought was over, and why would you waste time worrying about a problem that’s been taken care of?

Unless, of course, it wasn’t really taken care of.

There was an interesting article in the LA Times recently about how the 2019/2020 rainy season hasn’t been so rainy. In fact, it’s been pretty dry. If we were just talking about one year, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But in the Times story climatologist Bill Patzert asks if the drought we were experiencing earlier in this decade ever really ended.

Is California Headed Back into Drought, or Did We Never Really Leave One?

Patzert points out that, while we had a couple of really wet years recently, over the last 20 years LA’s average annual rainfall has been below the historic average. He makes the case that we’re actually experiencing a long-term drought, and that the recent years of heavy rain didn’t begin to make up for earlier losses. If this trend continues, it would have disastrous effects on our water resources.

Patzert is a very smart guy, and I think we all need to take his warning seriously. I have only one problem with the way he states his case. When people use the word “drought” they’re talking about a period of low precipitation that’s a change from normal levels. But what if this is the new normal? Global temperatures continue to rise.  In California, San Francisco and Sacramento have been growing hotter for decades. While the last decade in LA wasn’t our hottest, it was significantly hotter than the previous one. Scientists disagree on how climate change will affect precipitation in California, but based on the patterns of the past 20 years, I think it’s possible that LA just isn’t going to get as much rain as it used to.

Is this really a problem? How much does LA actually rely on rainfall for its water supply? Let’s review a few basic facts….

LA only gets between 10% and 15% of its water from local aquifers. The rest of it is delivered via massive and complex infrastructure from places hundreds of miles away. While the percentages change from year to year depending on a number of factors, we usually get about 30% of our water from the LA Aqueduct, 30% from the State Water Project, and 30% from the Colorado River. So that must mean that even if we don’t get much rain, we still have plenty of water to draw on. Right?

Wrong.

Actually, all of these water resources are declining. We’re dealing with a whole new reality, and we need to wake up to that fact. Most of the water we get in LA comes from snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As of February 18, the California Cooperative Snow Surveys report that the snowpack in the Sierras is at 53% of what’s considered normal. Most scientists who have studied this issue agree that climate change will cause continued decline in the Sierra snowpack through the end of this century, with one group saying we could see a reduction of as much as 79% by 2100. Since both the State Water Project and the LA Aqueduct rely on snowmelt from the Sierras, a decline of that magnitude would be catastrophic for LA.

As for the Colorado River, it’s uncertain how much longer we’ll continue to get the allotment agreed on in the Colorado River Compact. Many decades ago researchers began to realize that the allocations granted to California, Arizona and Nevada under the Compact actually add up to more water than the river can deliver. And since we’ve pretty much done nothing to correct the situation, the water level in Lake Mead has been declining for years.

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In this photo of Lake Mead it’s easy to see how far the water level has dropped in recent years.

So while it’s true that a drop in precipitation for the LA area wouldn’t, by itself, mean disaster, when you combine that with the fact that all our water resources are declining, we’re looking at a pretty desperate situation. That’s why it’s important that we take Bill Patzert seriously when he says we might still be in the middle of an extended drought. And that’s why, instead of just assuming that things are back to normal in LA, we need to start asking what the new normal really is.

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Building Empire

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For years now construction crews have been tearing up Downtown Burbank. Caltrans is the lead agency on a huge infrastructure project which is remaking the I-5/Golden State Freeway corridor, as well as bringing changes to a number of Burbank’s surface streets. The actual name for all this activity is the Empire Interchange/Interstate 5 Improvement Project. Here’s a brief overview from the City of Burbank’s web site.

“This project, lead [sic] by Caltrans and funded primarily by State transportation funds and Los Angeles County transportation sales tax funds, will relieve congestion along Interstate 5 while providing an important new access to the Golden State area of Burbank, including the Empire Center and Bob Hope Airport.”

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The I-5/Golden State Freeway as it passes through Burbank

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Traffic on Burbank Blvd. where it crosses over the freeway

Here’s a short list of specific changes that are part of the project.

> Full freeway interchange at Empire Avenue
> New freeway and railroad crossing allowing access to Empire Center
> Freeway widening including 2 carpool lanes and weaving lanes
> Burbank Blvd. Interchange Demolition & Reconstruction
> Railroad grade separation at Buena Vista Street
> Realignment / Closure of San Fernando Blvd near Lincoln Street.

You’ll notice one of the main goals is to improve access to the Empire Center. If you’ve never been there, it’s basically a massive mall that has all the same chain retail stores and restaurants you can find almost anywhere else in Southern California. But more on that later.

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Excavation next to the Empire Center

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Mounds of dirt rising above Victory Place

The project is way behind schedule. Various factors have pushed completion back substantially, including a dispute with a contractor and this year’s heavy rains. Demolition and replacement of the Burbank Blvd. bridge had been scheduled to start this year, but now Caltrans says they’ll start in 2020. It isn’t unusual for a project this big and this complex to take longer than expected, but Caltrans’ original 2018 deadline was ridiculously ambitious. Work has already been going on for over five years, and will continue for at least a couple more years.

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A barrier under construction at San Fernando and Winona

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Construction site at San Fernando and Winona

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Work on Winona where it passes under the freeway

In the project overview above, you may have noticed that it said funding comes in part from an LA County transportation sales tax. This would be Measure R, which was approved by voters about a decade ago. Measure R money funds a lot of different things, but the major categories are: 35% to new rail and bus rapid transit projects; 20% to carpool lanes, highways and other highway related improvements; 20% to bus operations; and 15% for local city sponsored improvements.

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Construction on San Fernando next to the freeway

LA voters have consistently approved new taxes for transit and road upgrades, but there’s an ongoing debate about the way these measures are structured, with many transit advocates saying it’s counterproductive to levy new taxes to fund both transit and highway improvements. Their argument is that if we continue to invest in infrastructure that makes it easier to drive cars, then people will just continue to drive cars, even though billions are being invested in new rail infrastructure. On the other hand, the people who write these measures say that voters won’t approve them if there’s no money for roadwork.

There does seem to be a conflict here, which may, in part, explain the dismal performance of LA’s investments in transit. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (or Metro) has spent billions on new rail infrastructure over the past two decades, and yet transit ridership is lower than it was in the 80s. Some commentators believe that LA voters like the idea of transit, but ultimately end up sticking with their cars.

You can take the bus to the Empire Center, but as you can see by the photos below, most folks drive.

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Parking lot at the Empire Center

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Another shot of the parking lot at the Empire Center

Burbank is a really car-centric town. Aside from the Empire Center, the Downtown area also has the Burbank Town Center and an adjacent outdoor mall. On weekends the parking areas/structures for all three of these malls are packed with cars. Burbank residents love to participate in the great American pastime of driving somewhere and buying stuff.

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A family heading back to the car

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Shoppers in the parking lot at Empire Center

And let’s not forget the other great American pastime of sitting in a line of cars waiting for food.

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Line of cars waiting for their turn at the window

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The line of cars looping back through the parking lot

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The line of cars extends back around the building

Let’s face it. This is what powers our economy. Which I’m sure is why two of the primary goals of this project involve making it easier for people to drive to the Empire Center. Cars don’t just make it easier for Americans to buy stuff. Cars themselves are products that Americans love to buy. For decades one of the main drivers of the US economy has been the auto industry. After WWII, car manufacturing helped make the US the world’s major economic power. The jobs generated by the industry helped to create the American middle class, and the fact that they were union jobs meant fat paychecks that pumped dollars into the consumer economy. When the big auto makers were on the ropes a decade ago, Washington stepped in to rescue them, and the rebound in car sales was one of the things that lifted the US out of the recession.

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Freeway onramp to be permanently closed

But it does seem like we have a problem. One the one hand, we have government officials telling us we need to get away from cars and rely more on transit if we want to fight climate change. On the other hand, we have government officials, sometimes the same ones, promoting efforts like the Empire Interchange/Interstate 5 Improvement Project. We’re spending tons of money on transit, and at the same time we’re spending tons of money to make it easier for people to drive to the mall.

Does this make sense to you?

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Completed section of new roadway near Empire Center

Here are some links to basic info about the project.

Burbank Empire Project Page

The Empire Project: A Virtual Tour

My5LA Home Page

And here’s a story from the Burbank Leader that covers some of the reasons for delay.

5 Freeway Project, Hampered by Winter Weather, Has New Finish Date

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Angelenos 4 Trees: Get Involved in Preserving LA’s Urban Forest

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Are you concerned about LA’s urban forest? You’re not alone. More and more people are learning about the importance of preserving and enhancing our tree canopy, which cleans our air, captures stormwater, and keeps the city cool. Our urban forest is threatened by the increasingly dry climate, insect infestations, and new development. But we can take action to protect it.

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Attorney Sabrina Venskus

Angelenos 4 Trees is a group of concerned citizens who have come together with the goal of preserving and expanding LA’s urban forest. They held a kick-off event on Saturday, September 15, where a room full of attendees heard from a range of speakers. The day began with an introduction by sustainable landscape designer Jacky Surber, who talked about the challenges that lie ahead. Attorney Sabrina Venskus explained how the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) can be used to protect LA’s trees. Activists Jill Stewart and Ileana Wachtel compared LA to other cities with robust plans for their urban forest and made it clear that we have a long way to go. And Joanne D’Antonio, of the Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance (NCSA), demonstrated how citizens can use the internet to monitor tree removals in their neighborhood and beyond.

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Joanne D’Antonio, Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance

Would you like to get involved? You can. Just send an e-mail to Angelenos 4 Trees and ask to be put on their mailing list. You’ll receive info on issues related to LA’s urban forest and notices about future events. Here’s the address.

angelenos4trees@gmail.com

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Predatory Development: Crossroads Hollywood

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New development is necessary. In order for a city to grow, in order for its economy to stay healthy, it’s important to have new construction to bring investment to communities and adapt to the city’s changing needs. But new development isn’t always a good thing. New projects bring new impacts, and the larger the project the more important it is to consider carefully how it will affect the surrounding community. Most large projects are a mixed bag. Pro-business groups will inevitably argue that they bring tax revenue and jobs, and both of these are important. But large projects can also have serious negative impacts, and we need to weigh those, too. Often it’s a matter of trying to figure out if the good will outweigh the bad, and in many cases it’s hard to say for sure.

On the other hand, in some cases it’s pretty easy to make the call. Crossroads Hollywood is a clear example of predatory development. While the backers of the project tout its benefits in terms of tax revenue, jobs and economic activity, they completely ignore the downside. And the downside is considerable.

First, let’s take a look at what this whole thing entails.

Crossroads Hollywood includes about 1,381,000 square feet of floor area, consisting of 950 residential units (of which 105 are for Very Low Income Households), 308 hotel rooms, and approximately 190,000 square feet of commercial space. The project does include the preservation and rehabilitation of the historic Crossroads of the World mall and the Hollywood Reporter building. All other buildings on the project site would be demolished, including 84 Rent Stabilized apartments. The developers are also asking for a Master Conditional Use Permit to allow the sale of a full line of alcoholic beverages at a total of 22 establishments, and another Master CUP to allow eight uses with public dancing and live entertainment.

I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty ambitious. The investors behind Crossroads, Harridge Development Group, are thinking big. They’re also thinking only of themselves and the massive profits they’ll reap from this project. They don’t really give a damn about the community. If approved, Crossroads Hollywood will be devastating for the environment, devastating for housing, and devastating to the health and well-being of the Hollywood community.

Let’s take a look at the project’s environmental impacts….

These days any developer is going to tell you their project is good for the planet. They learned long ago they need to play that angle to sell it to the public. But Harridge’s claims about Crossroads being environmentally friendly are mostly just hype.

The State of California has designated Crossroads Hollywood an Environmental Leadership Development Project. (ELDP). In order to qualify, the developer has to show that it won’t result in any net additional emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). But a project on the scale of Crossroads represents a huge increase in square footage, so it’s to be expected that there will be a huge increase in energy use. The report by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) estimates the Crossroads project will produce 9,440 MTCO2e (Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) during demolition and construction, and then 14,294 MTCO2e during the first year of operation, though they say that number will decline each year over the life of the project. This is a huge increase in emissions. So how can the State say it achieves a net reduction?

Simple. The developer buys carbon credits. Like many other states, California has an exchange where businesses that aren’t producing their maximum allowed CO2 emissions can sell what they don’t produce as “credits”. Other businesses that want to offset their own emissions can buy the credits to satisfy regulators. So while Crossroads Hollywood will be putting tens of thousands of tons of additional GHGs into the atmosphere, the State says that buying credits actually makes the project carbon neutral. There are people who have reservations about the carbon credit system, but it’s become widely accepted as a tool for reducing global warming, so let’s go along with the idea that this does represent a net reduction in CO2 emissions.

The problem is that this project isn’t just producing massive amounts of CO2. It’s also spewing out tons of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. This is bad news for the people who live in the area. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has evaluated cancer risk from air pollution in its Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study IV (MATES IV). You can see by the map below that Hollywood is near the top of the scale.

Crossroads Air Quality MATES IV from EIR

But it gets worse. After going through pages of boiler plate language about localized significance thresholds and standard methodologies, the Crossroads Environmental Impact Report (EIR) gets around to analyzing impacts during the construction phase of the project. After listing nearby sensitive uses, including Selma Elementary School/Larchmont Charter School (same campus), Hollywood High, and Blessed Sacrament School, and acknowledging that young people are at higher risk of chronic lung disease from air pollution, the EIR claims, “…, localized construction emissions resulting from the Project would result in a less-than-significant air quality impact.”

Give me a break. Four years of construction, including demolition and excavation, thousands of diesel truck trips and extensive use of heavy machinery will have “less-than-significant” impacts on the kids at these schools? And it’s also important to point out there have been projects under construction on Selma for years now, many of them within three blocks of Selma Elementary. These kids have been inhaling construction dust and diesel fumes since 2015, and the folks behind Crossroads want to keep that going til 2021. But don’t worry. It won’t harm the students a bit.

So let’s talk about transportation. I will give the authors of the EIR credit. Usually traffic assessments for projects like these are ridiculously dishonest. In this case, the EIR acknowledges that traffic is already bad in the area, and that the project will make it worse. Here are a few shots of what it looks like at rush hour.

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Northbound traffic on Highland, the western boundary of the project.

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Traffic heading west on Selma toward Highland.

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Traffic heading north on Las Palmas toward Selma.

The EIR does analyze existing weekday rush hour conditions as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The problem here is, Hollywood is a special case. In addition to really awful congestion at rush hour, you can also have heavy traffic at night and on weekends because of the constant parade of concerts, movie premieres, food fairs and other miscellaneous events. There are multiple happenings in Hollywood every month, many of them involving street closures. And don’t even ask what it’s like during the Hollywood Bowl season.

I wouldn’t expect the authors of the EIR to include all this, because they’re not required to. But they should at least talk about additional traffic generated by the eight live entertainment venues that are included in the project. Crossroads Hollywood isn’t just meant to be a place where people live and work. It’s intended to be a destination. While I’m sure some of the spaces offering entertainment will be fairly small, it seems likely that at least one of them will be a dance club offering live DJs. And I wouldn’t be surprised if popular singers and bands start showing up on a regular basis. Which means that a community already overwhelmed with events that draw tons of cars and disrupt transit will have to bear an even heavier load once Crossroads is up and running.

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Apartment building to be demolished if the project is approved.

And what about the impacts that eight places featuring live entertainment will have on the LAPD’s workload? Not to mention the 22 establishments selling alcohol. Incredibly, the EIR doesn’t even discuss these things in the section dealing with police protection. They conclude again that project impacts will be “less-than-significant”. Obviously the authors of the EIR haven’t seen the research indicating that high alcohol outlet density has been linked to higher rates of violent crime.  Back in 2014, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck wrote to the Department of City Planning (DCP) pointing out that the “oversaturation” of alcohol outlets in Hollywood was contributing to increased crime, including robbery, shootings, rape, and assault. The DCP obviously paid no attention, because they’ve gone on granting liquor permits, and violent crime in Hollywood has risen every year since then. LAPD stats for Hollywood as of April 21 show violent crime has gone up 28.9% over the same period last year. The LAPD is understaffed, and doing their best to cope with a difficult situation. Too bad the DCP has no interest in helping them out. Apparently the folks at City Planning have no concern for the safety of Hollywood residents, or for the people who visit the area. And it looks like Harridge shares their total indifference.

This same indifference extends to the project’s noise impacts. Remember, the developer is asking permits for live entertainment in 8 venues. It seems like at least some of these will be outdoors. Check out this table from the EIR that lists the spaces where they plan to have amplified sound.

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It’s hard to say how much overlap there will be, since they don’t distinguish between those spaces intended for live performances and and those that will just have recorded sounds. But it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a lot of music, and a lot of it will be outdoors. The EIR acknowledges that there could be significant impacts from noise, but don’t worry, they have a plan to take care of that. What’s their plan? They’re going to build a 12-foot wall on the project’s eastern boundary, between Crossroads of the World and Blessed Sacrament Church. And according to the EIR, that fixes everything.

This is so ludicrous it’s hard to believe they expect people to buy it. A single 12-foot wall is going to addres any concerns about noise. Live outdoor performances have been a problem for years in Hollywood. Area residents can tolerate a lot, and nobody gets bent out of shape if someone puts on a show during the day. But in recent years more and more club owners have been pushing the limits at night. There have been a lot of complaints about DJs ripping it up on rooftop bars in the small hours. The EIR’s claim that amplified music will only be heard in the immediate vicinity is bull. People who live in the hills have told me they can hear late night noise from down on the boulevard, and they’re not happy about it.

But Crossroads Hollywood wasn’t meant to benefit the community. It was meant to benefit the investors who are hoping to reap huge profits. This project will put more cars on the road and more poison in the air. It will create more crime than the LAPD can handle and more headaches for residents trying to get a good night’s sleep. And what do we get in return? Yeah, there’s the tax revenue, but the City is already seeing record revenues and still can’t balance its budget. More housing? Yeah, the vast majority of it priced way beyond the reach of most people who live in Hollywood. When we put the 105 Very Low Income units gained against the 84 Rent Stabilized units lost, we see a net increase of 21 units that will be accessible to the low income families that really need housing. The gain of 21 units will quickly be erased by the project’s gentrifying impact. If Crossroads is built, you can expect to see a lot of other investors buying up apartments and kicking people out. And will the project create jobs? Sure, mostly low-paying jobs in bars, restaurants, and hotels. Most of the people who will work there could never afford to live there.

This is predatory development. A project designed by investors for investors. The reason the EIR doesn’t see any serious problems for the community is because the needs of the community were never considered in any meaningful way.

It’s just about money.

Next week the City will be holding a hearing on Crossroads Hollywood. If you want to show up and speak your mind, here’s the info.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 9:00 am

Los Angeles City Hall
200 North Spring St., Room 350

ENTER ON MAIN STREET.

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Crossroads of the World

 

Glendale Puts Hold on Grayson Repowering

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On Tuesday night protesters gathered in front of Glendale City Hall to oppose spending $500 million on rebuilding the Grayson Power Plant. Glendale Water and Power (GWP) has put forward a plan to replace obsolete generating units with newer ones, increasing the plant’s output significantly. The process is called repowering, and the GWP says it’s necessary to provide a reliable supply of electricity for the city.

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Speakers talked about the problems with the current plan for Grayson.

But there are many who feel that upping Grayson’s output is a bad idea, since it means a big increase in the plant’s fossil fuel consumption. Debate over Glendale’s plan has been intense, with environmentalists claiming that the GWP has failed to explore clean energy alternatives. They point out that repowering Grayson would mean significant increases in CO2, ozone and particulate emissions.

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The media showed up to cover the protest.

The Grayson plan was on the City Council’s agenda that night, and council members would be deciding whether or not to approve the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The rally broke up as the meeting was starting. I went home and watched the proceedings on my laptop. It was long night. I wanted to hang on until the Council voted, but at 10:00 pm they were still taking public comment, and I finally gave up.

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Volunteers manning the table.

The tone of the meeting was civil, but tense. Evan Gillespie spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club, and he questioned some of the claims made by GWP. The utility had initially said that Grayson needed to produce 250 megawatts or there was a danger of power shortages, but then later said they might be able to do with less. He also was skeptical of the claim that the cost of the current plan wouldn’t mean raising rates down he road.

Angela Johnson Meszaros, a staff attorney with Earth Justice, stated that the EIR had serious problems. The EIR says that the project’s emissions woudn’t be significant because of offsets provided by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). How does this work? Polluters can bank credits for emissions they don’t produce, which in turn can be traded to polluters who produce more than they should. But wouldn’t Grayson still be pumping a lot of dirt into the sky over Glendale? You bet, and Johnson Meszaros pointed this out. The idea that emissions offsets will somehow even things out across the LA area sounds good in theory, but if you live anywhere near the power plant you’ll still be breathing a lot of dirty air. She also said that the biggest problem with the EIR was that it didn’t present enough viable alternatives, especially with respect to clean energy.

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Sometimes you just can’t find a sturdy surface to write on.

Like I said, I bailed before the end of the meeting, but this morning I sent a message to the folks at Stop Grayson Expansion. They responded with the news that the Council voted 4 to 1 to put a hold on things for 90 days and issue a Request for Information (RFI). This means they’re going to look for alternative solutions for Glendale’s energy needs, including clean energy options. Stop Grayson had been hoping for an independent study of possible alternatives, but they believe that if the RFI is prepared carefully it could be a step in the right direction.

Bottom line, we need to get away from fossil fuels. This isn’t going to happen right away, but it’s never going to happen if we don’t push aggressively for alternatives. Thanks to all those who showed up at the rally on Tuesday, and thanks to all the groups who worked so hard to change the discussion about Grayson. This isn’t over yet, but things are looking a whole lot better.

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