Tue, Feb

LA’s Response to the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai: “What, Me Worry?”


PLANNING WATCH - The official attendees at COP28 in Dubai are UN member states that agreed to the Conference of Parties (COP),  better known at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  At its first meeting, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush flew to Rio de Janeiro to sign the Convention for the United States. 

According to Elizabeth Colbert, writing in the New Yorker, (11/25/2023):

“Almost as soon as he took office, in 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the agreement.  The U.S. is one few countries in the world that was not a party to the protocol . . . For the past several years, the parties to the framework convention – these by now include virtually every nation in the globe – have been operating under the Paris Agreement, a quasi-treaty that the best way to act on countries is to let them do what they want.”

Despite the federal government’s reluctance to comply with Greenhouse Gas emissions goals, Los Angeles is free to set up its own emission reduction targets.   Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office prepared an executive climate document, LA’s Green New Deal, in 2019.  He then passed on this document to Mayor Karen Bass.

Not much has happened since then, however, other than climate change induced floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires in California.  My efforts to identify the mayoral deputy responsible for LA’s Green New Deal came up dry.  The City Controller, Kenneth Meiji, came to a similar conclusion in his 2023 audit of LAs Green New Deal.  In This is Not Fine: The hottest summer on record calls for a Reboot of LA’s Climate Plan, he wrote:

“While a promising start for climate action, LA’s 2019 ‘New Deal’ is in urgent need of a reboot.  When unveiled four years ago, LA’s Green New Deal was described as a ‘greenprint’ for ‘a moral imperative, an environmental emergency and an economic opportunity.’  But today it has largely outlived its usefulness.” 

The Controller then offered 80 pages on what the rebooted LA’s Green New Deal should address, but few suggestions on how to prepare it.  The Governor’s Office of Research and Planning has, however, filled this vacuum.  It published templates for a General Plan Climate Change element and a mandatory Environmental Justice element.  So far LA’s City Hall ignored these templates with a “What, me worry? attitude.  The city’s elected officials also flouted LA City Charter Section 544: General Plan – Purpose and Contents, which states: “The General Plan shall include those elements required by state law.” 

How different are Executive climate documents and General Plan elements?  Executive documents, such as Mayor Villaraigosa’s Green LA, are strictly in-house documents.  They have no legal standing.  When a Mayor’s term ends, his or her papers are sent to the municipal archives.  In contrast, General Plan elements are permanent and subject to:

  • Public workshops.
  • Public hearings.
  • Environmental Impact Reports.
  • City Planning Commission and City Council debates and adoption votes.
  • Implementation ordinances and budget allocations.

If or when LA City Hall takes the climate crisis seriously and adopts Environmental Justice and Climate Change General Plan elements, public comments would identify many policies and programs these elements should contain.

  • First-last mile improvements. Mass transit lines must contain first-last mile upgrades to maximize ridership.  While the Department of City Planning and METRO have clearly identified essential first-last mile improvements, neither agency has funded them.  As a result, these transit enhancements will not be built, and ridership will suffer.  Meanwhile, expensive, automobile-oriented high-rise apartments are sprouting on LA’s mass transit corridors.  Big surprise that traffic congestion is increasing, and transit ridership is declining.

  • Roof-top solar. A second program is roof-top solar.  At present it is expensive and time-consuming.  For this program to be effective – after all sunlight is free –  better subsidies must be offered, and the LADWP must reallocate staff so rooftop solar becomes quicker and cheaper to install.
  • Transit: To get people out of their Greenhouse Gas emitting cars, transit must be improved. Like Kansas City, fares must be eliminated.  Buses and subways cars must be safe and clean and travel times must be reduced.
  • Urban Forest. Tree planting on public and private areas must be upgraded since trees are nature’s way to capture Greenhouse Gases. This requires better funding for LA’s Urban Forestry Division and careful monitoring to determine which tree species best tolerate the droughts and heatwaves caused by climate change. 

Does the Controller’s critical audit of LA’s Green New Deal mean that City Hall will finally overcome its lackadaisical What, me worry? response to climate change?  This is an unknown, but when climate conditions get so bad that City Hall can no longer shirk its responsibility, it can turn to the Governor’s Office of Research and Planning for its Climate Change and Environmental Justice templates.


(Dick Platkin is a retired Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA.  He is a board member of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA).  Previous columns are available at the CityWatchLA archives.  Please send questions to [email protected].)