L.A.'s Mayor Focuses on Climate Change

A photograph of L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa in profile.

hide captionLos Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has climate change on his mind.

Dave Bullock (eecue)

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is considered a political trailblazer on many issues. Today, he announces an ambitious plan to cut greenhouse emissions in his city by a third over the next two decades. Villaraigosa explains how his city will combat global warming.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

…Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, why a former spy plane pilot and a New York talk show host teamed up to help build a community center in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

But first, throughout the year, NPR is reporting on climate change in our series Climate Connections. Today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Later today, he's expected to announce a plan to cut greenhouse emissions in Los Angeles by a third over the next two decades. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Democrat, Los Angeles, California): Michel, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You've been associated with a lot of important programs and ideas over time you've been in office and including in the statehouse, but this isn't something that people have considered one of your top priorities. What gave you the idea?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, from my years in the legislature - I served in the legislature from 1994 to 2000 - I have always had a strong environmental record. The California League of Conservation Voters scored me at 100 for six years running. And I was the author of Proposition 12, the largest investment in parks and open space in the United States of America at the time, and have always been focused on this issue - the environment and the green economy as well. And when I campaigned both in 2001 and 2005, I campaigned on green Los Angeles. So this is something we've been doing for a long time.

MARTIN: How much is this going to cost?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Well, let me tell you first that it's going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent - below 1990 levels - by the year 2030. It goes beyond the Kyoto Protocol and this is bigger and bolder than any other effort of this kind of any large city in the United States of America. The cornerstone of the plan is to increase the use of renewable energy. We're going to do 20 percent by 2010, 35 percent by 2020. We're going to convert 100 percent of our city trash trucks to alternative fuel vehicles. We expect to recycle 70 percent of all city trash by the year 2015. We're at 62 percent right now, and we lead big cities across the nation. We're going to reduce our air emissions at our port by 50 percent, and we're going to build 35 new parks and plant a million new trees.

MARTIN: And how much is all these going to cost, Mr. Mayor?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: It's going to cost billions, make no mistake about it.

MARTIN: Ten? Twenty?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Over 10 billion, yes.

MARTIN: Over 10 billion. And would the cost be borne primarily by city residents, or do you anticipate some cost sharing with other entities of the state, the federal government?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: City, state and federal government will also be involved, but so will the private sector. I mean, the private sector, interestingly enough, is beginning to see the benefits of this effort because they realize there's a whole green economy that LA is already beginning to generate that will generate even greater returns and growing because of the fact that much of the technology that we'll use to do that will be exported around the world.

Let me give you an example. We have a biosolids initiative, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. We're going to use human waste and generate electricity from it, and it's already working. Everything that we're doing here in Los Angeles they're going to be doing in New York, in Chicago, in London, in Paris, in Berlin, in Shanghai and Mexico City. And we want to lead the nation in our effort to fight global warming, but also lead the nation in generating green economy jobs.

MARTIN: Mr. Mayor, you've taken on school reform. You've had a bruising battle over trying to achieve more authority over the schools. You've had vast proposals on affordable housing and traffic congestion. Now you're taking on climate change. Do you have enough political capital to do all of these things - all of these big things?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I'm not taking this issue all alone. This effort isn't something that the city is doing without political and public support. LA's ready to embrace this climate change initiative. People realize that we need more parks and they realize that we have to begin to move away from our over-reliance on, you know, fossil fuels. We're a city that supports these kinds of initiatives.

MARTIN: Don't some of these proposals kind of fight each other? For example, you've pointed out several times the need for more affordable housing in the city. Doesn't that fight the other need for more green space?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Actually, it doesn't. What we want to do - in fact, it will be part of our effort to address global climate change - is we want to bring housing closer to jobs. Part of why we have the most gridlock of any city in the nation and the dirtiest air is because we're the quintessential city of sprawl. You know, the jobs are in the inner core and all of the housing are in the outer core throughout the county and through the metropolitan area. We want to bring housing closer to jobs along transit-oriented development, support green initiatives, encourage - through incentives - the private sector to do the same.

MARTIN: I want to move from the atmosphere back down to the streets, if I may. I wanted to ask you about the events at the immigration rally last May 1st. I know you're out of town at the time, but that, as you know, of course, and you've spoken about the police conduct at the course of that rally in controlling some rock and bottle throwers at that rally has been much discussed. Do you know what happened there? Why that happened?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Primarily, a breakdown in command and control. Also, an issue of tactics - a complete, you know, tactical breakdown as well. But, most of rest of what we're going to know about this we'll find out through our investigations. I've ordered - in fact, that very night - two investigations working with Chief Bratton. One is an internal after-incident audit that should be - an investigation which should be completed by within 30 days of May 1st. And the second is an independent investigation conducted by the inspector general and the police commission, which will even be broader and more comprehensive in scope.

After those investigations, we'll have a better idea of exactly what happened, and there may also be discipline and more fundamental changes in tactics and command in control as well.

MARTIN: Do you think that race or ethnicity played a part in the LAPD's reaction to those marchers?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: I don't have any reason to believe that at this point. I know that that's a concern many of the organizers or the march have indicated that they think there maybe racial or ethnic implications here. But nearly half of the officers at that scene were of color - many of them Latino, and most of the marchers were Latino.

MARTIN: May I ask, how do you know that at least half of the officers were officers of color?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Well, because most of Platoon B - which were the metro officers - are Latino, and/or African-American and Asian.

MARTIN: And I wanted to ask whether you thought your own background may have played some role in the way you responded to what you saw there that day.

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: No. I don't. I think I approach this incident from the vantage point of human beings. It doesn't matter to me the race or ethnicity of the marchers. What matters to me is that in this situation, there was a breakdown here. There were rights that were violated, and I think we need to address that.

MARTIN: Is being mayor what you expected?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Yes. It has been what I expected, and I can tell you I feel very blessed to be in this job. And the one thing I recognize is that we're here on the shoulders of others. I didn't get here just because of my work ethic or talent. I got here because there was a civil rights movement that opened up the country to me. I got here because there were many people along the way who helped and assisted and encouraged me, and I'm enjoying this job. I was born and raised in this city. My grandpa came here a hundred years ago from Mexico, and I feel very honored to be the mayor of this city, and I'm enjoying the job immensely.

MARTIN: And you've achieved this level of prominence at the time when California is very much in the spotlight - in part of because of presidential politics, but also because of kind of confluence of all the issues that are coming to fore in our discussions about immigration reform, discussions about the potential to have a new generation of leadership of different backgrounds of possibly coming to the fore. When people think about Antonio Villaraigosa, what do you want them to think of?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: I want them to think of a leader who never forgot where he came from, who understands his obligation to open up the door of opportunity to the next generation. I want them to see me as someone who cares about people first and foremost by working as hard as he can to bring people together and to make that difference.

MARTIN: How will you know if you've succeeded?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Oh, you'll never really know until it's all over, right?

MARTIN: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about presidential politics. As you know, of course, the primary in California has been moved up quite substantially to February 5th. Who do you like?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think, we have the deepest and most talented pool of Democratic candidates for president in memory. You know, Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, a former Congress member, you know, envoy to the United Nations. Barack Obama, who's just, you know, an exciting, great communicator of our values as Democrats. You know, Senator Edwards who, in many ways, represents a rags-to-riches story that I think is kind of the kernel of the American dream. And, of course, Hillary Clinton who is someone who I believe really has the experience that makes her a very, very formidable candidate. Someone who has honed her skills in the U.S. Senate. So we've got a lot of great candidates and…

MARTIN: So who do you like?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: …very fortunate.

MARTIN: Who do you like?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: I like them all.

MARTIN: Do you envision yourself making an endorsement?

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: There's a time and a place for everything, and certainly I will endorse. And I may endorse sooner rather later.

MARTIN: All right. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mayor VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Michel.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Just ahead: advice for couples crossing cultures.

Dr. LUBNA SOMJEE (Psychologist): Your significant other is often steeped in their own culture, so things that maybe common place to them, they may not even think to tell you.

MARTIN: It's our Culture Coach. That's coming up next on TELL ME MORE.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. The conversation continues - TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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