Wednesday, May 27

William Zou: Commission needed to keep LA to Olympics sustainability goals

(April Ding/Daily Bruin)

For Angelenos, water scarcity is a way of life, from low-pressure shower heads and “H2Love” billboards that tower over LA traffic, to brown lawns and smart-metering installations.

But city planners might have to contend with yet another bump in the road to environmental “greenness”: the 2024 Olympics.

Hosting a successful and sustainable Olympics in LA would require stricter environmental regulations, infrastructure renovation and the efforts of every Angeleno.

With so many ambitious goals set by sustainability teams from City Hall, UCLA and the LA 2024 Olympics bid committee, the city council should create a commission to ensure consistent progress and hold sustainability teams accountable should they fail to meet sustainability targets.

The city still has a long way to go. An environmental report card released by UCLA Grand Challenges gave the city’s air and energy quality a barely passing C grade, citing toxic emissions and a minimal decrease in buildings’ energy usages, among other things.

And hosting the Olympics is no easy feat, let alone hosting one that attempts to soundly balance the impact of the Olympics with the issue of sustainability. Before the 2008 Olympics, Beijing faced poor infrastructure and blankets of air pollution so bad that masked faces were the norm.

Beijing managed to phase out the use of some greenhouse gases, enhance regulations on vehicle emissions and place restrictions on traffic levels. This aggressive assault on air pollution led to a huge improvement in air quality, allowing 2008 to have the highest record of “blue sky days” in Beijing for a decade.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti remains confident in his city’s ability to handle the Olympics.

“(Hosting the Olympics in) Los Angeles is an opportunity to showcase what the games embody when it comes to embracing and modeling the highest standards of sustainability,” Garcetti said in a statement accompanying a press document outlining sustainability goals for the 2024 Olympics.

In fact, their Olympic committee is working with sustainability team UCLA Grand Challenges. One of UCLA’s “Grand Challenges” is to get LA to use 100 percent locally sourced water and only renewable energy by 2050. UCLA’s Sustainability Committee is also trying to achieve campuswide carbon neutrality and a 36-percent reduction in water consumption by 2025.

Nurit Katz, the chief sustainability officer at UCLA, firmly believes that hosting the event will galvanize the city to become more sustainable.

“The Olympics can have a big negative impact, but I think they have a great sustainability team working on plans to address those impacts,” Katz said.

Katz pointed to an award-winning vanpool project at UCLA created during the 1984 Olympics, which mitigated vehicle emissions during the games. Now more than 30 years old, the vanpool initiative has shuttled over 2,700 riders about 3.2 million miles a year. The initiative also inspired further changes in sustainability, catalyzing the creation of other programs including carpooling, biking, commuter busing and the subsidization of public transit.

[Related: Los Angeles should be wary of incurring expensive Olympics debt]

LA faces similar challenges in both public transit infrastructure and air quality. How can new metro rail systems be constructed without causing harm to the environment? But that’s only part of the problem: Convincing LA residents to ditch their solo rides for a seat on the train or a bus will be difficult. This is all without considering population growth. By 2024, the population of LA will have almost tripled to around 13 million residents, compared to just over 4 million today.

To be clear, the city has a tough road ahead of it, and not all Olympic events have successfully mitigated environmental damage. When Rio de Janeiro made its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, it promised to clean up the notoriously filthy Guanabara Bay. This promise was left by the wayside, with many pointing to its polluted waters as a nasty stain on the city’s reputation. Rio also pledged to plant 24 million seedlings to mitigate carbon emissions caused by the games; they ended up completely falling short with around 5.5 million seedlings planted.

That’s why a city council commission is crucial to make sure the city meets its ambitious environmental goals in the next seven years. Sustainability teams, like the ones at UCLA, must be held accountable in achieving what they’ve set out to do.

Big dreams and promises are being made by Los Angeles. It is up to the residents of LA to participate in “going green” and to hold the city accountable for their ambitious visions of sustainability.

Hosting the 2024 Olympics is a Herculean task, but with the collaborative efforts of LA’s sustainability teams, Angelenos might not just end up with the green by the end of this decade: they can go for the gold.

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