Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The LA Weekly Takes On The Great Los Angeles Greenwashing Craze

In case you might have thought that we here at The Tattler were just about the only people going on about this stuff, the alternative paper of record the LA Weekly recently printed a rather amazing expose of just exactly how the language and images of the Green concern have been hijacked by such disinterested parties as redevelopers, real estate peddlers, and the so-called Green Politicians that serve them. Even the oil companies are in on it. People who are to the environment what fur trappers are to baby seals. It isn't a pretty picture.

The article is entitled Envirowimps: LA's Big Green Groups Get Comfy. And while you really should click on the link I've provided and read the whole thing, I will reprise a couple of passages because of their relevance to what we are seeing here in Sierra Madre. Watching the likes of Joe Mosca and John Buchanan cynically pushing their BIA high-density redevelopment agenda as somehow being "green" in city council meeting after meeting as if it was received wisdom from some almighty source kind of demands at least a bit of discussion. And if you put these two gents into the context of this LA Weekly piece you will see that they are just a couple of garden variety LA County pols pushing the same tainted nonsense as the rest of the rotten bunch. And apparently there are a lot of these characters out there.

The first of two topics that we have raised here recently are SB 375, the Sacramento enacted law (thanks Anthony Adams!) that, while claiming to be a measure that will cut greenhouse gases and the global warming they cause, is actually little more than a license for redevelopers to push high-density development upon unwilling communities now stripped of the legal protections to resist them. The other one being transit villages like The Stuart in Pasadena, or the now apparently endangered El Monte Transit Village. An equally cynical concept, and one that can cause considerable health damage to the small children living in them.

First let's deal with the Orwellian concept that building huge generic condo complexes in LA County will save the world:

Under the current crop of politicians, developers have marketed, or "green-washed," huge buildings to the Los Angeles public as "sustainable" - meaning healthy for the environment over the long term - when critics say they actually create more traffic congestion, more pollution and a plainly lower quality of life ... In Hollywood, the political turf of green-friendly City Council President Eric Garcetti and 4th District City Councilman Tom LaBonge, Bob Blue saw one proposed skyscraper or giant condo complex after another come before the community group he chaired, the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. Outsize projects that ignore local zoning restrictions are now peddled by developers as good because they are "LEED" buildings, meaning they offer such features as low-flush toilets, on-site renewable energy and improved indoor-air-quality standards ... lost in the push for LEED certification has been the pressing question of whether the environmental benefits of these buildings outweigh the negatives. Do these big structures cause more emissions by attracting increased traffic and encouraging congested streets filled with idling cars, for example, than they claim to reduce? In truth, nobody knows - including the many cities such as L.A. whose development approvals now require LEED standards. "But if you have a project that would normally be four stories high and now has 20 stories," says Blue, who supports the concept of LEED design, "it still adds enormous weight to the infrastructure." There is a "net increase in power, water, sewer, traffic, pollution and impact to the immediate surrounding area." The community activist adds, "I think that this is being missed by everybody."

We have seen similar pro-development sentiments pushed by the two Sierra Madre Councilman whose names I mentioned above. One of them, Joe Mosca, actually heads the SCAG/SGVCOG associated committee tasked with enforcing the high-density housing edicts demanded by SB 375 here in the San Gabriel Valley. That this would be dressed up as somehow being Green because the toilets are low-flow and some of the power produced by solar panels can be seen as representative of the general hype. The devastating traffic increases and demands on such fragile resources as water, power, plus the overall negative impact on the quality of life here, makes all of this a fool's bargain.

The LA Weekly continues:

Blue's hardly alone in his criticism. Rex Frankel, a widely respected independent voice in L.A.'s environmental movement and director of the think tank, says, "If you're using LEED to justify greater density, it's a false tradeoff ... we'll still face more time in traffic, increased smog and other impacts. It's just another example of green-washing."

The other issue that concerns this typer is that of so-called Transit Villages. Sold to many cities across the country as being somehow environmentally helpful, in practice they have become something quite different. And this article covers those concerns as well.

One example can be seen in the new trend of land speculators and developers proposing apartment and condo complexes near freeways,in many cases arguing that the buildings are "sustainable" because they bring workers closer to jobs. The developments often get the blessing of L.A. City council- to the horror of health experts. The University of Southern California and other research institutions now know for certain that children living in these projects are burdened with serious, often lifelong lung and respiratory illnesses caused by a relentless stream of traffic nearby. "They are putting individuals at risk," says USC professor of preventive medicine Jim Gauderman, of the politicians, developers and greens. His 2007 study made that clear.

Friends of ours took up temporary quarters at The Stuart while the house they just bought was being refurbished. They described the experience as being horrible. Most notable to them was the steady roar of the traffic on the 210. And as the parents of young children they understood the dangers and couldn't wait for their month there to end. And as I saw when we visited, this complex is in no way permanent housing for anyone. Most of those living there are only in place for a short period of time, and the management is constantly not only in search of new tenants, but also trying to keep the ones they already have.

The perspective that we need to take here in Sierra Madre is that none of this really has very much to do with creating "sustainable" buildings designed to save the world from global warming. Instead it is just the latest con ginned up by a development industry hungry for building space in places such as the highly profitable LA County market. 

Previously we were told that high-density housing was something we were obliged to accept in our community because it would create affordable living quarters for the less provident among us. And when that didn't work, the BIA and CAR types concocted an entirely new sales pitch, that building big condos complexes will some how save the world from global warming.

It's time some folks grew up a little and recognized this for what it really is, marketing designed by powerful interests to sucker in the gullible.


  1. You make your point lucidly--and it truly is horrifying how some politicos and other opportunists can pervert good causes by using the language of those causes to obtain objects that are contrary to those cuases. Sir Eric, please keep the counter-language flowing so that those who might be fooled get the wake-up call.

  2. You mean to say condos aren't going to save the world? Oh well,
    I guess we'll just have to rely on Superman.

  3. And pardon the typo above. . .

  4. Thanks for this article Sir Eric.
    Old Kentucky is a "greenwashing" atheist.

  5. Here's a thought. If the LEED concept is so great, why have we not seen a push for it on existing buildings? That way we'd get the benefits without the extra density, crowding, traffic increases, heightened water usage, energy consumption, infrastructure demands etc. That the parties calling the shots only seem interested in this concept for new - and vastly larger - development projects seems rather suspect to me. Can it be because ecologically devastating massive development really is the concern here, along with the money to be made? And the green thing just window dressing?

  6. All the houses at 1 Carter and Stonehouse should be required to be certified Gold or better, have only drought resistant landscaping, be fireproof, and have gray water/ rainwater plumbing. John and Joe, being advocates of being green and saving water should not have a problem with that.

  7. The "green" thing is just the bs they use, Sierra Madre.
    Don't you remember John "green" Buchanan's campaign sign with a TREE on it!
    Can you imagine a TREE? When John Buchanan voted to allow One Carter to be destroyed, they "murdered" trees up there! Even trees that weren't suppose to be cut down, were murdered.
    Thanks, Green John, Enid, Tonja and Rob.

  8. 8:05
    Is everyone aware there is a public hearing Tuesday night to give the developer MORE time at 1 Crater? The developer is asking for an Extension of Vesting Map for 1 Carter.

  9. Until Californians stand up to challenge SB 375, this is the state of our State. Californians have two options, one is a lawsuit to challenge the law (and I'm not sure if any grounds exist to win that one) and two a ballot initiative that 1) repeals SB 375 and 2) give local control over the level of desired development back to cities.
    I am an environmentalist and I believe that we must at some point stop building or we will all end up living in third world conditions. How much development is too much [after all some people in Hong Kong live in bunk bed size spaces]. When do we finally say water is scarce and we must stop developing to draw people here. I may not be popular for saying this, but California must be an expensive place to live if we are to have any quality of life, water to grow our crops and other resources.

  10. 8:31
    You're popular with me, I like the way you think.
    I totally agree with your comment!

  11. These "transit villages" were originally concieved as being focused around passenger rail transit, not freeways! Like in Europe. It just so happens that the Gold Line runs down the middle of the old freight right-of-way which was obtained when the freight lines consolidated and sold off the abandoned ones. A decent example of this is South Pasadena's use of the Gold Line station to revitalize the Mission District and bring in the arts district identity as well, due to Metro's policy of incorporating the arts into every station as a unique identifier.

    But no, the freeway adjacency is a joke and the destruction of the Stuart Pharmaceuticals site for housing was a loss of Edward Durrel Stone's design (only the front facade is retained, with the old main entry space). Adaptive commercial/industrial use here would have been the solution here because of the freeway situation. Again, blame the RHNA numbers and speculative real estate bubbles that distorted all reasonable planning and used these issues as a vehicle to ramrod a bad project that makes no sense. Those were just checkoff boxes on the Negative Declaration, and City staff only has the power to process an EIR, they can't take a position. Only the Council can do that, and this project politically succeeded in even getting Pasadena Heritage on board eventually (the alternative was complete destruction).

  12. Just FYI, a recent ruling on the RHNA and its immunity to judicial review:

  13. Laurie: Isn't that how it usually goes? People have great ideas, then it gets into the hands of the likes of SCAG, BIA, CAR, and the gutless wonders in Sacramento, and what you end up with is family housing in cancer alley.

  14. Stepping out of my usual humorous style I must say that none of this "Green" crap has a chance without population control, there's just too many people on the Earth. I predict within 50-100 years there will be a global war on population that will be as instinctive and visceral as anything the world saw in Rwanda.
    Sadly, Local Yokel

  15. Everyone must read 9:08. SCAG and RHNA have too much power.

  16. Make that 20 years

  17. Pasta: It's not SCAG and RHNA, it's the BIA, CAR, and the rest of the concerned lobbyists. SCAG and SGVCOG are just tools of these people, and those that work for them low life accomplices whose real priority is currying favor with power. This is what happens when govt is for sale to the highest bidder. And that is what we see in Sacramento. We might as well be living in Paraguay.

  18. heard those multi-story apartments on walnut and lake can't fill up, and they're only asking around $400 a month for them.
    sad that poor folks have to live in such places.
    feel sorry for the kids.

  19. Didn't just fall off the turnip wagonJuly 22, 2009 at 11:27 AM

    Steve from arcadia at 10:05 AM, do you believe what you just posted? Anything at $400 a month will rent! Didn't you just mis-read the "from the low $400,000's" leasing sign. When units a block away that rent for $1,800 to $2,400 a month are wait listed do you really thing $400 a month wouldn't rent? There are good and sufficient reasons to opposed high density building without crazy talk.

  20. Hey, time for some new signs for the next July 4th parade: "CONDOMS, not condos - the greenest kind of environmentalism!!"

    BTW, heard on the radio this week a discussion of the state's strategy of pushing this newest developer-generated high-density scheme, and one of the cities here in SoCal is suing the state over SB375. Sorry I did not pay closer attention, but the story was on KPCC either yesterday or the day before...

  21. taken from aklandlaw blog

    Noteworthy, the Court of Appeals stated that “the RHNA allocation process must be completed in advance of the revision of a municipality’s general plan housing element.” [Emphasis added.] To the contrary, HCD has indicated that so long as the local agency goes back and revises/amends its housing element to incorporate a late-adopted RHNA allocation, that satisfies the statute and a City or County can adopt its housing element without the RHNA allocation process first being completed.

    What does this mean?

  22. Sir Eric, since it has been obvious from the get go that it has always been about the good ole greedy dollar, BIA/CAR and Joe and John do not give a rats a** about Green unless it is a paper with Ben Franklin, is it possible for us to seriously get out of SCAG NOW? and for the people to repeal SB375 on a ballot? Plus, 8:31 has a huge point which is it is expensive to live here. And, with Calif so broke where is the money coming from to build, build build? Am I the only one who sees the absurdity here?

    PS can we throw rotten tomatoes to THE developer Tuesday nite?

  23. Bart's Empty BusesJuly 22, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    This from an article called "Locals Attack BS 375 As Inefficient Way To Go ...

    "The most public attack so far came last week from Ty Schuiling, planning director for the San Bernardino Assoc Govts (SANBAG) - a group of local govts that can be expected to be hostile to SB 375's goals. At a conf last week put on by the Leonard Transportation Center at cal State San Bernardino, Schulling challenged the idea that land use changes are required to meet the state's GHG reduction goals becuase the goal cannot be met by making cleaner vehicles, as the Calif Air Resources Board has suggested. "That is simply not true," Schulling said.

  24. Seriously - how about the State taking away city redevlopment money? Really puts a kink in the whole property snatching plans of SCAG and the rest, you know? Dracula is running off with their fiscal blood bank.

  25. Yes, SB 375 is simply about trying to change driving distances by not allowing more sprawl. However, one of the major authoritative voices in our profession (Arup Engineers) has written a comprehensive article that addresses *precisely* the point that Schulling is making.

  26. We recognize limits to capacity in some spaces, like in elevators - if you have unrestricted growth in an elevator, the elevator won't work - and the same thing applies to our towns.
    "Built out" has to come into everyday speech, and it's not a criticism or exclusion of anyone; it's a recognition that the elevator is full.

  27. We've got a growth advocate spewing vitriol over on Topix:

  28. TF?
    Couldn't get the link, which thread is it on?
    I'll wade over there and post.

  29. TF.....if Larry Wilson has any influence on that forum, he'll probably bar some of the Tattler posters....some of us (me included) sort of insulted him.....but he was sitting around Bean Town lurking at our "stroller moms" walking by.
    Then made some fallacious comments about their attitudes.
    Didn't set well with Sir Eric and others.

  30. The thread is titled: "West Pasadena residents to hold General Plan meeting"... it's 3 on 1 as of right now (I'm the "1")

  31. The good thing about public transportation is you can ride it drunk. Of course in a town like Sierra Madre drunken walking can get you remanded to Pasadena. Which, while not quite Guantanamo, can be an unpleasant experience. Thanks for letting me share.


The Tattler is a moderated blog. Annoying delays when posting comments can happen. Thank you for your patience and understanding.