Episode #69: Rebuilding Los Angeles & L.A.’s Green New Deal (transcript)
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: My name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: Hi, Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Brian: Hey, buddy.
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Brian: Yes. Sometimes with you as a co-host, which is great.
Quinn: Occasionally. We'll find out today.
Quinn: It's 2:30 on the east coast.
Brian: In an hour.
Quinn: This week's episode is, hey man, we're talking about home, talking about rebuilding Los Angeles, making it greener, more equitable. We're getting specific. Can we do it? That's the question.
Brian: Can we do it?
Quinn: Uh-huh. Our guest, tell them about our people.
Brian: Our guest is Jeanalee Obergfell. She's down the street. She's rad, and thankfully she's in charge of quite a bit.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah. She's been working her way in there for a while and getting some shit done. Now seems like she's in a position I think to basically win Game of Thrones. I think that was the gist of it.
Brian: Yeah, I think she's going to win the Game of Thrones. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to listen to this.
Quinn: If the Game of Thrones were creating more equitable housing and urban transportation options in a less hot and more breathable cityscape.
Brian: Yeah, I guess it's not that much like Game of Thrones.
Brian: We'll see if it ends better.
Quinn: Ooh, all right, let's go talk to Jeanalee.
Quinn: Our guest today is Jeanalee Obergfell. Together, we're going to talk about Los Angeles's supposedly new and exciting Green New Deal and everything we got going on here. Does fewer cars and more houses that people can actually afford equal a green paradise in LA? Jeanalee, welcome.
Jeanalee: Hi, welcome. So happy to be here.
Brian: We are thrilled to have you.
Jeanalee: Well, I'm still in the same place.
Jeanalee: I'm happy to chat with you again.
Quinn: Yeah, a few miles down the road.
Brian: Yeah, we're close. I love that. That doesn't happen often. We're very excited to have you, Jeanalee. Let's start the show, if you wouldn't mind, by just letting everybody know who you are and what you do.
Jeanalee: Sure. So my name is Jeanalee Obergfell. Currently I am a city planning associate with the city's Department of City Planning. Then formerly, I spent five years working under Mayor Garcetti on his sustainability team and helped develop and then implement the Sustainable City Plan that is now referred to LA's Green New Deal.
Quinn: That is awesome. Not a small task, I can imagine. LA is not a complicated place by any stretch. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to this place? I guess metaphorically and literally.
Jeanalee: Like spiritually and physically?
Quinn: Whatever you got.
Jeanalee: I actually grew up on the boarder. So I grew up in Imperial County, which is on the California-Mexico border, home of... You may be familiar with this, the Salton Sea, which is one of the more polluted areas in California.
Jeanalee: Realized at a young age that we were using our land resources not in the best way. Then also beyond the border, you realize that sometimes businesses would just move to the Mexican side of the border, because it has less environmental regulations, but the impacts were still felt.
Jeanalee: On the other side.
Quinn: Right, because pollution doesn't just go straight up in the air and not affect everybody else.
Jeanalee: No. Pollution does not have a passport. It doesn't need one. So then from a young age, realized, I was like, "Hey, there's something wrong here. This is not okay. Is there a job that I could do?" I had a brief foray into community organizing, because I think I've always believed that there is immense power at the local level over state and federal. I think just local... The smaller the area... I mean LA is huge, but the more localized the politics, the bigger the change and the effects there that you'll see with change.
Jeanalee: Then once again I was like, "This land use thing keeps coming up," and eventually figured out that I should go to planning school. Then ended up in planning school really focused on housing and community development, and then kind of found myself in the environmental realm as well. Then shortly after graduation, the previous deputy chief sustainability officer for the city of LA, who had just been appointed because the mayor had just come into office, sent a two-sentence email to our urban planning [inaudible 00:06:17] saying we need someone. It was very vague. There was no job description at all. I was like, "I'm going to go for it. Let's see what happens."
Quinn: That's amazing.
Jeanalee: Yeah, I was like, "I'll right this BS cover letter and see what I assume they think they might need in a policy analyst." So I was hired very early on in the administration straight out of graduate school and had previous community organizing experience in event planning and advocacy work, but never actually worked for an elected official, which I think is a very just unique way to look at the world and to deal with problems.
Quinn: Sure, yeah.
Jeanalee: Then was in the city, and then got a bird's eye view of the city and how difficult it was to wrangle and create a plan. But the one thing with being in the mayoral office in such a big city is that you see everything in a bird's eye view, but you're not really viewing with targeted, specific problems every day. Then that was kind of what led to the transition to the Department of City Planning. A promotional opportunity opened up, and I was like, "Let's look at this more targeted and then go back into what I think is super important in LA which is housing and transportation, and seeing how we can look at that through an environmental lens."
Quinn: Yeah, and it's funny how you said you started in housing, and then it kind of drifted towards environmental, and now transportation. If there's anything I think... If you're paying attention at all in the city, it is very... To be clear, a lot of rich white people are not, but if you're paying attention at all, you realize those three things are completely linked together here, housing, and transportation, and the environment, whether it's urban heat or the lack of subway stops or the need to drive because of the sprawl and the lack of high density... It all goes together.
Jeanalee: Yeah, definitely. I think it's something that... Yeah, and I think the higher income that you have though, you don't realize the huge need. Then you also don't realize that people really do commute just using metro, and that there's people that it's not a choice, but it's a need.
Quinn: So one of my first... Before I was in Los Angeles, I was in New York and London and Barcelona. I remember when I first got here-
Jeanalee: Oh wonderful places. I was like, "All those places are fun, yeah."
Quinn: No, they're great. They also have excellent public transportation. New York is completely crumbling and literally under water, but the point is it's more accessible. I remember when I first got here 10 years ago now, you just said how some people don't believe that people use the metro every day or have to use the metro every day. One of my first conversations when I got here was with a young person about my age. I must have been, I don't know, 25, 26 at the time, and they seemed about similar in age. I think they've been here for a while, because we were talking about subways, and all I took away from the conversation was their last point, which was, "But when you get off the subway, then you have to walk where you're going." They were just greatly... They were so confused.
Brian: Oh my god.
Quinn: That was clearly such a deal-breaker to them. I was like, "Oh shit. This is the problem." It's insane. It's been 10 years, and Uber and Lyft have made some things better. There's so much less drunk driving in Los Angeles, but at the same time made it so much work in congestion waves and transportation ridership is down, but anyways, that framed it for me. I was just like, "Oh, that's the thing."
Brian: People just don't know that they can walk.
Quinn: Anyways, anyways.
Quinn: All right. Brian, let's keep this-
Jeanalee: That's crazy, yeah.
Quinn: We're going to dig into all this. We're going to dig into all this.
Brian: Yes, we are. Yes.
Quinn: It's insane.
Brian: Yeah. Jeanalee, we're going to go over what we're going to talk about today and our topic at hand, and you, and dig into some action-oriented questions that get to the heart of why we should care about you and what you're fighting for, and what everybody that's listening can do to help. Does that sound good?
Jeanalee: Sounds great. Yeah.
Quinn: Awesome. So generally we like to start with one important question to sort of set the tone and put you on the spot a little bit. So instead of saying, "Tell us your whole life story," which I realize that I did, we usually like to ask generally why are you vital to the survival of the species?
Jeanalee: Oh wow. I think it might be my enthusiasm and optimism would be my superpower.
Quinn: Tell me about that.
Quinn: I love that. Tell me about it. We need that so bad.
Jeanalee: Yeah. I think once you keep... You hear all the bad news and you're constantly bombarded, especially now with just negative images. There was the biodiversity report that was out a few weeks ago where we're killing species, and it's really hard to see like what can we do better? I think that's where you need people with the super powers of optimism and enthusiasm that just 100% believe that there's good in the world and that with enough storytelling, because I don't think data necessarily works anymore. It used to, but I think with the right storytelling and mix of data and personal connection, that's where your really hearts and minds can be changed when people realize how does it impact them or someone that they love.
Jeanalee: So I think I do believe that people will start getting better habits and then the enthusiasm to keep going, even though movement starts very slowly. So even if it's just one person, that one person will eventually ripple and change their habits to others and lead by example. People do get inspired by others and others' commitment. I think peer to peer knowledge and influence is so key to help the movement build in strength.
Jeanalee: I think those are my two... I ultimately do believe that people will rise to the occasion and have faith in that. I'm a moraler, so even when my colleagues are sad, I'm like, "No, there's a positive way through this." You can send me to the meanest community meeting and I'll still be excited and enthusiastic to be there and still will find goodness in it.
Quinn: I feel like I need to call you once a day.
Brian: Yeah, I was going to say.
Quinn: For like a...
Brian: You need to be friends, guys. This is exactly what this show needs.
Quinn: For just like an IV drip of your optimism and enthusiasm. I do have it, and I'm sure you feel this sometimes. You have to. You can't just be like this incredible Care Bear, because you are a human. It's just like sometimes it's just hard. It's just heavy.
Brian: I know. But-
Jeanalee: Yeah, I do prayer and meditation a lot. So I think that when the... That actually came from working here, because I think it was really hard working in the city, trying to [inaudible 00:14:02] this plan, and then having... It was hard. I think the first plan, we had so many roadblocks to get it published, and not knowing when it would get published. A lot of it was just turning to meditation and prayer and being like, "Okay, I'm sad, but I'm giving the sadness..." It's acknowledgement and then trying to find the positive aspect of even why it's a good thing to be sad sometimes too.
Quinn: That's awesome. I love that. I'm not of the prayer ilk, but I'm a strong practicer of meditation and I really... Man, I can tell such a difference between when I'm doing it and when I'm not consistently.
Brian: Yeah, whatever your thing is, whether it's praying or meditation or something else.
Quinn: Yeah. Literally, and one of the questions we'll ask you at the end is what do you do for self-care? What do you do when you get overwhelmed? We've gotten such a huge variety of answers from scientists who work on this stuff every day or people working in cancer or yada yada. It's fun to hear the different answers. But those things, turning inward and acknowledging them and then moving along has been a pretty consistent answer throughout to keeping your head on straight.
Brian: Oh yeah.
Quinn: Awesome. Well, I love that. Again, I'm going to schedule just a 10-second call with you where you just go, "It's fine. It's going to be fine," as if you're not busy enough. All right. So just some kind of quick context about what is happening here, just sort of taking it from... Because basically our guests are all... They're texting and driving, so they don't have time to look this up themselves or read the articles, so we want to get them all on the same page, and they're driving, because of course they're not riding the subway.
Quinn: So we've talked a lot about the Green New Deal here in previous episodes with people like Varshini Prakash and Rhiana Gunn-Wright and some others, her working on the national level and the local levels. So we don't need to dig too far into that one. You're mostly caught up, folks. If you are new here, and we always have a lot of new listeners every week-
Quinn: ... welcome, and two, you can check those previous episodes out at your leisure or as soon as humanly possible, because things are not great out there. So we need you.
Quinn: So anyways, because the federal Congress is only slightly less of a dumpster fire than it was two years ago, the national Green New Deal is still formally a couple of resolutions, right? This is one of the big mistakes from the beginning is people going, "It's nothing," and it's like, "Yes, they're resolution. This is not legislation." In reality, right now, it is a massive set of legal works that are in progress, and they're being developed and drafted by a hoard of incredible diverse people, including real American heroes like Rhiana Gunn-Wright over at-
Brian: New [crosstalk 00:16:56].
Jeanalee: New Consensus, isn't it?
Quinn: New Consensus, yeah. I think so. I thought I was going to say New Republic, but I think that's the place that closed down.
Jeanalee: No, that's another thing. Yeah. No, I was just with her at the Grist Gallery.
Brian: Oh cool.
Quinn: Oh, that's awesome. She is one of my favorite people on the planet now, and I feel lucky every time she responds to something I sent her, because I'm just obnoxious [crosstalk 00:17:20].
Brian: She's wonderful.
Quinn: She's working-
Jeanalee: She's so much fun. She's like a very fun and smart person.
Quinn: She is, but I also love how-
Brian: That's great.
Quinn: ... honest she is and public she is about this shit is hard, and having to stand up for the reasons she's including certain things, etc, etc. So she has her work cut out for her, and there's such a huge variety of amazing people working with her and for her and mobilizing for the support around those things. Further on the national front, we're still in the formal process of pulling out of the Paris deal, not effective until basically election day, which is just great, but in the meantime, a number of states and cities and companies have decided to sort of form an alliance where they just do their own thing, stating their intention to remain, to stay true to these principles in the agreement. Subsequently, they've been passing or trying to pass, like Washington state, a variety of measures to stop the current version of the apocalypse.
Quinn: So we talk a lot about, and lots of people talk a lot about California being this vanguard of the resistance and the tip of the sword and other exciting metaphors of progress for society or clean energy, and progressive values, right? It's complicated. Los Angeles specifically, dialing it down, gets a lot of sunshine, but how green is it right now? We expanded the 405 and we have even more cars on the road. We've got the dirtiest and one of the largest shipping pots on the planet. We're still drilling for oil literally down the street from a just lovely assortment of minority neighborhoods, and they've all got asthma and urban heat issues. We've got subways, but ridership is way down, and the bulk of our public transportation is above ground.
Quinn: The question is kind of where do we go from here and how do we put actions to words? We're fighting drafts and raging wildfires and then mudslides, and it's a cycle now. We're dealing with these urban heat issues with children and old folks in homes and classrooms every day. One of our previous guests, Molly Peterson, has done some wonderful work on that.
Quinn: So the question is does the mayor of the second biggest city in America, part of the biggest county in the country by a long shot have it within him and his administration to make this radical change that we need to make for Los Angeles and the country and the rest of the world? Because like you said, pollution doesn't need or have passports. Basically, can Jeanalee use her optimism to save the world, starting from Los Angeles? Can we rebuild it? Can we go green? And can we make it equitable along the way? Because like you said, those three tenets of transportation and housing and the environment are very much tied together, and also three of our biggest issues.
Jeanalee: Yeah, I would say definitely. That plan's still here. I've been very un-millennial of myself that I've stayed in a place for six years working in the same building.
Quinn: Careful, they'll find you, man.
Jeanalee: Yeah, they're going to be like, "What? She's vested? What is that?"
Quinn: Yeah, what?
Jeanalee: Anyways. "Who does that?"
Quinn: It's crazy. What are you, a boomer?
Jeanalee: Yeah. What is this going on?
Jeanalee: And I think-
Quinn: Oh yeah, go ahead.
Jeanalee: In the last six years alone that I've been an employee, a public servant for the amazing city, there's been so many policy changes. Then it is now... The funny thing was like it took... They got implemented in I would say around year five. I started seeing some of the first... You know the good that came out of some of the first policy changes that we made? I was like, "Oh, good," because everything does take a little while. Everything takes collaboration and a little bit of bargaining. So I may go into a Game of Thrones reference or-
Quinn: Yeah. No, let's do it. It's timely.
Brian: [inaudible 00:21:18] do it.
Jeanalee: Yeah. So a spoiler from referencing the finale, and it wasn't the best thing, but it was so funny, and I'm like, "Yeah, that's how government works," is when they were like, "Everything got destroyed. What should we rebuild first? The ships in the port or the brothels?" I was like, "Yes, that is exactly what those meetings look like."
Quinn: And it was a bunch of white guys at the table.
Quinn: Who are like, "Maybe we should do the brothels."
Jeanalee: It's a bunch of white guys.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and there's obviously the special interest group of the brothels.
Quinn: Oh god.
Brian: That's weird.
Jeanalee: Pushing their agenda. I was like... However you feel about the last episode of Game of Thrones, I just was laughing. I'm like, "Yeah, this is why I started watching this show in the beginning, because there was so many similar themes of what it's like to navigate."
Quinn: So was watching Game of Thrones like watching The Office for you basically?
Brian: Was it your version of-
Jeanalee: You know what was really... Well no, I've always laughed and was like, "That's what people think working in an elected office is like," but really we're a combination of Parks and Rec and Veep.
Brian: Oh yeah, yeah, there you go.
Jeanalee: I feel it's more like Parks and Rec and Veep.
Quinn: Oh Veep.
Jeanalee: We're not as glamorous as Game of Thrones. No one's being... Everyone wants to be, but I don't think we're as glam or fabulous as Game of Thrones.
Quinn: I have a friend of the pod that refuses to come on because of his high government position, which is fair. He always says... I remember a few years ago when House of Cards was big and before Kevin Spacey was revealed to be a complete monster, and everyone's like, "Oh, is your job more House of Cards or Veep?" He's like, "Veep every day. It's nowhere near as sexy and cool."
Quinn: He's like, "It's just a bunch of basically idiots who think and want more power than they could possibly have and wouldn't know what to do with it basically, and just special interest groups left and right."
Brian: Good thing it's so funny, because it's also scary as hell.
Jeanalee: Yeah. Then the Parks and Rec aspect is that those community meetings do happen in like the-
Quinn: Oh god, yeah.
Jeanalee: ... one episode-
Brian: Like with the small towns with everybody hollering crazy shit at you?
Jeanalee: Yeah, but except we have huge town halls, and there's just more people hollering crazy things.
Brian: Right. Oh my god.
Jeanalee: We [inaudible 00:23:48], but that's okay.
Brian: Jeanalee, we talked a little bit about how you got where you are, yeah, how you got here. How did you begin to define your role and where you wanted to make a difference?
Jeanalee: Well, first of all, I think I felt called to do this, and I understand how big the environmental issues are. I do think land use... I don't know. There was always a strong, even from when I was a child, there was a strong connection to the land. My grandfather actually helped build the canal that brought Colorado River water to Imperial County to help link it in a cultural place.
Jeanalee: So I think that was always very ingrained in our family to understand land, and how it's a resource, and how our livelihoods are dependent on it, and also how we shouldn't waste water, because we grew up in a desert, and it was dependent on droughts, and there wasn't always water. So I think there was a real awareness. I didn't realize urban planning was a job until way later in life. I think I was already in college when I was like, "What? You can study how to build cities? What is this?"
Jeanalee: That's kind of when I was like, "No, I believe..." I was like, "This also in line to what I believe that at the local level you can really make a difference." To go back to your earlier question, the city of LA, yes, it is a huge city, but at the same time, the fact that the city manages its own ports and airport and water utility is what is going to make it... It's the fact that we have essentially have the power to change those governing models, because they are essentially owned by tax payers in the city, and I think that's where... They're not privatized, and I think that's how we're going to make... You know what has been making huge strides is that they're essentially government agencies, and government right now is trying to shift, because not only is it the right thing to do, but it's also in the long-term costly.
Jeanalee: It's why the LAPD were so excited to be the first department to get an entirely electric administrative fleet. When we started, we never thought LAPD would be the ones that were super excited about that. That was not within our radar that we're like, "Oh, the police department is..."
Quinn: Right, sure, sure.
Jeanalee: You know [inaudible 00:26:35] always talking about how much paper they save. It was kind of funny to see how empowering each of the departments to have their own initiatives and have their own goals that they where providing metrics on. Then some of them even got staff around just environmental issues have deeply changed the culture of each of the departments so that it's going to withstand even I think the transition of the next mayoral administration. That was sort of the logic of I want to be ingrained in the department, so I'm also a part of that culture change.
Quinn: For sure.
Jeanalee: As it occurs, yeah.
Quinn: So let's talk a little bit about the big new LA Green New Deal unveiled by the time this comes out in a couple weeks, a couple months ago, a month or two ago. I want to talk about a little bit how... Because again, there's such a wide variety of momentum and stops and starts, but there is momentum in states and cities and municipalities across the country now and across the world. You look at Madrid has banned cars downtown a few days a week and things like that.
Quinn: So yeah, I want to talk about how the plan measures up to what some of these other cities have proposed or have begun to accomplish or already accomplished obviously it's always important to clarify, and I feel like half of the city of Los Angeles doesn't even understand this, that the mayor, whether it's Garcetti or whoever is coming next, is not the mayor of Los Angeles County, right? He is the major of the city of the city of Los Angeles County proper is comprised of I think 88 cities, right? So for something like congestion charges, which are complicated, but successful in most places, very necessary in a city as congested around, it's a little easier in New York, because Manhattan is an island. There's only so many ways on and off. Their issue was never really defining the transition points. It was the political nature and dealing with Albany.
Quinn: So the question of how do we accomplish something similar? How do we compare? Transportation isn't really the largest share of our emissions, but it's a huge chunk, and it's important to note, of course, carbon emissions aren't the only byproduct. I think it was the Union of Concerned Scientists, right Brian, that put out the report recently that not surprisingly said that California has massively unequal exposure to PM2 particles.
Quinn: So let's talk about the... Tell us about the plan, the broad strokes, and then we can dig into it. Then let's talk about where you grabbed from other places or what's unique to the City of Angels.
Jeanalee: Sure. I can talk to the fact that all cities actually are constantly working together. You're like, "What is that?" Partly it's the California way, because we have a long history of just... The people that came to California that helped create the state were very anti the vertical power structure of the older cities, such as New York and Chicago that have a very strong mayoral system. Where purposefully California, and then it's more then also in the city of LA we're trying to decentralize power, which means that things take a little longer, because you have a 15-member city council that has all the legislative authority in the city. Then you have a mayor's office that essentially has control over the budget and can hire and fire general managers, and then can do executive directives, but they're purposely and tend to be a checks and balance to each other, that no body is more powerful than the other one.
Jeanalee: On top of that, you have a county that has five supervisors that control an area that includes basically from the ocean to Pomona.
Quinn: Sure. Yeah, it's incredible.
Jeanalee: And from the valley... I was like I forgot who would be past Long Beach.
Quinn: If you're from here, you know holy shit, that's so far. If you're not from here, it's really hard to grasp how fucking different those places are and how much is in between them.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and that's like I would say half of southern California is like LA. I don't know the specifics, but it's also the most populous part of the state. The city of LA alone is almost 500 square feet of just city. Not 500. [inaudible 00:31:28]. Let me look. Just this huge monster of a place that in order to really pass effective legislation, you need to collaborate with a bunch of people.
Jeanalee: So one of the key things also was that when we were creating the Sustainable City Plan that's not LA Green New Deal, we were constantly talking to the county board of supervisors so that they would start and create their own sustainability team, which they did. Now they have a draft for our county LA report, which is their version of their sustainability plan, which is great. So that was kind of the momentum of if we do it, we encourage others to do it.
Jeanalee: There's also a lot of networks for cities that are involved in climate work. So that I think also helps with... Internationally, it's B40, which has all the mega cities in the world get together, and LA's on the steering committee for that, and to help push [inaudible 00:32:37] there's a staff that helps and supports us. They were very crucial to helping develop the Green New Deal by providing staff support and actually funding a position here in LA to help draft the update to the plan to be more ambitious than it was before. So that's one great help.
Jeanalee: That means I was communicating with Madrid and London. We even had an exchange program with the mayor's office of London where their air quality person actually took a sabbatical and was with us for six months and helped get some of our air quality goals up and running-
Quinn: Oh, that's super cool.
Jeanalee: ... before he... Yeah, so it's very collaborative. I used to be on weird webinars at 7:00 AM talking about food systems with people all over the global south and Europe. So we are learning from one another at the national level from mayor [inaudible 00:33:39] the climate mayor, which I think has been really crucial in pushing climate goals and getting cities together, especially since 2016. I don't know what happened in 2016, but around November, everyone wanted to join.
Quinn: It's so weird. It's like-
Jeanalee: It's so weird.
Quinn: What's the quote from Star Wars? It's like there was a great cry, and everything went batshit.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and then everyone was like, "Yes, we want to be in communities together fighting the good fight." I was like, "I remember Mayor Pete when he was a climate mayor. Now he's in the national spotlight."
Quinn: Right, right. So talk to us a little bit about what's in the plan. What are sort of the main strokes of what we're going to be working on going forward? However you feel like is the best way to sort of talk about it and present it. Again, this is part of why we exist is there's just so much fucking news every day that I feel like so many people in Los Angeles and California don't even know this thing exists, or what was in it, or is it going to happen? What does it mean? That's what we're always trying to take a step back and really define things for people and help them sort of hit over the head with like, "No, this is what's happening. This is who is involved. This is what they can do. This is how you can affect it in some ways." So I'd love to really put it out there like, look, this is what's being presented. This is what has to be done to get it done.
Jeanalee: Yeah. I'll just hit some of the bigger targets.
Quinn: Let's do it.
Jeanalee: Because they helped finalize some of the targets, and then that's when my transition happened, but I can help start with one of the big things was building a zero carbon electricity grid by 2036 to make sure that California leads 200% renewables by 2045. This is going to be a lot of numbers.
Quinn: I love numbers.
Jeanalee: Create 300,000 new green jobs by 2035, making sure that all new municipally owned buildings and any major renovations of buildings will be all electric, effective immediately, the municipal ones, which is great, because we're doing the whole new Civic Center downtown, so that will be a part of that. Achieving zero waste by phasing out styrofoam, which was something that we've been tinkering with by 2021.
Jeanalee: Then small steps. The plastic straw ban is already in effect. So ending that and single-use takeout containers by 2028. Then the idea with that helping us lower how much trash we're creating and stopping trash from going to landfills by 2050. Recycling 100% of our waste water by 2035.
Quinn: That's a big one.
Jeanalee: And having... Yeah, that's a huge one, and then sourcing it locally, sourcing 70% of it locally, and then planting and maintaining-
Quinn: No, I was just going to say-
Jeanalee: [crosstalk 00:36:49]
Quinn: ... I feel like we could do an entire nother conversation just on the water stuff. I know everyone was like a few years ago we had the drought issues, and now they're like, "It's done." It's like, "Oh man, no. It's so complicated."
Jeanalee: I have a great person to recommend, if you want to do that. Yeah, for another episode.
Quinn: Yeah, let's talk about that later, for sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Jeanalee: Then planting and maintaining at least 90,000 trees by 2021 in order to, A, deal with heat, urban heat island issues, and then increase tree canopy especially in low-income communities that don't really have it. So there's parts of LA that don't really have a lot of trees.
Quinn: Yeah, it's unbelievable.
Jeanalee: It sucks to wait for the bus, because it's really hot and there's no trees.
Quinn: Right, right, right. We had a really interesting conversation that I'll send you and I'd love to connect you with a journalist friend, Molly Peterson, who's more or less the smartest person I know who, for a year, put sensors all around schools and low-income neighborhoods in LA and dealt with the urban heat stuff, and did some really amazing reporting on that. Just opened my eyes to it, and yeah, it's the pollution. It's the cars. It's the lack of trees, and like you said, if it's too hot in schools, kids are sick and they can't pay attention, and their grades go down, and waiting for buses, it's just, again, so many people don't realize or they choose to not realize what a factor that is.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and it's-
Quinn: And it's not just Los Angeles. It's 100 here from June to December, but it's in a lot of places as well.
Jeanalee: Yeah, it's all connected. It's definitely all connected.
Quinn: So how much focus is the mayor and the city council and the County Board of Supervisors giving this massive new initiative? Will it stand up to a new mayor in a couple years? What is first up, are we going after the hardest stuff first or the low-hanging fruit? What can be done without the public needing to vote? I'm curious. I want to dig into it a little bit.
Jeanalee: Sure. So I think the low-hanging fruit stuff was all accomplished when the first version of the plan came out in 2015. That was when we had two-year goals, and a lot of that stuff got accomplished by then. This is all hard stuff, the current lead. Some of it was already in the process, because we knew we had 2025 goals in the previous version of the Green New Deal. Things that are happening, I think the focus is now getting ordinances passed to make sure that projects are still... That some of those goals will be met.
Jeanalee: So currently, one example of that is voters passed Measure JJJ a few years ago on a ballot. That mandated that the city do an incentive program to try to build out more affordable housing. That created the program that I work on now, which is the Transit Oriented Communities Program, which is basically, which is basically a guideline or program where if you're at least 1,500 feet from a metro stop or two rapid bus lines, you can build out hire density on a property lot and then make sure that 11% of the units that you're providing are low-income units.
Jeanalee: That's been a very successful program for the city. It's been in effect for a year, and that's something that's not... That was a part of the original plan to meet our housing goal new transit. A voter initiative, a measure came on. Now we have this program, and that's not going away. You know?
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeanalee: So that's something that will keep functioning regardless of who's in office. So it's about getting those type of programs, and our [inaudible 00:40:56] program, that was also in the plan. A big aspect that I was working on previously was making sure that we would lower our food waste, which is ensuring that if businesses had extra food, that if it was still edible, then we made sure to follow the EPA guidelines of food waste so that it wouldn't necessarily become waste.
Jeanalee: So then we were able to partner with businesses and community based organizations that do food service to get produce to them before it truly went bad, but after it was no longer sellable because it wasn't as cute or something, because people are picky about how produce looks.
Quinn: It's crazy.
Brian: Yes, they are.
Quinn: It's crazy.
Jeanalee: Yeah, so it was like those few days in between, and ended up going to places like the St. Francis Center that actually serves breakfast for people facing homelessness, but then turns into a food bank in the afternoon. They're opening food banks at community colleges. So that's serving a... So one program is essentially serving all these population needs. We've been able to save a bunch... I forgot the total tonnage of food that would have essentially ended up in our landfill is now being put to good use. Then if it's really bad, there's another program that puts some of the produce at the LA zoo for our animals.
Quinn: That's awesome.
Jeanalee: Yeah, so if it's not to the level of quality for human consumption, then we go to the next step, which is animal consumption.
Quinn: Sure, because that's money the city would have been spend... And it's being used. I don't think people realize it's not just the food not being eaten. There are emissions that come from that. There is power that has to be used for it. Food waste is a massive problem, and in a place like this, it's so integral to building a more closed loop system.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and the zoo loves it, because it's also cost-saving, and the monkeys probably love it, because they get fancy chard.
Quinn: Yeah, they love those.
Brian: They love chard.
Quinn: Yeah, they love chard, plant burgers, and fucking fake cheese.
Jeanalee: Yeah, I'm sure they're getting very great... It was a joke where are they getting full four-star dining service over there? So there was a lot of jokes when that program got announced obviously.
Quinn: Right, right, right.
Brian: I hope they're all sitting at fancy wood tables with cloth napkins.
Quinn: Right. Is it like it's farm to table to farm?
Jeanalee: Sipping from mason jars.
Brian: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Little hipster monkeys. Hey, Jeanalee, what would you say is the most important thing on your plate? Is there some aspect of this that is at the top of the priority list with you, something in the proposal or something else? What are you obsessed with?
Jeanalee: I think for me, it's definitely creating affordable housing near transit. In general, we just need more housing options in this city. I've been here over 12 years, and it's just gotten worse. It's not something that's gotten better. So I think that's a huge priority. Then with that is making sure that the housing isn't next to an abandoned oil well. That would be like [inaudible 00:44:55], and make sure that the uses make sense.
Quinn: Sure, and-
Jeanalee: And that it's not... I think that's important.
Quinn: How are we doing there? What's on the front of what's in place, and what has been passed, and what hasn't? I think it was SB50 just went down, and I know these things are complicated, and there's NIMBY issues and all that shit, but I'd love to hear your perspective from inside the government.
Jeanalee: Yeah. Sure. I think there's definitely been improvement. Let me... I was like, "I have more numbers for you."
Quinn: No. Please, let's do it.
Jeanalee: Yeah, so I think there's definitely been a big boom. I think not a lot of people know that the city essentially did restructure how it permits housing and created priority housing teams to help developers building [inaudible 00:45:57] to make sure that it just happens as quickly as possible. People became multi-family housing experts, and there's dedicated staff for that. I think that was something that was a friend from the outside didn't know, and she was like, "What? That's happening?" I'm like, "Yes, there are actually resources that we invest in."
Jeanalee: And making sure it happens faster, which those are those boring behind-the-scenes Game of Thrones conversations of like, "What do we build first?"
Quinn: Sure, but I can understand how some people would be skeptical that anything is actually happening at all, both just because of how slow big cities can be and how complicated Los Angeles is, and that we've not done great within the past, so I think just helping enlighten the process to those conversations are necessary and they are happening, and then we can get to the other steps is probably helpful, because I think there are a lot of obviously really frustrated folks out there.
Jeanalee: Yeah, so I think within the last quarter of 2018 through the Transit-Oriented Communities Program that I mentioned, about 30,000 housing units were entitled in the city, which is great, which is like a great number and definitely an improvement. It was just the fact that the city's been tracking the process of our housing units and how to move forward has I think, A, helped us understand what programs work and then also help us see the trends and where we can help guide it and help improve the numbers. Then some other policies that we've done have been the [inaudible 00:48:07] unit or [inaudible 00:48:10].
Quinn: Yeah. Is that starting to make a big difference, that specific one?
Jeanalee: It is. I think we're seeing permits filed for them within 1,500. Anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 a quarter, which I think is also better than nothing.
Quinn: It's something. No, in a huge county, it's not much, but it's, again, better than it was before, for sure.
Jeanalee: Yeah, and so then I think the number of [inaudible 00:48:45] permits filed since the change in the state law has gone up 17 times compared to previous years before the state law occurred. So that's a big change.
Brian: Yeah, that's pretty big.
Quinn: That's awesome.
Brian: What would you say for you, as you fight for affordable housing and better public transportation, has been your biggest obstacle so far? What's pushing you back the most?
Jeanalee: I think I always [inaudible 00:49:16] cities are just prone to change, partly because it's a huge... Not cities, but I think the larger the government and the bureaucracy the hard... Not the harder, but the slower it is to get people to realize that the change is happening [inaudible 00:49:37] policy occurred, because there's a bit of... Even in government, there's silos within our own departments, there's silos within our divisions and stuff. Trying to communicate with everyone that is a priority or [inaudible 00:49:54] the processes change is sometimes difficult and takes a little longer.
Jeanalee: Then you add in all the other stakeholders. That's just internally. Then you add in angry neighborhood groups, angry neighbors.
Quinn: Yeah. I imagine you see quite a bit of that.
Jeanalee: That creates a... Yeah. Yeah. Then that creates a angry community organization. So I think the other thing that's unique about LA is that there's this professional line arm of efficacy groups that their job is to essentially lobby for the needs of their constituencies that you don't necessarily see in other cities, but here you have professionalized environmental groups, professionalized housing groups, professionalized just direct action organizing neighborhood groups.
Quinn: Sure yeah. So where do you realistically think LA will be in, say, 2022, four years?
Brian: Yeah, I'd like-
Quinn: Not too far, not too close.
Brian: That's a great followup. Everything takes forever.
Brian: Where will it be in two years.
Quinn: No, but because look, this is a fucking question people are going to ask and that we get all the time is, "Okay, but when's it going to happen? When's this?" I'm like, "Uh, here's the deal. Trump's still president. This isn't going to happen until then. Green New Deal isn't going to happen..." It's like that shit. So in here, we've talked about this is what happened in 2015. This is what we've accomplished. This is what's been proposed. This is... Garcetti's going to be at the end of his term. He can't run again. There's going to be another one. You've talked about some things that are going to carry over and will be protected and what involves the board of supervisors and the work that's been done behind the scenes. We're just going to get the question. I'm sure you fucking get it too, which is just like what do we look like in let's say four years from now? Because 10 is impossible and two is like nothing's going to get done. What do you feel is realistically... What are we capable of, short and sweet answer, in four years?
Jeanalee: I think you're going to see a lot more EV buses, like electric vehicles, electrification of a lot of things. So EV buses, a lot more electric vehicles, just because the infrastructure and the education is there, and the range of the battery, because I think a lot of people are like, "90 miles is not enough," with the first generation. So I think you're going to see a big push for that. I also think, and even with the Grist gathering, we were talking to a guy who was going to create electric airplanes.
Quinn: Right, it's crazy.
Jeanalee: That's crazy, even though the... Yeah. The other thing is I do think you're going to see a lot more housing in LA being built within the last four years, which includes a lot more density in areas that have the transportation to supply it, because that'll be enough... The west side is probably going to look different around its big transportation quarters than it did four years ago. Yeah, than it did four years ago.
Brian: And a lot of that housing being affordable, hopefully.
Jeanalee: Hopefully, yeah. The programs, they do have to provide affordable housing. So there will be a lot more affordable housing. There is a lot of permanent supportive housing that's also being built with Measure HHH funds. So I think you'll see a lot of those projects actually come through. The first one ones are already coming live and being built, but that took longer, since people voted on that I think in... I forgot what year. Either it's 2015 or 2016. They're like, "Oh." So you're going to start seeing that, those housing...
Quinn: Extras start to come to fruition?
Jeanalee: Or down the pipeline anyway. So that'll be exciting.
Quinn: That's awesome. I think that's a fair point is I think people have started to forget a little bit about the thing that they voted on, that then it doesn't just fucking happen the next day. Now it all has to be done now that there's permission or money allocated or the lawsuits are done or whatever it might be.
Jeanalee: And the same thing with metro where metro's going to be built out getting ready for the 2028 Olympics.
Quinn: Right. Yeah. God, what a difference. So all right, looking forward, our goal is to provide, again, sort of specific action steps our listeners can take to support your mission, the city's mission, the state's mission. Everyone who wants to not be underwater/on fire in the next 20 years. We like to say with their voice and their vote and their dollars. So let's talk about our voice. Sort of shining a light on where we need to go as a people, you're speaking from inside a relatively complicated and large administration, but I'm curious. What are the big, but actionable and specific questions the rest of us should be asking of our representatives, whether it's the board of supervisors or our local councilmen or Garcetti or the state?
Jeanalee: I think it's always ask what they're doing in your neighborhood. I think once you bring it to the neighborhood and if it's something that you care about, whether it be more street trees being planted or a need for electric vehicle infrastructure, if you bother your representatives enough, you can make it happen, because at the end of the day, not enough people are consistent. The ones that do get the change happen are the ones that are really applying pressure to get something to happen.
Jeanalee: The other thing is a great thing, especially if you're in the LA area is research and see what community based organizations are out there that care about the things that inspire you, and that you care about, and get active, and support them in ways. I think one of my favorite organizations is Food Forward that I like to personally invest time in.
Jeanalee: They actually collect... Essentially what they do, their whole mission this is that they collect fruits and vegetables from people's personal gardens and yards that they're not going to use. They collect them and then go to [inaudible 00:56:31] and they distribute them to other organizations that serve food to those that need them.
Quinn: That's awesome. That's called Food Forward?
Jeanalee: Yeah, so you can go orange picking, and it's super fun. You're out in nature. You're out in the sun collecting oranges from someone's backyard.
Quinn: That's super cool.
Brian: Oranges are so good.
Quinn: Yeah, that's the point, Brian. That's the takeaway. Oranges are-
Brian: I have a comment about what was said, and I wanted to say it. I love oranges.
Quinn: Awesome. So what about their vote? I guess that's kind of a complicated one in this respect, which is what should they be looking for in future representatives, again, whether it's their local representative, or board of supervisors, or the next mayor? What should they be really honing in on to move the major tenets of this plan forward?
Jeanalee: I would ask them if they have an environmental [inaudible 00:57:25]. What is their take on climate change? What are their future plans? Make sure that every elected official is thinking about it, because they will make decisions that have greater impact. I think also if you're in the LA area, look at what... There's two organizations that actually do get out to vote and do [inaudible 00:57:52] politics, which is the League of Conservation Voter and Sierra Club to see who they're endorsing... They have endorsement hearings and meetings, get educated and try to understand the logic of who you can vote for. If you care and if you're really passionate about [inaudible 00:58:12] politics, get involved. They're always looking for new people too.
Quinn: Run for something. Yeah.
Jeanalee: Yeah. Run for something.
Quinn: Awesome. So you mentioned, last one, with their dollar, obviously we can't just give money to you. I'm pretty sure that would be paying off a city official.
Jeanalee: Yeah, that's pretty illegal. That's [crosstalk 00:58:31].
Quinn: Do not do it. We need her.
Brian: Got it. Got it.
Quinn: No envelopes of cash, Brian.
Quinn: Yeah, I know. I know. That's your go-to. So you mentioned Food Forward. Are there any other awesome organizations? Like you just said League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club that do a good job here. Anyone else locally that's really helping to push these things, either getting great people like that in office or that you guys are working together with, or things that you just, like you said, Food Forward that you privately love that are making an impact?
Jeanalee: Yeah. I think there's so many. I can give you a long list.
Quinn: Do it. Let's get it.
Jeanalee: There's also a great history of environmental justice organizations in the area that are front-line combating, going head-to-head with the port and trying to make them greener. So any one... And also implementing really cool projects and policies. So off the top of my head, I would say look at organizations like [inaudible 00:59:35] Beautiful, See-LA that actually helps get farmers markets in low-income communities that does a great... They helped start the Hollywood Farmer's Market, which is a fan favorite in the area.
Quinn: That's called See-LA? Can you spell that out?
Quinn: Okay. Awesome.
Jeanalee: There's [inaudible 00:59:57] communities and they do a lot of active stuff from air quality in the port and emissions. There's the Stand LA Coalition. That is the coalition of a lot of organizations that are actively trying to basically stop oil drilling in LA. I think that that's one that is a very important issue.
Quinn: We met a young woman from there. We were at the Sunrise Movement when they had their town hall here a couple weeks ago. We met a woman who spoke at that who I actually gave my card to. I need to follow up with her.
Brian: Oh yeah.
Quinn: Yeah. She was awesome. Very impassioned.
Jeanalee: Yeah, I think any of those organizations would be great. I was like, "I'm going to forget someone, and then I'm going to get an [inaudible 01:00:46] feel bad about it later."
Quinn: Oh, it's all right. It happens, man. All I do is forget shit all day, so don't worry. You're welcome.
Jeanalee: Yeah, I was like, "I'm sorry. I didn't give you guys a shout-out."
Quinn: No, it's all good, man. You can always send us more, and we can put them in the show notes. It's a-
Brian: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Quinn: Whoever's having the biggest impact and really making a difference and not laundering money, we're game for it.
Brian: Don't launder money. Okay. I'm learning so many great lessons today.
Jeanalee: Also, because I love all the food stuff, LA Food Policy Town Hall is doing a lot of great work [inaudible 01:01:18].
Quinn: Okay. Awesome. Awesome.
Quinn: Rock and roll.
Brian: Very cool. Thank you for all those. Jeanalee, we've kept you so long, and we really appreciate you coming on the podcast today and chatting with us.
Quinn: The subway has just stopped running because we've had her on here so long.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Please god, you've got to go.
Brian: We would love to hit you with a little lightning round of questions, if that's okay though.
Brian: Okay, awesome.
Quinn: Okay. Jeanalee, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Jeanalee: In college was I worked on a campaign to stop the UC regents from increasing student fees. We basically were listening to Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer when we got the news that they did stop for that year, stopped the increases.
Quinn: That's amazing. Keep going.
Brian: Very good.
Jeanalee: I think that's when I was like, "Oh wait, lobbying, coalition building, getting a bunch of signatures, holding actions can impact policy. Great. Noted. I can influence policy,"-
Quinn: "Let me go save the world."
Jeanalee: ... "from the outside." Yeah. Let's do this. Activated. Yeah.
Quinn: Activated, Captain Planet. That's super fucking cool. I love that. Oh, Bon Jovi, man. Boy.
Jeanalee: It was so funny. it was just like a funny thing where really Bon Jovi said while we're playing it, we're like, "Yeah, we were living on a prayer and have been."
Brian: That's so cool.
Quinn: That's amazing. That might be the title of this episode. Jeanalee, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Jeanalee: In the past six months?
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative), getting specific here.
Jeanalee: I will say this, because I actually threw her retirement party. So it wasn't directly related, but it was one of my great mentors, who you should also have on the podcast, Susana Reyes, who is this fierce woman of color who was on the national Sierra Club board, but was a city employee, recently retired ML, I think is about to be confirmed to be a Department of Water and Power commissioner.
Jeanalee: She is fierce. She spent 30 years with DWP, and now she gets to tell them what to do, and she's just a wonderful... She mentored me throughout the time that I was in this... Yeah, throughout the whole time that I was in the city, definitely my work on team, and it is someone that both professionally and personally is incredible giving and loving and has inspired generations of public servants to do good work and not forget about all of our community and a big fighter of social justice.
Quinn: That's awesome. I would love to have her on. That sounds super cool.
Jeanalee: And she's super fun.
Quinn: I'm so glad she had such an influence on you. We are all better for it. That's for sure.
Quinn: Brian, take it home.
Brian: Jeanalee, what do you do, what is your self-care when you feel overwhelmed? You mentioned praying and meditating. Anything else that you do?
Quinn: TV, books, walks, ice cream.
Jeanalee: I like to laugh. Laugh. Laughter. Laughter is important, being able to get a good laugh in with friends is a good therapy. Then I would also say prayer, meditation, and keeping physically active. You have to get those jumping jacks in.
Brian: Yeah. What is your physical exercise of choice? What do you do?
Jeanalee: I'm actually a part of the Bootcamp Gym that is so much fun. It's a fun little community that's seven minutes from my apartment.
Brian: Oh cool.
Jeanalee: Then owned by a married couple that grew up in my neighborhood. So I think that's such a wonderful-
Brian: That's awesome.
Jeanalee: ... way to give back, that they started this business, and it has all these ... It's become a neighborhood hub.
Quinn: That's awesome.
Brian: That's very cool. Plus, those bootcamp things, they kick your ass. They're such a great workout.
Quinn: Oh yeah. You come out, and you're six pounds lighter because you've sweated just buckets onto the ground. I think you're basically like a martial artist by the end, right? You can just street fight.
Brian: I think so.
Jeanalee: Yes, I think. But also as you mentioned, because we're getting older, there's a lot of foam roller time that I have to spend.
Quinn: Oh, that's important.
Brian: So important.
Quinn: There is a foam roller about six inches from Brian in our office. It's pretty necessary.
Brian: They're wonderful.
Jeanalee: Yeah, they're great.
Brian: Jeanalee, if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what book would it be?
Jeanalee: Oh. I actually think he already got this one.
Quinn: Throw it on.
Jeanalee: I would do Laudato Si, which is the Pope's encyclical on the environment, but I actually think the Pope gave it to him.
Quinn: Yes, but has he read it?
Quinn: That's an awesome recommendation, and really a pretty tremendous read and I think has had a big influence on a lot of folks. So thank you for reminding us of that one for sure. Listen, last thing, where can our followers stalk you on the internet?
Jeanalee: Well, my LinkedIn profile is public, and then Facebook as well.
Quinn: Okay. Awesome.
Quinn: Sweet. Well, we will put the LinkedIn out there for sure. Again, no envelopes of cash. Cannot be clear enough, people.
Quinn: Just real bad idea. Hey, man, we just want to say thank you so much, Jeanalee, for coming on and making the time. It is truly, I think, going to be a transformative five to 10 years for Los Angeles. That's not to say the past six years you've been working on it hasn't been that, but obviously you have made a difference and have built a foundation for more future things to happen, because obviously it's getting clearer in a lot of ways that we need to do these things. So it's awesome to hear the work that's going into it and the folks like you are the ones behind it, because we need it.
Jeanalee: Right. Thank you so much.
Quinn: Awesome. Well, listen, we will talk to you soon, and we'll find you offline and hopefully we can meet up here soon someday.
Jeanalee: Yeah, definitely. We're close by.
Quinn: Awesome. Jeanalee, thank you so much. We're going to let you go. Have a wonderful rest of your day, wonderful rest of your week, and thank you again for taking the time.
Brian: Thank you for kicking ass for our city.
Jeanalee: You too, thank you so much.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute, or awesome workout, or dish washing, or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter @Importantnotimp. Just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. Please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.
Brian: You can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blaine for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks, guys.