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Where Was the Community at LADWP’s “Community Driven” LA100 Meetings?

LADWP fails at an “equitable” process after extremely low turnout at LA100 “community engagement” meetings.

Screenshot from National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s website.

TAKE ACTION: Give public comment on the city’s move to clean energy this Thursday, June 3, at 10am. More information on this and how to save money with LADWP are at the bottom of this article.

At a press conference this past March (in which technical difficulties oddly kept resulting in the video feed being cut in by a yoga workout) Mayor Garcetti announced the completion of the LADWP’s long awaited LA100 study. The study, the result of four years of work from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, represents the foundation on which LADWP’s “community-driven” pathway to 100% renewable energy would be built, in ways Garcetti promised would “prioritize reliability, affordability, and equity.”

Two months later, LADWP wrapped up a series of six community engagement meetings to present the results of the study and answer community questions. The problem? Barely any community members showed up, with the majority of participants on each call being staff from LADWP (along with some council staff and industry lobbyists). The fact that only a few community members joined shouldn’t be all that surprising — especially when LADWP’s outreach largely consisted of one item at the bottom of their email newsletter.

For an “equitable” and “community-driven” process, these meetings were a clear failure. But that’s not to say there isn’t significant community interest in this process. Over the past three years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of community members across Los Angeles about the LA100 study, from student activists to retiree associations, labor unions to church groups. Myself and other organizers have traveled to neighborhood councils in every corner of the city — leading to over a third of the city’s neighborhood councils submitting Community Impact Statements on the study — many requesting more engagement from LADWP.

Every community group or neighborhood council is different, but one thing was the same across the board. Almost without exception, we were the first people to let them know this study was even happening, let alone telling them how they could engage. SoCalGas can go one by one to neighborhood councils to present on how great biogas is, but apparently LADWP was nowhere to be found. 

When LADWP makes public presentations they rarely speak about the issues community members seem to care most about. At the study’s Advisory Group meetings, and at presentations to their MOU Oversight Group (which is held at 8:30 AM on a Saturday), LADWP’s conversation is consistently skewed more towards engineers than to everyday Angelenos looking to find out how they can save money on their bills, or ensure new improvements don’t leave them priced out of their home. When LADWP does try to speak to everyday people, it’s with stylized videos that offer platitudes as opposed to spelling out the real choices on the table.

Graphic from LA100 Executive Summary

The conversations are certainly not designed around “equity.” If they were, they’d be done as part of a robust community engagement effort and in partnership with the city’s vocal movements for environmental justice, renters’ rights, and racial justice. As residents across the city deal with a looming eviction crisis, it shouldn’t be surprising that people might be more concerned about utility debt than hearing an overview of LADWP’s transmission system. The absence of these voices perpetuates a status quo, with affluent neighborhoods using excessive amounts of energy while reaping the majority of the benefits from LADWP clean energy programs. At their meeting, LADWP promised to direct 50% of its future programs to disadvantaged communities — but then clarified that under CalEnviroScreen, those same communities actually make up 47% of the population. Any person who has seen that baseball meme with the boxes could tell you that isn’t equity (let alone real justice). We don’t want LADWP providing “boxes” of support to community, We want them tearing down the walls that are stopping communities from taking control of their own power.

Original “Equality v Equity” Graphic by Angus Maguire. Meme by Ethan Senser.

Our communities hold the keys to making an equitable transition real — if only the city is willing to invest, build meaningful relations, and partner with them. Pilot programs like emPOWER have put local community groups in charge of designing the outreach that works for their neighborhoods. Initiatives like Cool Block have aimed to bring neighbors together in designing local resilience plans. The Climate Emergency Mobilization Office and LEAP-LA are working to put on assemblies in environmental justice communities. Downtown Crenshaw is envisioning a hub for community solar as part of their campaign to purchase the Crenshaw Mall. And local coalitions like #KeepLAHoused, People’s Budget and Repower LA are spelling out grassroots policy platforms that would provide communities with a foundation on which such efforts could grow.

Real resilience and affordability come from localized solutions like energy efficiency, community-scale microgrids, smart thermostat programs, and distributed solar/battery systems — all of which would create tremendous health benefits and more democratic control over our energy system. Low income ratepayers have the most to gain from that sort of transition: infrastructure dollars could head directly into retrofitting homes, training residents for local union jobs, and creating justice after years of racial inequality. That sort of just transition requires shifting resources to empower deep democracy — so that local communities can design accessible and meaningful programs that make sense for them

Graphic from Food & Water Action

At his State of the City speech, Garcetti didn’t talk about any of that. He did make another announcement though — the city was moving forward with converting local power plants to hydrogen, an expensive technological fix being touted by the gas industry. As far as I could tell, no one from the community was even aware this announcement was coming. If LADWP is a public utility, why does it still feel like the public is consistently being left out? With Garcetti likely on his way to India, that question is one for the City Council to answer.

Food & Water Watch, along with Ground Game LA and over 90 other community groups and candidates for public office, will be hosting a “Climate Justice for LA” digital rally this Thursday at 9AM, before heading in to give public comment at the city’s Energy, Climate Change & Environmental Justice (ECCEJR) committee meeting at 10AM. RSVP to join at http://fwaction.us/cj4la 

Want to learn what LADWP energy saving programs are available to you? Use emPOWER’s simple web tool to sign up now. 

Ethan Senser is the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch.

This piece is published under Knock LA’s “Activism” vertical. Posts under Activism reflect the views and policies of those organizations and authors, which may not be shared with Knock LA. Authors typically are not compensated for writing pieces shared under Activism.