Monday marks the beginning of a new era for Urban Planning professor Ted Bardacke. Los Angeles' new mayor, Eric Garcetti, recently named Bardacke the Deputy Director of the new Los Angeles Office of Sustainability. His role begins Aug. 19.
Bardacke has been teaching at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs since 2007, teaming with Walker Wells to instruct a pair of classes for both undergraduates and graduates at the Luskin School based around "green urbanism." Working closely with Wells — who recently was awarded the 2012 Pritzker Fellowship for excellence in teaching and returned from a Fulbright Fellowship in Sweden — has allowed Bardacke the opportunity to bring interns and new employees from UCLA Luskin to work at his sustainability firm, Global Green.
Before accepting his new role inside City Hall, Bardacke took some time to chat about his new appointment, working with Wells and Los Angeles' need for this new office of sustainability.
Question: Why does L.A. need an office of sustainability?
Answer: LA has been doing lots of great green things for
some time. There have been big initiatives, small initiatives, and lots of
things springing up from the grassroots. But since the elimination of the
Environmental Affairs Department in 2010 there hasn’t been a lot of
coordination of all of those initiatives. Now we really need to be strategic
and make sure those initiatives are having the right impact in the areas we
want the city to go.
There’s a lot of things that this new unit will be doing, but one of the big ones is to make sure we’re all marching in the same direction. Not only the Mayor’s office and environmentalists but all the 55,000 people who work for city and for the propriety departments, as well as both the larger population of the city and the region. I think the office is an attempt to bring some focus to the great work being done in a lot of areas by setting goals and making sure we’ve got the policies and programs in place to meet those goals.
Q: How can City Hall balance economic development and plans for a sustainable future?
A: The premise of the question ... perpetuates
this out-of-date belief that protecting the environment comes at the expense of
pursuing prosperity. Our economic future is bound up in developing and serving
the markets of tomorrow, which have an important environmental component
imbedded into them.
Ten years ago Al Gore asked us to embrace the inconvenient truth of climate change. There is a much more convenient truth that we now need to embrace: cutting carbon pollution will spark business innovation, will grow jobs, and will strengthen the economy.
Q: Aside from plastic-bag bans and composting, what steps should L.A. residents expect to see in a citywide sustainability plan?
A: First of all we shouldn’t belittle the long, hard, tremendous and great work of the coalition that came together around the plastic bag ban, along with the new move to a franchise waste hauling system, which hopefully gets us closer to more widespread composting. Those two things are huge in terms of some of the broader things we accomplish, including dramatically reducing our solid waste footprint and keeping our waterways and ocean clean. They may seem small, but they are also really, really important in helping us achieve our long-term goals. I also think the organizing and the coalition building that went around what happened with those issues are things we need keep activated in the city.
On what will be included in the broader sustainability plan, I’d invite folks to look at the Vision 2021 plan  that UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and the Center for Climate Change released last year and which was so important to helping Eric Garcetti develop his environmental agenda during the campaign. You will see 10 goal areas and hundreds of new and existing initiatives. That ranges from how are we going to improve air quality, how are we going to grow green jobs, how are we going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, how are we going to ensure more of our water is locally sourced than imported. It also talks about how we are can simultaneously clean up and promote economic development in some of the most polluted and impacted communities in Los Angeles.
That plan, other “gold standard” plans from places like New York City and Philadelphia, and national frameworks like the STAR Community Index are going to serve as the raw material for us to create an implementable plan for LA.
Two things that I know already will be emphasized are rapidly growing the amount of in-basin solar installations and figuring out how not just to clean stormwater and clean wastewater but how to start re-using it.
Q: How do you guarantee that a sustainability plan doesn't just sit on a shelf? How do you encourage implementation?
The way a sustainability plan is typically structured is you have a vision and some broad goals that have some metrics behind them. And then deeper down you have a list of implementation strategies that will allow you to reach those goals. What a good sustainability plan — and certainly the kind we hope to develop for the Mayor and bring before City Council – is one that not only has goals and metrics behind them but a commitment to develop and pursue each one of the implementation strategies. In some sense it’s a plan that already has embedded the intent of the city government to pursue all those strategies. So, it’s got implementation built into it. That’s why it’s going to take a little while. It’s not something you dash off.
There’s going to be the fun work brainstorming about where we want the city to be, what are the goals and how do you measure them? But there’s also the number crunching and the deep analysis of what the priority implementation strategy is going to be and what’s going to be most effective in reaching our goals. That is as equally as important. I don’t want a sustainability plan to have 127 great ideas of which we do five. I want the plan to have a manageable number of implementation strategies in which we will do all of them.
Q: How does L.A. compare with other cities around the country (or the world) in thinking about the future in this way?
A: We’re in an interesting position in LA. In the first part of last decade — the end of the Hahn administration and in the beginning of Villaraigosa administration — we were leaders. And we were setting the pace for other cities in terms of counting our greenhouse gas admissions, of putting in place one of the first big city climate action plans, of passing what was, at the time, the most progressive public sector green building ordinance followed by the most progressive green building ordinance for private sector development. There was a lot of momentum.
Since then, though, some initiatives have continued, we’ve lost some of the leadership position that we used to have. And there was the Great Recession, which decimated the city budget and forced a refocus on other areas. And part of it was that other cities looked at what LA did and wanted to leapfrog us. That’s just the nature of both the competition and cooperation among cities. Now we want to get out ahead again.
One of the great things I think about as I go into this new job is that we want to get out ahead again, but there is now so much to learn from other cities around the state, and the country and the world about what leadership looks like. Yes there is competition, but a lot of collaboration and cooperation as well. I have got friends and colleagues all over the country and on my first day I’m going to start calling and asking – how do you do this, what were the pitfalls, what didn’t you accomplish that we should take a run at?
One of the nice things about the sustainability
world is that people are acting locally but they have a national and global
vision so they’re open to sharing in any way.
Q: How did the teaching and research you participated in at UCLA Luskin and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability help contribute to your thinking about this problem?
A: The teaching that I’ve done with my colleague Walker Wells for the past six years at UCLA has helped us figure out how to boil down a lot of very complicated and complex issues — technical, philosophical, political — into manageable chunks. We’ve had to really figure out how to turn each one of those classes into, essentially, a briefing on key urban environmental design issues. So it’s been really helpful for us in terms of figuring out how to focus and bring people along on a number of subjects.
The other thing to note is that colleagues at Luskin and IoES are also doing groundbreaking work in their own fields and just having them around and being able to call on those folks for their expertise has been really important, not in the teaching part of it, but in terms of the kind of intellectual rigor we bring to our professional lives.
Q: How can UCLA Luskin students help play a role in planning for L.A.'s future?
A: The first thing is to get involved in
environmental issues, either on campus or at the grassroots level somewhere in
the city. We hire UCLA students at Global Green and we have lots of interns
from UCLA and there are lots of interns at city hall and there are the Bohnett
fellows that turn out to be great governmental leaders. But we find the folks
who are most effective at their jobs are the folks who have gained some experience
in actually implementing something on the ground. The know-how of what it takes
to bring a project from conception through planning, through implementation is
I say that for a couple reasons: you get a sense of how complex and how hard things can be. It’s not just about having the right ideas. It’s about how to communicate those ideas and how to work with others and developing an intuitiveness about how to get things done. The other reason its important is that getting something done brings a sense of emotional gratification that is really motivating to continue to do the work. I don’t discard that sort of psychological or emotional factor in doing work around environment and sustainability. We have big problems ahead of us in the world, and it sometimes can be daunting and depressing. One of the ways to overcome that is by creating your own little victories along the way.
I really look for students who have gone out and made something happen, in addition to good work in the classroom.
Q: How will this new position help you in your teachings at UCLA Luskin?
A: I’m moving from the non-profit advocate sector, where I do a lot of work with local governments, to the other side of that table and I’m going to bring a new perspective to my classes on the challenges and opportunities inside government. It’s what I’ve been talking about in the classroom, but I’m going to be able to bring a more direct experience and that’s going to make for a richer classroom experience.
Meanwhile Walker just got back from a Fulbright fellowship in Sweden and is going to bring his new experience in seeing how environmental and urban issues are dealt with there, in a place considered one of leaders in urban environmentalism. We are already talking about how to refine and better our classes based on our new experiences. I think it’s going to be an exciting time to bring this stuff into the classroom.
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