Q&A: Ted Bardacke, UCLA lecturer and L.A.'s new deputy director of sustainability
Today marks the beginning of a new era for Ted Bardacke, a lecturer in urban planning. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently named Bardacke to the post of deputy director of the new sustainability office. He begins his new role today.
Bardacke, who has been teaching at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs since 2007, teamed up with Walker Wells, a leader in Global Green, to instruct both undergraduates and graduates on "green urbanism." The organization advocates for smart solutions to global warming, including green building for affordable housing, schools, cities and communities that save money, improve health and create green jobs. Before accepting his new role inside City Hall, Bardacke took some time to chat about his new appointment and Los Angeles' need for this new Office of Sustainability.
Why does L.A. need an Office of Sustainability?
L.A. 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.
How can City Hall balance economic development and plans for a sustainable future?
The premise of the question … perpetuates this out-of-date belief that protecting the environment comes at the expense of pursuing prosperity.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.
Aside from plastic bag bans and composting, what steps should L.A. residents expect to see in a citywide sustainability plan?
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 Sustainability 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 L.A.
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 storm water and clean wastewater, but how to start re-using it.
How does L.A. compare with other cities around the country (or the world) in thinking about the future in this way?
We’re in an interesting position in L.A. 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 emissions, 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 L.A. 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.
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.