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Green dreams and delusions

California’s crazy environmental initiatives often provoke snickers from outsiders and exasperation from residents like me

Green dreams and delusions

The charging compartment of an electric Bluecar (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

Conservatives love to lampoon California, the state I’ve been calling home for almost 10 years. This blue state has wasted time and money on silly laws restricting plastic straws, regulating cow farts, providing “mouth-to-snout” resuscitation for endangered pets, and replacing Columbus Day with “Indigenous People’s Day.” We’re the home of Big Taxes and Big Government and Big Compassion and Big Ideas, and conservatives have rightly criticized Californians for dreaming up idealistic programs and policies without considering things such as budgets and the average civilian’s needs.

The latest silly project that fell flat: a pie-in-the-sky statewide bullet train project that California leaders pushed for and that was projected to cost at least $77 billion. Most recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to scale back the rail project to operate only between Merced and Bakersfield, two agricultural cities with a combined population of less than 500,000. That’s right: We’re spending billions of dollars on a train that less than 1 percent of the state’s population will likely ever use.

Yes, California is easy to mock, from its epileptic reaction over everything President Trump does or says, to its strange devotion to gray Toyota Priuses. Sensible Californians never tire of complaining about the wacky things our state does—so here’s another one to add to the list: California’s ambitious goal to eliminate the state’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. That goal sounds fabulous but can be pretty stupid in practice.

Here’s a perfect example: I live in a neighborhood in Los Angeles that’s more than 85 percent Latino, many of them undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America. At about 25,400 residents per square mile, it’s one of the highest-density neighborhoods in LA. It’s also one of the poorest: We have a median household income of $26,400, and less than 10 percent of residents are homeowners. People here bike not to be environmentally virtuous, but because they can’t afford to own a car. Those who do have vehicles drive beat-up Toyota Siennas, mechanic vans, and cheap used cars bandaged with duct tape. A few residents live in RVs boarded up with cardboard and blankets.

What this all means is that most people here cannot pay the $70 to $100 per month required to park in a garage. So most of the 42,300 residents in this 1.67-square-mile neighborhood park their vehicles on the streets. Over the years, as the population has grown, I’ve noticed that it’s harder and harder to find street parking. Every evening, I see cars circling block after block looking for a space to park, and every night, I see cars parked illegally in red or tow sign zones. I’ve done that plenty of times myself—we just try to wake up at the crack of dawn to move our cars before parking enforcement officials write us a hefty ticket. It’s a stressful way to live, but our City Council member hasn’t made any effort to alleviate the parking situation.

But several months ago, I noticed that the city had blocked off a portion of my street for construction work. Days later, five all-electric cars sat there parked on the street next to charging stations—white, compact hatchbacks with rounded features and a blue sticker that read “blueLA” on their sides. Curious, I went to investigate, and read that the service charges a monthly fee of $5 with a one-year commitment and 20 cents per minute of use, or 15 cents per minute if you qualify for low-income subsidies. Drivers must stay within the driving zone (basically, within LA County), return the cars within eight hours, and pay for any damages to the vehicle.

Turns out, BlueLA is a self-proclaimed “revolutionary” car-sharing service from France that’s funded in part by a $1.7 million grant through an anti-climate-change state program called California Climate Investments. The state program aims to use cap-and-trade dollars to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in zero-emission vehicles. The goal is to deliver 100 of these zippy electric cars to the most “disadvantaged communities” in Los Angeles.

There’s also a political agenda: This is a protest against President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has vowed to uphold climate change policies even if the rest of the nation does not, but he has a long way to go, considering that LA is one of the most congested and polluted cities in the country. City officials have long sought to force Angelenos to give up their cars, but LA will never be Copenhagen or Amsterdam: It’s too big and sprawling a city, and despite the billions of dollars of investment, LA’s public transportation still, quite frankly, stinks.

Another the pesky problem: Many of my neighbors sell tamales and tacos and pupusas near the Food 4 Less supermarket. They sing at one of the dozen tiny Pentecostal churches in the neighborhood and rely on their kids to help interpret English. They cannot afford to buy a Tesla, install solar panels, or shop for organic kale at the farmers market—and neither do they care. They have more important things to worry about than becoming carbon neutral by 2045. Being “green” is largely an option for the white and privileged. And that must be when our state officials had a lightbulb moment: Why not provide electric cars to us poor unfortunate souls, so that we too can help save the planet?

Except that folks in my area never asked for such a service. Why would anyone pay 20 cents a minute to drive a car to the grocery store when several Hispanic markets already offer free shuttle services? Why would anyone drive such a time-restricted and distance-limited car to work? Why would a mother with a baby and a stroller use that tiny car to pick up her other kids from school? This BlueLA program is yet another well-intentioned but senseless project that completely misses the actual needs of the community. Instead, the city has stolen five precious parking spaces from us and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on European cars that, from what I’ve seen so far, few people have used.

Dear California officials, give us back our parking spots. Put us to a vote—and we’ll ask for more parking spaces and fixed potholes and safer streets so our bikes don’t get stolen all the time. If you truly want to help our “disadvantaged” communities, then come look for parking on our streets at 8 p.m.


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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Tue, 02/19/2019 04:22 pm

    Sophia, I appreciate your ten years in the ghetto, but California is much larger than your own experience. I lived in SoCal for 60 years. Back in the 70s, when I lived in Riverside County, we visited friends who lived on a cul de sac in San Bernardino. The normal smog was so thick in those days that you could see it hanging between the houses. It literally presented itself as a "smoky screen" between myself and the houses just across the street. All that has been cleaned up by laws passed to better the state as a whole.

    California was the birthplace of software that analysed the pollution components of smog in relation to wind currents. The wind doesn't care where the smog originated. It gets blown about. Smog knows no neighborhood boundaries. Their care of the environment is the envy of the nation. There's reasons other than mild climate why so many people want to live in California.

    In considering the relative cost of electric cars for rent, 20 cents/minute is much cheaper than a taxi. Believe it or not, poor Latinos have other places to go besides the market and a neighborhood school. A twenty minute trip to the doctor with sick family would cost $4. I challenge you to take a cab for anywhere near that low. (And by the way, what does being Pentecostal have to do with anything?)

    While these particular cars may have been imported from France, cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have used city provided rental cars for years. They help the parking situation because families don't need to own their own cars. These two cities also have parking problems, and not just in poor neighborhoods. Yuppies living in gentrified downtown areas often don't have garages either. Not owning a car saves them money on insurance, and for particular needs, they can rent an electric one.

    I'll bet you anything Thomas Edison didn't come up with the light bulb on his first try. I admire California for being willing to experiment to solve its problems.

    As you judge the Latino culture around you, I can't help but wonder if you want to keep them metaphorically "barefoot and pregnant down on the farm?" Do you honestly think that innovation and technology have no place in poor communities?

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Tue, 02/19/2019 05:19 pm

    Being a long-time Southern Californian as well, I fully agree with the overall picture that Sophia paints in this article, of a state that is far too interested in pushing its liberal credentials and pouring BILLIONS of our dollars into projects to make that point, with no benefit to the citizenry.  Of course we are happy with less smog, and almost everyone supports sensible programs to improve the environment... but not necessarily to push a political agenda.

    Also, Gramma, I think it is a big stretch to twist Sophia's views into the thought that she thinks "innovation and technology have no place in poor communities."  As for her description of the neighborhood with Pentecostal churches, etc., that's called adding detail to the piece by describing the neighborhood and its residents... pure and simple.  Where is the offense there?

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Tue, 02/19/2019 05:05 pm

    Sophia, thank you for your frank, commonsense view of life in your community.  The shortsightedness of the bureaucrats stems from not knowing the neighborhoods they are trying to "better".  I was able to see your neighborhood through your vivid descriptions and heard your frustration as pavement was gobbled up for yet another green project instead of much needed parking spaces.  

    I would love a followup article a year from now to hear of the success or failure of this venture.  I am not laying odds on its success.   

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Tue, 02/19/2019 05:21 pm

    I believe the word intended toward the beginning of the third paragraph is "apoplectic".  Oops!

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Wed, 02/20/2019 12:00 pm

    This comment was referring to the article.  I don't think you meant "epileptic"?

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 02/21/2019 03:58 am

    As an engineer in San Diego, I am all for innovation and crazy new ideas.  The issue is whether the craziness is paid for by struggling taxpayers barely able to eke out a living, especially if only to serve the self-aggrandizement of wealthy politicians.  California is a veritable petri dish of the purest form of liberal insanity which provides endless examples of mass psychosis, not to mention the entertainment value.  There is no better laboratory to study a brand of politics which opposes itself at every turn.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 07:57 am

    Sometimes what is intutitively, even empirically, obvious to one person is seen differently by another. However, I'll admit it is hard to comprehend the level of seeming idiocy that exudes from our extreme left coast.