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Green dreams and delusions

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


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

Green dreams and delusions
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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.


Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband.

@SophiaLeeHyun

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