Classic Villaraigosan Environmental Policy

What was Antonio Villaraigosa doing with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today at the Los Angeles River? Nothing, really: only claiming credit for doing nothing.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Los Angeles today, announcing an official EPA finding that Compton Creek, a portion of the Los Angeles River, is a “navigable water” of the United States.  This finding means that Compton Creek can receive the protection of the Clean Water Act: most prominently, it means that any attempts to fill it or otherwise degrade it must receive a Section 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers.  It’s an important protection: a nice backgrounder is here.

And there was Villaraigosa, standing right next to Jackson.  The Mayor certainly made sure that everyone knew he would be there.  Earlier in the day, he sent out a press advisory heralded a “major announcement” with Jackson, and blogged about it (or had a staffer blog about it) on the Huff Po.

Great — except what precisely is he going to do about it?  Why is it relevant to the policy of the City of Los Angeles?

Well, the City could fork over some restoration money — unlikely in this budgetary environment.  Or it could do some serious organizing around the project.  Or the Mayor could personally do some fundraising for it.  Or he could ensure that every member of Congress that represents the area (all of them Democrats) could know about this project and support it.  Or a whole lot of things.

What we get is this:

Working with community partners and the federal government, we can make the LA river a place where Angelenos hike, picnic, swim, and fish together.

That’s it.  No action plans, no follow-through, nothing.

I think that Villaraigosa would be happy if the Los Angeles River was restored.  But what will he do?  Cue the crickets.

UPDATE: Commenter Joe Linton, whose blog should be required reading for anyone interested in these issues, corrects me, noting accurately that EPA didn’t find that Compton Creek was navigable.  Rather, it found that the whole Los Angeles River was navigable, which means that its tributaries, of which Compton Creek is one, also get federal protection.  That’s an important point, and I appreciate Joe making it.  It doesn’t save the Mayor, though.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

7 thoughts on “Classic Villaraigosan Environmental Policy”

  1. i can't decide whether to be offended at the legal sophistry of calling the LA River "navigable" or to take the designation at face value and view it as an exciting possibility to avoid traffic by dropping a canoe in Ballona Creek next time I need to get from my house to Marina Del Rey.

  2. It may be nitpicky, but I want to point out an error in your article. You state "…official EPA finding that Compton Creek, a portion of the Los Angeles River, is a “navigable water” of the United States." Today's announcement was that 51 miles of the L.A. River were determined to be navigable. Compton Creek is a tributary of the L.A. River. It's not part of those 51 miles. Compton Creek's navigability was not determined/announced today. To be accurate, you might just state official EPA finding that the Los Angeles River is a “navigable water” of the United States." (I suggest strikethrough the words "Compton Creek, a portion of")

    The L.A. River is definitely navigable. I've kayaked it from the valley to Long Beach. There is plenty of evidence of recreational boating in its past. The city's master plan also calls for boating in its future. In my opinion, the EPA made the right determination.

  3. If the draft of your barge is 6" and the rocks in the waterway can be cleared for the barge to proceed, a body of water is navigable.

  4. Now just exactly how much money was wasted on this PR stunt?

    Like California doesn't have any problems but the navigation of a drainage ditch?

    Like the EPA is not a total failure? Focus, you idiot, the Gulf of Mexico is being destroyed but you need a break from reality? Resign, you two worthless pieces of PR bs.

  5. Joe Linton —

    Thank you so much for your correction. You are right, and I was writing too fast. I'll update.

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