Saturday, September 13, 2008

OPINION: Electing Political Allies to Advance Sierra Club Goals

By Tom Politeo

The Sierra Club was delighted to see a slate of candidates who provided thoughtful answers on environmental issues win for the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council.

Though not all the answers were in full agreement with club positions, they did broadly reflect a positive concern about environmental issues.

There were other good candidates running. To strengthen our influence, we focused on five, one for each vacant seat.

A couple of years ago, the club’s Harbor Vision Task Force, which is active in the San Pedro Bay area, got permission to carry out an expedited endorsement for the neighborhood council elections in San Pedro and Wilmington.

This is much faster than the usual Sierra Club endorsement process, which can take several months. We hope this will be adopted elsewhere in the club.

Educating voters and candidates on environmental issues is how the Sierra Club participates in the democratic process.

By being a part of larger processes and reaching out to candidates and groups that agree with us and those that don’t, we help bring interest to an election and encourage voter participation and turnout.

A good number of groups worked the Central neighborhood council election and it had the largest turnout ever in this election. This is a victory in its own right because even with the increase, the turnout in these elections is small.

We need to encourage more participation in neighborhood councils, as they have significant potential to influence City of Los Angeles policies.

Our questions to the candidates focused on three timely local issues of interest to the club, particularly our members in the Central area.

These included two on the waterfront and one on opening up LAUSD schools to joint use after school hours, which all impact the Central council area. Like most of Los Angeles, San Pedro needs more public facilities available for use, and this is one way to provide them.

Our task force has been very active in greening the ports, reducing air pollution and noise and improving labor conditions by opening the doors for union participation for port truck drivers.

We have also worked on environmental-justice access issues to improve public access to our beaches and waterfront in San Pedro, Wilmington and Long Beach.

We are now an intervener in court to defend the L.A. and Long Beach ports’ clean trucks programs and we are promoting the concept of a “Cool Cities” waterfront for the bridge-to-breakwater area.

Our new “Cool Cities” concept is beginning to guide city land-use and transportation decisions in a direction that will improve the quality of life and reduce climate change.

Based on the Port Community Advisory Committee sustainability plan, “Cool Cities” explores how to reduce carbon emissions by reducing car trips to San Pedro, increasing public transit, improving Ports O’ Call and local business and keeping the Kaiser Point area free from an industrially-scaled cruise industry.

Tom Politeo is chair of the Sierra Club’s Harbor Vision Task Force.

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