With just 13,000 residents, Malibu makes up only a smidgen of the most populous county in the United States. The County of Los Angeles is home to more than 10.1 million people. Now, the county board of supervisors has unanimously passed its first ever sustainability plan designed so those 10 million-plus people can reside in a future that is more environmentally healthy than today.

The supervisors’ plan, called OurCounty, is made up of 12 bold goals in an effort to secure a cleaner future. Those goals include equitable and sustainable land use and development without displacement; a safe, clean, convenient and affordable transportation system that enhances mobility and quality of life while reducing car dependency; and the plan’s most ambitious goal, to become a fossil fuel-free county. The supervisors have already committed to the Paris Climate Agreement by pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in just six years. The OurCounty plan sets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, meaning the South Bay’s production of fossil fuel, including drilling and refining, would be phased out in three decades.

Malibu’s representative, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, spoke to NPR about the ambitious plan this week on KCRW, saying, “I think we can do it. We are the largest county, so that makes sense. The plan makes us resilient. It talks about a lot of green jobs. 

“We want to power all the unincorporated areas and county facilities with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, which is not that far away,” she continued. “We want to increase tree canopy coverage by 15 percent. We’re going to divert 95 percent of all the waste from landfills—and we can do this. We want to develop land use tools to limit new development in the high climate hazard areas, cut back on imported water by sourcing 80 percent of our water locally and phase out single use plastics by 2025.” The City of Malibu of course is already ahead of the game on that goal due to the plastic straw, plastic sandbag and polystyrene “Styrofoam” container ban.

One of OurCounty goals is to use more locally sourced water and, while Malibu’s is mostly imported from sources hundreds of miles away, Kuehl said that will soon be changing. 

“Even towns like Santa Monica are going to be 100 percent on their own wells in just a couple of years,” she described. “It makes a difference.” UCLA researchers who helped devise the plan say that Los Angeles County’s transition to local water is not only possible, but also cost effective. Measure W, passed by county voters in 2018, will help the county reach its local water goal—generating $300 million annually for storm water collection infrastructure that could meet up to one third of the county’s water needs.

With 88 cities in the County of Los Angeles, there may be limited jurisdiction in the plan’s implementation and perhaps no enforcement mechanism, but Kuehl claims cities, will have incentives to participate. With recycling encouraged already in most cities the jurisdiction over landfills that are typically located in unincorporated county areas would see environmentally forward initiatives. “We can establish our own recycling programs. There’s a lot we can do,” Kuehl suggested.

The OurCounty plan also calls for a sustainable food system that enhances access to affordable, local and healthy food. The plan also states its ideal of an inclusive, transparent and accountable governance that encourages participation in sustainability efforts, especially by disempowered communities.

“I think this is a bold plan,” the supervisor said. “It’s amazing. It sets goals. It also exemplifies how we can get to those goals and that’s really an important thing. We’ll show you how to get there.” 

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