Climate in Los Angeles / City Leaders

This page is about how LA’s city leaders are dealing with climate change.

1. Are LA City leaders serious about the climate?

1.1 LA’s Underground Oil Industry

1.2 City of LA gets a “C” on climate performance.

2. City of LA’s is making good progress on climate.

2.1 LA’s Climate-cooling tree program

2.2 LA’s climate-saving pavement project

2.3 LA’s Climate Action Plan

2.4 LA’s residential solar requirement

1. LA’s city leaders are real serious about the climate, right?

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sitting at a table, talking to a group of businesspeople

The City of Los Angeles, mayored by Eric Garcetti, is starting to deliver local-scale public-works projects city residents will need to survive and thrive under a more challenging climate.

The City of Los Angeles wants to become a great example in climate adaptation & mitigation – in the United States and among World Cities. It’s well along that path. But LA’s got a gooey carbon problem that must finally go away.

1.1 With thousands of oil rigs sucking oil 24/7 in City neighborhoods, what is LA’s credibility on climate?

An oil rig looks out-of-place on an open lot in a suburban subdivision.

Wait. What? When one thinks of oil rigs pumping raw oil out from the earth, one thinks of the open plains of Texas or Oklahoma. But it’s also being pumped from underneath the U.S.’s second-largest city. Back in the 1890s, LA was a town of 50,000. Land speculators discovered oil underneath Beverly Hills and soon after, oil companies were pumping oil from under large areas of Los Angeles.

Over the years oil producers got the City of Los Angeles to approve long-term contracts, and the city grew around the oil rigs. Today, in 2020, there are over 3,000 oil rigs churning away, day and night, in LA’s residential subdivisions, behind shopping centers, and next to schools. The City says it cannot cancel the long-term oil company contracts for fear of being sued for billions of dollars in lost business. The bottom line in 2020 is that Los Angeles, a city so ambitious about cutting carbon, is actually a source of the sticky carbon-thick oil that will burn and heat the atmosphere.

Real Estate Blog: LACurbed. Angelenos have been living alongside the oil business since 1892 by Elijah Chiland, Nov 4, 2019.

Alt News: Los Angeles Magazine. Above the Surface and Below, L.A. Is Still an Oil Town by Matt Jaffe. Feb 5, 2018.

photo: David McNew/Getty Images

1.2 City of Los Angeles gets a C grade on climate, despite its urban oil fields.

How well is the City of LA responding to climate change? Check your local government’s progress on cutting carbon and adapting to a new climate. Local grades LA’s climate performance on a continuum from no climate planning activity at all, to a well-executed policy/project mix that –

adapts public infrastructure to a harsh climate.

upgrades City assets to climate-neutral electricity.

easifies people’s ability to consume clean electricity and drive electric vehicles.

The City of Los Angeles gets a grade of C because it has started to work on local climate policies and projects and showing some initial good progress. The City’s climate grade cannot improve while City leadership continues to allow oil drilling within the city limits.

2. City of Los Angeles makes climate planning real.

2.1 LA Climate Programs

2.1.1 Los Angeles gives people trees to grow at home. The trees function as natural air conditioners. [urban forestry program]

An arborist shows children how to plant a tree. A mom and daughter pose with their two new trees. A boy is proud to have adopted his first tree.

This is how tens of thousands of shade trees get planted in Los Angeles each year: The City of Los Angeles Water & Power Department gives out shade trees at no cost to City residents. The City helps residents plant the trees, then checks in later to see how well the trees are doing.

Trees cool the city by shading streets and buildings – they block direct sunlight. Less obvious yet more interesting is how trees go about cooling the air through evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is water perspiring and evaporating from leaves. The trees’ evaporation process provides natural cooling to the air around them. 

The City of Los Angeles holds tree adoption events all over town, with some people receiving up to seven trees, depending on their property size. A city spokesperson says, “We’ll literally deliver them to your door.”

City site:

2.2 LA Climate Projects

2.2.1 LA’s got the best lit roads ever, and they’re easier on the climate. [city street lights project]

LA's 415 freeway at night with its streetlights casting a yellow hue.
LA's 415 freeway at night with its streetlights casting a a natural-looking light

The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting is finding that its new LED streetlights provide better lighting, use much less electricity, and are much more affordable. 

The bottom line for the LA city taxpayers is nearly $9,000,000 in electric bill savings each year. When the City uses that much less electricity, it keeps almost a 9 million tons of LA carbon from toasting the atmosphere.

Before and after: LA’s old, energy-sucking light bulbs gave LA roadways a sick yellow color and uneven light. LA’s new LED lights are bright and extremely energy efficient, which saves money and helps solve climate change.

City site: Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Lighting

2.2.2 Cooler streets can lower LA’s temperature. [city street project]

Public Works crew pouring a heat-reflective coating onto a city street

Since 2017, the City of Los Angeles has been experimenting with a special “cool pavement” on city streets to reduce excessive urban heat.  

Regular asphalt pavement absorbs the sun’s heat like a big thermal sponge; it’s dark color quickly holds onto heat. The white color of the new pavement coating reflects the sun’s heat away from the asphalt.*

On summer afternoons, the surface of an LA street is toasty hot – usually in the range of 90˚ to 155.˚ More than half of LA’s city land area is covered with regular asphalt pavement, so 90˚ to 155˚ is literally the temperature of much of the city’s “floor.” Solar heat accumulates in the mass of the streets during the day, and radiates back into the already warm city air during the night.

Over the next decades, the hotter the nights get, the more people will keep their air conditioning on thru the night – electrified by gas-fired power plants that spew yet more carbon gas into the atmosphere. Now the City can keep the streets from getting so hot in the first place. In ongoing trials, the City found that cool pavement reduces air temps by up to 15.˚ At 85˚ you want to crank the air. At 70˚ you can sleep with a window open. In 2020, the City is starting to cool-coat roadways during regularly scheduled repavings. 

* 8th grade STEM students recognize this property as the Albedo Effect, where heat is absorbed by darker colors and reflected by lighter colors.]

City site: Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services    

Photos:  Los Angeles Public Works Dept. Bureau of Street Services; Mother Nature Network

2.3 LA Climate Plans

2.3.1 LA’s new Climate Action Plan is a “Green New Deal.”

Cover page of Los Angeles'  Environment and Energy Plan.

LA’s “Green New Deal” document includes LA’s new Climate Action Plan. Started in 2019, the plan runs thru 2050. Over the next decade, the City of LA is looking to run mostly on clean energy. Solar and Wind power will supply 80% of all of LA’s energy needs, including the charging of electric vehicles, by 2036.

In 2019, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s City Sustainability Office published LA’s Green New Deal: Sustainable City Plan, which sets targets for the City and everyone to cut way, way back on carbon emissions. Three main components of LA’s climate plan:

Energy Self-Sufficient Buildings: The city’s Green New Deal requires all new buildings and big renovations to be “All-Electric.” All-Electric buildings are residential, commercial, or industrial structures that produce their own electricity on site, mainly from solar photovoltaics. By 2030, all new buildings in the city will be built to be completely free of energy made from carbon fuels. ​By 2050, all existing buildings in the city will be carbon free. ​

All-Electric Electric Grid: The City of LA’s Power Department (LA Power) will build a zero-carbon electricity grid. An all-electric electricity grid is the vast regional network of power lines, transformers, big batteries, and algorithms that will bring only solar and wind electricity to you. 

What does all-electric mean? All-electric refers to the source of the electricity on this new kind of grid. Solar photovoltaics and wind turbines make electricity directly, without the need to burn anything. The all-electric grid is designed to balance the timing of the solar and wind energy production with the timing of people’s need for electricity.

Cooling Shade Trees: The City of LA will have 90,000 new trees planted by 2021. On hot days, trees shade the City’s buildings from the sun, reducing the use of electricity for air conditioning, which puts a burden on the electric grid, and on the atmosphere. And trees make it more tolerable to walk or bike outside during high-heat days.

City site: City of Los Angeles Sustainability Office

2.4 LA Climate Policies

Effective solutions for carbon spew can be made through local government mandate.

2.4.1 City of Los Angeles requires solar on new home construction. [Residential Energy Policy]

This is really quite unprecedented. Residential solar power has always been at the discretion and ambition of property owners. Now, in bellwether Los Angeles, residential solar will be mainstreamed via local building regulations.