The greening of the state

JULY 21, 2010


Sacramento’s Mayor Kevin Johnson hopes that the controversial former “Green Czar” Van Jones can bring a different sort of green with him to the Sacramento region.

As part of a statewide push on climate change, global warming and alternative energy creation, Johnson hosted another in his monthly series of “Greenwise” meetings on Tuesday, with the controversial Jones as the featured speaker.

Assembly Speaker John Perez was also supposed to speak about  AB 2670, a bill he authored creating the State Capitol Sustainability Task Force to bring the state Capitol, legislative offices and Capitol park grounds up to strict environmental standards. But Johnson said Perez was too busy to attend, as he was “trying to get the budget squared away.”

This being Day 21 with no state budget.

In any case, Perez’s bill is a retread of former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s AB 1327, which attempted to create the exact same task force in 2009. Bass’ bill died in committee after taking too long to get to the Governor. According to the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee analysis, Perez’s bill, depending on the number of projects, “may entail costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars” to the general fund because of the need to retrofit heating, ventilation, air conditioning, windows, insulation, plumbing, solar systems and on-site renewable energy generation systems within the state Capitol and legislative offices.

Jones carried the eco-banner to green-up California as he spoke out harshly against Proposition 23, calling it a “ludicrous move” that would stop implementation of AB 32, California’s global warming act. Jones called the proposition a “dastardly scheme to destroy California and the competitive environment in the state.”

Mayor Kevin Johnson and Van Jones

Mayor Johnson and former "Green Czar" Van Jones

“A sledgehammer that’s being designed to destroy your job-creating machine,” is what Jones called the anti-AB 32-ballot initiative. “Massachusetts and China will be laughing hysterically at us if we pass the initiative.”

“Greenwise” is the yearlong project Johnson has taken on to try to turn Sacramento “into the greenest city in the country.” Johnson said it’s the way to improve the employment opportunities in Sacramento, as well as the region and state.

Johnson said he’s been meeting with business owners, educators and government officials “trying to get everybody to buy into the vision” of transforming the entire Sacramento region into the “Emerald Valley.”

“Sacramento has been over-reliant on government and public sector jobs,” he said. “Why can’t Sacramento be the green movement leader of the country?”

Jones also talked of depressed inner-city neighborhoods and suggested that drug dealers “put down that handgun and pick up a caulking gun” to help improve grandma’s home and “lower her energy bill.” Jones said he was offering low-income youth a “whole pathway out of poverty,” including the California University education system and job training to replace gangs with the creation of green technology in the state.

But Jones was also careful to appeal to conservatives as well as progressives. He insisted that his green movement is not a demand for welfare or more entitlements. Instead, he said, they want more enterprises. “Create new wealth for progressives and conservatives,” he said, “and include everybody.”

Of course, not everyone present was as high on the greening of the Sacramento region. Though a fewbprominent regional businesses were honored for their involvement in Johnson’s “Greenwise” plan, several smaller business owners who requested anonymity because they were already working with city or state government said that they were there out of curiosity. One asked rhetorically, “What is the city or state prepared to do for me” to get their businesses going green?

Two business owners volunteered that they thought the green jobs plan was a “scam” and that environmental headway already made has been under the veil of union contracts and Democratic Party control.

President Barack Obama appointed Jones  in March 2009 to the newly created White House “Green Czar” position, in which he acted as a special adviser for green jobs. Jones resigned just six months later after news surfaced about his past activism, including controversial statements about government involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Mayor Johnson required his staff to read Jones’ book, The Green Collar Economy. In a chapter titled, “The Green New Deal,” Jones urges the creation of  “a new coalition to take down the military-petroleum complex.” Jones proposes we scrap the idea of money and instead adopt a “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits. Going against Johnson’s campaign promise of economic development, Jones writes, “the very notion of economic growth itself… is something that human society will someday be forced to abandon.”

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