‘Green’ Jobs Proposal Melds Jobs and the Environment

By EGP News Report

Residents of Ramona Gardens listen to presentations on creating green jobs. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

To a certain extent, low-income families are “green,” some recycle for cash and many practice water and energy conservation to reduce their utility bill, according to one speaker at the “RePower LA” Town Hall on Jan. 19.

But few take advantage of programs to weatherize their homes or trade-out light bulbs, showerheads for more efficient ones, according to Miguel Luna of Urban Semillas.

Luna said the city gave away energy efficiency kits but follow-up visits showed that many families had not installed them, noting there were many unemployed residents home to answer the door.

There’s a disconnect between educating about the value of energy efficiency products and the programs available, Luna explained. At the same time, he said, there is a large pool of unemployed residents who could inform residents and do the installations.

So far “Green” training programs have failed to produce a pipeline of jobs, even though large numbers of Angelenos could benefit from a lower utility bill, said several speakers during the RePower LA town hall meeting held at nonprofit Legacy L.A’s headquarters at the Armory in Hazard Park.

RePower LA, described as a broad-based coalition, is advocating for an expansion in energy efficiency programs that lower customer’s bills, help the environment and create jobs.

RePower LA says the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power needs to invest in more customer outreach on energy efficiency.

An investment in energy efficiency related jobs is an investment that would save LADWP from having to make costly infrastructure projects like a new power plant, said Jessica Goodheart. RePower LA director and a member of LAANE, the LA Alliance for the New Economy.

The department has begun working towards that end, but more needs to be done, she said.

Thirty-five individuals are currently participating in an entry-level training program with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18.

Boyle Heights residents Saul Felomino and Steve Mata are currently in the program. Felomino previously worked as a construction worker and is now installing insulation in attics under DWPs weatherization program.

Mata, who said he lives a mile away from the meeting’s location, said he originally did not really know what he had signed up for, but says the job training program has improved his job prospects, his family, his fellow trainees and the entire community.

These types of jobs invalidate the old argument pitting jobs against improving the environment, said more than one town hall participant.

“What’s exciting about this program is that is provides a pathway to careers at the utility at a time when 30- to 40 percent of employees are at retirement age. The RePower LA Coalition is working with organizations like La Causa, Legacy LA and ELACC to make sure the training program draws from the communities that need the jobs most,” according to Goodheart.

LADWP General Manager Ron Nichols spoke at the meeting held in Hazard Park. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

LADWP General Manager Ron Nichols told EGP that the department hasn’t been filling in jobs that are left vacant, so a reduction in energy and revenues won’t necessarily cause layoffs.

However, while Repower LA says the DWP can invest in energy efficiency “with or without” a rate increase, Nichols has a different point of view.

He praised the training program but advocated for a rate increase that would amount to ten to 20 cents a month. A rate increase could help ensure the training program and other energy efficiency programs are consistent year after year, he said.

“I hear a lot that we gotta get out of coal in order to enable energy efficiency and renewable energy—it’s the other way around. Energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy enables us to get off of coal. That’s what we need to do and that’s what we’re working on doing to bring more jobs to Los Angeles…” he said.

East Los Angeles Community Corporation Director of Community Organizing Isela Gracian said jobs in energy efficiency are a great match for Boyle Heights and the eastside. “This program, the campaign to RePower LA focuses and really brings together a critical point in the neighborhood… the housing here is older, deteriorated, can really benefit from these types of programs, not only to improve the housing but to connect people to jobs.”

La Causa Executive Director Robert Zardeneta said RePower LA also complements their green building construction training program and sustainable homes work. Zardeneta compared the opportunity to create green jobs to an opportunity for a modern-day industrial revolution. “Over the past four years, 200 youth [have been] trained in our green building construction program. The unfortunate thing is only 22 of those youths are placed in green jobs… 66 homes were retrofitted… but we need more,” he said.

Ruby Rivera, of Legacy LA, said the jobs RePower LA is promoting could benefit residents of Ramona Gardens. “[It] would help them to further support their development and to support their families economically,” she said.

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January 26, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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