Above: LA County Federation of Labor President Rusty Hicks speaks in favor of improving LA’s storm water systems and committing funds to disadvantaged communities and ongoing maintenance to generate jobs and workforce training.

By Veronica Wilson
Recently, Los Angeles labor unions have put their weight behind Measure W for Safe, Clean Water on the November 6, 2018 local ballot. Measure W proposes a county-wide parcel tax of 2.5¢ per square foot of impermeable surface to raise an estimated $300M per year to invest in improving LA’s water systems, mainly, to better capture and manage stormwater and reduce urban runoff. The region, hot, dry and water-scarce, and unfit for accelerated population growth, has been challenged by water shortages for more than 100 years. Bloody disputes ensued as settlers constructed aqueducts that took water from California’s Eastern Sierras, and have since depleted the Owens Lake entirely and erased the Northern Paiute’s way of life. Today, two thirds of the region’s water are imported from the Owens Valley, Northern California, and the Colorado River.

Spearheaded by Los Angeles Alliance for A New Economy (LAANE) the Our Water LA coalition started with communities, advocacy groups, environmental, and environmental justice organizations. Unsafe drinking water, polluted waterways, deadly flood events, toxins and plastics washed into the Pacific Ocean and onto beaches were reasons for finding long-term solutions. In the most populous county (roughly 10 million) in the United States, public infrastructure projects would, for example, install permeable sidewalks and drainage swales in neighborhoods, design parks with water storage, and retrofit playgrounds. These solutions would not only improve the quality of life of residents by increasing access to clean, safe water, but also generate as many as 9,500 jobs, according to a study produced by LAANE.

At a hearing with the Los Angeles County Supervisors this summer, labor joined in to advocate for a prudent policy that understands water shortages, worsened by climate change, put firefighters in grave danger. Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby noted “Climate change is real!” and extended periods of drought followed by a year of heavy rain have made wildfires more frequent, intense and urban-proximate, endangering the county’s population and his workforce. Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council Ron Miller specified the importance of sustainable water management and potential opportunities for Pipe Trades, Plumbers and Electrical workers. Among other labor representatives, LA County Federation of Labor President Rusty Hicks spoke in favor of improving LA’s storm water systems and that committing the funds to disadvantaged communities and to ongoing maintenance will generate jobs and workforce training where they are needed most.

Currently in campaign mode, LAANE organizers are conducting outreach and educational presentations to union locals throughout the region. As a ballot measure, W will be up to LA county voters. Resting in their hands is a choice to make stormwater capture and reducing runoff a priority for the people and the planet.

Veronica Wilson is an LNS member and consultant who most recently organized the first Los Angeles Labor Convergence on Climate Change.