Aura Vasquez’s Clean Energy Vision for LA
June 15, 2019
In this week’s livestream, Pick My Solar CEO, Max Aram, interviews Aura Vasquez, 2020 Candidate for LA City Council District 10. She was appointed to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners by Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose five-year term just ended in December 2018. In this livestream, we’ll learn about Aura’s story and her clean energy vision for the city of Los Angeles.
About Aura Vasquez
Aura Vasquez is a Colombia native who brings her experiences as a Latina immigrant, and successful environment leader to solve many issues concerning the communities. Vasquez is a community leader, racial, social and environmental justice advocate with more than 10 years of public affairs and intergovernmental relations experience in New York, Washington D.C, and California. She plays a major role in bringing energy efficiency programs and community solar programs for Angelenos.
Aura is a 2020 candidate for LA City Council District 10 and aims to achieve affordable housing, a healthy environment and a city that works for all.
Los Angeles City Council District 10 is one of the 15 districts of the Los Angeles City Council. It includes the neighborhoods of Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, West Adams, Jefferson Park, Wilshire Center, South Robertson, Arlington Heights, Leimert Park, Faircrest Heights, Gramercy Park, and parts of Baldwin Hills. With 241,000 residents, District 10 is one of the most diverse neighborhoods within Los Angeles.
Max: You were appointed as a Commissioner of LADWP by Mayor Garcetti. Tell us about your experience with LADWP?
Aura: Being a Commissioner was a great honor for me to be able to serve Los Angeles at large by directing and leading the largest public utility in the country. For someone who came from a community engagement background, I also consider it as a great opportunity and a great challenge to be able to serve 9,000 employees and the people of LA.
I met Mayor Garcetti during my campaign to make LA the largest U.S. city to go coal-free by 2025. When Mayor Garcetti appointed me, I became the youngest and first immigrant to serve as a Commissioner. My goal was to make LADWP a better company that can serve people and bridge the gap between the organization and the people of LA. In order to engage with the community, I became the first Commissioner that had established the office hours and created an environment where a higher ranking person in the organization can speak to the people about what was going on at the ground level.
For me, the legacy of pushing LA to a renewable energy leader is extremely important. For people who are most affected by pollution, higher bills, and wanted to adopt renewable energy, I wanted to make that easy for them. I tried to do this by creating the “Shared Solar” program, a program that benefits renters that help them to participate in the solar economy.
Max: Interesting! Before talking about your vision of a clean energy future for LA, can you share your experience as an immigrant? What are the challenges that you have faced in your initial days of moving to a new country and new culture?
Aura: We left Colombia at a time of the war against drugs that has exacerbated a lot of violence. Similar to a lot of people who leave their countries as political refugees, my family and I moved to New York for a better future. My parents were very involved with the community back in Colombia and I followed them too. I feel that we are lucky that New York had policies that protect and support immigrants like us. Also, people from a different culture and different language are welcomed and cherished here.
This was not very similar to my experience when I moved to LA to work on organizing communities and immigrant rights issues. As I worked with many undocumented people, there were scenarios where I was followed by minutemen and tea partiers who tried to intimidate me as I’m an immigrant.
For a city and a state where we are very soon to be a majority minority, especially people of Central America and Mexican descent, I think it is worth talking about how all of the things that we do affect immigrants. In my district, for example, we have Little Ethiopia which is a whole other population of immigrants who are neither Central American, South American nor Middle Eastern. I consider the strength and the beauty of LA is its diversity that needs to be celebrated.
One of the issues that I noticed around LA is a lot of these folks are caught up on this immigration system that is being held by our current President.
Max: True! I’m one of these people and I totally understand these challenges. The process of getting my citizenship took a year longer than it was supposed to. There might be various reasons for people to come to the United States. But one common notion that I’ve noticed among the immigrants is that we are not afraid of working really hard towards contributing to the new society and we’re very appreciative of this structure.
Aura: Yeah. I feel it is very frustrating to see the ideology of the federal government, the President and the rhetoric around immigrants who portray them as bad people that take away the jobs and other opportunities. But, most of them ignore the fact about immigrants is that they contribute to this economy in a way no other group does. Even though you’re not documented, as an immigrant you still pay your taxes, you shop at your local store, and contribute to this society by making a living.
As a Councilwoman, what I want to propose is for the folks that are holding green cards to also have the opportunity to vote in the local elections.
Max: Is this technically possible?
Aura: Yes, it is technically and legally possible. San Francisco has already started a process that the green card holders to vote in the school board district for elections.
Max: Can you highlight the main issues that District 10 is dealing with?
Aura: You can find my vision towards LA as “Aura’s Top 10 for District 10” on my website. I would group these 10 issues in two buckets.
- One of the most important thing for my constituency is a beautiful and healthy environment that includes parks, open space, community gardens, streets that are well lit and walkable, bike lanes, and mobility.
- The next would be the issue of toxins in urban oil drilling. Two blocks away from home there are two dozens of oil sites where they have oil drilling. I wanted to address how to stop this practice especially next to schools, restaurants, and homes.
Max: You have mentioned food is also an issue in your constituency. So, what are the simple solutions that you are planning to solve to this?
Aura: There are places in my district where we can have more open space in gardening. Community gardens are a good way of opening small businesses and to sell more fresh food. Instead of opening a supermarket, I would say, supporting local and small businesses would be helpful.
Max: You have mentioned bike lanes too. What is your take on electric scooters?
Aura: They play an important role in helping us with short distance mobility especially in places where there is not a lot of public transportation. We wanted to have designated bike lanes to be safe and thrive this transportation. This is when I wanted to talk about redesign the complete street. The streets that allow people to walk, allow businesses to thrive, have electric vehicle infrastructure, designated bike or scooter lanes. With a lot of new technologies deploying in our streets, there is a need to integrate them.
Max: With recent experience of my team member who fell off his electric scooter, I agree that safety is a key thing when it comes to these new ways of transportation. At LACI, there are few companies in electric mobility that I find very interesting. One of them is Clevr who are reimagining electric scooters and are trying to create much safer scooters. The other one that you have mentioned is building charging infrastructure for electric scooters. A few weeks ago, Mayor Garcetti in partnership with LACI announced a new mobility pilot program for clean air, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and bringing the benefits of the green economy to disadvantaged communities. This program will dedicate at least $300,000 for proposed solutions. It is basically a marketplace where people can submit their ideas that are then considered by portfolio companies of LACI to build businesses.
Per your vision for District 10 and the need of the community for adapting and creating these technologies, do you think you have a solid plan here?
Aura: We are definitely thinking about this. Our community is so diverse and they cherish the idea of reimagining streets with designated bile lanes, car share programs and a mindful street with pick up and drop off areas and all the ways to modernize our mobility. One more thing that District 10 need is around the idea of how do we make sure that these programs and benefits reach the community and also how to be built by the communities. This also solves the other issue with the jobs and employment in my district.
Max: Great. I hope the government, businesses, non-profits, and technologies work together to make a significant change to the community.
Aura: Yes, I also want to have satellite incubators to develop CleanTech businesses in local areas. Also, I want more renewables that are accessible to local people.
Max: I feel more awareness and education of the community is necessary to let everyone know about the incentives available to go solar. At this point, I wanted to ask how do you think LA can achieve 100% clean energy?
Aura: The only way that we are going to achieve this is to take the workforce development approach here in the energy industry. We need to crack the code about job creation too. Also, we’re working with the National Renewable Energy Lab to figure out the best ways to achieve our clean energy goals.
Max: It is interesting to see the cost of producing electricity is getting cheaper with renewables, especially solar when compared with fossil fuels. The market is going to respond to these benefits of renewables and eventually, renewables will survive and win over the competition from fossil fuels. So, at this point in time, it would be a huge risk for the communities if they aren’t aware or educated to transition to renewables that are obviously going to last longer compared to fossil fuels.
Aura: Yeah. I think LADWP is trying to come up with programs that train and educate people on this transition.
Max: What are your plans to alleviate cost burdens for disadvantaged communities as we transition to 100% renewable energy?
Aura: Right now, we are re-envisioning the way the grid operates in LA. In order to make sure the disadvantaged communities are not burdened, we need to have them to transition first as they are the ones who had experienced the effects of pollution and climate change on a large scale.
Max: How do you educate the community about this transition?
Aura: I’m glad that I can talk about this to the people directly as I have the opportunity to meet so many of them from the community. Also, I am on a meet and greet tour where I go talk to people about my plans towards clean LA. I also use my social media channels to educate and empower people on clean energy and clean technologies.
Max: Your plan sounds similar to Pick My Solar’s mission which is to empower people to adopt sustainable and clean technologies. Thanks for joining us Aura and good luck on the upcoming elections.