Viewpoints

Unlikely partnership propels climate change policy

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, urges lawmakers on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, to approve Senate Bill 32, by his close ally Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, urges lawmakers on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, to approve Senate Bill 32, by his close ally Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent. The Associated Press

She calls him Eduardo. He calls her Mrs. Pavley.

She is Fran Pavley, 67, a San Fernando Valley state senator in the final months of a legislative career that established her as the mother of California climate change policy.

He is Eduardo Garcia, 39, a first-term assemblyman from working-class Coachella, who is known for focusing on the needs of his inland constituents.

Their fledgling alliance – they co-author each other’s legislation and often meet together with colleagues – embodies two tricky transitions in the world-renowned California movement to fight climate change. One involves generational change, as older climate champions are replaced by younger counterparts. The other involves a shift in focus – from reducing greenhouse gases to ensuring poor communities get their fair share of climate-related investments.

It’s been a decade since Pavley authored Assembly Bill 32, the nation’s first cap on greenhouse gas pollution, and 15 years since her AB 1493, which became the model for national vehicle emissions standards. So the coalition behind those landmark laws – including environmentalists, scientists, water agencies, local governments, labor unions, religious institutions and Hollywood celebrities – requires updating to better represent the California of 2016 that is more working-class and Latino.

But the state’s sprawl and diversity, and the success of climate change legislation in sparking new businesses in California, have made coalition-building harder. Representatives of poorer, inland places – including Garcia, whose massive district borders both Mexico and Arizona – are demanding that climate change legislation improve public health and create job opportunities in their communities.

Garcia’s partnership with Pavley is also based on what they have in common. They both worked as teachers and rose to state office through local government. Pavley was elected mayor of Agoura Hills at age 32 in 1982. Garcia became mayor of the city of Coachella at age 29 in 2006.

“Eduardo and Fran are the perfect transition,” says Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who suggested the two work together.

The partnership came together at the Paris climate talks in December, when Garcia was added to a California delegation that included Gov. Jerry Brown and Pavley and impressed the older delegates by eschewing sightseeing for intensive work.

On a recent Friday, I shuttled between the two halves of the alliance. At her district office in Calabasas, Pavley, who is termed out at year’s end, made clear that she sees Garcia as a promising successor on her work. “We work very well together,” she says. “And we’re looking for the next generation to carry this work forward.”

I met Garcia – a rumpled, stocky Gen X professional/father – near Burbank airport. He was traveling without aides, and mixed a casual bearing with an intense intelligence. We shifted between looking at smartphone video of his son shooting hoops and his detailed description of how Salton Sea brine can be turned into lithium for electric vehicle batteries.

“I don’t consider myself a climate change activist,” he says. “I do consider myself someone who is interested in building consensus on policies that are focused on people, especially the people in my district.”

In the closing days of the legislative session, Pavley and Garcia are pushing SB 32, which extends the greenhouse gas reduction targets to 2030, and AB 197, which seeks to make sure climate change policies and money helps the economies and public health of poorer, more polluted communities.

If these bills become law, give credit not only to the governor and legislative leaders, but also to Eduardo and Mrs. Pavley.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at joe@zocalopublicsquare.org.

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