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MAYOR IN EAST ASIA

Touting a Business-Friendly Environment

October 14, 2006|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

GUANGZHOU, China — As he casts about for new business deals in East Asia, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to position Los Angeles as an environmentally conscious city whose future is tied to responsible growth.

Villaraigosa brought that message to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong on Friday, telling an audience of international business executives, diplomats and environmentalists that Los Angeles is tackling its pollution even as the city prepares for a huge increase in shipping through its port.

"I'm coming to Asia to do business, but you can't be a great global city if you're not a great global citizen," Villaraigosa told a luncheon crowd at the Ritz-Carlton, one of many glamorous hotels in a city where severe smog has begun to drive companies away. "Greening our city is not just good for the environment; it's good for business."

Villaraigosa's speech was billed as a major environmental address. But he reiterated points that he makes frequently in Los Angeles, pledging once again to reduce dangerous emissions at the city's port even as the volume of containers grows from 14 million this year to an anticipated 36 million annually by 2020.

The mayor also spoke about his campaign to plant 1 million trees and his directive that the city obtain 20% of its electricity by 2010 from renewable sources such as wind and geothermal power.

Villaraigosa has been talking about the environment throughout his visit to China this week, part of a 16-day trade mission that next week shifts to South Korea and Japan.

On Thursday, he met with officials from the Shanghai Municipal Port Administration Bureau to sign a cooperation agreement. In that meeting, he also articulated his vision of a green and clean Los Angeles acting as a responsible world player.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together are the fifth-largest port complex in the world. The four larger facilities are all in Asia, including the ports of Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Villaraigosa was received warmly by the chamber group in Hong Kong. Consul General James Cunningham said Hong Kong's leading concern is pollution, which blows south from mainland China, sometimes obscuring the city's vast harbor.

He said he was pleased that Villaraigosa had focused on the problem.

"He's obviously got ideas about what Los Angeles can do and benefit from," Cunningham said, adding that Los Angeles is only the second city to send a trade delegation to Hong Kong; Atlanta did so last month.

China is an apropos place to make a pitch for cleaning up the environment: Pollution is rampant in the country's many big cities.

That concern was driven home Friday when Villaraigosa and his delegation arrived by train in Guangzhou, a sister city to Los Angeles of 10 million people about two hours north of Hong Kong.

The Los Angeles representatives stepped out of the train station late in the day and into a thick, muggy haze that shrouded buildings in the distance, stung the eyes and smelled foul. Many in the caravan were shocked by the level of pollution, shaking their heads in disbelief as their minibus passed beneath street lights glowing an eerie yellow.

duke.helfand@latimes.com

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