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Will the new D.A. clean up L.A., literally?

January 17, 2013|By Patt Morrison
  • Pollution control measures have helped keep L.A.'s skies cleaner.
Pollution control measures have helped keep L.A.'s skies cleaner. (Los Angeles Times / Gary…)

It’s taken decades, but Los Angeles has clawed its way back to passably clean air from smog so opaque that we might have been living, or breathing, in Beijing.

But that’s just the most visible of pollutants. They’re in the ground and they’re in the river and ocean water too, sometimes because criminal conduct put them there. Oil spillers, smog-test cheats, midnight solvent dumpers, developers playing illicit lumberjacks or deliberately bulldozing significant species -- they’re all out there despoiling L.A. County, which is probably the most environmentally diverse political entity around, with ocean, forests, deserts, mountains,  and some pretty park where you and your kids bike and romp and look at the bugs and plants and critters.

So I asked Jackie Lacey, the new Los Angeles district attorney, in my “Patt Morrison Asks” column this week about her commitment to go after these criminals.

About 30 years ago, L.A. had eight full-time prosecutors for environmental offenses. Then it was four. After Steve Cooley became D.A., he left one lone prosecutor with the responsibility for the county’s environmental crimes.

As The Times wrote at the time, even before Cooley closed up shop on the environmental crimes unit, he ended a criminal investigation of the Newhall Ranch development in spite of evidence that developers deliberately destroyed endangered wildflowers because their existence might have impeded construction.

The reason for the cutbacks was always budgetary, although business leaders in a place like this one, which makes its living in no small part from being beautiful, ought to find a way to keep it so.

Lacey told me she’s reviving the environmental unit, putting in a new leader and more investigators, with a new spin. “What I’ve found is that the environmental community didn’t know what we were doing. So, much the same way we’ve done with our animal cruelty community partners, we’re doing the same with our environmental community partners such as the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

“We’re saying, are there any suggestions or ways we can partner together on issues we haven’t had the resources to address, such as environmental justice? In poor neighborhoods, sometimes environmental violations go unchecked. It’s not fair, it’s not right and someone needs to be on the case on that. We’re going to put more resources into it, and [into] dialoguing with environmental community leaders.”

As for money, Lacey says her deputies are finding that there are special funds, state and federal, for prosecutors to tap for just such purposes.

I sure hope that’s the case. Keep Los Angeles beautiful -- and it’ll return the favor.

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