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ULI LA FutureBuild 2018 Conference Highlights Livable and Sustainable Urban Solutions

Optimism was in the air at the FutureBuild 2018 conference, hosted by the Urban Land Institute’s Los Angeles chapter (ULI LA) in partnership with VerdeXchange, and held on January 30 at the L.A. Downtown Hotel. The conference featured leading local and international thinkers and innovators in business, government, and the built environment, whose sessions focused on the theme “Resilient, Livable and Sustainable Urban Solutions for the 21st Century.” In the words of FutureBuild Co-Chair Sara Neff, senior VP of sustainability for Kilroy Realty Corp., “Despite the rolling back of America’s climate change commitments on the federal level, California’s thought leaders are taking control of our own destiny.” FutureBuild 2018 made it clear that California’s leadership on sustainability is a positive force for California and the world.

The conference opened with a warm welcome by Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, who spoke of his pride in the diversity at LA’s core. The discussion then addressed LA’s preparations and infrastructure investment for welcoming the world to the 2028 Olympics.  LA first hosted the Games in 1932—sustainably planting 40,000 palm trees for the event—and achieved its goal of putting the city “on the world map,” noted Moderator Renata Simril, CEO of the LA 84 Foundation. LA’s successful hosting of the privately financed Olympics in 1984, which involved building only three new venues to minimize environmental impact, gave a tremendous boost to the city, yielding the largest surplus of any Games in history.

The privately funded 2028 Olympics will benefit from a full ten years for planning and preparation. Noted LA’s Executive Director of the Department of Convention and Tourism Development Doane Liu, “LA made it clear to the Olympics committee that the city was going to invest in building its planned sports megaprojects whether LA would be chosen to host the Games or not.” The LA Convention Center is the anchor of the downtown LA sports venues, and, with AEG as partner, Liu’s department plans a $500 million expansion of the LA Convention Center to a total size of one million contiguous square feet.

According to AECOM’s “Mr. Olympics,” VP Global Sports Bill Hanway, AECOM is partnering with AEG, UCLA, and the LA Convention Center to incorporate sustainability measure in the Games facilities. For example, the LA Coliseum is the first major U.S. stadium to operate with zero waste. The planned beach volleyball stadium will return to sand after the Olympics. It’s safe to predict, Hanway said, that in the next ten years new technologies as yet unknown will further contribute to improving sustainability in 2028.

The city and Los Angeles Metro are working on a $50 billion, “28 by 28” initiative to complete 28 key road, transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects to provide mobility and accessibility for residents and visitors in time for the 2028 Olympics, announced LA Metro CEO Phillip Washington. “We are engaging in the most ambitious transportation infrastructure initiative in the U.S, not only with 28 by 28, but also completing transportation and traffic improvement projects launched by LA voters’ approval of Measure M, with the goal of completing them within ten years,” said Washington. “It is a herculean task.” Washington also noted that Metro is making a push to educate California-based corporations on the value of investing in infrastructure, using the extra cash they will have at their disposal following the passage of the federal tax reform bill that significantly lowered the corporate tax rate.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is working to be ready to provide crowds of Olympics passengers with an improved travel experience. LAX’s Innovation and Technology Officer Justin Erbacci reported on several ambitious programs that will improve operations and make it easier, more pleasant, and more sustainable for people to get to and from, and journey through LAX. Construction will begin this year on an automated people mover that will connect with LA Metro and alleviate traffic and congestion at the airport. “We are investing significant capital to improve the passenger experience at LAX terminals, building a new satellite concourse and additional concourses,” said Erbacci. “We are mobilizing technology for a new LAX website, a new digital channel, parking, shopping, and online food ordering.”  Facial recognition technology is coming soon, and passengers will be able to board plans without passports or boarding passes: “your face will be your passport.”

FutureBuild 2018 also focused on California’s climate and energy leadership for the rest of the world. The many California-based innovators in building, design, development and technology allow California to compete, succeed, and provide new sustainability models for a fast-evolving future. Former Controller of the state of California Steve Westly, founder of Westly Group, an energy, utility and sustainability focused venture firm, presented an inspiring vision of past progress and future advances in sustainability in California and worldwide.

The transition from an oil-based economy to renewable energy is well underway, according to Westly. Many nations, including China, known for its terrible air pollution, are making a push for renewable energy.  Electric cars are coming online faster than anyone anticipated. Tesla is building a “gigafactory” the size of 100 big-box stores for its electric cars. Tech companies are also hastening the transition to renewable energy. “The battle has been won.  Never mind the predictions of when the largest percentage of power coming online globally would be renewable—we reached that benchmark three years ago,” Westly said. “Costs are coming down rapidly, and, in addition to being cheaper, renewables don’t pollute.” A group of utility companies have formed a Free Electron Initiative saying the time is coming when electric power may be delivered for free. Power storage is today’s challenge, but the cost of lithium ion batteries, the most commonly used solution, has gone from $1,000 per kilowatt-hour to less than $100.

“How does California stay in the lead, with policies that lead to a low-carbon future?” asked California Public Utilities Commissioner Carla Peterman. She answers, “It starts at the top, with California’s governors and legislation. You can trust your bureaucracy and its expertise.” The state has made air pollution and greenhouse gas reductions a key priority, and raises its goals every year.  Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill setting a goal of five million zero-emission vehicles on California roads by 2050. PUC has adopted new rules, and aims to make energy storage facilities perform multiple functions.  Said Peterman, “State and policy leadership need to adapt not only new policies, but also entire market rules to make sure we are supporting the framework that allows new technology solutions to come forward.”

The CPU Commission manages the funds for building broadband infrastructure statewide, and Peterman warned attendees not to assume that all Californians are online. Rural areas are challenged by the state’s diverse topography, and some Native American communities lack internet access. California needs to continue building to get all residents engaged in today’s systems. “Every sector of leadership is paying attention to this issue. If you set a goal you can exceed it, but you need to focus attention,” she said. “Keep identifying barriers and challenging agencies like CPUC to overcome them.”

One further significant influence on the evolving global economy is the transition from 50 years of the baby boomers as the dominant purchasing cohort with its consumption ethos of “bigger is better, throw out and replace.” In 2017, the millennials became the largest cohort of buyers, and they have different buying patterns. Millennials want 1) a smaller carbon footprint for everything they do; 2) all things connected in life, your work, your home, your car; 3) a higher purpose: companies that do the right thing, protect your data, and maintain your trust.

The future is happening faster than we can understand, Westly said: “Global change is of a magnitude comparable to the world-changing shift from horses to internal combustion, which took about ten years.” California, the world’s fifth largest economy, is leading the changing future. Westly added, “California understands that we are remaking the future. We are charting a new destiny and will continue to keep California at the forefront of creating a new resource economy.”

This article was written by Nadene Gallagher of Lauter + Gallagher

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