Environmental & Climate Justice

Mobilizing the Transformative Power of WHAM

June 24, 2021
By raymond

Overcoming Obstacles to Equitable Infrastructure Investments in Los Angeles County

Affordable housing adjacent to a public transit hub. A public park that captures stormwater during the raining season and provides respite from summer heat. Bike lanes and pedestrian paths along an abandoned rail line that connects two Metro lines, creates a green street, and stores rainwater. 

Los Angeles County has an unprecedented opportunity for these kinds of multi-benefit infrastructure projects. The county is investing billions of dollars from voter-approved Measures W, H, A, and M in clean, safe water; housing and homeless services; parks and open space; transportation; and climate resilience. Expected to generate $1.6 billion a year, these four measures are referred to as WHAM. State and federal stimulus efforts will likely mean even more funding is on the way.

But despite community demand, roadblocks remain. A new report from the Liberty Hill Foundation and UCLA identifies why and outlines five steps to break down the bureaucratic barriers.

“WHAM is a fitting acronym for investments that could have transformative impact, especially in the county’s most disadvantaged communities that have not benefited equitably from infrastructure investments in the past and have been hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Jon Christensen, co-author of the report and a Liberty Hill Foundation board member who teaches and does research in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA.

Recognizing the tremendous potential, the Board of Supervisors set up a taskforce to institutionalize collaboration amongst county agencies on multi-benefit WHAM projects. These projects would combine parks and open space, stormwater management and green infrastructure, transportation, housing, workforce development, job creation, and climate resilience. The Board endorsed a community-driven process that identified implementable projects in each of the county’s five supervisorial districts. But implementation has been stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucratic barriers to collaboration.

“Overcoming the barriers identified in our report would create more efficient and equitable pathways to meet the pressing needs for green infrastructure, better transportation options, affordable housing, and climate resilience in L.A.’s most high-need communities,” said Michele Prichard, co-author of the report and Liberty Hill’s Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives.

The report recommends that the Board of Supervisors:

  • Direct county agencies to collaborate on implementing one multi-benefit pilot project in each supervisorial district as a short-term, first step.
  • Encourage the Board of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) to adopt the WHAM Taskforce’s goals and work plan.
  • Direct the County’s Chief Sustainability Office to form a strike team to identify and solve impediments to collaboration and convene a multi-agency and stakeholder learning community.
  • Fund community engagement to inform the pilot projects.
  • Fund an independent evaluation of WHAM implementation to learn, improve, and ensure success.

The report also recommends that the philanthropic community:

  • Fund an independent legal review to identify legal impediments to interagency collaborative funding and implementation of multi-benefit projects as well as opportunities for improvements in integrated implementation.
  • Continue to fund community-based organizations and nonprofits to develop and expand their own research, technical, and advocacy capacities to engage in developing multi-benefit projects.

Since the report was released in May, the recommendations have been widely discussed and progress is being made at the County and in the philanthropic community to identify pathways to ensure that these billions of dollars of public investments benefit communities most in need.