Paula Daniels Leaves Board of Public Works to Rally New Sustainable Food System For Los Angeles

By Tonya E. Durrell

When I sat down with Paula Daniels, Senior Advisor to Mayor Villaraigosa, to talk about her new role in jumpstarting a sustainable regional food system in the City, it was clear that she would approach the challenge with the same savvy and vigor she brought to the Board of Public Works for six years.

Daniels was instrumental in directing the City onto greener paths with an innovative infrastructure initiative to clean up stormwater pollution.  As a Board of Public Works commissioner, she championed the first standard plans for Green Streets in the United States, drought tolerant planting guidelines, and a green street retrofit pilot project on Riverdale Avenue in Los Angeles.  She also led the strategic planning and early development of the million tree campaign of Mayor Villaraigosa, now known as Million Trees LA.

This past September, she saw her work on the City’s landmark Low Impact Development Ordinance come to fruition–as the City Council unanimously adopted the measure that calls for development and redevelopment projects to mitigate runoff by capturing rainwater at its source utilizing natural resources.

Daniels has been affiliated with Heal the Bay since 1989, and currently serves as an honorary member on the Board of Governors and was previously president of the Board.  She received the “Heal the Bay, Super Healer Award” in 1991.

As an instructor with the UCLA Institute of the Environment, she teaches an upper division undergraduate course in water management and environmental leadership.

She has more than 25 years of experience as a civil litigator, fast-tracked to partner in a civil litigation firm which specialized in business and real estate disputes, and then founded her own firm.  She has served as an arbitrator and mediator and developed a performance-based oversight committee for the volunteer arbitration program of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Daniels received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California and law degree from Southwestern University School of Law.

Q&A

What will you miss most about Public Works?
Public Works is an extraordinary department with so many people working together across various disciplines to move projects forward. Public Works is so vast and works well.  There is lots of talent and can-do spirits.

What has being a Board of Public Works (BPW) Commissioner meant?

I have been able to fulfill a long-time dream to work on issues that I have passion about—caring for our resources.  I will miss being part of a great team and the value of the public process that allowed me to interact at the constituent level.

You have championed quite a few environmental platforms including Green Streets, Low Impact Development (LID) and now the LA Food Policy Council.  What drives your passion?
I have always cared about the environment. Growing up in Hawaii, My grandfather taught me the importance of taking care of the land. “Malama ‘aina,” he would say—meaning stewardship of the land.  He reminded us that “you don’t own the land–you are taking care of it for the next generation.” He conserved water and had a homemade gray water system back in the 1960’s. Environmental stewardship is more than a way of life.

Have you accomplished everything you had hoped during your appointment?
With the passage of LID, the crowning jewel of our years of work on stormwater initiatives— yes!  I have learned so much from everyone.  Working together, we can accomplish so much.

What has been the most pleasurable part of your job?
I love the diversity and creativity of this City and how it is reflected in our department. The people of the Department of Public Works are terrific.

Conversely, what has been the most challenging?
Our economic situation—not enough funding to do all that needed to be accomplished. We need to establish dialogue with residents about the value of the services they pay for —including maintenance. Many take for granted the engineering miracle of being able to flush the toilet and then having it managed so well you can swim in a healthy ocean. We need to be more aware of the resources that are put in our hands and what happens when they leave our hands.

What is the one thing most people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am an avid outrigger canoe paddler and part of a racing team.  I love the ocean, being on it or in it!

What is the next chapter?
With equal measure to missing Public Works, I am looking forward to my new job and developing a regional sustainable food system in Los Angeles. Our plans include working with the school district to increase local food consumption, increasing the amount of locally grown produce purchased by major food service providers and developing a regional food hub for the distribution of locally grown produce to low income communities.

Whether it’s improving water quality or access to better food for the residents of Los Angeles, you can be sure that Paula Daniels will approach it with both innovation and a good dose of malama ‘aina!

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar for LA Stormwater
    LA Stormwater
    October 10th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Crystal! Thanks for your comment and your support on our efforts! If you are looking to work for the City of LA, check out this link for job openings: http://www.lacity.org/SubMenu/JobsAvailable/index.htm

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