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Water Quality Improvement Policies: Lessons Learned from the Implementation of Proposition O in Los Angeles, California


This article evaluates the implementation of Proposition O, a stormwater cleanup measure, in Los Angeles, California. The measure was intended to create new funding to help the city comply with the Total Maximum Daily Load requirements under the federal Clean Water Act. Funding water quality objectives through a bond measure was necessary because the city had insufficient revenues to deploy new projects in its budget. The bond initiative required a supermajority vote (two-thirds of the voters), hence the public had to be convinced that such funding both was necessary and would be effective. The bond act language included project solicitation from the public, as well as multiple benefit objectives. Accordingly, nonprofit organizations mobilized to present projects that included creating new parks, using schoolyards for flood control and groundwater recharge, and replacing parking lots with permeable surfaces, among others. Yet few, if any, of these projects were retained for funding, as the city itself also had a list of priorities and higher technical expertise in justifying them as delivering water quality improvements. Our case study of the implementation of Proposition O points to the potentially different priorities for the renovation of urban infrastructure that are held by nonprofit organizations and city agencies and the importance of structuring public processes clearly so that there are no misimpressions about funding and implementation responsibilities that can lead to disillusionment with government, especially under conditions of fiscal constraints.

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