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Paula Daniels: Championing environmental sustainability

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Justine Dodgen

Paula Daniels has long been an advocate for environmental causes. Raised in Hawaii, Daniels has said she’s cared about water from a young age, and remembers learning about the importance of malama aina – stewardship of the land- from her grandfather. In a LA Weekly interview in 2012, Daniels says she even asked her middle school classmates if they turned off the water while brushing their teeth.

Now, Daniels is the Executive Director of California Central, a USC Villaraigosa Initiative conducting public policy research on how California’s governance system should adapt to the state’s rapidly evolving population and economy. California’s growth over the past century has had enormous implications for the environment, to which governance and regulations must now respond.

PaulaResizeOn November 17, Paula Daniels will join the Bedrosian Center for Lunch with a Leader to discuss her current work with California Central as well as her life’s work as a champion for environmental sustainability.

Daniels is no novice to creating change in the public sector. After leaving Hawaii, she moved to California to be an attorney and soon became involved with the environmental group Heal the Bay. Starting as a volunteer, she worked her way up to President of the organization, where she caught the attention of Mayor Villaraigosa, then speaker of the California Assembly. She was appointed a commissioner with the California Coastal Commission and later to the California Bay-Delta Authority board.

Daniels went on in the early 2000s to focus on not only water but the many environmental issues pertinent to Southern California. She spent six years as an LA Public Works Commissioner, where she managed numerous water sustainability projects. She also helped create several green infrastructure programs, including MillionTreesLA, the Green Streets initiative, a Low Impact Development Ordinance, and the Native Green Gardener program.

It was during her tenure at Public Works that Daniels saw the critical role that food plays in environmental policies. Given that California produces a majority of the country’s produce, she was puzzled about why many LA residents couldn’t access or afford fresh foods.

When presented with an environmental challenge, Daniels has always been at the forefront of creating a solution. So when she saw the disconnect between California’s production and LA’s consumption of fresh foods, she created the Los Angeles Food Policy Council.

The Council, founded in 2009, is a collaborative network of farmers, educations, foodies, and activists working to make Good Food– food that is health, affordable, and sustainable- available to all Angelenos.

GFPPLogo-NoBackground-WEBBy creating this collective, Daniels says they have created opportunities to “[bring] together people who didn’t talk to each other before” to accomplish their goals. “More and more we’re recognizing that the whole system needs to work better to address the struggling and broken ends ? both the lower income consumers and small and mid-size farmers,” Daniels said.

Notably, the council created the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), which provides standards to help food service institutions understand how to purchase local, sustainable, and humanely-produced foods. Through this program, the council helps food service institutions positively impact the health of their communities, the environment, and the economy.

A huge success for Daniels occurred in 2012 when the City of Los Angeles and LAUSD, the largest food purchaser in LA, both adopted the GFPP.

Throughout her career, Daniels’ work has been characterized by her solution-driven attitude: when she sees an environmental concern, she dives into the issue to find a policy or program to address it. Please join us November 17 for this event. To reserve a seat, email Donnajean Ward or call (213) 740-0155.


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