Fighting for clean air has been a constant effort for Michael Cacciotti, whose pursuit began about 25 years ago when he traded in his gas-powered lawn mower for an electric model and not long after let go of what he calls “an old gas guzzler for the ugliest car on the market at the time.”
Cacciotti, a longtime South Pasadena City Council member, still drives that 2002 Toyota Prius, turning in his polluting Audi for what he considered the cleanest vehicle on the road, despite its questionable overall appearance.
He’s heard all the jokes, starting with late night stand-up comedians using it as fodder to everyday comments from those around him. Yet to eco-activists and environmentalists like Cacciotti, there’s no need for a trade-in now when his Prius has gone nearly 178,000 miles, requiring little maintenance and “has the original brakes!” he declared, perhaps the one deserving the last laugh.
His green tendencies, learning more about the harmful and deadly impacts of air pollution on human health, began in the late 1990s, when he made the trade for a gas-powered lawn mower at a South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) E-lawnmower exchange event held outside Pasadena’s famed Rose Bowl.
“This is when I actually started to understand the incredible work the agency, its board members, outstanding staff and environmental groups were doing to protect our health and reduce air pollution,” explained Cacciotti, who in 2008 while serving on the South Pasadena City Council was selected by the mayors/councilmembers in the 34 cities of the Eastern Los Angeles County to represent them on the governing board of the SCAQMD.
He continues to serve in that capacity today, longer than any other of the 13 board members, and last week became the vice chair of the agency, a highly prestigious role.
“I am humbled and honored by the support of my colleagues in selecting me for this position,” said Cacciotti. “Nine of my colleagues are outstanding elected officials at the city and county level selected by their peers in the four counties that constitute the SCAQMD – Orange Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino County – representing 17 million people. Three of my colleagues are outstanding community leaders who were appointed by the governor, assembly speaker and senate pro tem.”
Assuming the high-ranking SCAQMD position came about when chair of the board, Ben Benoit, the mayor of Wildomar in Riverside County, was recently elected auditor – controller of Riverside County.
During the January 6 SCAQMD governing board meeting, Vanessa Delgado, a former State Senator and current State Senate Rules Committee appointee, was selected by her colleagues as chair to succeed Benoit, and Cacciotti the vice chair, both for a two-year term.
Among its missions, the SCAQMD, which began its crusade January 1, 1977, set out to conduct efforts that would help improve air quality and public health in the four counties in which it serves.
“Over the nearly 15 years I have been on the governing board, even though we have differences, the board members – prior and current – have genuinely enjoyed working in collaboration to accomplish the agencies overall mission which is to reduce harmful and toxic air pollution in our air basin,” explained Cacciotti. “I can assure you that the chair and I will continue our collaborative approach on the board as we work with all interested parties, including local/regional/state/federal government, business, labor, our environmental organizations, faith-based communities, and residents to meet mandatory federal clean air standards and protect public health.”
As vice chair at the SCAQMD, “I can join our talented and dedicated staff, fellow board members and interested parties in our community to continue the original mission of the agency to reduce the harmful air pollution in our basin which will in turn protect public health,” continued Cacciotti. “This includes reducing premature deaths, exacerbation and causation of asthma in adults and children, hospitalizations due to asthma attacks, various respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular and brain health – all adversely impacted by the various sources of air pollution emitted by various stationary and mobile sources in our region.
“We work with our State and Federal partners at CARB (California Air Resources Board) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to reduce harmful pollution through development and adoption of rules that limit harmful emissions from stationary sources such as oil refineries, factories, land fills, etc., (after a thorough public process) and incentive programs to encourage industry, residents, local/regional governments, etc. to adopt zero emission or near zero emission technologies.”
As the agency moves the needle on reducing the harmful air pollution in the basin, Cacciotti is also cognizant and reasonably sensitive to the concerns of the 34 cities he represents in eastern Los Angeles County, especially interested in supporting business, labor, environmental, health organizations and the thousands of residents in all those communities.
“In the end, we must all be responsible stewards of the beautiful environment we have been blessed with in Southern California so we can improve the quality of the air we breathe and protect our families, neighbors and future generations from unhealthy air pollution,” he said.
An electric car aficionado, pushing the Prius stereotypes aside, usually with humor since his first purchase of one 20 years ago, Cacciotti has since leased and owned multiple plug-in EVs. He frequently can be seen on foot, taking his dog for a walk, often rides his bicycle around town, and usually takes public transportation to monthly SCAQMD governing board meetings in Diamond Bar, covering a distance of roughly 25 miles. He also takes the bus, train or pedals to council meetings in the 34 cities he represents, providing the latest information on how the SCAQMD supports their constituents.
Further, for 10 years Cacciotti was a regular rider on Gold Line light rail trains, traveling to downtown LA and back as an attorney at the Office of the State Attorney General.
In a small way, yet setting what he believes is a good example, South Pasadena’s 5-time mayor is simply doing his part to clear the air.
“Ultimately,” insisted Cacciotti on why it was important to become a part of the SCAQMD, “I realized that to protect the health of all of us and our pets in the South Coast region, I needed to participate at the regional level where I could work with like-minded people and groups to reduce harmful air pollution, improve air quality, while at the same time create good paying jobs in an ever expanding, healthy green economy.”