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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Hard-hit Neighborhoods in L.A. Seek Zoning Protection

Air Date: Week of

Environmentalists in Los Angeles say they have a new approach to cleaning up some of the most polluted neighborhoods. The new plan calls for special zoning, would limit pollution, and prioritize funding for small industries to purchase cleaner equipment. As Ingrid Lobet reports, the pilot project aligns environmental interests with those of local businesses.


GELLERMAN: They're calling it Clean-Up, Green-Up. It's a proposal to create special zones around some of the most polluted neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It’s a response to residents who say: enough is enough - no more pollution. The idea: clean up the environment and help businesses thrive at the same time.

Advocates say it takes environmental justice to a whole new level that just might become a model for other communities around the country. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.


LOBET: On the steps of LA City Hall, about one hundred people gather to send a message to those inside: help cleanup the pollution in our neighborhoods. Janet Loredo is a high school senior.

LOREDO: I have eye infections and my vision has been affected by the pollution. Doctors have said it was due to pollution that I have eye infections. My sister is allergic and often gets rashes. My cousin suffers from asthma.

LOBET: Loredo’s neighborhood is near a major shipping port, freeways and refineries. She says she really feels the contrast with more upscale zip codes when she helps her dad in his landscaping business.

LOREDO: The refinery I live near operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I can see the difference between Pacific Palisades and Wilmington. It is clean and green in Pacific Palisades, but not in Wilmington. That is not fair.

LOBET: These people here support a proposal to make three L.A. neighborhoods Clean Up Greenup zones. The communities chosen have high rates of pollution and health effects caused by their location and the number of small and large businesses in the area.

Businesses within these zones would need to limit any new noise, pollution or bright lights if they want to expand. But the proposal isn’t only about limits. It also channels money to businesses so they can make improvements. Leonardo Vilchis with the group Union de Vecinos says keeping businesses in the neighborhoods is a crucial part of the pilot project.

VILCHIS: This is working with them so they continue being participants in their community, contributing to our economy and continue being our neighbors. This is not about punishing; this is about modernization.

LOBET: Some business owners like Dina Cervantes are onboard with the new zones. Her parents founded Triumph Precision Products, a machine shop, five decades ago. She welcomes help updating the family’s equipment.

CERVANTES: Some of our machinery is really old. You know, so I’m sure that there’s newer machinery that could change the air quality inside, you know, maybe a different filtration system.

LOBET: The proposal has some cutting edge social science behind it. Researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California and Occidental College have created first of a kind maps that include all sources of air pollution, plus social information – where people might be more vulnerable, where there’s less access to health care – even where babies are being born early or with low birth weight.

The researchers then shared these maps with community members so they could note unmapped facilities they think are contributing to emissions. Professor Jim Sadd of Occidental:

SADD: We find there are lots of un-permitted facilities. Now, I don’t mean to say they are illegal.

LOBET: What they are, Sadd says, is small, often garage operations that fly under regulatory radar. They’re often near each other and can act like larger facilities.

SADD: One example is auto paint and body shops. I think we’ve all driven through neighborhoods where there’s a lot of paint and body shops there. Well, when you actually map those you find there are a lot of paint and body shops tend to be clustered and together they contribute to higher level of cumulative exposure

LOBET: The researchers also asked residents to use their on the ground knowledge to pinpoint nursing homes and daycare centers, where there are numbers of sensitive people. Then, residents wore personal air monitors to measure actual exposure to small particles.

SADD: What we found was the levels we measured exceeded the state health protective limit about half the time.

LOBET: This research helped determine which three neighborhoods should be targeted as pilots for the Cleanup Greenup ordinance.


LOBET: Now the proposal is advancing through government in the nation’s second largest city. L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar spoke to the city planning committee.

HUIZAR: Sometimes we just say, “It just can’t be done. We either did no planning or bad planning in the past and it can’t be corrected now. The fact that that car body shop is in the middle of a residential area and is polluting all these things – that’s just the way it is and we have to live with it now.” No, we should not just live with it now. There’s things we can do.

LOBET: But several representatives of Chambers of Commerce, including Brendan Huffman, said they are worried about some elements of the proposal, which call for pollution monitoring and noise reduction where industry is close to playgrounds and daycare centers.

HUFFMAN: “Buffer zones” between industry and residential communities—we don’t know what that means. Usually that means eminent domain. We heard terms like “parks” and “open space.” We don’t know where that funding is going to come from. Does that come from penalties on existing or new businesses?

LOBET: Here’s Jessica Duboff.

DUBOFF: The city is currently in a fiscal crisis, making tough choices and eliminating positions. Without a strong incentive component, this program becomes a duplicative set of regulations for business that are trying to grow through further investment in our city.

LOBET: The planning commission moved the Cleanup Greenup proposal forward. Among the many environmental justice veterans in attendance was Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment.

GALLEGOS: This will be the first time in the country that a regulatory entity has considered has cumulative impacts, the overall burden of pollution that a community faces in making its land use and regulatory decisions. That’s huge.

LOBET: Huge, advocates say, because there are polluted communities like this all over the country. For Living On Earth, Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC: Chuck brown “We The People” from the Very Best Of Chuck Brown (Raw Venture Records 2005)]

GELLERMAN: Just ahead: Celebrating bicycling – ridership is up in the US, but in Copenhagen, it’s the road less traveled. Keep listening to Living on Earth!

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: “Up From the Skies” from Gil Evans Plays The Music Of Jimi Hendrix (RCA Records 1975)]



San Fernando Valley Environmental Justice Group Pacoima Beautiful

Boyle Heights Environmental Justice Group Union de Vecinos

Wilmington, CA Environmental Justice Group Communities for a Better Environment

Method Developed by UC Berkeley, USC and Occidental College Manuel Pastor, Rachel Morello Frosh and Jim Sadd


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