After years of alarming studies and news coverage, the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have failed to meaningfully address the devastating health impacts to residents who live in freeway-adjacent housing. At a recent City Hall meeting, Coalition to Preserve L.A. and other community groups urged council members to finally take action.
“There’s an urgent need to develop new and ambitious targets and rules for reducing freeway exposure,” said Michele Prichard of Liberty Hill Foundation, a social justice group.
“Living near multiple freeways, as we do in Pacoima,” said Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, deputy director of Pacoima Beautiful, an environmental justice group in the northeast San Fernando Valley, “is an urban planning death sentence.”
On June 20, the council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee looked into current city practices for handling freeway pollution impacts on nearby communities. The meeting revealed a shameful secret: There are no citywide programs that effectively mitigate freeway-adjacent pollution and protect the public’s health.
Yet the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have been aware since at least 2007 that freeway-adjacent housing, widely known as “Black Lung Lofts,” seriously endangers the health of youngsters. USC’s landmark Children’s Health Study, which was first published in 2004, proves beyond a doubt that kids are highly vulnerable to lifelong respiratory illnesses when living within 500 feet of a freeway.
In addition, other scientific studies have shown that pregnant women and senior citizens face dangerous health impacts when living in freeway-adjacent housing. L.A. Weekly, in 2010, and the Los Angeles Times, in 2017, have also sounded the public health alarm.
The City Council and Mayor Garcetti, however, have failed to implement important policies. They have not created buffer zones so that developers can’t build new housing within 500 feet of a freeway, and they have not instituted a mandatory notification system in which developers must inform prospective tenants of freeway-adjacent health hazards.
Instead, the City Council and Mayor Garcetti keep approving Black Lung Lofts, such as NoHo West (642 units) next to the 170 Freeway in North Hollywood and Clarendon Street Apartments (335 units) next to the 101 Freeway in Woodlands Hills.
Developers and politicians try to brush things aside by talking up air filtration systems, but that technology does not adequately capture the steady rush of unhealthy particulate matter from busy freeways. Those extremely small particles then go deep into a child’s or pregnant woman’s lungs and wreak havoc.
Unsurprisingly, developers have long been top political patrons in L.A. — and have outsized influence at City Hall. Since 2000, they have contributed at least $6 million in campaign cash to city politicians.
At the PLUM meeting, Miki Jackson, of Coalition to Preserve L.A., put the council members on notice.
“Knowing what you know,” she said, “being informed of how dangerous [freeway-adjacent housing] is, and allowing it to go forward could set the city up for some interesting lawsuits.”
East Hollywood activist Doug Haines, whose neighborhood sits along the 101 Freeway, said, “We must prohibit all new [housing] construction next to freeways.”
And Chris Chavez, deputy policy director of Coalition for Clean Air, said his group “urges the City Council to work with the environmental community in developing the [planning department] report… to help ensure that the recommendations in the report are as effective as possible.”
Coalition to Preserve L.A. agrees. We insist that residents and community groups are not only allowed to give input about recommendations, but are given a decision-making role in the creation of citywide policies for freeway-adjacent housing.