Mayor Eric Garcetti must lead and finally take action in protecting the public’s health from the serious hazards of freeway-adjacent housing, also called “black lung lofts.” Garcetti has known about the awful impacts of building new housing next to freeways since 2007, but has failed to act as the one-time City Council president and now as mayor.
On Sunday, July 9, a disturbing new Los Angeles Times investigation of Mayor Garcetti’s embrace of black lung lofts has laid open a system of buck-passing and internal disarray, with the mayor defending freeway-adjacent housing as legally untouchable because it’s “in the pipeline.”
Black lung lofts are apartments built within 500 feet, or about a block, of a freeway, where high numbers of children end up with lifelong lung damage and serious health problems increase.
USC researchers and others have proved those facts definitively.
Mayor Eric Garcetti is dissembling about why he continues to wave off the growing public health crisis, and championed the construction of/approval of 4,000 more of these dangerous units in 2015 alone.
The mayor’s political appointees on the City Planning Commission have repeatedly placed this housing “in the pipeline,” to then be repeatedly rubber-stamped by the City Council.
More than that, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s commissioners and his City Planning management have repeatedly recommended financial favors — known as “spot zoning” — that encourage developers to build black lung lofts on land where housing is flatly prohibited by Community Plans, Specific Plans or other zoning protections.
Mayor Garcetti was warned in 2007 by USC researchers, when he was City Council president, that the city must stop approving housing next to freeways. Under Garcetti, the City Council ignored the seminal USC Children’s Health Study.
In March, the L.A. Times reported that Garcetti “opposes any restrictions on how many homes can be built near freeways and thinks that improving air-filtration, building design and tailpipe emissions are a better way to reduce risks to residents.”
What studies is the mayor reading?
We urge Mayor Eric Garcetti to come clean about his wrongheadedness on black lung lofts in the wake of Sunday’s L.A. Times troubling new revelations, including:
— The mayor has touted a recent Building and Safety Department requirement that air filters be installed. But nobody at City Hall was asked to monitor whether developers obey.
— Air filters lose much of their benefit unless an apartment’s heating, AC or ventilation is running “at all times, with all doors and windows closed” — a virtual impossibility.
— Mayor Garcetti has not communicated to people under him that it’s a public health crisis. A Building and Safety spokesman told the Times, regarding air filters, “it would be counterproductive to document every little thing that we approve.”
— The filters required by L.A. are criticized by researchers as failing to stop toxic gases.
According to top researchers, there is no way to ensure the health of people, especially children, who move to the housing the mayor, City Council and City Planning are allowing to be placed within 500 feet of freeways.
In 2010, L.A. Weekly reported that top researchers from USC traveled to City Hall to personally plead that L.A. stop approving black lung lofts.
A decade later, in the spring of 2017, researcher Scott Fruin of USC’s Keck School of Medicine, told a teleconference of L.A. journalists that top researchers had tried to get serious action from Los Angeles City Hall for years.
But as mayor, Garcetti has instead ratcheted up a system of special favors for developers, to assure that such housing has exploded along the freeways.
Although the Times story published today did not delve into this issue, many of the 4,000 new units approved in 2015 required a Zone Change, General Plan Amendment, or other special zoning favors.
“Mayor Garcetti’s comment to L.A. Times reporters today, that he has directed city staff to ‘look into how L.A. zoning can be changed to protect the public health,’ is a shame to see,” said Coalition to Preserve L.A. executive director Jill Stewart.
“Is the mayor suggesting to the L.A. Times that city staff can somehow stop the mayor, the Planning Commission and City Council from supporting spot zoning next to freeways?”
One of the most recent approvals was Clarendon Street Apartments, luxury housing to be erected 60 feet from the 101 Freeway. The city showered the developer with lucrative favors, letting him ignore local zoning, the Community Plan, and the Cahuenga-Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan, all of which ban housing on the site.
City Hall should not allow developers to build new housing within 500 feet of a freeway, and the city should institute a mandatory notification system in which developers and landlords must inform tenants of freeway-adjacent health hazards.