Clarendon Street

Will LA City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti Approve a ‘Black Lung Loft’ Mega-Project in Woodland Hills?

In Archive by Patrick Range McDonald

AMCAL Multi-Housing, Inc. wants to build 335 apartments next to the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills, although scientific studies have shown that freeway-adjacent housing, also known as “Black Lung Lofts,” can be extremely unhealthy for children and pregnant women. Since the mega-project seeks height district and zone changes, the developer needs approvals from the L.A. City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti. What will they do?

So far, City Hall politicians and bureaucrats haven’t shown much concern for Black Lung Lofts, with numerous freeway-adjacent housing complexes approved by City Hall or in the pipeline — and slated for such neighborhoods as Historic South Central, North Hollywood and the downtown area.

Yet top USC researchers informed the City Council in 2007 that housing within a block of a freeway can cause serious respiratory illnesses for children. UCLA also released a high-profile study that found pregnant women living in Black Lung Lofts were more likely to have premature babies. The City Council responded by doing next to nothing.

Now, AMCAL wants to build a five-story mega-residential complex known as the Clarendon apartments at 22055-22147 Clarendon Street in Woodland Hills near Topanga Canyon Boulevard. L.A. Daily News columnist Susan Shelley recently noted:

The Clarendon apartments would be so close to the freeway that if you lived on the north side of the complex you might not be able to step out of the shower without signaling to the right-hand lane that you’re naked and you’re merging.

AMCAL and its politically connected founder, Percy Vaz, have a history of building near freeways. AMCAL constructed an apartment complex in Lincoln Heights next to the I-5 Freeway, and Vaz and AMCAL representatives have contributed $9,050 in campaign cash to L.A. politicians since 2005, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that Black Lung Lofts are hazardous for children and pregnant women, Vaz nonchalantly told L.A. Weekly in 2010: “If you’re buying a home near a freeway, you know it’s there. The freeway is hitting you in the face. Most people are buying and renting because there is a freeway.”

Many people, though, don’t know of the significant health risks — and developers in L.A. are not required to inform their tenants. 

Vaz’s Clarendon apartments is located in L.A. City Council District 3, which is represented by Bob Blumenfield, and the project continues to work its way through the City Hall approval process.

So far, residents living near the proposed mega-project have been most concerned about an increase in traffic. The health impacts of building 335 apartments next to the 101 Freeway have received little public attention, but Blumenfield and his colleagues on the City Council know better. Will they approve the project anyway?

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