This spring, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a groundbreaking policy to reduce pollution in a set of low-income neighborhoods that have historically been toxic “hot spots.” The ordinance, Clean Up Green Up, will address the overconcentration of polluting land uses—such as auto dismantlers, granite cutters, oil operations, diesel truck depots, warehouses, and factories—in the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Wilmington, and Pacoima and Sun Valley. The City Council also adopted new citywide standards for air filters in new developments alongside freeways.
“Clean Up Green Up is proof positive that healthy, equitable land use can be intentionally produced through strategic multi-sector policy action,” said Elva Yanez, Prevention Institute’s Director of Health Equity. “Policies like this can be implemented anywhere in the nation with similar incompatible land uses.”
For decades, these primarily low-income communities of color have suffered the health consequences—high rates of asthma, cancer and other chronic diseases, and an increased risk of premature death—that come with living next door to toxic polluters, she added.
“These toxic hot spots reflect a nationwide pattern that people of color disproportionately bear the bulk of the total burden of pollution exposure and corresponding health risks. Data on exposure to air toxins in California demonstrate that LA area residents suffer from higher cancer risks, and the areas of highest risk are located in predominately Latino and African-American neighborhoods. These are the same communities that have suffered from inadequate land-use planning, persistent disinvestment, and lack of health-promoting resources and infrastructure,” Elva said.
That’s why Los Angeles needs Clean Up Green Up—to protect health, especially the health of those communities most impacted by environmental health hazards and those people most sensitive to the effects of concentrated pollution: children, the elderly, and the chronically ill. Not surprisingly, other jurisdictions have already contacted the City of Los Angeles to learn more about how this legislative model balances regulatory measures with economic incentives for business.
The Clean Up Green Up ordinance will use traditional planning tools and other safeguards to prevent or reduce stationary sources of pollution adjacent to homes, schools, and other sensitive sites. It will also provide technical assistance and financial incentives to businesses in these neighborhoods that want to clean up their operations. In addition, the program will connect local businesses with local, state, and federal resources—business planning support, low-interest loans, help navigating tax issues—and streamline city permitting processes.
Prevention Institute applauds the hard work and dedication of the LA Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice in securing this victory. The Collaborative – Communities for a Better Environment, Pacoima Beautiful, Union de Vecinos, Coalition for a Safe Environment, the Liberty Hill Foundation, and academic researchers – built upon years of organizing around local environmental justice issues in proactively developing the policy framework that inspired the City of Los Angeles’s model ordinance.
“From engaging residents in participatory action research and every step of the policy development process to building a diverse, multi-sector coalition and undertaking extensive stakeholder education about the problem and proposed policy solutions – inside and outside of City Hall – the Collaborative waged a strategic and comprehensive campaign that left no stone unturned,” PI Managing Director Manal Aboelata said.