In 2007 and 2008, scientists made rare trips to L.A. City Hall to warn the City Council and Planning Commission that allowing housing within a block of busy freeways was harming the lungs of untold numbers of children. These top USC researchers explained that dense waves of tiny, invisible particulates — metal, rubber and other pollutants — were the cause of the problem. The terrible cost of erecting apartments and condos along L.A. freeways, the researchers said, resulted in high rates of lifelong lung damage, found in their longitudinal studies of thousands of children.
Yet in nine years, what has the Los Angeles City Council, mayor or Planning Commission done to stop greed-driven developers from building any more of what L.A. Weekly in 2010 dubbed “Black Lung Lofts”? When it comes to anything of substance, they’ve done absolutely nothing.
That shouldn’t be surprising. Deep-pocketed developers, who contribute heavily to the campaigns and pet projects of the City Council and mayor, have tight control over land-use policy and the development-approval system at City Hall. It doesn’t matter to developers if grade-schoolers contract lifelong asthma. If developers can make millions off apartment and condo complexes designed for families next to the 101, I-5 and 405 freeways, so be it.
Today, at least seven freeway-adjacent projects with housing have been proposed in L.A., and far more have already been allowed. These projects include the SOLA Village mega-project with 895 housing units in Historic South Central near the Santa Monica Freeway, which needs a City Hall-approved zoning change; a 102-unit residential complex at 788 W. College Street in Chinatown near the Arroyo Seco Parkway; and the massive “Ferrante” project with about 1,500 housing units at 1000 W. Temple Street that’s located directly across the Harbor Freeway.
They also include a mixed-use project with live/work lofts and low-income housing at 2626 N. Lacy Street in Lincoln Heights near the Golden State Freeway and the Arroyo Seco Parkway; a 410-unit residential complex with mixed-use at 3433 N. Pasadena Avenue in Lincoln Heights near the Arroyo Seco Parkway; the NoHo West mega-project with 742 housing units at 6150 N. Laurel Canyon Boulevard near the Hollywood Freeway; and a 22-story residential high-rise with 299 units at 469 N. Grand Avenue in the downtown area near the 101 Freeway.
That’s more than 4,000 residential units that are freeway-adjacent. Children, senior citizens and the infirm are all at high risk of coming down with serious respiratory illnesses. And pregnant women who live in such housing have a greater-than-normal risk of delivering premature babies, according to a UCLA study.
While many of these cater to the rich, many cater to working-class Latinos. It’s our understanding that City Hall still does not require developers to inform families that they are about to move into housing that permanently hurts children’s lungs.
Since the City Council and mayor have shown no interest in seriously addressing such a public health time-bomb, developers keep proposing freeway-adjacent residential projects so they can make huge profits.
With the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which requires a systematic update of L.A.’s outdated 1996 General Plan, community activists and social justice environmentalists can demand that the City Council and mayor finally take action and protect children, senior citizens, the infirm and pregnant women. L.A.’s politicians should put people before profits and campaign contributions.