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Community Research in South LA Reveals What the City and State Miss – Residents Live in Proximity to Hazardous Land Uses that Often Fly Under the Regulation Radar

By Jazmine Johnson

As a resident approached the large building, he pointed towards it and declared, “That building used to be a bread factory, but it closed down and was converted into a community center many years ago.” He also noted that the much smaller building adjacent to it used to serve as the factory’s storefront, but now accommodates various uses such as the textile work that appeared to be taking place inside at the moment. The resident was walking the streets with advocates to verify what hazardous industries existed in his community, and in the span of a single block, he had already identified four errors in the location and existence of industries that the city did not capture in their data.

Whether it’s near a gas station, a dry cleaner, or an auto body shop, many residents of South and Southeast Los Angeles live, work, play, study, and worship within dangerous proximity to a hazardous land use. While the government sees these low level polluters as effectively harmless to the surrounding communities, research has shown that the cumulative burden of living in close proximity to such uses results in negative health outcomes for those around them. Furthermore, there are myriad hazardous facilities that have not yet been identified by the regulatory agencies charged with monitoring and regulating them, leaving the government with an inaccurate understanding of just how grave the problem is. The consequences of these circumstances are demonstrated by the identification of both communities as being among the top 10% of overburdened communities in the entire state, according to the Cal EPA’s California Environmental Screeening Tool.

PSR-LA’s 500 Feet Project aims to better understand the reality described above, and work with community advocates and residents to craft solutions. In the month of July, we hosted workshops in collaboration with TRUST South LA and SCOPE to help educate the residents of South and Southeast Los Angeles about the effects of poor land use planning and to gather local knowledge of what specific hazards exist in communities. While government data exists, it is often inaccurate or outdated. One method to refine this data is ground truthing – a process where residents utilize local knowledge to gather accurate data about what hazardous and sensitive uses actually exist in their neighborhood. Following the initial workshops, residents spent several days walking their neighborhoods in order to verify existing government data. After just one afternoon of walks, dozens of industrial and sensitive uses had been added to and removed from the list of “official” data.

The ground truthing workshops are just one piece of a much greater collaborative effort that is the 500 Feet Project. In addition to engaging in the South and Southeast LA community planning process, PSR-LA is taking the initiative to come up with recommendations that address the issue of incompatible land use head-on. We have formed a policy working group made up of community organizers, acamdemic experts, and health professionals, who will use the data and insight collected from the ground truthing workshops to develop policy solutions aimed at reducing and eliminating the effects of hazardous uses sited near sensitive ones. Over the course of the next several months, PSR-LA will continue ground truthing and gathering information in order to generate ideas about ways to clean up South and Southeast Los Angeles. For more information about the 500 Feet Project or ways to get involved, reach out to Jazmine Johnson at jjohnson@psr-la.org.