By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Scientists are especially concerned about nitrogen oxide and "particulate matter," essentially a dust that sometimes can't be seen. Particulates can be metals, gas emissions from cars and trucks, tire rubber and tire-brake dust. When mothers like Fay Green and Aura Sanabria complain about never-ending "dust" that settles inside their apartments in the Puerta del Sol development next to the I-5, they are actually talking about particulate matter.
When kids breathe in this highly toxic particulate, it goes deep into their lungs and can cause long-term health problems.
After listening to researcher Gauderman, several City Council members sounded ready to act.
Council District 12 representative Greig Smith, from the San Fernando Valley, announced that he and Council District 1 representative Ed Reyes, from the city's Eastside, had put forth a motion to study the idea of changing zoning laws to discourage or stop new housing within 500 feet of freeways.
"Maybe we should change the way of doing things around here," Smith told Gauderman and his council colleagues. And City Council District 6 representative Tony Cardenas, also from the San Fernando Valley, declared, "We have a lot of issues in my district we'd like to address, but with science, in my opinion, it's the best way for us to create the best defense in order to defend the community."
Janice Hahn, who represents Council District 15 in San Pedro and is running this year for California's lieutenant governor as an environmental candidate, was even more forceful, announcing, "I think the time for studies is over. I think the time for action is now."
L.A.'s lawmakers talked a big game. But it was nothing more.
Councilman LaBonge, who set up Gauderman's visit to the City Council, concedes today that, after that downtown hearing nearly three years ago, the City Council did nothing. Smith and Reyes' motion to "look into" a 500-foot barrier zone between new homes and freeways never turned into anything substantive; Smith and Reyes recently declined to comment to the Weekly about their long-abandoned motion.
Within months of USC's appeal to the City Council, in fact, one of L.A.'s most brash examples of freeway-abutting housing, the Universal Lofts, rose in Cahuenga Pass at 3450 Cahuenga Blvd., with a banner exhorting Angelenos to both "live" and "work" in the pricey, corrugated metal–and–cinder block buildings.
City zoning approvals allowed the developer to cram his $4,000-per-month, three-bedroom apartments and $1 million condos into a strip of land no more than 20 feet from the 234,000 vehicles that rumble by daily on the Hollywood Freeway.
LaBonge says such housing will continue to rise because "environmental issues need to compete with all other issues," and averting a city fiscal disaster is the only thing on the City Council members' minds.
But critics say that hardly explains the City Council's failure to warn residents or to pursue better planning when the city was flush with funds. Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, says, "They can't ignore the science. It just can't be shunted off to the side because of the economic crisis."
LaBonge's logic probably wouldn't go over well with an activist parent like Elaine Lyles, whose daughter Itanza developed asthma when she was 10 years old — she's now a sophomore in college. Lyles, a commercial real estate broker, volunteers at a healthy-lungs advocacy organization, and she doesn't want any parent or child to go through the ordeals her family suffered.
For years, Lyles has lived near the 10 freeway in the South Robertson neighborhood; Itanza attended a nearby school. Years ago, upon receiving harrowing calls from school that her young daughter couldn't breathe, Lyles was told by her doctor that the girl had contracted asthma due to "pollutants in the atmosphere." The diagnosis changed Itanza Lyles' life.
"She would have difficulty breathing and I would tell her to calm down and be patient," Elaine Lyles recalls. She sometimes clashed with doctors, who pushed her daughter to scale back her athletic activities in order to improve her health. "But she's full of life and active, and she would get angry because she couldn't live life to the fullest."
Lyles witnessed Itanza suffer horrific asthma attacks, which can kill victims via suffocation, and she remains haunted by the fear that her daughter could die at anytime. A friend at church tragically lost a child during a severe asthma attack, devastating her and shocking the Lyles family. "Your kid can't get air," Lyles says. "You have as many inhalers as possible around, but you never know. As a parent, you're never free of the idea that your child could succumb."
Lyles' oldest daughter doesn't have asthma. The first five years of her life, when her tiny lungs were undergoing a critical stage of development, the Lyles family lived far from a major Los Angeles freeway, in the Hollywood Hills near Griffith Park. "It's probably why she has better lung health," Lyles says. Many scientists today would probably agree.
Percy Vaz, developer of the Lincoln Heights master-planned community where Fay Green and Aura Sanabria clean up thick "dust" in the Tesoro del Valle apartments, opposes a buffer zone between housing and freeway lanes. "I think there are apartment buildings just as susceptible on a major thoroughfare," says Vaz, a prominent local developer and founder of AMCAL Housing, which specializes in for-sale and rental affordable housing. "Would we have a buffer zone on Wilshire Boulevard? On a gut level, 500 feet is far overreaching."
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