How many times have you passed an apartment complex perched next to a freeway and thought, "There but for the grace of God (or my parents, education, luck, etc.) go I"? Those times have likely increased in recent years, as the city has continued to build schools and housing on freeway-adjacent vacant lots despite the obvious health hazards. Last week's cover story, "Black Lung Lofts," by Patrick Range McDonald (March 6), showed that "many children being raised in L.A.'s hip, new freeway-adjacent housing are damaged for life." One reader, John, provides some context:
"This has been a problem since the 1940s, when freeways cut down the Arroyo and people had their backyards up against them. Then in the '50s the freeways cut across Boyle Heights and East L.A. and Monterey Park and West Adams, cutting right through residential communities, leaving some houses literally less than 10 feet from the freeway, and 30 feet from moving traffic. Nobody gave a damn, because it was the working class and people of color being affected. Years later, asthma risk seemed to be so much higher for lower-income children than others."
Asthma Sufferer, for one, is grateful: "Thank you, L.A. Weekly, for this excellent article. We can't depend on our 'green' mayor or our 'green' planning director found at every 'green' conference to care about the public's health. With this information about health risks, people can now make informed choices about living next to freeways."
Sure, says D. Notsonice not so nicely, but what took us so long? "God, you Californios are dense as hell. What did you expect living right next to a major thoroughfare? Fresh air, a lack of particulate monoxide and health benefits?"
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"Kudos," writes Jesse Broehl, "but too bad it wasn't until page four that you mentioned UCLA's University Village. I would wager a guess that far more children live in this enormous complex on both sides of the 405 than all those in the downtown complexes so exhaustively detailed. The real children's black lung tragedy is here. Every couple months, I'll wipe down a mysterious black dust from all the window sills and I know exactly what it is: It's a damaging, disgusting mix of particulates from the freeway less than 200 feet away.
"The same airborne sludge is being ingested by children and adults alike along this freeway as we work, play and sleep. So persistent is the traffic on the eight-lane highway just over the wall, it sounds like the waves I heard relentlessly crashing ashore in coastal Maine when I was younger. It infuriates me that UCLA would have chosen this asthma/cancer alley for its family housing complex."
The real problem, asserts Sunyoung Yang, is that neither "Mayor V nor the rest of the City Council ever challenges developer interests. When did the health of children become second class to jobs or developers' pockets? The city's corruption will have lifelong impacts on our health and children if communities don't organize and fight back — we need to strongly pressure and do our own community 'lobby' just as developers do to the politicians to get anything changed in this city."
But Tornadoes28 wonders what, exactly, our leaders are supposed to do about this problem: "There are some studies that state even up to within a mile of the freeway is unhealthy. Should the city not allow any new housing within one mile of all freeways? And what happens when a study comes out about the negative health effects of living near a busy street or intersection? Does L.A. Weekly really believe that once you pass a 500-foot buffer you will be okay? Silly."
Central to the issue, says Kate, is that "there are so many contradictory positions taken by the elected officials of Los Angeles. They claim to be 'green' but whether intended or not, have acted opposite to what they preach. The push for high-density development is overburdening the infrastructure, ignores the reality of water supply to Los Angeles and grows the automobile population instead of promoting public transportation."
Appropriately, let's give the final word to Jane Warner, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in California: "We know these are difficult days economically, [but] building housing near freeways fails to account for the long-term health and economic impacts on Angelenos. Our elected leaders, however apologetic, must recognize the huge economic and human toll — emergency-room trips, hospital admissions, doctors' visits, lost school and work days — created by acute episodes and chronic illnesses caused by living too close to freeways.
"The American Lung Association in California supports the California Air Resources Board (CARB) guidelines calling for limited development within 500 feet of freeways. Our own State of the Air Report demonstrates that our state, particularly Los Angeles County, continues to struggle with significant air pollution that causes serious harm to the health and well-being of our citizens and costs the region millions. We call on the mayor and City Council to put public health as a priority in considering projects near freeways, and at a minimum to adopt the CARB land-use guidelines regarding building housing near freeways. We urge all Angelenos to join us in the Fight for Air by visiting our Web site: www.californialung.org."
THANK GOODNESS FOR GAYS!
In a rather delayed response to Patrick Range McDonald's coverage regarding the out TV director Todd Holland ("Todd Holland's Advice to Play It Straight," July 23, 2009), Candice Bond writes to share the love: "Thank goodness for gays. When I found my son, after searching for 37 years, he asked if I would still love him if he were gay. My reply was, 'Thank God you are gay!' I worried he may have been a Mormon polygamist, as he was adopted out at birth. Hoorah for Todd Holland!"
Wonder what Candice would have said if her son asked if she would still love him if he were a Mormon polygamist?
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