A local city with a large industrial base, criss-crossed by freeways and railyards that is often sited as having some of the most polluted air in the region, has adopted a policy environmental advocates hope will make the city healthier for its residents.
At the Nov. 5th City of Commerce council meeting, elected officials voted to approve a Green Zones Policy supported by a city task force and local activists. Supporters said not only will the policy bring a healthier community; it will also create more local job opportunities in manufacturing, specifically in food production and artisan businesses.
Railyards, freeways and other industrial lands uses cause highly concentrated levels of pollution that affect the health of Commerce residents, workers and visitors, according to East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), an environmental health and justice organization backing the policy. Ongoing exposure to these toxins can aggravate asthma, cause pre-term births, low birth-weight babies, lung disease, heart attacks, cancer and premature death, according to East Yards, according to the Green Zones executive summary.
In a study by the California Environmental Protection Agency, Commerce was identified in the top 5 percent of communities in California with the highest pollution burdens and vulnerabilities.
Members of East Yard and Commerce residents were at the Nov. 5 council meeting to push for passage of the Green Zones Policy, a four-pillar plan that according to East Yard’s website will prevent toxic exposure to residents from new land uses; reduce the level of existing impacts through voluntary business collaborations, allowing participants to utilize less polluting equipment; revitalize local economic opportunities to contribute in a vibrant economy and increase of jobs, and reinvest in key boulevards to bolster business and quality of life opportunities.”
At the meeting, Commerce resident and East Yard member Toña Lupercio presented a petition with hundreds of signatures from community residents supporting the policy to the council. “This policy is critical and we need your leadership,” she told council members.
Three of the Green Zone policy initiatives were developed and sponsored by the city’s Green Zones Policy Working Group. The fourth, dealing with the issue of “prevention,” was added by East Yard, stating it is needed in order to stop the exposure of residents to toxic and harmful pollutants.
“The reason that the council did not include the [fourth] element that amends the zoning ordinance to create buffer zones, from my understanding, is that they did not fully understand the recommendation,” said Angelo Logan, member of East Yards.
The new green policy will amend city zoning law to restrict new toxic land-uses close to homes, schools, churches and senior centers.
After much deliberation, the council voted unanimously to approve the working group’s three original recommendations, but decided to conduct study sessions on East Yards recommended ordinance. This element is aimed to prevent new hazards that range from truck idling at truck stops and warehouses to chemical handling facilities.
“[East Yards] members are very exited that the council has decided to adopt three of the four elements and will consider the 4th one in the coming months.” Said Logan.
The approval of the Green Zone Policy will help reduce environmental dangers in the community, prevent pollution and revitalize neighborhoods through targeted economic development strategies, according to East Yard.
As part of its goal, the policy aims to create a protected zone around sensitive land use areas such as schools, playgrounds, homes, daycare and senior centers to improve public health.
The policy has been years in the making. In June 2011, Commerce’s Environmental Justice Advisory Task Force urged city officials to hold workshops to explore ways to maintain the city’s focus on businesses and industry, while also protecting the health of its nearly 13,000 residents.