Health Concerns Weigh Heavy on East L.A. Residents

June 25, 2015 by · 5 Comments 

At a meeting in East Los Angeles Saturday, resident after resident voiced concern that a “plague” of pollution and health issues could rain down on their predominately Latino neighborhoods if they are forced to endure more light rail construction.

Their comments came during a public hearing at Griffith Middle School on Metro’s draft environmental report and study on alternatives for closing the gap between the Long Beach (710) and Pasadena (210) freeways.

[Read an introduction to the SR-710 project here]

Earlier that week, Martha Hernandez attended a meeting at Centro Maravilla in East L.A. with USC-Medical Center doctors who explained the substantial health risks tied to pollution.

“We were told air pollution causes asthma, diabetes, autism, and other illnesses,” she told EGP in Spanish.

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

Like Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, many people at the meeting believe they are the victims of environmental racism and injustice, and were given little say on a project that could tear up their community.

[Read her full statement here]

“I’ve had enough of those who want to continue taking advantage of East L.A. because we are Latinos,” said Carmen Gonzalez, who lives near Mednik and Third Street, where a light rail station would be built if this option is selected.

Speakers said past transportation projects have already left them exposed to high levels of toxic pollution.

“I have asthma and it’s harder for me to play football,” said Garfield High School student Timothy Williams.

“Think about the health of our children, emissions affect our community,” another speaker said.

“Air quality hasn’t been studied yet” but should be before anything is decided, said eastside resident Lili Hernandez.

Lea este artículo en Español: SR-710: Residentes del Este de Los Ángeles Preocupados por Su Salud

Living in an area with high levels of traffic pollution can lead to serious illnesses, according to a recent infographic, Living Near Busy Roads or Traffic Pollution, shared by the USC Environmental Health Center.

The infographic shows that women who are pregnant are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, giving birth to low-weight and/or premature babies, who in turn have higher levels of behavior or learning problems and autism; smaller lungs, asthma, ear, nose, throat infections and obesity. In adults, long-term exposure to pollution can lead to higher levels of heart disease, stroke, lung problems, memory loss and a shorter life span, the report found.

“We have schools, parks, the senior apartments and businesses” close to where they want to build the light rail, and there’s no doubt that’s harmful, Gonzalez told EGP in Spanish.

Before the meeting started, stakeholders were able to review maps and other documents pertaining to the five alternatives under consideration in the Draft EIR. They also had the chance to grill Metro staff about the plans.

One group of women directed their frustration at a Metro representative, questioning him about a now retired Metro employee’s assertion that metal scrapings from the elevated train – two stories high in some sections – would be released into the air and breathed in by unsuspecting residents.

Rudy Torres owns a business in East Los Angeles and says he supports the building of a 710 tunnel. He says, “It is the only [option] that doesn’t put a burden on East L.A. and cost life.”

The East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is actively fighting the light rail option, which they say will do nothing to relieve traffic on the 710 Freeway but will disrupt life on the eastside. The business group says a tunnel connecting the 710 to the 210 Freeway is a better solution for traffic reduction that will not be as harmful to the East L.A. community. “It will improve the flow of traffic and decrease traffic on surface streets north of Valley Boulevard, therefore reducing pollution in our local communities,” the Chamber states.

A little further south on the 710 corridor is the City of Commerce. The city’s residents on a daily basis experience the impact of diesel exhaust from the nearly 47,000 trucks that travel the 710 freeway everyday, and as many as 1,000 trucks an hour on the city’s main streets.

The daily exposure to high levels of exhaust causing pollution has raised Commerce residents’ risk for cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Last October, Commerce approved a resolution strongly supporting the effort to close the 4.5-mile gap “as soon as possible.” City officials believe completion of the freeway will alleviate traffic in local neighborhoods, generate economic development and create jobs in the region.

On Tuesday, Commerce unveiled one of the 20 the new “No Idling” signs that will be placed throughout the city targeting truck drivers who leave their engines running while stopped in the city.

Mayor Lilia Leon calls closing the 710 a much-needed regional effort to improve transportation. “Because there is not a connector, everybody ends up in Commerce,” Leon said. “If there was one, probably they would keep going on the 710,” she told EGP. “I’m sure it will alleviate the traffic flow,” she said.

Councilman Jose Huizar (CD14), who represents El Sereno, an L.A. neighborhood that has for decades been at the forefront of efforts to block the 710 expansions, disagrees.

On his website he states that he strongly opposes the 710 freeway expansion and believes a “multi-modal approach” — which could includes things like street light synchronization and dedicated bus lanes — is the better alternative to alleviate traffic.

“I oppose any option that disrupts the community of El Sereno or brings additional traffic to the area. The five alternatives in the Draft 710 EIR fall woefully short in my opinion,” Huizar told EGP via email.

“Working with local stakeholders and community groups, my office has begun the process of asking El Sereno and the surrounding communities a question that no one has asked them up until now: What do they want? What traffic improvements can we make locally that help, serve and advance the community of El Sereno?” Huizar said.

The councilman hosted a meeting on the SR-710 alternatives in El Sereno last week, which according to his spokesperson Rick Coca was “well-attended.” The “focus was entirely on truly listening to local residents to get their feedback – something that has been lacking in this process,” said Coca.

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

If the light rail train is constructed, 15 businesses will have to be moved and the new East LA Civic Center Plaza would be replaced with a train station. About 155 employees would lose their jobs according to the website East LA Against Injustice and Racism. Nueva Maravilla Public Housing and Kipp Raices Charter School—which will open in the fall—could also be taken.

Several residents told Metro that more studies and health assessments must be made before they reach a decision.

In the past “People proposed a lot of ideas that were ignored said East L.A. resident Luis Garcia.

The deadline to submit comments has been extended until August 5th.

 

Comments will be accepted by mail addressed to Garret Damrath, Caltrans Division 7, Division of Environmental Planning, 100 South Main Street MS-16, Los Angeles CA 90012

The full study is available at 

http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis

The document can be viewed at the Caltrans District Office, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

To read more about the SR-710, go to www.EGPNews.com.

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jgarcia@egpnews.com

 

 

 

710 Freeway Extension Report Released

March 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Caltrans and Metro released a draft environmental study of proposals to address the 4.5-mile gap between the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena and the end of the Long Beach (710) Freeway in East Los Angeles.

The five alternatives proposed in the draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement are:

—a traffic management system to upgrade and synchronize signals and improvements to local street intersections to more quickly move traffic that exits the dead-end freeway;

—a rapid bus line featuring high frequency service with minimal stops and potentially a dedicated bus lane;

—a light rail to carry passengers between East Los Angeles and Pasadena; and

—a freeway tunnel that would extend the 710 Freeway.

—and the required “no build” option that would leave conditions as they are;

No decisions have been made on any proposed alternative in the report, said Paul Gonzales of Metro. He said

However, opponents of the project say they believe the decision will ultimately come down to the tunnel alternative.

Janet Ervin from the “No 710 Action Committee” told EGP that the instead of relieving traffic in the area it will become a new bottleneck attracting more congestion.

“You can’t build your way out of traffic,” she said.

But proponents of the project like Celine Cordero of the 710 Coalition believe the freeway must be completed as soon as possible in order to “close the gap” in the region.

“The 710 Coalition supports the freeway tunnel because it will reduce the most cut through traffic in local neighborhoods and create over 40,000 jobs,” she said in an email. “Polling has also shown majority support in LA County for completing the freeway.”

Last year, in a letter addressed to 710 Coalition members, Commerce Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio said the city “strongly” supports the completion of the gap between the 710 and 210 freeways.

“For far too long, residents of our community have experienced its fair share of unnecessary traffic congestions,” the letter read.

The mayor pointed to the improvement to regional transportation, economic development, creation of jobs and alleviation of traffic in local neighborhoods as reasons for their support.

Joanne Nucklos, a longtime South Pasadena resident and member of No 710 Action Committee, told EGP she is concerned with some of the routes the alternatives propose.

“El Sereno has gotten the short end of the stick,” she said, referring to anticipated disruption to local neighborhoods and businesses due to construction in the area.

Several people have complained that the 120-day public comment period, which began last Friday with the release of the report, is too short, noting that entire report, including all the studies and appendices total more than 26,000 pages.

“They expect us lay people to understand it and question,” in a short time, said Ervin. “While they had years to create it.”

Caltrans and Metro will hold three public meeting where people will be able to review the documents, including maps, and ask questions about the proposals and submit comments.

Caltrans is “looking forward to receiving valuable input from communities and the public on this critically important transportation issue that has affected not only this area, but the region, for decades,” said the agency’s District 7 Director, Carrie Bowen.

“The feedback we receive is a vital part of the project development process and helps inform the selection of a preferred alternative,” Bowen said.

The first two public hearings have been scheduled:

—Saturday, April 11, at the Rosco C. Ingalls Auditorium on the campus of East Los Angeles College, with a map viewing from 10-11 a.m. and a public hearing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and

—Tuesday, April 14, at the Pasadena Convention Center, with a map viewing from 5-6 p.m. and a public hearing from 7-9 p.m.

A third public meeting will be scheduled later, according to Metro.

Metro is encouraging the public to attend the public hearings and to  the document at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis .

The public comment period ends July 6.

The full document can also be viewed at the Caltrans District Office, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Copies are also available at public libraries listed here: http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/.

An EIR is required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, and an EIS fulfills requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The laws require government agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions, and to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects.

Information from public comments will be weighed before preparing the final environmental document, Gonzales said.

Altogether, about 26 detailed technical studies are included in the Draft EIR/EIS, Gonzales said.

Through the process of compiling the Draft EIR/EIS, Metro and Caltrans conducted 92 community meetings, participated in six city-sponsored community forums, and held over 200 briefings with community stakeholders.

EGP staff writer Nancy Martinez contributed to this report.

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