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Monday, Oct 2, 2023

Another View on Timing of Clean-Air Regulations

In regard to the Business Journal’s commentary in the print edition of Jan. 1 [“No Time Like Present for Forward Focus”], I am in agreement that the clearest way out of the air pollution mess we have in Los Angeles is clean technology.

But that is easier said than done.

The Los Angeles region has the worst air pollution in the nation, and that is not changing anytime soon. But there is hope. Last year, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a long-term strategy to achieve clean air for Southern California by 2030. The key sticking point is how to pay for it. The plan needs approximately $1 billion dollars each year for the next 15 years to achieve the clean air that Southern Californians have been demanding since the 1940s.

The state’s air regulator has long advised against development in areas that posed the greatest risk.

In 2005, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued guidance advising cities and counties to not build close to pollution sources or within 500 feet of freeways. But last year CARB revised that guidance. Instead of continuing to recommend against building so close to freeways, it now prioritizes design solutions such as air filters, sound walls and vegetation to reduce residents’ exposure to vehicle pollution.

Exposure to freeway traffic pollution is a stark reality in Southern California. According to a Los Angeles Times estimate, more than 2.5 million residents in Southern California live within 1,000 feet of a freeway. Many Angelenos may have chosen to live close to an onramp to make their commute quicker, but they probably had no idea that living so close to high-traffic roadways and freeways can be harmful to their health and the health of their family members.

Emissions from vehicles are most greatly concentrated closest to a freeway. Depending on the terrain and time of day, the highest levels are generally within 500 feet. Those who live, work or attend a school close to a freeway (or a high-volume roadway) face a greater risk of suffering from asthma, reduced lung function and heart disease. Children face an even greater risk of health problems, including impaired lung development because their lungs are not fully developed, and they are often more active than adults.

So until our region is able to phase out highly-polluting, heavy-duty diesel trucks, trains and off-road vehicles, installing air filters, vegetation and sound walls is the least we can do to offset the air pollution we face in our region – the very least.

But they must not be the only things we do.

Establishing buffer zones along freeways, despite what CARB recommends, is necessary. While CARB does not have the authority to prevent development within 500 feet of freeways, local cities do. Cities should be stepping up to put the health of their residents before any consideration for developers seeking to fill every square foot of possible developable property along freeways with residential construction.

Yes, clean technology is the ultimate answer to our air pollution challenge, but it will take time and money. And if we don’t find the money, it will take even more time.

So, as we wait until our air is as clean as it can be, we must do what we can to protect public health, and that means curbing freeway-adjacent residential development.

Marc Carrel is president and chief executive of Miracle Mile-based nonprofit BREATHE California of Los Angeles County.

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