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In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues are intertwined with the health, culture, livability and strength of a community, Streetsblog and The California Endowment teamed to bring Streetsblog’s coverage to a hyper-local level in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman is Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and oversees work in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Her work and that of our former Boyle Heights-specific writer Kris Fortin can be found here. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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Exide: Can’t Put Together Proper Closure Plan but Absolves Itself of Blame for Massive Public Health Disaster

The Expanded Assessment Area to the south of the Exide plant (located just across the river, at Bandini and Indiana. Source: DTSC

The Expanded Assessment Area to the south of Exide’s now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling plant (located across the river and just outside the frame, at Bandini and Indiana) where officials have found discernible patterns of lead contamination as well as the presence of a lead alloy that both point to Exide as the source of the contamination. Source: DTSC

“I want you to take a good look at me,” the fragile-looking young man with a curved spine, hunched shoulders, and gangly arms addressed members of the Exide Community Advisory Committee (CAC), representatives of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and Department of Public Health (DPH), and concerned residents and environmental justice advocates from the communities surrounding Exide Technologies’ now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling facility.

“I look 13 years old, but I am 25.”

Anthony Gutierrez had grown up in Maywood, three-quarters of a mile from the Vernon facility. Like many present at the meeting, he believed his health had suffered for it. Cancer, rotting teeth, lead-related health issues, and other ailments had rendered him so sick that the Make-A-Wish Foundation — a charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses — had even sent him on a trip to Hawaii.

Although he, his mother, and his sister had recently moved to a one-bedroom apartment slightly farther away from Exide (but still on the northern edge of the Southern Sampling Area, seen above), new projections that lead emissions may have reached as many as 10,000 properties within a 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius around the facility meant that he still might not be safe.

DTSC ordered that further soil sampling be conducted outside the initial and expanded assessment areas. Samples were thus taken along the transect "Y" lines to determine how far lead dust had traveled. Source: DTSC

DTSC ordered that further soil sampling be conducted outside the initial (blue boxes) and expanded (green boxes and blown-up areas in images at top and below) assessment areas. An additional 351 samples were thus taken from 146 properties both within the 7500′ radius and along the Y-shaped transect lines to determine how far lead dust had traveled from Exide’s facilities (red block, at center). Source: DTSC

Noting he was recovering from a recent brain surgery, he said, “The sad part is [even though Exide has been shut down] I’m still being exposed to lead and arsenic and God knows what else,” and reiterated the need for the clean-up of lead-contaminated properties to pick up the pace.

It was a sentiment shared by the overwhelming majority of the attendees at last Thursday’s CAC meeting. They had been alarmed, but not necessarily surprised, by DTSC’s recent announcement that preliminary results of soil testing in expanded areas north and south of the plant suggested that Exide’s emissions deposited lead dust across a much wider swath of East and Southeast Los Angeles than previously estimated.

What concerned the stakeholders was whether DTSC would be able to secure the (potentially) hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to test and clean the affected homes falling within the newly-identified 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius around the facility (variable due to the prevailing winds, see illustration after the jump). Read more…

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Challenge Grant Winners in Boyle Heights and South L.A. Race Against the Clock to Raise Project Funds, Build Networks

Shouldn't all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Shouldn’t all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Twenty-three days is not a lot of time to get community buy-in on a complete streets pop-up event/project and raise $10,000 in support of it. Especially in lower-income communities like Boyle Heights and parts of South L.A., where the stakeholders who would ideally be buying into the projects tend to be less familiar with concepts like “tactical urbanism,” are generally of lesser means, and/or are often unreachable via a social media campaign (or wholly unable to make online payments to it).

But the three sets of groups that won Great Streets Challenge Grants in those neighborhoods are determined to forge ahead.

Ride On! bike co-op founder Adé Neff acknowledged the timeline and lack of funds to do more comprehensive outreach was tough, but said he was excited to use the grant program as an opportunity to build connections along Crenshaw and between community advocates in South L.A.

Usually grants for community projects go to people outside the community, he said, because people are out of the loop with regard to funding opportunities or lack the capacity and structure to go after them. That disconnection often means that projects that do take place in the community generally fail to engage residents in more than a rubber-stamp sort of way. Meaning, any benefits that accrue to the community tend to be superficial and temporary, at best.

For someone like himself, freshly out of Antioch’s Urban Sustainability M.A. program and looking to be a driver of change in South L.A., that is a frustrating landscape to be part of.

“We have the talent pool” to do the kinds of innovative grassroots advocacy in South L.A. that could strengthen the community from within, he said. What remained was “to create the capacity to do it.”

To that end, he has joined up with architect Michael MacDonald of Studio MMD, TRUST South L.A., and Community Health Councils to put together a project that they hope will build some of those bridges between advocates while breaking down some of the barriers between folks in the Hyde Park area. All while making the busy intersection at Florence and Crenshaw safe and fun for a day.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Their project, Street Beats, intends to set up the tools to let passersby make music on each of the four corners of the intersection. Read more…

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The Butterfly Effect: Privileging Form (and Speedy Implementation) over Function Yields Semi-Obsolete Street Furniture in Boyle Heights

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A butterfly bike rack perches on 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When the butterflies, flowers, and decorative benches first started popping up along 1st Street in Boyle Heights last year, reviews were mixed.

Okay…

That’s not really true — the reviews I heard were largely not that great.

Particularly from business owners that had been given some advance notice — but no choice and no recourse — about what would be appearing outside their front doors.

A large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A very large yellow butterfly stakes out space in front of Espacio 1839. Staff there said they had originally been told they would be getting a flower bike rack. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

After the large ficus trees that had destroyed the street’s sidewalks had been ripped out, the sidewalks repaired, and new trees planted, the colorful bike racks that appeared soon after were a bit incongruous with the new landscape.

The reference to the natural world served to point out just how devoid of greenery the street now was.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The arrival of bike racks mimicking elements of the natural world served to point out the lack of nature along the street. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And while complaints did tend to highlight how garish the yellow butterflies were, the kicker, for many, was that the new racks and furniture were poorly placed and not particularly functional.

Some people didn’t know what they were or preferred relying on parking signs.

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 instagram

The parking sign pole is preferred by some to the butterfly rack outside Espacio 1839. Source: Espacio 1839 Instagram

Others (myself included) found the racks hard to use — the awkward shape of the butterfly and the shortness of the flower coupled with the roundness of its center make them both complicated to lock up against, depending on the type of bike you have, how you lock your bike (I take off my back wheel), or whether another bike is already locked to it.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza) are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The flowers, especially this one at a little sitting area at Bailey (behind Mariachi Plaza), are kind of adorable in a setting like this. But they’re not that easy to lock up your bike to. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But the thing that made the least sense was the placement of the furniture. Read more…

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Hundreds Gather for Women and Women-Identified Ride Led by Ovarian Psycos

Women and women-identified folks gather under the shade as they wait for the Ovarian Psyco-cycles Clitoral Mass ride to begin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Women and women-identified folks gather under the shade as they wait for the Ovarian Psyco-cycles Clitoral Mass ride to begin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Looking out over the growing group of women and women-identified folks gathering on the grassy knoll behind Olvera St. for the Ovarian Pscyo-Cycles 4th Annual Clitoral Mass ride, I realized that, despite having attended the previous three events, I only recognized a handful of the riders.

Considering there were probably more than 200 cyclists on the green, and more were arriving all the time, that was saying something.

Participants continue to arrive. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Participants continue to arrive. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I mentioned this to Maryann Aguirre, one of the women that had been instrumental in organizing the first Clitoral Mass in 2012.

Nodding, she took a minute to survey the crowd.

The event now seemed to have a momentum of its own, we agreed, attracting long-time cyclists, novices, and everyone of every age, race, make, and mold in between.

And it was clearly meeting a need, given all the new faces and excited exclamations of, “We need this!” and “I have been waiting all year for this!” I was hearing.

Riders gather in the shade just east of Olvera St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riders gather in the shade just east of Olvera St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When the Ovas first decided to launch the event four years ago, it was because they had felt there was a need to carve out space on the streets for those women and women-identified folks — particularly those of color — who didn’t feel their experiences were validated or welcome in other cycling spaces.

It is not a concept that is terribly controversial right now. But back then, conversations around equity, inclusion, and the mobility of those on the margins had yet to really take root in the livable streets and cycling communities. So, the idea of a female (identified)-centric ride caused a bit of a stir. Read more…

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New Pedestrian Bulb-outs Make Crossing St. Louis More Pleasant but Leave Some Scratching Their Heads

Pedestrians cross at St. Louis and Cesar Chavez, where new bulb-outs were recently installed by the Great Streets program. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pedestrians cross at St. Louis and Cesar Chavez, where new bulb-outs were recently installed by the Great Streets program. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I’ve sat and observed the intersection of St. Louis and Cesar Chavez in Boyle Heights several times since the modified curb extensions started going in last month.

The painted “bulb-outs” are part of a pilot project of the Great Streets program (see recent coverage of its efforts on Central Ave. here) and are the first such curb extensions in the city.

Cesar Chavez is one of fifteen Great Streets identified in the current cycle, and is expected to see improvements stretching between St. Louis and Evergreen. But, for now, the improvements are limited to one intersection. And one of the calmer intersections along the corridor, at that, much to the puzzlement of a number of residents.

For one, people aren’t exactly sure what they are looking at.

“Why is it red?” “What is that [pointing at empty planter]?” and “Why is that in the street?” are all questions frequently overheard, often from curious kids whose parents seem unsure how to answer.

A planter sits empty at Cesar Chavez and St. Louis, while bollards across the street appear to block the fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A planter sits devoid of plants at Cesar Chavez and St. Louis. A passerby asked if the bollards across the street block access to the fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Is it for the bikes?” asked a young salesman handing out flyers in front of the cell phone shop just down the street. “‘Cause, you know, they have those green sections on 1st St. for the bikes…”

No, I explained, these were curb extensions that limited the distance pedestrians would be exposed to traffic when moving across travel lanes. And they were paired with adjustments to the walk signals that now gave pedestrians a head start when crossing the street.

Great Streets' map of the intersection.

Great Streets’ map of the intersection and explanation of the changes. The bus stop is on the map; the decision to move it may have come after implementation. Click to enlarge.

It was part of the Great Streets program, I said, and there would be improvements along the rest of this section of Cesar Chavez at some point — but it was unclear when that would happen, or if the same improvements would appear at the other corners along the corridor.

He nodded and surveyed the intersection.

“They should have talked to us,” he mused, referring to the businesses along the street.

It was not unusual for people to come in and ask business owners about changes to the area, he explained. But without any information about the program, the owners didn’t know what to tell them. Especially about the more significant changes that were impacting the lives of the elderly residents in the community.

He gestured toward an elderly woman leaned wearily up against a telephone pole.

“They moved the bus stop over here and now elderly people have to stand instead of being able to sit down,” he shook his head.

And it is unclear how long that change will be in effect. The signs say only, “until further notice.” Read more…

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Filed Under: Hidden Gems in Fact Sheets. A Protected Bike Lane for the Sixth Street Viaduct

Map and timeline for intersection upgrades in preparation for the demolition of the 6th St. Viaduct. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement project

Map and timeline for intersection upgrades in preparation for the demolition of the 6th St. Viaduct. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement project

It is now nearly the end of July.

The suggestion made at the February groundbreaking for the 6th Street Viaduct that estimates that the bridge would be closed for demolition in July were “aggressive” has proven more than true. The closure of the existing bridge will come no earlier than October of this year, and demolition will begin shortly thereafter.

Even so, things are apparently moving along. Representatives from the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement project have been making the rounds at neighborhood council meetings in both Boyle Heights and the Arts District lately, offering updates on the projects.

When asked if the presentations would be made public, staff pointed me to the website, saying they had recently posted some maps and a new fact sheet.

The updates themselves are not particularly informative.

As seen in the map above, improvements to intersections expected to handle detoured traffic have been underway since May and will continue through August, on the west side of the river, and through October, on the east. The changes include upgrades to lighting and traffic signals, and the reconstruction of the corners for improved pedestrian access.

The 12 intersections targeted for improvements — down from 20 in the original plans — are meant to facilitate the traffic circulation pattern seen below.

The anticipated detours around the 6th St. bridge. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement project

The anticipated detours around the 6th St. bridge. Source: 6th St. Viaduct Replacement project

For drivers, the closure will represent an inconvenience, slowed commute times, and, most likely, more crowded crawls along streets like Mateo, Alameda, Whittier, or Boyle.

For pedestrians and cyclists, the closure represents a more significant change. Those that used 6th St. will likely switch to using 4th, as the 7th St. bridge, with its many on and off ramps, is very uncomfortable to cross. And while 4th is a lovely crossing and was recently repaved, no accommodations were made for cyclists or to slow the often fast-moving traffic and no improvements were made to its narrow sidewalks. So, the next few years of waiting for the 6th St. Viaduct to be completed may be a little harrowing for some of us.

But it does look like there is a sliver of hope for those cyclists that survive the construction period. Read more…

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How a More Inclusive Bike Week Can Help Move Us toward “Bike Life”

Stalin, Hugo, and an apprentice at the Watts Cyclery keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Stalin, Hugo, an apprentice, and the Watts Cyclery kitty keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I can honestly say my faith in humanity has been restored today,” Joey said Wednesday as we popped his back tire back on his bike and I packed up my patch kit. “If I ever see you in the street again, I promise I’ll pay you back somehow.”

His declaration was quite sincere. He was worried that his boss was going to be upset at how late he was. He was still 20+ minutes away from the tire shop on Western where he worked, on foot, and he didn’t have fare for the bus or train on him. He was kind of bummed because the bike was new, too. A car making a hard right without warning had tossed both him and his previous bike into the air. He managed to walk away from the incident OK. The bike, not so much. He couldn’t afford to see this one damaged.

“I don’t even know what I hit,” he had said when I first spotted him walking his bike along Exposition Blvd. “I had been watching for glass…”

Glass wasn’t the issue this time. When we flipped the bike over and took a look at the wheel, we found a twisted industrial staple that I ended up having to yank out with my teeth after the embedded section broke off inside the tire.

“Here,” I tossed him my patch kit. “Grab one of the smaller patches and the glue while I find the hole in the tube.”

“Cool,” he nodded. “I was just going to fix it at work [with a patch for car tires].”

The imperfect fix he had planned did not surprise me. Like the majority of the folks whose tires I’ve stopped to patch in South L.A. (something that happens, on average, every other week), he was riding out of necessity, and something as basic as a popped tire could impinge on both his budget for the month (it’s a $6 to $8 fix at local shops) and his ability to get from A to B in a timely way.

Joey was fortunate in that, aside from the cheap and slightly-loose-on-the-rim tires, his bike was rather solid. Too many of the lower-income commuters I’ve spoken with are not riding on such reliable steeds.

Such as the youth whose crank kept coming loose at inopportune times and causing him to fall over in the street, occasionally in front of cars. Or the youth on the road bike with broken brakes who was wearing holes into the bottom of his shoes after he resigned himself to braking Fred Flintstone-style. Or the numerous men and youth whose rims have been damaged by collisions with cars but who couldn’t afford new wheels. Or the school kid whose rim snakebit his tube beyond repair and who cried on the phone when his mom said that was the end of his days of biking to school. Or the young man whose valve detached from the tube when we tried to fix his flat and who got a loaner tube from a friend on the condition he try to scrape together the $3 to buy one from a nearby sidewalk bike vendor as soon as possible. Or Watts resident Marcus, who had been able to convince a dollar store owner to sell him a patch kit for the $.88 he had in his pocket but who then had no way to pump up the tire. He called me at 11 p.m. a week later, from near Ted Watkins park, stranded with another flat. Was I in the area? He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to traverse the last 15 blocks home safely that night.

The struggle very low-income commuters face in maintaining bikes that were never in great shape to begin with is so bad that the owner of the Watts Cyclery even found himself having to create layaway and monthly payment plans for people who desperately needed a bike or a fix, but couldn’t pay for it upfront.

Despite the many odds they face, low and very low-income commuters consistently comprise a significant proportion of the total commuter cycling pool. And many more would likely bike, provided they could either easily/cheaply access solid bikes or get their existing bikes up and running again.

Which is why it is so unfortunate that Metro’s approach to bike week isn’t more reflective of their experience. Read more…

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Testing Around Exide Plant Continues, Community Voices Frustration over Lack of Clarity in Results

Map of the Expanded Assessment Areas. Testing for lead contamination was originally conducted in the green squares. The current round of testing was conducted in the wider assessment area. Source: DTSC

Map of the Expanded Assessment Areas. Testing for lead contamination was originally conducted in the green squares, based on modeling done by the AQMD regarding the distance and direction toxic particles might travel. The current round of testing was conducted in the wider assessment area. Source: DTSC

“I still don’t have a clear picture of what the results [of the lead testing in the Expanded Assessment Areas] are,” said a representative of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.

We were now nearly two hours into a community workshop explicitly intended to brief residents on the extent to which lead emissions from Exide Technologies’ secondary smelting operations may have contaminated properties found within the Expanded Assessment Areas (see explanation, at left). And a number of stakeholders had met one-on-one with representatives of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH) in the two hours prior to the meeting to get the specific results of testing done on their property.

Having tracked Exide’s many air quality standards violations over the years and watched family members and friends suffer from the kinds of issues that run rampant in environmental justice (EJ) communities — asthma, cancer, developmental delays, etc. — residents were frustrated. Even as they celebrated the pending closure and dismantling of the battery recycler that they had battled for so long, they were still looking for definitive answers about what Exide had done to their community while it operated for 15 years under a temporary permit and with minimal oversight.

But the science doesn’t always comply with people’s wishes.

Read more…

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At What Point Could this Have Been Stopped?: Community Celebrates Exide’s Closure, Seeks Full Accounting from New DTSC Director

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies' Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians and their staff on hand where they were over the last decade the community spent asked for their support in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At the informational meeting on the closure of Exide Technologies’ Vernon facility, Roberto Cabrales of Communities for a Better Environment asks the politicians on hand where they were over the last decade when the community needed them to enforce environmental regulations or aid in getting the plant shut down. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“We won, folks. We won!” Monsignor John Moretta addressed the crowd that had gathered at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to hear about the process by which the closure of Exide Technologies’ embattled lead-acid battery recycling facility would begin. “Siempre adelante. Siempre adelante.” [Always moving forward.]

To a degree, the conversation that took place last Thursday regarding the closure of the Vernon plant did genuinely feel like a step forward. A small one, to be sure, but a step forward nonetheless.

For one, Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Director Barbara Lee was on hand to speak with the community. That alone was unusual, in that, in the many years the community has spent demanding their health be protected, the director of the department had never made such a clear effort to engage stakeholders both formally and informally.* But so was the level of candor with which she addressed those in the audience.

“Many of you are very angry and many of you have been harmed in a number of ways. And you feel that the department has failed you,” she began. “I want to start by saying I’m very sorry.”

Then, in a solemn sotto voce, she ticked off a long list of ways in which the department had gotten it wrong.

“[Exide] should not have operated without a formal permit for decades…We should have acted sooner;” “We didn’t watch them the way we should have done over many years;” “We failed to see and failed to say when enough was enough;” and, “We haven’t worked well with co-regulators…for many years.”

She was referring to the impressive level of negligence on the part of the DTSC and other relevant authorities that allowed Exide (and its predecessors) to operate without a formal permit and largely with impunity for decades. As we recently charted here, Exide has repeatedly violated air quality and other standards by improperly storing lead-acid batteries, contaminating a drainage channel with lead, failing to clean up public areas it contaminated around the plant, spilling approximately 1136 lbs. of lead into the watershed (between 2003 and 2006), exceeding airborne lead emissions multiple times (including during the period it was closed for upgrades last year), not repairing degraded pipes carrying up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day, and, most recently, storing “contaminated sludge in tanks that [it] is not authorized to operate,” failing to sufficiently protect against spills of hazardous waste, and “fail[ing] to minimize the possibility of any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous wastes or hazardous waste constituents to air, soil, or surface water.” (For the full slate of inspection reports and a thorough overview of Exide’s misdeeds, see Tony Barboza’s excellent report for the L.A. Times, here.)

We didn’t listen to you,” Lee concluded, “but I am here to listen to you today.”

Instead of asking attendees to take her word for it, she ran down a list of the changes she had made to the way the DTSC operated since she had taken over the department last November. She had committed to the recommendations resulting from an audit of the department’s permitting process, which included the need for a speedier review process and the clearing out of backlogged applications. She appointed new division chiefs to the Enforcement and Permitting offices, as well as a new deputy director for Enforcement. And she put together a 45-person team to work on the Exide case, had inspectors on site every day, and would both be adjusting the standards by which they judged future operating permit applications and consulting with communities as part of that process.

With regard to current goings-on at the Vernon plant — where between 6 and 8 truckloads of hazardous waste are being packed up and shipped out to a facility in Muncie, Indiana, per day — Lee said Exide was tasked with ensuring that waste was fully wrapped and sealed (so it couldn’t leak from trucks, as it had in the past, below), trucks were washed before they left the site, and trucks were not idling in or moving through residential communities during the 60 days Exide estimated it would take to remove the waste 2000+ miles away (see Exide’s plan, here).

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (DTSC)

Hazardous waste stored in open trailers were observed to have leaked waste into puddles of water beneath them in 2013. (Source: DTSC)

When it came time for the plant itself to be dismantled, Lee said, the structures would likely be both power washed and wrapped so they were wet, covered, and less likely to send toxic dust into the air when taken down.

Although the DTSC was still waiting for Exide to complete and submit its final plans for the closure and post-closure clean ups — it must do so by May 15 — Lee reiterated she would hold both Exide and the DTSC to high standards to protect the community. And the lessons learned from this case would be applied to other cases going forward.

The 200 or so attendees on hand seemed to take her at her word. Many that got up to speak thanked her for her sincerity and what appeared to be her genuine interest in engaging with community members.

But it didn’t mean all was forgiven. Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…