For the past 24 years, the Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and Justice has been taking on industries, local governments, and regulatory agencies in order to improve the quality of life for communities disproportionately impacted by pollution. It was formed in 1996 when Communities for a Better Environment and the Liberty Hill Foundation joined forces with academic researchers to study, fund, and support the burgeoning field of environmental justice.  The Collaborative expanded to include other environmental health and social justice organizations performing groundbreaking organizing, research, policy, and advocacy work throughout the LA region.
In its 2010 Hidden Hazards report, the Collaborative identified several parts of the city as “toxic hot spots,” or neighborhoods experiencing “cumulative environmental impacts” that are “particularly acute.” These communities are home to thousands of low-income, black, and brown Angelenos who reside in neighborhoods disproportionately overburdened with hazardous uses such as oil wells, refineries, metal plating operations, auto body shops, and other manufacturing facilities. While a number of agencies are charged with establishing regulations to ensure the safety of those living near hazardous industrial facilities, these watered-down regulations coupled with lax oversight and enforcement had repeatedly proven to be inadequate protections for vulnerable communities. What’s more, many industrial facilities’ true adverse health impacts have yet to be identified by regulatory agencies, creating an even greater concern for those living near unchecked facilities.
In recognition of these realities, the Collaborative mobilized community residents to advocate for improved environmental health policies and launched a campaign that would result in greater protections in some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. The Collaborative engaged in ground-truthing and community air monitoring to highlight key neighborhood issues and further engage the community through research. All of their findings elevated the case for new and improved policies for protecting the community. In fact, the data revealed that many pollution sources were either misidentified or entirely missed by regulatory agencies.  Using these findings, the Collaborative was able to develop appropriate place-based solutions and launch the nearly 10-year Clean Up Green Up (CUGU) campaign. In 2016, the CUGU campaign won a precedent- setting city ordinance that for the first time officially acknowledged the significant challenges that EJ communities face. The Clean Up Green Up ordinance also enacted policies to mitigate some of the impacts of incompatible land use in three Los Angeles neighborhoods: Boyle Heights, Pacoima, and Wilmington.
While CUGU’s measures largely focus on prevention, they also include provisions for identifying existing harmful practices in order to mitigate harm. Regulations implemented under CUGU include stricter health-protective standards for new and expanding industrial operations, specified enclosures for certain air emissions, required signage to deter diesel idling, and buffers for auto-related facilities. In addition, on a citywide scale, the ordinance mandates high-grade filters for developments sited within 1,000 feet of a freeway and requires conditional use permits for the geographic expansion of oil refineries and asphalt manufacturing plants. However, the Collaborative’s attempt to create a robust framework for issuing conditional use permits for all refinery operations in LA was unfortunately taken out of the initial draft ordinance under pressure from major oil lobbyists.*
Lastly, the ordinance also created an ombudsman position within the city to help oversee the implementation of the program and to assist small businesses in navigating the cleaning and greening up processes (such as permitting, achieving compliance, and accessing resources). Since 2016, the Collaborative has been working with the LA Department of Sanitation & Environment to implement the CUGU ordinance. Despite decades of regulatory failure at multiple levels, LA community organizations and residents were able to successfully advocate for the establishment of a local Green Zones policy that would take the first step in transforming some of the city’s most heavily polluted neighborhoods. The work and visioning of these impacted residents resulted in the city acknowledging the problems and enacting policies that would mitigate and even reverse many of the area’s historically harmful policies—not only in their neighborhoods, but in other overburdened communities throughout Los Angeles as well.
Endnotes are numbered as in the full report:
Los Angeles Collaborative for Environmental Health and
Justice. 2010. Hidden Hazards: A Call to Action for Healthy,
Livable Communities (11–14); https://www.libertyhill.org/sites/
The Wilmington/Carson neighborhood hosts the largest concentration of oil refining on the West Coast, and the city of LA has been reluctant to exercise its much-needed jurisdiction over refineries for community protection. See, for example, Suzanne Rust and Tony Barboza. Feb. 27, 2020. “Fire Exploded from Part of Carson Refinery Recently Cited for Workplace Safety Issues.” Los Angeles Times; https://www. latimes.com/environment/story/2020-02-27/carson-refinery-firecalifornia- workplace-safety-violations.