Earth Day 2022: South Los Angeles is a Heat Island

22 Apr Earth Day 2022: South Los Angeles is a Heat Island

By JULIO ESPERIAS | Communications Manager

Earth Day was created 52 years ago, on April 22, 1970, as a way for Americans to speak out against environmental injustices. The year before, in January 1969, America (and the world) witnessed the ravages of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. At the time, it was the largest oil spill on U.S. shores, with three-million gallons being spilled. In reaction to this atrocity, countless activists took a page out of the student anti-war movement. They mobilized to push for regulations that helped lay Congress’s foundation for creating the Environmental Protection Agency. The independent agency was tasked with creating environmental protections and federal legislation, including the Clean Water Act (1972), Coastal Zone Management Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

In the decades since the first Earth Day, the one-day green event has transformed into a global conscience-building movement that has expanded the day’s festivities into Earth Week. Here in California, the state has been leading the way by taking bold steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrating its commitment to transitioning to a sustainable, clean energy economy. However, here in South LA, communities of color still bear the brunt of the impacts caused by a dense population, pollution, and extreme heat. The 2022 report from the American Lung Association, “State of the Air,” gave Los Angeles County a failing grade for air quality, the worst in the nation. 

In deeper, neighborhoods with large Black and Brown populations are hotter than their white counterparts and get less shade from trees due to decades of redlining and disinvestment in the built environment resulting in areas that lack green and open spaces. Recently the L.A. Times published a story featuring a UC Davis study that alarmingly notes that in neighborhoods with few trees, these disparities fuel “heat islands” causing neighborhoods to be 10 degrees warmer than surrounding areas. 

Tree canopies keep neighborhoods cooler by up to 15 degrees.

Per the City of Los Angeles Forest Officer, only 21% of the city is shaded with trees, and most are located in affluent neighborhoods. South Los Angeles is surrounded by freeways, and filled with miles and miles of concrete and asphalt, with minimal tree canopies. As a result, our topography attracts and retains more heat, making summer heat waves unbearable for our children, elderly, people with chronic health conditions, and the houseless. These conditions contribute to heat-related deaths and illnesses such as stroke and respiratory ailments that primarily impact Black and Brown communities. 

South Los Angeles Councilmembers are taking critical steps to combat climate change and inequity related to the built environment. Here is a snapshot of these critical victories toward improving the quality of life for residents:

  • Next Phase Urban Cooling Program and Tree Planting: 8th District Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson is implementing a cool pavement and tree planting program managed by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services. The program incorporates innovative pavement technology, installing new trees along major corridors that will develop green canopies as they mature and bus shelters that will provide much-needed heat relief to neighborhoods during the next summer heatwave. 
  • New Park and Open Space: In late March, 9th District Councilmember Curren Price led the effort to transform a vacant lot used as LADWP’s Figueroa Pump station into a public park. Located on the corner of Figueroa Street and Slauson Avenue, the new park will feature walking trails, an outdoor amphitheater, outdoor fitness equipment, drought-tolerant landscaping and trees, a mural, and various art installation projects.
  • Prohibition of New Oil Drilling Activities: Earlier in the year, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban oil and gas drilling, which included recommendations from the 10th Council District to ensure all future oil use be prohibited altogether. There are currently 67 active wells in the 10th Council District at two operating drill sites–the Packard Site on Pico Blvd. in Mid-City and the Murphy Drill Site on Adams Blvd. in Jefferson Park.

This Earth Day, let us remember the progress we have made and continue to fight for social and environmental justice in our marginalized and health-impacted communities. Here are a few things you can do: 

  1. Be car-free. Walk or bike to school — not only is it good for the body, it’s good for the environment too!
  2. Ditch Single-Use Plastic for Reusable Food Storage Containers.
  3. Invest in Reusable Straws and Water Bottles
  4. Grow something. Plant a seed, sprout, flower, or tree in a pot, garden, or your backyard.

Don’t know what to plant? Let the Gangsta Gardener Ron Finley help you. We invite you to take advantage of a complimentary, one-year subscription to the entire repertoire of MasterClass workshops courtesy of Mr. Finley. Just email us at, and we will send you a link with your code.

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