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Fighting an air pollution "Goliath"

How do you ALERT Skill Clinic (March 18, 2011) 012stop a giant freeway from bulldozing its way through your neighborhood? In a March 18 ALERT project advocacy skill clinic, community groups from Boyle Heights and Long Beach, as well as UCLA academics, learned first-hand how a “David” of an advocacy campaign stopped a “Goliath” of a multi-million dollar freeway project in its tracks. The result: cleaner air, less particulate matter and improved health for surrounding communities.

Where was the freeway in question?

In Long Beach, where activists rallied to halt the expansion of the 710 freeway, according to Angelo Logan from the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Logan was just one of several presentations during the day-long “skills-boosting” event that brought together about 30 participants focused on advocacy strategies, collaborative research and community education to improve air quality.

Developing community strategies
The clinic was part of ALERT, a training and education project that helps Los Angeles communities, in partnership with academics and other experts, combat air pollution in their neighborhoods.

The idea for the advocacy-focused skill clinic came from the communities of Boyle Heights and Long Beach, with input from university partners. The collaborative team decided to build on previous ALERT “Train the Trainer” courses held in Boyle Heights and Long Beach held last year. Many of the skill clinic participants were actual ALERT Trainers from both communities. Therefore, they were able to share learning across communities, and develop cross-community strategies on how to advocate for policy change.

In addition to the ALERT Trainers from Boyle Heights and Long Beach, two other community members participated in the skill clinic, as well as two researchers — Ying-Ying Meng from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and Gary Hytrek, a sociology professor at California State University, Long Beach.

Stopping a freeway
A highlight of the skill clinic was Angelo Logan’s presentation about his community’s campaign to stop the expansion of the 710 freeway in Long Beach. The stakes were high — 600 homes were slated to be bulldozed, while four lanes would be added to each side of the highway, with an exponential negative effect on air quality. Communities along the 710 freeway held actions, demonstrations and town hall meetings in order to bring people together to object to a project that would threaten their individual and community health. In their efforts, they drew on existing research data and collected new community data with the support of researchers in order to demonstrate the negative health consequences of exposure to air pollution from big rigs and freeway traffic.

The take-away? It is essential to mobilize local community involvement in decisions related to urban planning, according to Logan. Specifically, he said it was important that those who are most impacted by projects such as the 710 freeway expansion have a voice in policy decisions.

This first ALERT skill clinic provided an opportunity for new learning around policy advocacy and building strategies to improve air quality. A key message from this clinic was that policy change is possible at the local level, and the community has a voice that needs to be heard.

Suggested Resources:
UCLA Center for Health Policy Research Health


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