When it feels like Boyle Height can’t get any hotter, the city is about to spend $1 million to cool down the neighborhood.
That amount of federal funds will go towards the Boyle Heights Community Cooling Project, which will install a cool pavement coating in 25 neighborhood blocks and plant shade trees throughout those streets.
On a particularly hot day this month, the project was officially launched by a number of area elected officials who gathered near Mariachi Plaza to apply the cooling treatment to a small area near Bailey Street and Pennsylvania Ave.
“Los Angeles is one of the only regions in our country to experience heat-related deaths in the winter,” said Congressman Jimmy Gómez, who helped secure the funds for the Cooling Project.
“With climate change, this crisis will only continue to worsen, placing the most vulnerable at risk,” the Congressman said at the July 6 installation ceremony. “Boyle Heights is at the heart of this issue. This project is a matter of racial justice.”
Los Angeles estimates that a tenth of the city is covered in asphalt and that its most urban areas feel hotter than the rest, because heat is retained by streets and other paved surfaces. Boyle Heights is one of those neighborhoods affected by that “urban heat island effect.”
The Boyle Heights Cooling Project is the next phase of the city’s Bureau of Street Services’ Cool Neighborhoods Project. It began about five years ago, when the agency also known as StreetsLA began testing the application of a “cool pavement” coating on public streets.
According to StreetsLA, the coating reflects the sun, helping to reduce surface temperatures by nearly 10 degrees.
“To me those 10 degrees means everything for a senior in our community who’s waiting at a bus stop to go to the market or pick up their prescriptions,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the launching ceremony. “It means everything for a student walking home in the heat, who might not be able to focus on homework because of heat exhaustion.”
“We were the first city in California and the first in the world to install cool pavements on public streets and we’re continuing to be an example today through these infrastructure efforts in communities of color that have always been the victims of environmental racism,” Garcetti said.
“People in our community are suffering,” added Assemblymember Miguel Santiago. “Our kids have nowhere to cool down in the shade. If you want to talk about injustices, Boyle Heights is an example having dealt with decades and decades of being neglected.”
“We don’t have enough parks, we don’t have enough trees. Instead, we’ve got an asphalt jungle,” added Santiago. “If this crisis were happening in certain parts of California there would be a national outrage, but since it’s happening in our communities, no one has stood up to address this crisis in decades.”
StreetsLA says it’s in the process of identifying the 25 Boyle Heights blocks experiencing the highest levels of that urban island heat, where the coating will be applied. At the time of the ceremony there was no timeline or completion goal for the project.
At the moment, Los Angeles has about 75 miles of cool pavement lining its streets and hopes to raise that number to 250 by 2028. The city has contracted with manufacturer GAF, to use its proprietary coating product. After the Boyle Heights installation, the New Jersey-based company is expected to start a research project in the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima, where it will track the effects of its cooling product on a 10-block square area.
The $1 million that will fund the Boyle Heights project is part of a nearly $9 million funding package for the 34th Congressional District included in the Fiscal Year 2022 federal budget. According to an announcement by Gómez in March, several Boyle Heights projects are included in the package. They include $1.2 million for a catheterization lab at White Memorial Hospital and $950,000 for Legacy LA, towards the Ramona Gardens Natural Park project.