Los Angeles' cool, reflective backs help beat the heat and high temperatures

Los Angeles' cool, reflective backs help beat the heat and high temperatures

LOS ANGELES — Street vendor Jose Damian has lived in Los Angeles' Pacoima neighborhood for the past five years and felt temperatures reach 105 degrees as he pushed his cart of Mexican snacks and shaved ice in the blazing midday sun.

But the heat never stopped him from doing his work until last summer.

While on his way to Sarah Coughlin Elementary School, he was sweating profusely and dizzy. He decided to get checked out at the hospital.

“All the salt in my body was used up,” said Damien, who drank about 15 bottles of water that day. “Now I carry Gatorades with me. I don't walk much anymore. I stop at certain places with shade.”

Residents of Pacoima have long suffered from rising temperatures. Cecilia Zepeda, 60, said the heat can be unbearable even at night. Georgina Carrasco, who grew up in the neighborhood and now has two children, said she usually showers three times a day and keeps the lights off in her apartment to cool off. She sometimes has to make the difficult decision to turn off the air conditioner during the summer because it can be very expensive.

“It feels like it gets hotter every year, but you grew up in the San Fernando Valley, you're used to it,” Carrasco said.

In California, the heat-related death rate was about 4.2 per million people in 2022 — the highest rate in two decades outside of the historic 2006 North American heat wave. The communities most at risk are low-income communities of color. Like Pacoima.

A 2021 study of satellite images found that urban California experienced greater temperature disparities between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods than any other southwestern state, with tree canopy distributed unevenly across Los Angeles County. The study also found that majority-Latino neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area, such as Pacoima, were 6.7 degrees hotter than neighborhoods with few Latino residents.

Pacoima is among the hottest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Temperatures in what is known as “the Valley” are known to be warmer than in other parts of the city, but Pacoima also lacks tree coverage and is home to massive public housing complexes that have been proven to warm the area.

The largely working-class neighborhood of about 75,000 has also historically been affected by numerous polluting industries such as manufacturing, highway construction, the nearby Whiteman Airport, and the Metrolink. Such pollutants only affect health disparities and cause heat-related illnesses.

Over the past few years, a coalition of nonprofits, community organizations and the office of Pacoima Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez has come up with a plan to cool the neighborhood: a multi-year, multi-phase project announced in 2018. It began by rehabilitating 18 city blocks by painting Reflective sun rays that disperse heat. In partnership with roofing manufacturer GAF, Pacoima's “Cool Pavement” project not only reduces heat, but also brightens up the community with colorful pavement and vibrant murals.

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