Environmental Clean Up Progressing at Ujima Village

In a long awaited milestone, a cleanup has begun at the former Ujima Village site and Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook. Included in the work will be the use of a technology known as soil vapor extraction to remove volatile chemical compounds from the ground, as well as the excavation of small areas of the property.

Residents are invited to an open house sponsored by state and federal public health officials, from 1 -5 pm on August 17 , at Enterprise Park , to discuss any health concerns related to the site. Spanish interpretation services will also be available.

Now that the cleanup is underway, plans to re-imagine strategic uses for the existing 104 – acre park , as well as the 16 acres that previously comprised Ujima Village , also can begin. In the fall, there will be a community-driven process to decide how it will look and what new recreational facilities should be constructed.

When the old Athens Tank Farm was removed in the 1960s, contaminants were left in the soil, a source of concern for many years. For several years now, local, state and federal agencies have been gathering and analyzing data to determine whether the contamination poses a health risk. Soil, soil gas, groundwater and air samples ordered by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board have all indicated that the present levels of chemicals in the soil are not dangerous to human health.

The Regional Board has also ordered ExxonMobil, which owned the former oil site, to conduct soil vapor investigation and air quality monitoring at four schools near the site: Centennial High School, Los Angeles Adventist Academy, New Designs Charter School and Animo Watts College Preparatory Academy. ExxonMobil will install vapor probes within school properties as well as test for the presence of methane in school buildings , using a hand-held monitoring device. Work is already in progress at Los Angeles Adventist Academy and activity at other schools is expected to begin soon. All work will be conducted on weekends and after hours to minimize disruption to school activities.

In addition, several homes east of the park have been tested for soil vapor samples, outdoor air samples and air samples taken from crawl spaces beneath for methane, benzene and other volatile organic compounds and were found to not pose a risk to health.

For more information please go to: www.EnviroStor.dtsc.ca.gov

Board awards contract to demolish Ujima Village

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday awarded a contract to National Demolition Contractors to remove the hazardous materials from the Ujima Village housing development and demolish the property located at 941 East 126th Street in the unincorporated area of Willowbrook. Residents moved out of the 300-unit complex in August 2010, after an environmental investigation found asbestos and other hazardous materials on the property. Since that time, the empty complex has become a source of decay and community blight. Today’s action paves the way for new uses of the property by authorizing the contractor to begin demolition this summer. The County of Los Angeles is committed to using the space for parkland and recreational purposes and will seek feedback from interested community residents and stakeholders on the site’s design.

“We are starting fresh and setting a new path for the Willowbrook community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Once Ujima Village is demolished, the site can be re-envisioned and redeveloped into a quality, community serving destination.”

The recreational improvements will be planned in consultation with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. The agency is responsible for overseeing an environmental investigation and clean up activities at the site and within the surrounding community.

Prior to the demolition of Ujima Village, the privately operated daycare center Honey’s Little Angels, which is adjacent to Ujima Village, will be relocated to a County building located at 8300 South Vermont Avenue in Athens. On June 6, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion was unanimously adopted by the Board to facilitate the prompt relocation of the daycare center.

As is typical of many structures built before 1978, the units in Ujima Village were found to have both lead-based paint and asbestos-containing materials. Although the Los Angeles County Housing Authority considered investing in the rehabilitation of the property, the rent revenue would not cover the cost of the significant repairs and remediation that would have been required to eliminate the hazardous material found throughout the property.

The demolition cost of $3 million will be funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Second Supervisorial District Community Development Block Grant funds and Second Supervisorial District discretionary funds.

Board of Supervisors Relocates Honey’s Little Angels Day Care Center

At the urging of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today voted to relocate Honey’s Little Angels day care center, which sits on the site of a state-led toxic substances investigation in Willowbrook. Beginning this summer, the center will be housed in a brand new County-leased building in Athens. Moving the center from its present location — the site of the former Athens Tank Farm, where there is residual oil contamination — has been a priority for the Supervisor.

For the past year, negotiations have been taking place between ExxonMobil, which bears substantial responsibility for the resulting pollution, the day care operator and the County. The County, however, ultimately took the lead in identifying a location and will facilitate the day care center’s move. The facility’s residence at 8300 South Vermont Avenue in Athens is expected to be temporary, and all three parties are still working on identifying a permanent site.

”I have consistently maintained that it is best to act out of an abundance of caution and move these young children as soon as possible,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. . “Fortunately, environmental assessments indicate there is no present risk to the children’s health, but the families with children at the day care center deserve complete peace of mind.”

Acting on a motion sponsored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, the board also took a number of other steps with regard to the investigation at the site and to address concerns voiced by neighbors in the community. In addition to moving Honey’s Little Angels, the Supervisors also voted to:

  • Encourage Gov. Jerry Brown to designate the Department of Toxic Substance Control as the lead agency for future community meetings related to the former Athens Tank Farm Site. It is the Department of Toxic Substances Control –not the L.A. Regional Water Quality Control Board — that has expertise in determining community health risks associated with contaminated sites and responding to concerns raised by residents.
  • Direct the County Department of Public Health to investigate if past exposures on the site may have contributed to elevated levels of illnesses amongst residents who lived on or near the site, once occupied by the former Ujima Village.
  • Support legislation that would require the state Environmental Protection Agency and affiliated agencies to contract directly with independent consultants to complete contamination investigations. This step comes in response to concerns raised by neighborhood residents about the validity of an investigation conducted by the entity responsible for contamination at the site.

As a whole, the steps are part of comprehensive program undertaken by the Supervisor to promote the prompt and thorough remediation of the contaminated site and safeguard the health of area residents.

At his urging, in May the Water Board convened a community meeting to update residents on its investigation. In response to related concerns about health care access, the Supervisor also arranged for the Department of Health Services to enroll eligible residents in low-cost health insurance programs. “ExxonMobil and the State of California should be exhausting every available resource to provide comprehensive and timely justice for the Willowbrook community,” Ridley-Thomas said. This site has been under investigation for over six years. The residents deserve answers and a resolution to this issue.”

Community meeting regarding the environmental investigation at Ujima Village and Magic Johnson Park

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board will host a community meeting from 6 p.m to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16th, at the Enterprise Park Gymnasium, located at 13055 Clovis Avenue in Willowbrook. The purpose of the meeting is to provide an update on the environmental investigation underway at Ujima Village, Magic Johnson Park and the surrounding residential communities. The Water Board will discuss the results of the investigation to date and describe next steps to be taken.

Officials from the State of California’s Department of Toxics Substance Control and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health also will be there to answer questions from the public.

Click here for Meeting Notice in English.

Click here for Meeting Notice in Spanish.

Click here for an updated Health Assessment Fact Sheet from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Healthcare enrollment for former Ujima Village residents

The Department of Health Services (DHS) recently held an outreach and healthcare enrollment event for former residents of the Ujima Village housing complex in Willowbrook. The evening event was a follow-up to the well-attended community meeting with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas last November. During that meeting, held at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health, some residents asserted that they suffered from ailments and conditions that began during their residency at Ujima Village, but that they lacked the means to obtain medical examinations.

In response to their concerns, the Supervisor arranged to have 450 of the complex’s former residents invited to the public health center, where DHS representatives screened them for eligibility in Los Angeles County’s program for low-income residents, Healthy Way LA.

Healthy Way LA provides access to primary and specialty care, mental health services, prescription medications, and urgent care to residents who meet income guidelines; the chart below outlines eligibility requirements for the program.

About 20 people accepted the invitation and earlier this month received free one-on-one consultations and assistance in applying for health care coverage. Also, clients were screened for other public assistance programs such as CalFresh, the federally-funded nutrition assistance program, and Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program. With each Healthy Way LA enrollment, residents receive the health care they need and deserve and the Second District becomes a healthier community. For questions about the program or to enroll, please visit www.ladhs.org/hwla or call 1-877-333-4952.

Ujima Village Community Meeting

More than 250 people attended an informational meeting held by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to receive an update on the environmental investigation into oil-related contamination at the former Ujima Village apartment complex.

Officials from the Los Angeles Regional Water Board, the Los Angeles Community Development Commission, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the County Assessor’s Office also were on hand at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health in Willowbrook, to provide the standing-room only crowd an overview of the ongoing soil, water and air quality sampling and to answer questions and address concerns. At the meeting’s outset, the Supervisor emphasized that there will be a series of community meetings to follow and that he is focused on relocating Little Honey’s Day Care Center, which is adjacent to the Ujima Village site, as quickly as possible. The meeting was often heated, with audience members expressing strong frustration and anger about the contamination at the complex where many said they had lived for decades. The former village residents asked a variety of questions concerning their health, the longevity of the investigation, and what they individually need to do in order to ensure their statements are included in the investigation.

Among the audience members were parents of children who attend Honey’s Little Angel’s Child Care Center.

Lynwood resident Cindy Alvarado has a four-year-old daughter who attends the day care center and said she came to the meeting to have the rumors set straight. “I’m trying to find out if there are chemicals around the school,” Cindy said, “Some people are saying that its dangerous for kids to attend the daycare, others are not.”

At the meeting, Executive Officer, Samuel Unger of the Water Board said environmental testing determined that contamination was far below ground, and that air quality for the neighborhood was consistent with that of the region.

Director of Environmental Health, Angelo Bellomo of the Department of Public Health said that the contamination does not currently present a threat to human health at the daycare site or at the former site of the village, but most of the audience greeted that assertion with a high degree of skepticism.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas emphasized that the experts were on hand to provide information to residents — not to tell them what to think.

Click here to download an FAQ from the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board.

Statement from the Supervisor on Ujima Village

As many of you know, there is an ongoing environmental investigation taking place in Willowbrook related to oil contamination at the former Ujima Village and Magic Johnson Park.

After the old Athens Tank Farm was removed in the 1960s, contaminants were left in the soil. Soil sampling ordered by the Los Angeles Regional Water Board have all indicated that the present levels of chemicals in the soil are not dangerous to human health, but nonetheless I am concerned.

My primary focus right now is to see that the Water Board and ExxonMobile, which once owned the tank farm, come to an agreement to relocate the daycare center, Honey’s Little Angels Day Care, which is still on the grounds. Out of an abundance of caution, I believe it is better to just move the children. My office has found a new location in Willowbrook for the daycare center, and it is my hope that months of negotiations between the County, the Water Board and Exxon, will soon come to fruition.

However, this won’t be over once the children are moved. We must get to the bottom of this investigation and find out the facts.

I am committed to making sure that you stay informed about this process, and will be holding a community meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the newly opened Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Public Health. It is located on the corner of 119th St. and Wilmington Ave. in Willowbrook.

With me will be officials from the Water Board to give the community an update on the investigation. I will also have officials from the County Department of Public Health and Department of Parks and Recreation there.

Also, if individuals have health-related concerns, we want to know. I have asked the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to set up a hotline specifically for concerns related to Ujima Village. You may call 211 and your call will be routed appropriately.

Please feel free to visit my website for more information – htttp://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov. On the website you will also find a chronology and fact sheets related to the investigation.

I look forward to seeing you on November 30th.

Mark Ridley-Thomas