The Rocket Gas and Cleaners in Lynwood had been closed for two decades, but it still had an impact on the community, leaving behind leaky underground gas tanks and dry cleaning chemicals leaching into the soil. For the past 15 years, the city had been after the property owners to clean the site to no avail. But finally, the city took won a court verdict against the owners and, taking advantage of federal and state grants, has begun cleaning it up.
Thanks to recent state legislation that allows new property owners liability protection when developing formerly contaminated sites, the city even found a new owner to create a mixed-use development that will be environmentally conscious. Northgate Markets has agreed to build a 30,000 square-foot supermarket below 68 units of affordable housing once the site is remediated. The apartments and store are within walking distance of the Metro Green Line, making it pedestrian and mass transit friendly.
A total of $1.5 million in state and federal grant money was given to Lynwood to begin the cleanup and so far, they have cleaned up 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel and built a compound to capture gasoline to get it off the water table. It took some creative thinking and much cooperation between the city, the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, other county and state offices to find a way to clean up the blighted area without the use of once reliable redevelopment funds, which are no longer available to municipalities.
“This is a story about how we are turning our challenges into opportunities,” said Sarah Magana Withers, director of community development for Lynwood. “We are not saying ‘Oh my God the world caved in because we lost redevelopment. We are pulling ourselves by our bootstraps and making it happen.”
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said it is crucial to help communities become healthier for all residents.
“Making communities safe for all families and individuals is a priority,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We must find creative solutions to improve our region’s environment, air quality and land use.”
Lynwood faces other environmental challenges. Situated between the heavily trafficked 105 and 710 Freeways and the Alameda Corridor, the city was also the site of a bomb manufacturing factory, many furniture manufacturers, gas stations and other heavy industrial sites. Due to lax zoning regulations, homes, schools and commercial businesses like day care centers were built near or even on top of these toxic sites.
Residents, said Withers, face a 1 in 1000 cancer risk, and there is a high incidence of autism and pulmonary disease. The city has also applied for a grant to study incidence of severely disabled children within Lynwood Unified and if it is related to their environment.
“This is an issue of environmental justice,” said Withers. “But this is a success and we want to get the get the word out. It’s been a roller coaster but we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”