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Climate and Environment

A New City Motion Could Help Angelenos Stuck In Rentals With A/C Or Other Ways To Get Cool

A photo illustration shows a background of electric power infrastructure with an Apple iPhone showing an Emergency Alert notification from CalOES urging the public to conserve energy to protect health and safety.
Unprecedented heat waves in September were the hottest and longest ever registered in California, affecting the power grid as the demand for air conditioning increased.
(Patrick T. Fallon
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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We just sweated through the longest and hottest September heat wave ever recorded here in California. Ten days of record-breaking heat is nothing to laugh about — and current climate projections show L.A could see three times as many days over 95° F as soon as 2040, according to a UCLA study of the L.A. region. The Valley will see even more extreme heat days.

For the million Angelenos who don’t have A/C (nearly 30% of rental units in the L.A. metro area don't have it) or can’t pay the utility bill, that heat is sickening at best and deadly at worst. As the climate crisis heats up, keeping cool and safe, even at home, will only become a bigger challenge.

What This Motion Proposes

A new motion introduced by city council president Nury Martinez this week promises to try to help. The motion would require rental units to have air conditioning or other modes of cooling. It would also require the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to report to council on its existing programs to help low-income Angelenos pay their utility bill during extreme weather events.

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“Two weeks of almost 100 degree temperatures is not normal for our city, and while we’re doing our best to fight climate change in the long-term, we have to address how it’s affecting Angelenos right now,” said Martinez in a press release statement. “This is becoming a matter of life-and-death, especially for low-income families in older housing units.”

Older people, infants, young children, people with chronic medical conditions and people with mental health issues may all be more vulnerable in a heat wave.

Robin Line, a 62-year-old South L.A. resident, says relief can’t come soon enough. Though she does have A/C, she says she often leaves it off because the bills are too expensive.

“It's just so hot, it’s just unheard of…It's not healthy to have your body heating up,” she said. “You shouldn't have to be uncomfortable in your own home because you can't afford to pay.”

What's Considered Habitable Now

Currently, state law only requires landlords to provide residential units with sufficient heating, not cooling.

“Today, if you were in a rental unit and it gets up to 105 degrees, that is completely under the law, seen as a habitable unit,” said Cynthia Castillo, a policy advocate with The Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Several initiatives to establish statewide uniform cooling standards have so far been unsuccessful. Tenants’ rights advocate Chelsea Kirk said that’s why this motion is an especially important local action.

“Efforts have been happening at the state level and they've kind of gone nowhere,” said Kirk. “The timeline at the state level is really long and so locally is what we see as the solution…we want to make sure people can live in their homes and be protected from extreme heat. So the most immediate solution to that is to provide a tenant an air conditioning unit.”

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She said Martinez’s motion is a “first right step,” but that air conditioning isn’t the only answer because it adds further strain to the electrical grid…which clearly struggled during last week’s heat wave. Kirk says ramping up efforts to plant trees and make homes more insulated and energy efficient are needed too.

What's Available Now To Help

On Friday, LADWP launched an updated rebate program for air conditioning units and other types of cooling appliances for income-eligible customers. Low-income customers can get $225 for window, room, & portable A/C units. Customers of any income are eligible for a $75 rebate for room air conditioners. The program also includes a billing program you can sign up for to spread utility payments evenly over a 12-month period. The city said eligibility is largely based on income, but that people over 65 and people with physical disabilities are encouraged to inquire no matter the amount of money they make. Learn more and sign up here: http://ladwp.com/cool-la.

The motion will next be considered by the city’s housing committee, though a date has yet to be set.

Tips For Surviving Heat Waves

Staying safe in the heat
    • Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water or electrolyte-replacements
    • Drink cool water, not extremely cold water (which can cause cramps)
    • Avoid sweetened drinks, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Protect a pet from excessive heat

    • Never leave a pet or animal in a garage
    • Never leave a pet or animal in a vehicle
    • Never leave a pet or animal in the sun
    • Provide shade
    • Provide clean drinking water
  • Protect a human from excessive heat

  • Check in frequently with family, friends, and neighbors. Offer assistance or rides to those who are sick or have limited access to transportation. And give extra attention to people most at risk, including:

    • Elderly people (65 years and older)
    • Infants
    • Young children
    • People with chronic medical conditions
    • People with mental illness
    • People taking certain medications (i.e.: "If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot," says the CDC)
Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?