Cool Down! We’re Hitting The Hottest Part Of The Year And Many Angelenos Don’t Have Sufficient Protection At Home
This summer could very well be one of the coolest we experience for the rest of our lives — not because temperatures are dropping, but because of the upcoming increasing heat.
We’re not even in the peak of a typical California summer and this past June has already ranked as one of the warmest on record. But many Angelenos don’t have enough protection at home when it comes to living with a hotter normal. Advocates say the problem can’t just be solved with more air conditioning, but more access to A/C is definitely essential.
Sixty-two-year-old Robin Line has lived in Los Angeles her whole life. The last 14 years, she’s lived in South L.A., just a few blocks from where the 1992 uprisings began.
Her neighborhood has few trees or parks, so hot days are even hotter. She lives in an apartment building that she said has frequent power outages and water shutoffs due to plumbing issues.
Just last week, Line came home from a walk with her two dogs to no water. She and her two adult sons usually rely on tap water and rarely have bottled water in the house because it’s too expensive, she said.
“There wasn’t enough water for drinking,” Line said. She got a few bottled gallons from the senior center, but it was barely enough for her, her two adult sons, and the dogs.
The lifelong Angeleno said she’s noticed summers are much hotter. It manifests in her often feeling physically ill from the heat — and her soaring utility bill.
Because of her A/C costs and high gas prices, Line said she can barely afford to use her car, so she now takes public transportation despite a walking disability and the heat.
“Anywhere in South L.A.,” she said wryly, “if you want to go sit at a bus stop with a shelter, good luck.”
Line also has to make tough decisions about what to pay for: groceries, her medication, or her air conditioning. She said this is the case for many of her neighbors, who often choose to forgo turning on the A/C to save money.
“You're stuck with no choices,” Line said. “You have to think about that bill, because if you don't pay that bill, it's going to get cut off.”
You're stuck with no choices. You have to think about that bill, because if you don't pay that bill, it's going to get cut off.
Heat waves kill more Americans than any other severe weather event. Current climate projections show L.A. will continue to experience higher average temperatures and more frequent heat waves. That means not only more danger outside, but also inside homes — especially for people who can’t afford air conditioning or live in housing that can’t keep out the heat.
Though L.A. paused utility shutoffs due to lack of payment during the pandemic, those protections ended in March. A coalition of environmental justice groups is working to get a moratorium back, and is advocating for other policies at the state and local level to protect vulnerable Angelenos, particularly those in historically disinvested areas, like South L.A.
“We are really pushing to make sure that, as there's all of this money coming down, that decision makers are undoing some of the past horror that has left South L.A. in a condition where, because of redlining and racial covenants laws there, there is a lack of resources in our communities,” said Agustin Cabrera, policy director at Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), a South L.A. grassroots organization.
Cabrera said Line’s experience shows the intersectionality of the climate crisis — how substandard housing and deteriorating infrastructure, a lack of green space and tree cover, rising utility costs and worsening heat waves — can come together in a dangerous, and deadly, cocktail.
The city of L.A. has efforts in the works to address many of these issues, but advocates say progress is too slow and not reaching enough people at a critical time. Cabrera and a coalition of environmental justice organizations are working to push L.A. to quickly expand water- and energy-efficiency programs, bill assistance and debt relief, more cooling centers, and more for lower-income ratepayers.
The L.A. Department of Water and Power also recently proposed a program that would help low-income and older customers cheaply buy air conditioning units and get more help with their utility bills. The city also just appointed a Chief Heat Officer, Marta Segura, who has said she plans to focus her efforts on the most vulnerable residents.
The state of California has rules that require apartments and workplaces remain sufficiently warm, but there are no regulations mandating they stay sufficiently cool. In a hotter normal, advocates say that’s a problem, especially for low-income renters like Line.
““Essentially those with means in the state are able to shield themselves from the heat and those that do not are unable to do that,” said Cynthia Castillo, a policy advocate with The Western Center on Law and Poverty. "Our climate has now taken us to a place where we need to be thinking about how our rental stock is able to maintain human life now that we know that we are going to see more extreme, more frequent heat waves."
Her organization backed AB 2597, which would have required the state to craft indoor cooling standards and achieve them holistically and cost-effectively by providing air conditioning or energy-efficient heat pumps where necessary, improving insulation using “cool” building materials such as reflective roofs, or planting trees.
"There's a lot of cool, cutting-edge technologies that won't overburden the environment by the usage of air conditioning," Castillo said. "Because it's absolutely important that we don't further affect climate change in the wrong way by overburdening the state and the electrical grid with air conditioning."
The bill faced resistance from landlords and the real estate industry, and died before reaching the state senate. Castillo said her organization plans to push for another version of AB 2597 in the next legislative session.