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How Folks In Pacoima Are Fighting The Heat — With Asphalt Paint

Half a dozen people are painting asphalt at a park using long paint rollers.
Pacoima Beautiful organizers and volunteers painted 10 square blocks of asphalt near a park to help mitigate the heat that gets trapped in the community.
(Courtesy of Pacoima Beautiful)
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Talk to (mostly) anyone in L.A. and they have a heat wave story: how they felt and how they dealt.

This last one we just had was pretty unbearable and it’s likely that they’re only gonna get worse — and more frequent. For reference, in a study from a few years ago, researchers from UCLA forecasted that the average number of days in downtown L.A. that’ll be hotter than 95 degrees could triple in the next 20 years.

In other parts of the region, communities are not waiting for the climate to get hotter — they’re taking action now.

Pacoima is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the valley, with summer highs regularly topping out above 100 degrees. They also have a lot more pavement compared to other neighborhoods, which holds onto that heat. The nearby mountains, hot pavement, lack of green areas are all factors that create an urban heat island in this community.

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Tackling The Heat In Pacoima

Enter the GAF Cool Community Project in Pacoima, in partnership with Pacoima Beautiful, a nonprofit focusing on environmental and mobility justice in the area. This organization led the effort — with state and local officials and other organizations — to find a solution to beat the heat.

There are a lot of families who walk here and feel the heat, not just from the sun, but the hot asphalt too, Melanie Torres, a community organizer with Pacoima Beautiful, says.

Earlier this year, GAF and Pacoima Beautiful painted 10 square blocks and a few murals with a special coat that mitigates the hotness of the asphalt, reflects solar waves and beautifies the area. The painted asphalt doesn’t trap as much heat as non-painted surfaces.

A Latina wearing a green shirt and jeans stands in front of a sign for the Hubert H. Humphrey Park.
Melanie Torres at Hubert H. Humphrey Park in Pacoima.
(Evan Jacoby

The pavement work surrounds Hubert H.Humphrey Park and a nearby elementary school, which are tucked away in a neighborhood off of Foothill Boulevard. The basketball court is now royal blue, and the streets look a little fresher with a fresh coat of light gray paint and splashes of color.

One teen, named Matthew, riding his skateboard around the park told us, “It feels a lot cooler now, specifically I've noticed the basketball court. It does feel a lot better.”

Another bonus? Street maintenance is relatively low because of the special ingredients in the paint. The asphalt will stay intact longer and there will be little-to-no potholes.

“That's another plus another positive factor that these cool payments have on our community, we're not stressing about whether or not we're gonna get a flat tire or whether or not a new pothole is gonna be made,” Torres says.

Other neighborhoods in L.A. are getting the cool pavement treatment, too, but this is the biggest asphalt project that’s been completed in the city.

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What Is Cool Pavement?

The cool pavement movement isn’t just happening in L.A. Companies like Street Bond, which was associated with this project, are experimenting with this type of paint all over the United States, with pilot cities everywhere from Chicago to Phoenix.

A street painted with bright red and baby blue colors symbolizing a heat scale.
One of the art pieces symbolizing a heat scale near Hubert H. Humphrey Park in Pacoima.
(Courtesy of Pacoima Beautiful)

Street Bond GAF, a manufacturing company that makes this paint, has covered 20 million square feet out of 4.5 billion square feet in the U.S., says Eliott Wall, the general manager of the company.

Researchers at UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona State are studying the long-term effects of these kinds of paints. They say it’ll be a few more years before we know the true impact, but early results show that such paint has reduced surface temperatures by an average of 4 to 6 degrees.

We wanted to test out the cool pavement ourselves so we brought an infrared thermometer and hit the street. Torres showed us a spot in the park’s parking lot that wasn’t covered in the special paint, but where the rest of it was. (Caveat: it was cloudy that day.)

The cool pavement registered at 106.7 degrees. The non-painted asphalt hit 111 degrees.

The paint, it appeared to us, does work.

Why It Matters In This Community

This is an important part of the solution for people in Pacoima. It’s a community that is predominantly Latino — about 86% of residents — and has been historically low-income.

“Environmental justice, it's a wide variety of things,” Torres says. “You're not only looking at the climate itself, but you're looking at communities and how they're impacted on a financial level. With the implementation of trees and these cool pavements, we really… [want to] reduce our energy use, to save money, or just to reduce any electricity usage, across all platforms.”

You're not only looking at the climate itself, but you're looking at communities and how they're impacted on a financial level.
— Melanie Torres, Pacoima Beautiful community organizer

People were lounging under the trees on the hot day we visited the park. They were making this area their own — the skater kids, the raspado lady, the family pushing their stroller.

Torres represents the 818. She was born and raised in Pacoima, and she told us it was really important to her that she stay in her community.

“When I'm canvasing and I'm just talking to a person who lives in their house, I definitely just see my tío, my tía, that's exactly who I'm talking about. I don't know who you are, sir — you’re my tío though,” Torres says.

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Updated September 14, 2022 at 3:15 PM PDT
Update: We added GAF, the manufacturer of the asphalt paint, as the partner on the Pacoima project.
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