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Fight The Heat With Asphalt Paint
Colorful array of city activities: food truck, cyclist, vintage car, barber, girl in quinceanera dress; 6th street bridge in the background with purple gradient overlay
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
Episode 7
10:18
Fight The Heat With Asphalt Paint
Pacoima is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Los Angeles so some homegrown environmental activists are trying something new to mitigate the extreme heat: painting the pavement. Guests: Erin Stone, LAist Climate Emergency Reporter Melanie Torres, Community Organizer with Pacoima Beautiful Eliot Wall, General Manager for Street Bond-GAF

Brian De Los Santos 

Alrighty, y'all today we're hanging out with Erin Stone again. She covers the Climate Emergency for LAist. Erin, thank you for coming back. I'm glad you're here.

 

Erin Stone 

It's great to be here, Brian. Glad to be back.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

We're finally done with this terrible heatwave. But y'all 'ready know heat waves are not rare in LA.

 

Erin Stone 

Yeah, unfortunately not. And as our climate continues to change, they're just gonna get more intense and more common.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So communities across LA are coming up with creative and smart solutions to tackle the heat.

 

Erin Stone 

Yeah, like painting the street.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

From LAist studios, this is How to LA, the podcast that helps you navigate this sprawling city. I'm Brian De Los Santos.

 

Erin Stone 

And I'm Erin Stone.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Today we're checking out how Pacoima is beating the heat with pavement paint.

 

Erin Stone 

Yes, the Painted Pavement Project in Pacoima.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Painted Payment-PAVEMENT Project of Pacoima. That's a mouthful!

 

Erin Stone 

Right?! Say that five times fast?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Oh. Can't do it.

 

Erin Stone 

Me neither. Pacoima is one of the hottest neighborhoods in The Valley. Summer highs regularly top out above 100 degrees. There's also a ton of pavement compared to other neighborhoods, which makes it even hotter because pavement holds on to that heat even more.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So that means it doesn't cool down as much at night. Right?

 

Erin Stone 

Exactly. Especially at night. It's really tough to cool down. To show what we're talking about. We're gonna go to Humphrey Park and Pacoima.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Which I used to swim there when I was a kid. Well, high school. So you know, I got my varsity jacket, I got my little things on.

 

Erin Stone 

Wow, that's impressive Brian!

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Go Sylmar Spartan's, ay ay!

 

Erin Stone 

You're gonna show off some varsity moves?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Yeah, I shoot buckets when I play basketball, but put me in a pool and I'm a fish. (Laughter.)

 

Erin Stone 

I believe it!

 

Brian De Los Santos 

But, I do want to confirm. It does get hot there.

 

Erin Stone 

So are you going to swim for us?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Oh, yeah. I totally brought my Speedo-my jammers. No, I did not-I did not. (Laughter.)

 

Brian De Los Santos 

In places like Pacoima, how do residents cool off?

 

Melanie Torres 

It's been tough. Trying to mitigate, and try to figure out what we can do with this heat.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Melanie Torres. She's a community organizer for the nonprofit environmental group Pacoima Beautiful.

 

Melanie Torres  

One thing that we've tried to focus here at Pacoima Beautiful is mobility justice just as much as environmental justice. We have a lot of walking families. When you're walking and you're just feeling the impact of the sun going directly on the top of your head, and then the concrete absorbs it. So when it releases it remits, you're getting both top down and bottom up heat exhaustion.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So we see here at the park there, it's painted a nice blue. How do the pretty colors make a difference? Where it's like bouncing the heat off? It's absorbing? Why? Why paint, and why is it blue?

 

Melanie Torres  

Excellent question. We are in an area that's covered in asphalt. So what's the number one thing that absorbs heat, that asphalt?

 

Erin Stone 

We all know pavement is hot, right? I mean, you touch it and it can burn you-it can seriously burn you. The way the urban heat island effect works is: we have all these cities coated in asphalt and pavement, and when the sun beats down on it all day that pavement absorbs it, and holds it in, and it just makes it even harder to cool down at night, which is really dangerous for public health.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's why some people just hang out at the park right, or if they have AC they'll put it on all day. But we know that's costly, especially in a community like Pacoima. That's why they painted the area around the pool, the basketball courts, the parking lot...

 

Eliot Wall 

Very consistently, we see at least 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit difference between the uncoated asphalt and the coated asphalt.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Eliot Wall. He's the general manager of StreetBond, the company that makes this paint.

 

Eliot Wall  

Understanding how the coatings can be applied at greater scale is part of what has made LA really forward thinking.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

And this isn't just happening in LA, companies like StreetBond are experimenting with this type of paint all over the United States, with pilot cities everywhere from Chicago to Phoenix. Can you estimate how many square miles your paint has covered in neighborhoods or projects, including this one?

 

Eliot Wall  

We've applied..I would say around 20 million square feet.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Damn.

 

Eliot Wall 

Sounds like a lot. But there's actually 408 billion square feet of asphalt pavement in the United States. So this is less than a drop in the bucket.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

But look, this whole reflective paint thing is pretty new. Research Labs at UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State are studying the 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 a third of residents and pilot cities are feeling relief.

 

Erin Stone 

And one of the things that's unique here in Pacoima is the scale of the project. They didn't just paint one street here or there. They did 10 square blocks.

 

Melanie Torres 

So if you're looking at a map, it starts off on Mercer and it ends up all the way up until Paxton Street.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

There's murals, there is a heat map on the street; and they have the same paint the road has.

 

Melanie Torres 

When we were conducting community meetings. The big question that came up was like: What about maintenance? Pacoima's also infamously well known for their potholes. What StreetBond does, it actually preserves the roads as well, anywhere from six to ten years. That's another plus, another positive factor that these cool pavements have on our community. It's actually super durable.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

This is an important part of the solution for people in Pacoima. It's a community that's predominantly Latino, and has been historically low income.

 

Erin Stone 

Right. And environmental justice doesn't just mean blue streets and green trees, it should mean more green in your wallet too.

 

Melanie Torres 

When you look at environmental justice, you're not only looking at the climate itself, but you're looking at communities, and how they're impacted on a financial level. We really hope to reduce our energy use, or just to reduce any electricity usage across all platforms.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

How are you poking people be like: excuse me, we have a project that can be expanded. So, not only Pacoima is impacted, but other communities of color, and just communities across Los Angeles. How they could like benefit from everything you're doing right now?

 

Melanie Torres 

It was a multifaceted project, which had a lot of involvement from numerous agencies and numerous partnerships. So, I don't know how I would tell other neighborhoods, because we happen to be at the right time at the right moment. You know, there's a lot of bureaucracy that goes along. There's a lot of paperwork.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So we wanted to test out the pavement paint just to see how much cooler it would be. We've got a little infrared thermometer thingy. You point the little laser and it tells you the temperature.

 

Erin Stone 

And quick disclaimer, this was on the last day of the heatwave when it got real cloudy.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Yeah, maybe not the most scientific experiment in the world. But Melanie says she had the perfect spot for tests.

 

Melanie Torres 

When we were trying to implement the coatings here at the parking lot. One car did not move, like just parked there. And we were like, you know what? We're not going to tow them. So right now there's an empty parking spot that does not have the coating at all. It's your own control group right there right next to you.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Okay, testing this thing. It's reading 111. All right. How about you?

 

Erin Stone 

Oh, wow, this is 106.7.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Okay, that's definitely a difference. I wouldn't want to be here all the time. But look at the difference.

 

Erin Stone 

There you have it, two parking spots right next to each other on a cloudy day, six inches apart and about five degrees difference.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

And you can see the impact. I mean, I remember coming here, Erin, and when I was in high school, I remember my friend's chanclas being melted. It wasn't like a gooey, gooey melt. It was just like, you know, the plastic was coming off and her feet were kind of like on fire. Now people are walking their dogs, or exercising, or doing whatever at the park during the longest heatwave LA has ever seen.

 

Matthew, Pacoima resident

It feels a lot cooler now. Specifically, the basketball court does feel a lot better.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

This is Matthew. He's one of the kids getting on the court. He says he's been coming here his whole life.

 

Matthew, Pacoima resident

I have a lot of memories here. A lot of emotional and physical connections to this place. I came here with my brother when I was like ten- actually nine. I just came here every day, even after my brother left I just kept coming here, coming here, coming here.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

It's not just skater kids like Matthew who make this park their own. There's families pushing strollers, street vendors selling raspados, the kinds of folks who use this park for recreation and their livelihood. They're who Melanie's work aims to help, and look Melanie is an 818 girl, she was born and raised in Pacoima. And she told us it was really important to her that she stays in her community.

 

Melanie Torres 

When I'm canvassing, and I'm just talking to a person who lives in their house, like I definitely just see my tio, my tia. That's exactly who I'm talking about. "I don't know who you are, sir. You're my tio, though." Twenty-six years ago, Pacoima was..it was overlooked. It was an overlooked community. Five mothers who lived in Pacoima, who are just tired of seeing the trash were tired of seeing all the environmental injustices that were going on. They took matters into their own hands and here we are twenty-six years later, and we're a nonprofit organization thriving and still promoting all of this sustainable and healthy living within our community. So, si se puede.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Other neighborhoods in LA are getting the cool payment treatment too. You can read about it in our newsletter. Subscribe at LAist.com/HowtoLA. All right. That's it for us today, y'all. Thank you so much for joining me, Erin.

 

Erin Stone 

It was great hanging out as always, Brian.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

If you liked this episode, you know what to do. Leave us a review. Ayyy-that sounded cute. (Laughing.)

 

Erin Stone 

That was good.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a private corporation funded by the American people. How to LA will be back at it tomorrow. I'll see you later.