By Janean Sorrell and Emily Frisan, Nov. 16, 2021

The 2021 LA County Climate Vulnerability Assessment, released last month, identifies the level of dangers across cities, populations and groups that are highly vulnerable to climate hazards. Pomona is listed as one of the most vulnerable cities in Los Angeles County to extreme heat on account of its high percentage of children and large number of outdoor workers.

Extreme climate events and stressors jeopardize the health and safety of Los Angeles County residents, who have an increased likelihood of risk of climate hazards. Every year brings new events that put stress on natural resources, the community’s health and the facilities and infrastructure that provide the county’s critical services.

“The Pomona basin is the worst air basin in the United States due to its lack of airflow and shading,” said Douglas Kent, adjunct professor at Cal Poly Pomona’s John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies.

Cal Poly Pomona is adjacent to the intersection of three major highways, Interstate 57, Interstate 10 and Interstate 71, and the city lacks significant green space, inducing the Los Angeles basin to trap greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the report, Hispanic and Latinx residents make up nearly 48.5% of LA County’s population but 66.9% reside in areas that are vulnerable to extreme heat.

Increasing temperatures can threaten the health of LA County’s most vulnerable residents, including children, older adults, people experiencing homelessness, outdoor workers and those with underlying health conditions. Excessive heat can also cause serious damage to the energy infrastructure which plays a pivotal role in helping people keep cool during extreme heat.

The Children’s Center at Cal Poly Pomona has taken the rising temperatures into consideration over the past five years. Director of the Children’s Center Celeste Salinas said teachers have adapted to the heat by adding artificial shading, water-based activities, implementing water breaks and reapplying sunscreen for the children.

“Many of the children live in apartments or other small places without the ability to go outside,” said Salinas. “The development from outdoor experiences is valuable.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat stroke occurs when the body is incapable of regulating its temperature making it impossible for the body to cool down. Children become increasingly vulnerable to excessive heat since their bodies are growing, they are not able to maintain a stable internal body temperature as well as adults.

Outdoor workers are also vulnerable to excessive heat. To beat the heat, CPP’s landscaping crew works 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., said Brian Lake, interim manager of the university’s Landscape Services.

“The hours between noon and 2:30 p.m. is probably the most dangerous time,” said Lake.

The university’s landscapers are also provided safety gear such as straw hats, tinted safety glasses for UV protection, pop-up tents to provide shade and long-sleeve shirts which are beneficial to prevent sunburn. The team must also undergo yearly training for sun exposure.

According to James Blair, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology, another reason why the Pomona basin is vulnerable to extreme heat is because of its geography.

“It’s in the valley, high up, toward the mountains. It’s just in an area that is far enough away from the coast that the heat just gets trapped in just like the air quality, all that smoke gets trapped in and all the other air pollutants,” explained Blair.

With the risk of heat also comes an increased risk of fire.

The sun is obscured behind the Old Stables due to smoke from the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest last September. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski).

Kent explained that California’s landscape is unique and has a well-documented history of wildfires; however, increasing temperatures and drought leads to the deterioration of the natural environment.

Maintaining the control of fires leads to an increase of intensity due to combat-control methods, which serve as routine and operational guidelines that help incident commanders, such as firefighters, operate within numerous, all-hazard emergency situations.

CPP Landscaping Services has executed considerable work over the last two years around campus to keep it safe, removing debris and trees that can ignite easily with excessive heat.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Lake. “Previously we used to only maintain a 30-foot firebreak between the campus property and homeowner properties of the residents of Walnut, now we do much more. ”

Downed trees that could ignite in a fire were cut up and cleared from a trail below the historic Kellogg House. (Courtesy of Gary Fong)

According to the report, LA County’s wildfire burn areas may increase up to 40% within the next 15 to 40 years, putting more than one million homes in danger. Additionally, smoke from the fires will affect residents across LA County and jeopardize energy assets and water quality for all its residents.

The report indicates these events create ripple effects with, “cascading social, political and economic consequences.” Events such as power outages and relocations disrupt critical social networks for residents, businesses and the operations and services of other critical infrastructure and in turn, “exacerbate the region’s existing housing affordability and availability issues.”

Guillermo Nila Torres, the ASI officer of sustainability and transportation, familiarized himself with the report and reflected on the communities around him. He stated that ASI initiatives such as the Class Pass and Children’s Center are currently addressing the concerns outlined in the report.

“More down the line addressing climate change issues, we are making more initiatives to see how we as a campus and as a community can combat this long term,” said Torres. “We do have an Office of Sustainability and they’re always looking into what we can do with our facilities at Cal Poly and how students can become empowered to become advocates for addressing climate change.”

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