The San Fernando-based organization Pueblo Y Salud Inc., along with other northeast San Fernando Valley residents, is suing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), alleging the city utility failed to notify them about a longtime gas leak at its Valley Generating Station.
Protests have been held at the site in Sun Valley over several months by both environmental organizations and local Latino advocacy organizations.
Pueblo y Salud Inc. and the residents are alleging fraudulent concealment, assault and battery, negligence, private and public nuisance, dangerous condition of public property and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The suit was brought to Los Angeles Superior Court.
“Our seniors, our kids, the families, we serve all our lives, work, play and go to school in areas that neighbor the Valley Generating Station,” said Ruben Rodriguez, executive director of Pueblo y Salud.
“It’s a highly populated area and still no one warned us. Our families had no idea that the air they were breathing was toxic. There’s no excuse for that.”
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
With many poor and disadvantaged residents, who are also working menial jobs to keep food on their table, the Northeast San Fernando Valley has also been defined as the “epicenter” for COVID-19 by LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez.
History of Environmental Injustice
It’s been noted that the residents in the northeast San Fernando have historically faced environmental injustice and have fought back to stop undesirable projects and polluting industry from coming into their neighborhoods.
The High Speed Rail was turned away from the Northeast San Fernando Valley after residents objected to the damage and years of disruption it would cause.
In 1996, the Price Pfister plumbing fixtures company paid out $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit against its manufacturing methods that were introducing lead into their faucets well exceeding the legal limit allowed by the state Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. That same year, the company shut down its plant in Pacoima, laying off 300 workers and moving those jobs to Mexico. The plant was closed permanently in 1997.
The current suit against the DWP alleges, for at least three years, those who live in Sun Valley, Pacoima and surrounding areas — many of them minorities — have been exposed to toxic gas that has caused severe and persistent health effects for these residents.
The individual plaintiffs allege they have experienced seizures, dizziness, shortness of breath and impaired mental faculties. One woman suffered seizures when she moved into the area that stopped after she left. And a young woman who also had seizures later died, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs allege that DWP knew about the leak for at least three years and did not stop it or alert the thousands of residents in the surrounding area about it. The DWP began repairing the leak after management found out that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was going to disclose its magnitude and only then were residents told about being exposed to toxic chemicals, including methane and benzene, according to the lawsuit.
“LADWP admitted that it made a cold, calculated decision that the local folks had to make the sacrifice,” plaintiffs’ attorney R. Rex Parris alleged.
“They made an informed choice that the lives of the largely working-class people of color residents of Sun Valley and Pacoima were not worth raising an alarm,” Parris said. “They knew for years about this leak — why did the utility not see fit to warn families sooner? There was no sense of urgency or concern.”
The suit alleges that DWP’s general manager and chief engineer “acknowledged” that the health of the people in the communities surrounding the Valley Generating Station “could be sacrificed” in support of the overall efforts by the city agency to operate the plant.
“For LADWP to play God with people’s lives is not only reprehensible, but also criminal,’’ said another plaintiffs’ attorney, Sylvia Torres-Guillen. “Through this lawsuit, LADWP must be held accountable for its shameful actions.”
A representative for the City Attorney’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit.