Volunteers spreading blue-colored cool pavement coating onto one of the basketball courts at the Hubert Humphrey Memorial Recreation Center on July 22. (G. Arizon)

A small, 10-square block area in Pacoima is getting free cool pavement coatings on streets and parking lots as part of a joint effort to reduce urban heat in one of the San Fernando Valley’s hottest neighborhoods.

The GAF Cool Community Project is a collaboration by GAF — a roofing and waterproofing manufacturer — the City of Los Angeles and organizations such as Pacoima Beautiful, Climate Resolve, Urban Semillas and the Global Cool Cities Alliance.

The 10-square block area includes the parking lot and basketball courts at the Hubert Humphrey Memorial Recreation Center and the parking lot for Hillery T. Broadous Elementary School, as well as a street mural on Cometa Avenue created using the pavement coatings. The coatings were donated by GAF.

The project has been underway for a couple of weeks and is due to be completed within two weeks. On July 22, volunteers began applying the coating to the basketball courts, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held the next day.

Getting the Community Onboard

GAF has been planning this project for seven months and brought on community organizations like Pacoima Beautiful to help with outreach two months ago.

Melanie Torres, a community organizer with Pacoima Beautiful, said she conducted door-to-door outreach and encouraged residents to come to community meetings to not only inform them of the project, but to get feedback on the design of the basketball courts and street mural.

“I was just excited that something so cool, no pun intended, was actually coming to our community,” Torres said. “We’ve seen other communities that have parks that have vibrant colors. … We’re fortunate to be part of this and to just implement cool things like bright, vibrant colors that, I think, represent and reflect the personalities of our community.”

Warming stripes onto Dronfield Avenue adjacent to the basketball courts at the Hubert Humphrey Memorial Recreation Center. These stripes show the annual temperature change in LA County from 1895-2021. Red stripes represent warmer temperatures while the blue stripes represent cooler temperatures. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

Torres said a lot of residents are expressing their gratitude for this project. She also said that the project will help reduce urban heat since Pacoima is a “hot zone.”

“We’re in the middle of an industrial area,” Torres said. “We have major freeways in the middle of our community. So overall, I think we’re just looking forward to combatting this heat. Overall, we’re ready to have our families be outside and enjoy the outdoors without having to rely on trees so much.”

Extreme Heat in Valley Neighborhoods

Gabriel Varela, associate director of Outreach Programs for Climate Resolve, said that more than approximately 80 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas, which will continue to be affected by extreme heat and experience the heat island effect — when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings and other surfaces that retain heat.

A 2021 study by the University of California, Davis, found that the difference in temperatures between the poorest 10 percent and wealthiest 10 percent in California’s metro areas was six to seven degrees. The study also found that heavily Latino-populated neighborhoods in California are 3.2 degrees warmer than less densely populated Latino neighborhoods on an extreme heat day.

“We’re seeing extreme heat pose a real danger to the health of the community,” Varela said. “The [San Fernando] Valley is one of the areas within the City of LA that’s going to have the highest impact.”

Varela also said that Pacoima is a neighborhood that, historically, has not been invested in, with many resources going to wealthier communities that won’t experience the same level of heat.

“I think for this project, we wanted to make sure to bring those resources to Pacoima, and to ensure that there are cooling strategies that are being implemented in order to protect the health of the community, and make sure that folks can be more resilient and, ideally, we’re mitigating that extreme heat in the years to come,” Varela said.

Studying the Effects of Cool Coating

In addition to the coating, data collection is also being conducted to observe the before and after effects of the project on the neighborhood. Haider Taha, president and scientist at Altostratus Inc., began his data collection in April and said he will continue his observations each month for another year and a half.

“The reason [for the yearlong observation] is because we want to study the benefits and effects of the pavement under various and different weather conditions,” Taha said. “We’re going to study how the benefits and effects change over time from season to season, from summer to winter.”

Taha, who has looked into urban cooling for almost three decades, said he is looking at a variety of factors, such as local temperature, surface temperature, humidity, etc. He said that the benefits of urban cooling include reducing emissions and the amount of cooling that buildings need.

Once all the coating is completed, it is set to last for at least five years. Currently, there are no plans to bring this type of project to other communities around the Valley.

“We want to learn here first, and then use those learnings to really inform kind of where do we go from here, both in the greater LA area [and] in the San Fernando Valley, but also in other cities and communities around the country as well,” said Jeff Terry, vice president, Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability at GAF.

“Our hope with this project is not just to do this, but it’s to use it as a vehicle to help bring awareness to climate change and urban heating and education so that people understand what this heat is doing to them and what we can try to do to help mediate that.”