The sun covering the City of San Fernando, and the valley as a whole, in an intense summer heat. (SFVS Staff)

During a recent briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, Pacoima was named as an area suffering from high heat without enough shade. Pacoima’s schools have less than 10% of space that actually provides shade with play yards that need less asphalt and more shade.

“Because most Californians are effectively living in shade deserts currently, but the distribution of shade in the city is very inequitable,” said Prof. V. Kelly Turner, associate director at the Luskin Center for Innovation, an environmental policy and planning research center at UCLA.

“I want to highlight the example of Pacoima, where we recently did a shade audit in a neighborhood and a school. And we found that the school has, for instance, less than 10% shade in the midday hours. And that’s when kids are out having recess, recreating and eating lunch. And this is not atypical, this was a very typical California school.

Marta Segura, chief heat officer and director of climate emergency mobilization for the city of Los Angeles, warned of the serious risk that extreme heat poses to health especially for those in disadvantaged communities. She said the city now has five times more heat waves than before and the body has a more difficult time cooling down. Those who are low income can be at greatest risk. The stagnant air and extreme heat can increase the amount of ozone pollution and particulate pollution and extreme heat poses the greatest natural risk to human health. Those taking buses can also be exposed to increased pollution.

If a body’s temperature rises quickly and a person’s temperature rises to a dangerous 106 or higher with just 10 or 14 minutes and our natural cooling system — sweat — fails to produce quickly enough — heat exposure can lead to a disability or even death.

“This is not your grandmother’s summer” said Segura. “The body burden level is higher than ever before — just providing air conditioning is not the solution. Buildings need to be weatherized.

“The areas with the greatest vulnerabilities are those living in low-income housing with excess deaths and hospitalizations and greatest chronic illness are those who have greatest exposure to urban heat,” said Segura.

She points out that some people who have air conditioning may not use it because of the high cost to have it on.

“With multi-family housing or low-income housing — we want to make sure that the policies that we put in place that the latest technologies that use less energy — but we have a long way to go.”

The areas with the greatest vulnerabilites are those living in low-income housing with excess deaths and hospitalizations and greatest chronic illness are those who have greatest exposure to urban heat.

She said cooling centers are essential in South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and the city is attempting to set up more cooling stations.

She said that there are many factors to consider for workers during the heat.

“If you are a construction worker and have three cups of coffee in the morning or you drank the night before, you are at a higher risk of getting heat stroke — there are a lot of things that can consider the health of the workers and employers need to be mindful by extending breaks during the heat.

Heat Disparities

Turner said the unhoused are especially at risk with 40% of heat-related deaths currently are among those who have no housing and are living on city streets.

Turner said the Luskin Center for Innovation has published two extensive reports, Identifying and Addressing Heat Inequities in the City of Los Angeles, and Turning Down the Heat that detail disparities across Los Angeles’s communities. She recommends communities conduct “shade audits” for those communities that haven’t done them.

Turner takes the science of extreme heat into three categories.

“The first is extreme heat — heat waves, whether that’s exceptional in some way, and that we know that that extreme heat is going to get longer and worse in the future.” says Turner.

“What makes it worse is the way we build cities. Regionally, we put a lot of buildings and impervious stuff out. And that creates what’s often called the Urban Heat Island Effect, which makes whole cities hotter than places that are not developed.”

The third category, according to Professor Turner, is what she refers to as The Human Heat Burden.

“I argue that this is the one that matters the most to the quality of life of Californians. And it’s also the one that’s most inequitable. This is basically neighborhood to neighborhood. What kind of infrastructure green and gray is available to people,” Turner points out.

“So one of the most important things we can do to address extreme heat and inequity is to think more specifically about shade infrastructure, said Turner. “And that’s because primarily, the way that people feel hot is from exposure to the sun. And so you can reduce temperatures on the body by about 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, as measured by a composite metric that we use in our lab in just a few feet.”

Urban development has added to the problem by creating “heat islands” where asphalt predominates over shade and green space. But with shade structures, Turner points out that can be strategically placed with tree plantings, shade awnings, or bus shelters — can go far in reducing people’s body heat temperatures by tens of degrees.

Stay Cool

To stay cool, it’s recommended that those who don’t have access to air-conditioning go to their local libraries, malls or cooling centers to cool down and escape the heat.

LA County pools offer free swimming during specified hours.

It is vital to keep hydrated. Those who are young, elderly, pregnant and disabled are especially vulnerable and should be well looked after during high temperatures. 

Never leave children or pets unattended in cars.

You can reduce exposure to heat and poor air quality by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed, avoiding strenuous physical activity, using air conditioning rather than swamp coolers or fans that bring in outside air and wearing respirator masks while outdoors.

You can turn to a list of resources available by the county by going to: “Heat Ready California.”