“This site is killing us.”
With tears in her eyes and with a voice broken by sadness and anger, Imelda Ulloa tells BBC Mundo how difficult it became to live in Wilmington, a neighborhood in the southwest of Los Angeles, in California (USA).
She came to this Los Angeles harborside neighborhood 24 years ago from Jalisco, Mexico. But she says that for two years she has not been able to go out because the streets are invaded by trucks and containers.
The constant dust and noise are not only an inconvenience but he says they are harming his family’s health.
“My husband was diagnosed with asthma a few weeks ago. He finds it hard to breathe. He is bad. No one hears us, no one feels sorry for us, ”adds Ulloa as he breaks down in tears.
BBC Mundo collected similar testimonies among the residents of Wilmington, a community mostly of Hispanic origin. They say they are marginalized.
“We matter too much”
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – located next to each other in southern California – receive 40% of US imports.
And almost every year the record of the previous year in receiving shipments is broken.
In 2021, the volume of the port of Los Angeles was 10.7 million containers. That represented 13% more than in 2020.
Meanwhile, last year the port of Long Beach received 9.4 million containers, 15.7% more than in 2020.
“In the United States we import too much. Everything that you see in the dining room, the chairs where we sit, clothes, shoes, telephones, etc., come from other countries and enter through the port of Los Angeles”, details Gabriela Medina, District Director in Joe’s team. Buscaino, a councilman from Wilmington in the city of Los Angeles.
“Only in February 2022 there were 80,000 more containers than in the same month of the previous year. And a company that typically handles about 100 containers a day, today is moving double or almost triple,” he adds to BBC Mundo.
“Unfortunately, as a society, in more than 150 years of moving containers, we haven’t found different ways to transport them. The only way is by ship and then we put them on the train tracks or in trucks”, describes Medina.
The covid-19 pandemic complicated the situation, causing the call “the container crisis”.
This meant a shortage of available space on ships to transport products from Asia to the West, traffic jams in the largest international ports, the temporary closures of some Chinese maritime terminals due to strict measures to control the pandemic or the lack of truckers to transport the goods. containers, among other consequences.
For several months in 2021 and early 2022, they formed record ranks of ships load outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach mainly because there was no staff to unload them.
On one day in January this year there were as many as 109 ships waiting to dock. Before covid, it was unusual for more than one to have to wait at a time.
In March, lines began to get shorter, thanks in part to an increase in the speed of loading and unloading at terminals in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
According to data provided by the city of Los Angeles, only six companies have permission to store and move containers in Wilmington warehouses.
And there are at least twenty court cases against companies that are moving and storing containers without being authorized to do so.
The increase in the movement of containers directly affects the Wilmington community.
an old problem
Wilmington is more than 230 years old and in 1909 it joined the city of Los Angeles, two years after the foundation of the port of the Californian city.
According to the local authorities, in the last century the port has had a spectacular growth, without any urban planning suitable for physically separating the industrial zone from the residential one.
“Living in the heart of America’s largest port, Wilmington residents have been dealing with the impacts of the freight-moving industry for decades, but it’s gotten worse with the recent surge in demand for goods arriving at the port. of Los Angeles due to the pandemic,” explains Councilman Joe Buscaino.
“Wilmington is also dealing with a bad thing in the last 50 years that allowed residential neighborhoods to be built around industrial businesses. There are no easy or quick solutions to solve this problem, ”he says in an email to BBC Mundo.
About 60,000 people live in Wilmington, the majority with Hispanic roots.
“There are many undocumented immigrants, some for 30 years, who do not know that they have rights and who until now were not aware that they had the power of voice” to claim what they are living for, he says. Robert Monroe an activist of Mexican origin who works as a stylist in the neighborhood.
Wilmington is surrounded by an industrial zone, but its streets and houses are like those of any suburban neighborhood in Southern California.
Although there is a prohibition for large trucks to circulate there, this happens anyway.
“Every day is the same. My son’s car looks like a piñata because of the buns” made by passing trucks, he says Soulwho came to Wilmington from Mexico 8 years ago and lives on one of the busiest streets.
What used to be an activity from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Friday, has now become a 24-hour traffic every day.
Although “heOn Sundays you can rest a little”, assures Alma, who is tired of this situation because she cannot go out to the patio due to the deafening noise of the trucks, nor can she hang up her clothes because they are full of dust.
Even the neighbors themselves put up barricades and posters to show their rejection of the passing trucks.
“Children can no longer play here. This 20 years ago looked very different,” he says. Gina Martinez, President of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council.
“A safe place for everyone”
The Port of Los Angeles police unit that patrols the neighborhood says it does everything it can to protect residents, though it makes it clear it can’t stop trucks from being unloaded and loaded.
“We have increased our surveillance patrolling of the area and we enforce the law when necessary,” Sgt. Glenn Twardy, Los Angeles Harbor Police.
As he explains, nine motorized officers patrol the streets of Wilmington and since last November they began to keep a record of infractions.
When asked if his patrols have any effect, Twardy affirms that they have seen a decrease in the circulation of trucks in the area, although he clarifies that this would also respond to the fact that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation increased the amount of the fines, which They can exceed $200.
“We are not here to stop trade or penalize drivers. We just want it to be a safe place for everyone. Trucks must use designated roads, and those roads do not include neighborhoods where children play or people cross streets,” Sgt. Twardy emphasizes.
But the neighbors assure that they do not see those controls.
“I feel that nobody helps us. Why don’t they stop, because we are Latinos, because we are less than that?” asks Imelda Ulloa.
Roberto Monroe says that in Wilmington they have been suffering from this problem for years because they are marginalized.
“We are seen as a poor community, but we are not, we work. We have no help because we are not top notch. They don’t take us seriously as residents“, he assures.
Some neighbors demand that a street outside the residential area be opened so that trucks with containers circulate exclusively. Others are calling directly for the streets of Wilmington to be blocked.
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the City of Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles, and the California Department of Transportation conducted a Freight Mitigation Study that recommended several solutions.
Short-term proposals include the inclusion of roundaboutsthe closure of some streets, the implementation of dead endsthe creation of a truck pollution mitigation fund in residential areas and the formation of working groups to enforce local traffic regulations, among other measures.
For the long term, Councilman Buscaino’s office will request more than $90 million from state and federal resources to improve infrastructure at neighborhood rail crossings and create hybrid industrial zones to facilitate the coexistence of industrial and residential uses.
Meanwhile, the city offered residents air filtration systems for excess dust and double windows to alleviate the sound impact of passing trucks.
“The bottom line is that the state and federal government have the jurisdiction and the funding to implement long-term solutions,” says Buscaino.
“LWilmington residents do not deserve to bear the most negative effects of American consumerism.”he concludes.
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