WEST ATHENS, Calif. — Cargo volumes are dipping at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and yet, the effects of the record-setting backlog are still being felt, especially in communities of color.
The container yard surrounding Whitney Starr's complex wasn’t there when she moved into her apartment — but rather popped up out of the blue.
“We can totally hear this stacking business right here,” Starr said. “It is pounding. It’s so loud.”
Starr said the noise, the traffic and the pollution from idling trucks are getting to her.
“I should feel proud of what I’ve accomplished and that I’m doing it on my own, but instead, I’m kind of coming home to what feels like a very industrial space,” Starr said.
Starr started to feel this way last year after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order offering empty, state-owned property for cargo storage to ease supply chain issues.
In a records request to Caltrans, Spectrum News asked for the locations of all these lots statewide. Almost two dozen addresses were returned — all in Los Angeles County. The biggest clusters are in Santa Fe Springs and in the mostly unincorporated region near West Athens.
This is not a coincidence for state Senate candidate Jennifer Trichelle-Marie Williams.
“No, I’m not really surprised, sadly. History tends to repeat itself and this is not the first time and it likely won’t be the last that communities of color are targeted, I believe systemically, in a way that really deteriorates our health,” Williams said.
She’s gathering proof. Williams and her neighbors contribute to an activity log of their experiences with the yards, and then there’s the petition she started to remove them.
Organization comes naturally for the certified public accountant.
“Documentation is very much in line with how I show up, making sure data is informing decisions,” Williams said.
The leases for the lots are set to expire later this year, but Williams and Starr have questions for Caltrans about the present and the future wellbeing of their community they have yet to get fully answered. Same for State Sen. Steven Bradford, who represents this district. He wrote a letter to the California State Transportation Agency, but got no meaningful response.
For a community already bisected by busy thoroughfares, both on the ground and in the sky, the additional socioeconomic and environmental tolls won’t go away overnight, putting Starr in a hard spot.
“I really want to stay here. I want to stay here because this is the greatest commute to my job. This is a community that looks like me and feels like me and keeps me safe,” Starr said.
If things don’t change, love for the community might not be enough to keep her here.
When asked if the leases for the yards could get renewed, a Caltrans spokesman said, “Currently, there are no plans to make these leases permanent.”
That same representative also said remediation of the sites would be possible once the containers are cleared only if necessary.
Part of a statement to Spectrum News from Caltrans states: “Since the leases began, Caltrans has conducted regular site visits. The department has seen no evidence of truck staging/idling/parking in the area and noise level appears to be under the required decibel level, and has worked quickly with the lessee and the community when issues have been raised.”