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Removal of vegetation on Foothill will have long term effects

by Kurt Bumiller

This is an open letter to Mayor Larry Schroeder, and council members Corey Calaycay, Jennifer Stark, Jed Leano and Ed Reece:

I am writing to address my concerns about the walls on the north and south Foothill Boulevard between Mountain Avenue and Berkeley. This is the only part of the recent Foothill Upgrade Project that is residential.

Prior to the project, the walls were obscured by foliage and vegetation, but as a consequence of the upgrade, the residents on both sides of the boulevard lost their “buffer zone” that previously protected their views and provided a sound, privacy and pollution barrier.

However, it’s not just the neighbors that were affected—those who drive, walk or ride on this major arterial highway lost their view of a dense corridor of vegetation. What they see now see is a hodgepodge of fences and rooftops in various stages of disrepair.

This is not just a neighborhood problem, but a city-wide and regional problem—part of the taxpayer-funded $16 million dollar project on a much-travelled historic Route 66.

In California, neighbors who share fences share the responsibility for upkeep and maintenance. However, California’s Good Neighbor Fence law leaves an exemption to cities. Be that as it may, I consider it morally wrong for the city to hide behind this exemption.

Not all that was exposed is blight. The project revealed a nearly 100-year-old river rock wall, which should serve as an example of Claremont civic pride. It is not only beautiful but well-constructed, and it takes us back to the citrus grove era.

Though it was an appropriate height at the time of construction, it now requires a “topper” in order to create the appropriate visual, sound and pollution barrier. By contrast, the newly-exposed cinder block walls are an eyesore and need to be rebuilt to a higher and uniform level.

Those of us who find the current state of this section of Foothill Boulevard walls unacceptable are not asking our elected officials or city staff to mitigate something that is unsupported by science. An excerpt from the United States Environmental Protection Agency website, January 20, 2017, “Living Close to Roadways: Health Concerns and Mitigation Strategies”:

“Exposure to emissions from cars and trucks can have negative effects on health. That’s why the US government Environmental Protection Agency [the EPA] is developing strategies to reduce the impact of traffic emissions on public health.”

“EPA scientists have compiled research and recommendations for designing and planting roadside barriers. Roadside barriers can be walls built alongside roadways to reduce traffic noise, and vegetation made up of trees and bushes that are along the road.

“Study findings show that properly designed roadside vegetation and noise barriers can reduce downwind pollution concentrations by altering air flow and intercepting pollution. Roadside vegetation can be most effective at reducing air pollution when barriers are thick, with full coverage from the ground to the top of the canopy, and extend or wrap around an area, so that pollutants cannot flow around the edges,” like the dense vegetation that previously existed along this stretch of Foothill.

Further, the website states that using a vegetation barrier may remove some of the smallest particulate pollutants from the near-road environment. Other research suggests that combining roadside vegetation with noise barriers can reduce downwind pollution at a greater rate than vegetation or a solid, noise barrier alone.

Richard Baldauf, an EPA scientist who studies mitigation strategies for near roadway air pollution says, “These roadside barriers can be a good addition to emission control techniques because they can address existing air quality problems in a shorter time period than most other strategies. Noise barriers and vegetation barriers can provide other benefits to the community such as noise reduction and water runoff control.”

And as readers are well aware, air quality in the Pomona Valley is one of our fundamental quality of life issues. From the July 1, 2019 LA Times: “The war on Southern California smog is slipping.”

The Times reports that southern California has the nation’s worst smog and “is falling further out of compliance with the Clean Air Act as levels of lung-damaging ozone pollution have ticked upward in recent years.”

The Times shared that in 2018, there were only two bad air days for ozone pollution on the Westside and just four in downtown LA.

“Not far away in the San Fernando Valley there were 49. San Bernardino had 102—more unhealthy days than the city has logged since the mid-1990s,” the Times said.

“We’re not seeing the same improvements as people living near the coast,” said Anthony Victoria of the Riverside County-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. “When you’re in San Bernardino you look toward the mountains and it’s not clear. You have layers of smog you can see in the sky. You have people with asthma struggling to breathe, and it’s a devastating thing.”

I would hate to see the shortcomings and failures of this project become another long-term thorn in the paw of Claremont city government.

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