February 2, 2012
In the early 1900’s the political will of Los Angeles was heavily geared toward economic expansion with no regard to the environmental and residential degradation that the industrial movement was causing in the southland. The rise of industrial corporations saw a clash between the upper middle class, heavily invested in the industry, and the lower class, struggling with health affects and decreasing value of property due to the environmental degradation. This clash between classes was primarily because they had different economic interests. The citizens that were in the lower class mainly relied on the value of real estate and quality of health in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the upper class was heavily invested in diversifying the Los Angeles economy with the expansion of industry. This economic clash was only the basis of the political struggles the city government faced, in regards to environmental justice.
The machine politicians that emerged from the upper middle class were focused on financial gain over the environmental preservation of natural resources. Even when corruption was not an issue, the plan to expand the economy trumped the concern of residential degradation by the industries in the lower class neighborhoods. For example, over a long period of time, complaints were filed about LA Gas and Electric Company holding a monopoly on the energy supply, which caused a huge stranglehold on the political system with financial influence and corruption. The amount of pollution the energy utility was causing greatly affected the health and value of the neighborhoods it affected.
One of the more prominent disputes occurred over whether or not to permit the Suburban Gas Company to build near the river in the Eighth Ward, which spurred encouragement from local manufactures because of cheap energy and negative feedback from the residents that lived in the affected area. After the federal and local courts were involved, the gas company was finally denied the permits necessary to construct in the district; consequently, that secured the LA Gas and Electric Company’s monopoly on the industry, thus allowing a thick amount of air pollution to be released unregulated in order to meet energy demands and make a marginal profit.
Although industrial monopoly is minimal in Los Angeles today, the utilities continue to have a negative effect on the poorer communities in which they operate. While corruption is uncommon in the city government, the environmental and residential degradation continues to take a back seat to efforts to expand the economy and diversify its natural resources. We will see this issue augment as more problems looms with the expanding economy.
The expansion of population in Southern California, due to the massive economic expansion, also had a huge effect on coastal policies regarding resource extraction, specifically that of oil. In the 1920s, as land oil sources were becoming sparse, extensive oil deposits were found off the coast of Southern California. The public and government were unsure of what should be done with the oil deposits and who had the right to control them. Corporations, looking to access more capital, wished to drill offshore to extract the oil. But many people hoped to preserve the aesthetics of the beach, which gave it economic value in realty and tourism. This dispute generated a large legal battle involving many stakeholders, courts, and government officials.
Many notable state officials actively supported the protection of the coastline from oil drillers. California surveyor general, W. S. Kingsbury, denied many coastal oil-development permits in order to thwart oil development that would ruin the coastline. Also joining him in the cause for coastal protection were Governor Clement C. Young and California attorney general Ulysses S. Webb. The competing interest was the oil companies. Specifically, these rivals clashed in a dispute over Huntington Beach, a contentious location in the battle, where the government’s desire to protect the coastline clashed with the need to economically develop as the Great Depression hit. Despite extensive court decisions, state propositions, and lobbying in the 1920s and 1930s, the issue of offshore oil drilling was never fully resolved and remains an issue to this day.
In fact, the topic of drilling off the coast of Southern California is still discussed in Congress. As of late, new offshore drilling locations have not been created. However, according to a blog written on the National Resources Defense Council site, a bill was introduced Tuesday (January 31, 2012) by the Republican Party in Congress that would reopen the California coast to offshore oil drilling. In fact, it would require the government to lease out drillable areas. If the bill passed as is, the Secretary of the Interior would be required to lease 50 percent of the not already leased acreage for gas and oil drilling every five years (Pepper).
The issues that the Angelinos struggled with in the 1920s and 1930s are still very relevant today. Although the city has decreased smog in the air and compromised on many issues, Los Angeles struggles with environmental justice, which is the movement derived from corporations locating industry near poor, underrepresented residential areas. And offshore oil drilling off the coast of California is still in debate in Congress, as noted by the proposed bill. These, among other environmental issues particular to Los Angeles, do not have perfect solutions even today, for as technology and innovation increase, so does the population that the city struggles to support.
Pepper, Elly. “GOP Leadership Wants to Drill Here, There, and EVERYWHERE.” National Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. National Resources Defense Council, 31 Jan 2012. Web. 31 Jan 2012.
This post was written by Alice Hall-Partyka ’14 who is pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies (BA) and Global Health, and Sherwood Egbert ’14 who is majoring in Environmental Studies with a strong interest Environmental Law.