Resilient Pacoima: A Plan for Building a Stronger Community

Abstract Resiliency: Pacoima Food Environment The dominance of Fast Food By Suray Roi Nathan Master of Urban Planning The neighborhood of Pacoima is an approximately seven square mile community located in the northeast region of the San Fernando Valley, surrounded by the city of San Fernando and Sylmar to the north, Lake View Terrace to the east, Shadow Hills and Sun Valley to the south, and Arleta and Mission Hills to the west. For centuries, the indigenous Tataviam tribe has inhabited Pacoima, or rather "Pacoinga Village," as it was called long before Jouette Allen purchased the land from U.S. Senator Charles Maclay in 1887 and formally founded the community. Though Allen anticipated that Pacoima would emerge as the next real estate destination for wealthy settlers traveling the Southern Pacific Railroad, the region's susceptibility to flooding proved Pacoima a land more suitable for agriculture. As the political and cultural movements of the 20th century transformed the demographic landscape of the Valley, namely with class and race playing a distinct role in land use and neighborhood boundaries, Pacoima remained a dignified, multi-generational, working class community. While Hansen Dam quite literally puts Pacoima on the map, many will recognize Pacoima as the hometown of famed "La Bamba" singer Ritchie Valens, while others visit the neighborhood to explore the street art along Mural Mile. Pacoima was and continues to be a primarily Latino community and exhibits the same sense of pride that was notably characteristic of the native Tataviam tribe. Pacoima in 2020 is a neighborhood of 103,689 residents. Its housing tenure boasts a rate of 61% owner-occupied homes - 22% higher than the average neighborhood rate in Los Angeles. Data shows that high school graduation and employment rates as well as median household income continue to grow in Pacoima, as job opportunities in retail, healthcare, and hospitality emerge as leading industries located within the community. While continued efforts to educate, house, and employ the current population have merit, certain characteristics of the neighborhood pose challenges for residents both now and in the near future. Geographically, Pacoima is categorized as a flood, fire, and liquefaction zone, making the neighborhood vulnerable to natural disaster. Transit is limited and roadway infrastructure has proven to be a threat to both drivers and pedestrians. The community lacks open space and fresh, slow-cooked dining options, jeopardizing community-wide health and wellness. These risk factors, however, are not unique to Pacoima; what is unique, though, is the community's willingness to address the state of the neighborhood head on and take steps toward strengthening the place that generations of families have called and still call home. A critical approach to creating a stronger community is to work toward a state of resilience. In planning, resilience implies that the conditions of a community will not only remain unaffected in the face of gradual or spontaneous change but will emerge from enduring such a change with the resources to continue building and growing. The types of changes that test resiliency vary, from natural disasters to housing crisis to pandemics. With a resiliency plan in place, neighborhoods such as Pacoima can prepare for change and feel confident in residents' ability to unite and problem-solve at a community-wide level. To create a resiliency plan for Pacoima, our team of researchers identified societal indicators that would enable us to analyze where Pacoima stands currently, and where there is room for improvement toward resilience. These indicators include: employment, food resources, housing, crime, open space, energy use, transportation and transit, emergency preparedness, and community connection. While secondary data was collected via scholarly research, primary data sources were heavily relied upon for the most accurate and current representation of Pacoima. To retrieve this data, our team partnered with neighborhood organization Pacoima Beautiful to: 1) plan and facilitate community meetings that served as a venue for constructive commentary on the most pressing issues in Pacoima, according to residents; 2) connect with experts relative to each indicator for the purpose of one-on-one interviews; and 3) conduct community surveys - both online and in person - to gauge residents' level of concern for each indicator and to receive feedback and suggestions on our findings. What resulted is our interpretation of the state of Pacoima in relation to the identified indicators and through the eyes of the community, paired with our highest recommendations with respect to community concern and sense of urgency, in order to compile a thorough plan towards resilience. The cornerstone of any resiliency plan should start with examining the food environment of the community. The residents of the LA neighborhood of Pacoima have limited access to fresh produce or to quality food establishments that serves nutritious food in a sit-down setting. The fast-food restaurant dominates Pacoima, and the vast majority of them are franchise fast-food establishments. The population of Pacoima is about 103,689, and fast-food restaurants outnumber sit-down restaurants. There are 116 restaurants in Pacoima, and sit-down restaurants make up only 24 of them. Thirty-five percent of the fast-food restaurants are franchise fast-food restaurants. Even though they only make up around one-third of the fast-food establishments in Pacoima, their presence has two deleterious effects on the neighborhood. First, they propagate unhealthy eating habits contributing to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and other health issues. Healthy Place Index placed Pacoima in the 20-percentile range. Burbank, the City seven miles southeast of Pacoima, and Granada Hills, an LA neighborhood four miles West of Pacoima, were placed in the 70-percentile. The criteria used by the Healthy Place Index consisted of healthcare access, clean environment ranking, economy, and education. Second, they siphon money out of the community and economically contribute only to minimum wage labor. The data shows that Non-Pacoima residents occupy quality employment and that only 14.6 percent of the population work in Pacoima. The educational attainment data show that only 53 percent of high school students graduated in Pacoima in 2019, and only 8.3 percent of Pacoima residents have a Bachelor's degree. The combination of low graduation numbers and the dominance of outside residents' ownership of businesses creates a business environment that does not create a climate for local input into the economic direction of the community. The Community meeting discussion, focus group interviews, and the surveys garnered a definite verdict that Pacoima has too many fast food establishments and lacks access to healthy food and fresh produce. The survey showed that 81 percent of the residents were either very concerned or extremely concerned about access to healthier food options. The community discussed about the economic difficulty of residents of start businesses garnered about 35 percent of the discussion regarding the lack of quality food outlets. The City of Los Angeles' Resilient Los Angeles text cites a 2017 study that reveals that the state of Los Angeles food distribution faces significant vulnerability. That food establishments might face extended periods of closure after a major event as economic or natural disturbance affecting underserved neighborhoods with greater severity. The community discussion and the survey showed a strong agreement that the proliferation of fast-food restaurants is a detriment to the well-being of the community. Based on these findings, the recommendation is to form a coalition of local organizations as Pacoima Beautiful and MEND form a Citizens Group to lobby for the reduction or stop new permits to franchise fast food restaurants and the easing of the permit process for sit-down restaurants. The City has the power to change the permitting process, and the most effective method for a city to change is to exert political pressure. A well-organized Citizen Group with a strong local backing has the power to create the political will to change the permitting process. It is also essential to educate and promote healthy eating to Pacoima residents. This can be accomplished by creating PSA posters and infomercials targeting local schools, businesses, and social organizations. Additionally, organizations ranging from Pacoima Beautiful to the Chamber of Commerce to the Boys & Girls Club of America can create educational in-class programs to promote healthy eating. There can be cross synergy between educational programs geared towards preparing residents of Pacoima to acquire the job skills that will afford them better-paying jobs that exist in their neighborhood with an educational program about healthy eating habits. Another avenue of possibility is for the Citizen Group to work with Los Angeles City Planning to create a Specific Plan for along the busy Van Nuys Boulevard between the I-5 freeway to Foothill Boulevard. The Specific Plan gives the community great leeway as to how that area should be developed. This will allow the community to add special provisions as no drive-through franchise establishments, and signage to mute the enticement of eating unhealthy food. Other communities Los Angeles like Claremont and South LA, have created Citizens Groups to curtail the growth of franchise fast food to success. A partnering of Pacoima Beautiful, MEND, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, along with the Los Angeles City Council District 7 and Los Angeles Food Policy Council, could create policies that will make Pacoima an unappealing ground for the growth of franchise fast-food establishments.