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L.A. OKs Plan to Rid Homes of Lead Paint

June 22, 2003|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council has approved the creation of a pilot program aimed at eliminating the hazards associated with lead-based paint in older homes and apartments.

"It's absolutely a huge step forward for the children of Los Angeles," said Tai Glenn, senior attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, one of several organizations that have pushed for such a program.

The pilot program, approved Friday, is based on a new state law that redefines the hazards of lead-based paint as a housing violation, not solely a health concern. That distinction means that code enforcement officials can cite owners and order the safe elimination of lead.

Previously, property owners often were not required to clean up lead until after a child showed elevated levels of the metal in the blood. By then, advocates argued, the damage had been done. Ingestion of lead in large enough quantities can cause permanent neurological damage.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who introduced the motion calling for the program, has seen the effects of lead poisoning on children in his district. At one meeting, a mother said the contamination had reduced her once-active child to lethargy.

The pilot program is expected to begin in two months and will target the 1st, 8th, 9th, 13th and 14th council districts. The program will include the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, the city of Los Angeles Housing Department and a nonprofit organization that will conduct outreach to residents. The program will not require any additional money from the city's general fund. Existing housing funds -- or a grant offered through Proposition 46, the state housing bond -- will be used.

Under the pilot program, city housing inspectors will issue orders to landlords to take care of deteriorating paint. The inspectors will use swipes or swabs to detect the presence of lead.

If an owner uses unsafe practices when cleaning up lead, the inspector may issue an order to stop work or to conduct the cleanup safely. If the owner fails to comply, county inspectors will conduct assessments that could be used as evidence in prosecution. The city is responsible for any legal proceedings against property owners.

Reyes said the city is the first in the state to implement a program based on the new state law.

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