East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice info@eycej.org 323.263.2113

No One Should Have to Live Next to a Gas Station

Adriana and her family at the empty lot in Commerce

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East Yard member Adriana Reyes and her family have lived steps away from the corner of Atlantic and Washington in the city of Commerce for years. They have seen the lot change from one business to another, never lasting too long or meeting the communities needs. But when they learned that a proposed combination gas station and 7-eleven was going to be built, they decided to speak up and fight it.  

East Yard and our membership first learned about this proposal in 2020, when developer Elliot Megdal was at a Planning Commission meeting for the city of Commerce looking to get his project approved. Members and organizers followed up by conducting research to learn more about Megdal’s project, only to find out that they were trying to go around the system by applying for exemption permits to bypass CEQA and AQMD policies. AQMD health regulations state that gas stations must be 300 feet away from residential homes, which Megdal was not in compliance with.  While the city’s planning commission rejected the project, the Commerce City Council voted to allow the project to continue with a Negative Declaration… and without considering the community’s health. 

Jennifer in front of the abandoned store in Commerce

Members in the neighborhood didn’t want a gas station opening up next to them, so they attended Commerce city council meetings to give public comment against the project. One of those speakers was Jennifer Reyes, Adriana’s daughter.  “We have the railyard, the 710 freeway, and we have so many more gas stations. If it was just a store it’s ok, but I’ve heard of so many fires by gas stations so having one close to our house is not a good idea,” said Jennifer. This was their first time speaking in public and while they might have been nervous at first, they knew they couldn’t just sit back and watch because of what it would mean for the health of the neighborhood. “How much more contamination would we be exposed to? My mom has health issues and her friends lived close and suffered from cancer. We already breathe in so many toxins, so to approve another sends a message from those council members that they don’t really care, they care more about the profit. They know who they are,” said Jennifer.

East Yard eventually had to fight the proposal in court because the same agencies that are in place to protect communities from toxic sites like gas stations were not doing their job. Loopholes are always exploited by developers so they can get their way and capitalize on their greed at the expense of others. “While lawsuits are never a solution, they are a tool we can use to hold polluters and government accountable,” explains East Yard co-executive director, Taylor Thomas.

Adriana in front of the abandoned store in Commerce

The court decided in East Yard’s favor and Megdal was denied the permits needed to build a gas station next to homes. East Yard was not opposed to the construction of the store, but Megdal was adamant about building both the store and the gas station together, so the development project didn’t move forward. Adriana and their family were happy to hear that the project would not move forward, despite the lot remaining empty and a blight to the neighborhood. They hope that whatever business does open up there, it will be something that contributes to the neighborhood, not poison it.

This is why it is critical for community members to know what is going on in their neighborhoods and for community-based organizations like East Yard to support the leadership of their members and hold agencies and local governments accountable to their residents. Developers will not bully our community and cities into polluting businesses.