I still remember the first time I saw the San Gabriel Mountains. I always saw them when I looked out my window, but they seemed to be only vague mountain-like objects, barely peeking out through the grey Southern California haze.
A few months ago, when the skies were blue and air quality was good, I saw them in what seemed like high-definition. I was amazed. This was the first time in my 23 years of living in Los Angeles that I was actually able to see the mountains with clarity.
In that moment, I recalled a conversation I had with a colleague during my first month of working at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). He had been a lifelong resident of the region and experienced the “Stage III” smog alerts in the 1970s firsthand.
“Consider yourself lucky,” he said. “I didn’t know we even had mountains.”
At the time, I secretly disagreed. What was there to feel lucky about? I had nothing to compare the present to, and I was unimpressed with the little that I could see.
For the first time, however, I did consider myself lucky.
While we have made tremendous improvements in air quality over the past 30 years, there is still much work to be done. The South Coast Air Basin still has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and cleaning the air is a monumental task that is neither easy nor cheap.
With SCAQMD’s recent passage of its 2016 Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP), additional funding for air quality is needed now more than ever. The 2016 AQMP outlines how this region will meet the federal government’s clean air mandates and demonstrates a need for $1 billion dollars a year for the next 15 years in incentive funding to mitigate air pollution from both mobile and stationary sources. This funding will help improve air quality by replacing older, high-polluting vehicles and equipment–the highest emitters of air pollution in the South Coast Basin–with cleaner near-zero and zero-emission vehicles and equipment, and by updating air pollution control equipment for stationary sources.
Many years from now, I envision myself sitting with my future children. I see myself proudly pointing out at a clear view of the San Gabriel Mountains and telling them that I was part of the agency that helped clean the air.
I’ll tell them what someone once told me: “Consider yourself lucky.”