Pools of Hope has received funding from the Port of Long Beach Community Grants Program since 2019 to provide asthma-related services to youth in North Long Beach, Compton and Paramount. Courtesy of Pools of Hope

More than a decade after it first launched, the Port of Long Beach’s Community Grants Program continues to combat the port’s environmental impacts.

Earlier this month, the port released the program’s annual report for 2021, which showed that it invested over $2.7 million in community projects last year.

As the nation’s largest voluntary port mitigation initiative, the Community Grants Program is a more than $46 million effort to invest in community projects focused on air and water quality, noise pollution and traffic over the next 12 to 15 years.

The port’s efforts to combat its environmental impacts began in 2009 with the Mitigation Grants Program, a previous iteration of the current program.

However, the initial grants program focused solely on mitigating the port’s impact on air quality, and for many Long Beach residents, a wider focus was needed.

“Certainly the community wanted to see broader applicability of the programs, and we were happy to go through that effort,” said Morgan Caswell, manager of air quality practices at the port.

In order to expand the program, an analysis to determine the exact extent of environmental impacts was necessary, and in 2017, the port conducted a Community Impact Study, the first of its kind for any seaport, which created a model for other seaports to follow, said Caswell.

The results of the analysis concluded that the port contributed to increased traffic, decreased water quality due to air pollutants that settle in water bodies, and noise due to trucks, all of which were concerns cited by residents, Caswell said.

As a result, not only did the grants program adapt to fund mitigation efforts in these areas, but the eligibility area was also improved to be more encompassing; all of Long Beach now qualifies for Community Grants Program funding, as well as parts of Wilmington, Paramount, Compton and Carson.

The port now also places an increased priority on projects in areas that are most vulnerable to the port’s environmental impacts, such as Downtown and along the 710 Freeway corridor.

Not only do residents in North, West and Central Long Beach experience the highest levels of pollution in the city, but residents in West Long Beach in particular, along with other communities near the port, have the highest cancer risk from air pollution and higher rates of asthma in the state, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area has also been ranked in the past for having the worst ozone pollution in the nation.

The Port of Long Beach has both long-term and short-term goals to combat its environmental impact: By 2030, the port plans to transition to zero-emission cargo-handling equipment, and by 2035, the port has a similar plan to move to zero-emission trucks, both of which were laid out in the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan.

Since the initial 2009 program, over $65 million has been set aside for community health, facility improvements and community infrastructure; to date, $36.5 million has been committed.

“We’re actually taking dollars and giving them to the community to perform the projects, and they weigh in on which projects they’d like to see, as well,” Caswell said. “Annually, we do outreach to the community to understand what their priorities are for projects in the coming year, and I think that’s also pretty unique, having a grant funding program that’s really based on community input.”

Of the $2.7 million awarded last year, $837,645 went to supporting three parks and open space projects, while $462,645 was awarded to the City of Long Beach, $175,000 was granted to the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, and $200,000 went to the City of Paramount.

Stephens Middle School in West Long Beach was the recipient of an edible teaching garden benefitting nearly 800 students, and plans to improve Admiral Kidd Park, which burned down, are currently in motion at a cost of roughly $463,000.

In addition, five solar power generation and two solar water heating projects were approved, totaling almost $1.9 million. Recipients included the City of Long Beach Public Works Department, the First Congregational Church, Long Beach City College’s Liberal Arts and Pacific Coast campuses and the Memorial Medical Center Foundation.

Last year, the port also released its first solicitation for health care programs, said Caswell, which resulted in $3.7 million being granted to asthma programs, including $3 million to The Children’s Clinic, St. Mary Medical Center and the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma in an effort to increase reach and reduce overlapping services, said Caswell.

“It’s really encouraged the level of collaboration that we would like to see amongst health care organizations,” Caswell said.

In 2021, the port also provided $649,195 to the nonprofit Pools of Hope to be used over the next three years—although not a traditional asthma care provider, the organization offers a therapeutic, warm-water pool to people of all abilities, with a focus on assisting with overall wellness.

“Those two projects are pretty exciting, it’s a new model for us that we’re trying now,” said Caswell. “So far, it seems to be going well, but more to come on that.”

Thanks to grants from the port that Pools of Hope has received since 2019, and a partnership with St. Mary, the nonprofit operates a mobile clinic in areas accessible to students in North Long Beach, Compton and Paramount for asthma screenings, treatment and education.

The mobile clinic currently provides services at the Pools of Hope facility and at various community events, with plans to soon go directly to Long Beach schools, said executive director Patricia Dixon.

Since the program relaunched in June, it has done outreach to 5,000 students and has provided direct services to 100 students, Dixon said.

“It means everything to us, we’re helping to fill a gap in services for a lot of these parents,” said Dixon. “There’s no cost to the parents out of pocket, so that’s the amazing thing about it, and to keep children in school and hopefully keep them out of the emergency room, helping to save lives, it means everything.”

On Sept. 27, the port will be conducting a workshop for potential solar projects, which has $2 million allocated, and for the first time, the port plans to conduct a solicitation for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure later this year, with $3 million in funding available, Caswell said.

“We’re pretty excited to move that forward to see what the interest is for bicycling and pedestrian projects,” Caswell said.