City of Paramount Recognized for Exemplary Response to Air Quality Issues and Graffiti Vandalism

The City of Paramount, a California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) member agency, is recognized as a model local government for its proactive response to recent quality of life challenges affecting its residents. Risk management, loss control, and safety are daily responsibilities of every Authority member. To that end, the City of Paramount has successfully managed significant risk exposures and has created a culture that is committed to risk management.

“Paramount is a good risk management partner. City staff reaches out to me for guidance on critical issues,” said Melaina Francis, the California JPIA Risk Manager assigned to the city. “Their understanding of the Authority’s risk management resources is evident in how they have managed difficult situations.”

Leading a Community Response to Hexavalent Chromium in the City’s Air

South Coast Air Quality Management Division (AQMD) began monitoring air in the City of Paramount in August 2013. In late 2016, the AQMD determined that the airborne levels of Hexavalent Chromium (also known as chromium-6, Cr6+) in the industrial sections of Paramount were higher than other areas in the Los Angeles region. Chromium-6 is a metal used in certain industrial processes, such as metal plating, leather tanning, and welding.

Air monitoring was expanded to the city’s southeast industrial area and school zones, and into northern Long Beach in 2017. The southeast industrial area had shown chromium-6 levels up to 50 times greater than levels in other areas of Los Angeles County.

While the AQMD was the agency that discovered the abnormal concentration of the toxic metal and the air pollution agency responsible for regulating stationary sources of air pollution in the South Coast Air Basin, city leaders responded immediately according to a July 2019 Western City article by Paramount Public Information Officer Chris Callard.

“This significant public health problem caught us by surprise,” said Paramount Mayor Tom Hansen. “We needed to learn quickly about the science, regulations, and enforcement and to find out which agencies held what responsibilities and how the city could help.”

As the city developed its response plan, it was determined that the city was not liable for hexavalent chromium emissions from metal manufacturing companies despite having zoning and permitting authority over such businesses. This allowed staff to focus attention on responding to residents’ concerns and reinforcing AQMD messaging with media engagement, town hall meetings, and other outreach efforts.

“We went into outreach mode,” said City Manager John Moreno. “We placed a story on the city’s homepage with a link to the AQMD website that listed everything the agency was doing in Paramount. Social media posts soon followed.”

Through close collaboration with AQMD, the city worked to assist and expedite AQMD’s efforts to investigate the excessive levels of Cr6+ and hold responsible parties accountable. The City of Paramount supplied the names of all metal-related companies within the city based on the city’s business license database, provided city code enforcement officers to assist AQMD investigators conduct inspections, sped the installation of additional air samplers by waiving encroachment permits and arranging for the use of Southern California Edison for power poles, paid for a Spanish translation during AQMD’s weekly conference calls to help inform the public, and offered the use of city facilities for AQMD field staff working around the clock in the city.

The city quickly enacted an 18-month moratorium on all new metal businesses and expansion of existing ones, formed a City Council Air Quality Subcommittee, and established an environmental website for the city, www.paramountenvironment.org.

By 2018, Cr6+ had returned to normal levels in Paramount. Later that year the AQMD recognized the city’s significant role in addressing the issue with the Model Community Achievement Award, which celebrates outstanding clean air contributions to the health of communities and their economies.

Applying a Risk Management Approach to Graffiti Removal and Prevention

The City of Paramount also acted proactively to address another challenge facing its community: graffiti vandalism. According to a July 2019 PoliceOne article by Laura Neitzel, the city recorded an average of about 15,000 graffiti incidents in 2009.

The city approached the graffiti problem using a risk management approach gained through its work with the Authority, according to Moreno.

“With the graffiti issue, California JPIA’s recurrent trainings have helped us adopt policies and practices to mitigate and avoid risk,” said Moreno. “With this mindset, Paramount’s approach has been to find and remove graffiti within 24 hours to prevent the activity from escalating.”

The city adopted Graffiti Tracker, a web-based system used by law enforcement and public works staff to document incidents and upload photos for review, analysis, and abatement.

“Graffiti Tracker allowed us to identify, prosecute, and seek restitution from our most active vandals, including taggers and gang members,” said Anthony Martinez, a management analyst for Paramount’s public safety department. “Our deputies gained the information they needed to document cases for felony vandalism.”

The city also used data to monitor criminals by their graffiti tags and investigate or anticipate crimes indicated in graffiti designs. “We have used Graffiti Tracker countless times to identify active gang members involved in violent crimes,” said Martinez, who decodes the hidden messages in graffiti.

Through its risk management approach and the use of Graffiti Tracker, the City of Paramount has achieved a significant reduction in graffiti incidents and in gang-related crimes. “The City’s removal program has helped dramatically reduce gang-related crime by more than 90 percent over the last ten years,” Moreno said.

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 100 member cities and other governmental agencies.  Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive risk management training and loss control services.

The article above includes details originally published in Western City, the League of California Cities’ monthly magazine, as well as posted on PoliceOne.com and Civic Business Journal.

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