A public advocacy group and several northeast San Fernando Valley residents are suing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, alleging the city utility failed to notify them about a longtime gas leak at its Valley Generating Station.
Pueblo y Salud Inc. and the residents brought the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging fraudulent concealment, assault and battery, negligence, private and public nuisance, dangerous condition of public property and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
A representative for the City Attorney’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment on the suit filed Thursday.
For at least three years, those who live in Sun Valley, Pacoima and surrounding areas, many of them minorities, have been exposed to toxic gas that has caused severe and persistent health effects for these residents, the suit alleges.
The individual plaintiffs allege they have experienced seizures, dizziness, shortness of breath and impaired mental faculties. One woman suffered seizures when she moved into the area that stopped after she left, and a young woman who also had seizures later died, according to the complaint.
“Our seniors, our kids, the families we serve all live, work, play and go to school in areas that neighbor the Valley Generating Station,” said Ruben Rodriguez, executive director of Pueblo y Salud. “It’s a highly populated area and still no one warned us. Our families had no idea that the air they were breathing was toxic. There’s no excuse for that.”
The plaintiffs allege that DWP knew about the leak for at least three years and did not stop it or alert the thousands of residents in the surrounding area about it. The DWP began repairing the leak after management found out that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was going to disclose its magnitude and only then were residents told about being exposed to toxic chemicals, including methane and benzene, according to the lawsuit.
“LADWP admitted that it made a cold, calculated decision that the local folks had to make the sacrifice,” plaintiffs’ attorney R. Rex Parris alleged. “They made an informed choice that the lives of the largely working-class people of color residents of Sun Valley and Pacoima were not worth raising an alarm. They knew for years about this leak, why did the utility not see fit to warn families sooner? There was no sense of urgency or concern.”
The suit alleges that DWP’s general manager and chief engineer acknowledged that the health of the people in the communities surrounding the Valley Generating Station could be sacrificed in support of the overall efforts of the city.
“For LADWP to play God with people’s lives is not only reprehensible, but also criminal,” said another plaintiffs’ attorney, Sylvia Torres-Guillen. “Through this lawsuit, LADWP must be held accountable for its shameful actions.”
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