CITYWIDE — Keep calm and breathe — you’re in Santa Monica.

The city by the sea has some of the best air quality in the Los Angeles area, the result of a mix of proactive environmental policies and geographic good luck, according to the American Lung Association.

Santa Monica enjoys fewer days in which ozone build up exceeds healthy limits than other cities in Los Angeles County, and should be commended for forward-thinking policies that work to take cars off the streets, said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director for policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association.

City Hall has pushed to replace most of its fleet vehicles with versions that run on fuels other than gasoline and diesel, as does the Big Blue Bus system, said Dean Kubani, director of City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

The business community also gets in on the action.

Every business with more than 50 employees is required to meet car-sharing goals, usually that at least one-third of their workforce do some form of carpooling, according to a city staff report.

This report shows Santa Monica's air quality results.

This report shows Santa Monica’s air quality results.

Rounding out the list is a Bicycle Master Plan adopted in 2011, which aims to get more people on bicycles by making it easier and safer to do so.

“All of those things help clean the air too,” Kubani said.

However, the city reaps the benefits of its location with ocean breezes blowing pollutants from cars, trucks, airplanes and other sources both north and south down the coast, Holmes-Gen said.

Pollutants spread much like secondhand cigarette smoke, impacting neighboring regions as much or more than the polluters themselves.

“It’s important to note that residents of Santa Monica are contributing to pollution that travels up to the central coast or down to San Diego,” she said.

Data collected by the state for CalEnviroScreen, an interactive tool that allows people to look at the relative health of their city by zip code, measured similar pollutants to those used in the American Lung Association study, specifically concentrations of ozone, a chemical that causes respiratory problems when near the ground; and particulate matter, a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that can damage the heart and lungs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

CalEnviroScreen includes four zip codes in Santa Monica.

In general, each beats out almost 80 percent of other areas in terms of ozone concentration, while it fares worse when it comes to particulate matter — roughly 80 percent of areas scored better.

Still, the city has some of the lowest overall scores in the area on a scale where the lower the score the better, a factor of both its environmental conditions and population characteristics.

Of course, with a neighbor like Los Angeles, it’s not that hard to look good.

Los Angeles joined 10 other California cities on a list of the nation’s top 25 most ozone-polluted cities, according to the 2013 State of the Air report, an effort by the American Lung Association to shine a spotlight on air quality in cities and counties across the United States.

Los Angeles County received an F for the number of days it exceeded healthy levels of ozone and another failing grade for the amount of particulate matter floating about in the air.

Still, it’s showing major improvements, according to the report.

The Los Angeles area experienced the lowest ever number of unhealthy ozone days documented in previous State of the Air reports, at 121.5 days. That’s a 36 percent reduction in unhealthy ozone days since 2000, and the fourth consecutive report in which the number of days has fallen, according to the American Lung Association.

Not so with particulate pollution, which rose in Los Angeles this year.

It is possible to fight the spread of pollution with appropriate advocacy and action, Holmes-Gen said.

Approximately 90 percent of the pollutants measured in the State of the Air come from cars, diesel-fueled vehicles, ships and aircraft. Los Angeles has many of each, with a busy port, airport and some of the most crowded freeways in the country.

Public policy and efforts to get cars off the roads will only help the already-improving situation in the Southland.

“Sustainable community planning is a critical strategy to meet clean air targets,” Holmes-Gen said.

 

ashley@smdp.com