East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice info@eycej.org 323.263.2113

Remembering Marina Pando’s Legacy as we launch our 2nd Annual MP-SJRC

As we are excited to begin working with our second cohort of Marina Pando-Social Justice Research Collaborative students this week, we are reminded of Marina Pando’s legacy. Marina was an outstanding leader dedicated to the environmental justice movement. To commemorate her passing last June, our students share how Marina Pando’s personality and legacy are reflected in a program that focuses on creating community-generated knowledge. MP-SJRC 1 “Marina Pando, is an inspiration to young women of color in a variety of ways and her story speaks to me. Her strong character and hunger for justice is a reflection of what EYECJ stands for in using your own experiences and being powerful enough to stimulate a reaction from others. She definitely influenced oppressed workers who were abused and afraid to stand up to these industries. Part of being a great person is building other people and sacrificing yourself to see others grow. Her countless hours and devotion to the community was a symbol of the strength that women have”. -Estefanie Garcia, Youth In Action!, Bell Gardens High School Marina-300x200 “A program dedicated to creating community knowledge reflects the personality of Marina Pando by showing a strong will to learn anything new and fight for what one believes in. In order for us to accomplish our goals we must stand up for what we believe in and never let others put us down. Marina Pando’s personality reflected one of being independent and never letting others tell her what to do, no matter who they were. She showed that we all have it in us to become leaders. A community led program always shows that leaders are all around us, they can be our neighbors, our siblings, our parents, our teachers, but more importantly ourselves. We all have it within ourselves to create an environment in which we can live life to the fullest. -Karla Perez, EYCEJ Long Beach Member For more information on Marina Pando visit: La Leona by Hugo LujanTo read about research produced last year, please visit:Marina Pando Social Justice Research Collaborative Projects 2015. Help us reach this year’s fundraising goal of $3,000! Please visit our website to donate here. Your donation will go directly to funding student stipends.

How to Grow a Movement – One Story at a Time by Martha Matsuoka

Last month, over a meal of pupusas, Martha Dina Argüello and I had the opportunity to talk with the youth members of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) Youth in Action! (YA!) program, about movement histories and our roles in it.  Martha and I shared our stories and then the young people in the room began to share their stories and ask questions. And this is where it got good. You can listen to an audio recording of the talk via StoryCorps here: https://storycorps.me/interviews/las-marthas-speak-honoring-the-legacy-of-storytelling-within-the-environmental-justice-movement/

Las Martas Speak


They told us stories about their lives growing up in Southeast Los Angeles.  They shared their concerns about growing class sizes at Bell Gardens High School.  They talked about their hopes and plans for going to college. They told us about how the challenges they face balancing family, friends, school and their activist work in the community. The young women shared ways they raise their voices in the classrooms despite teachers and others ignoring them.

Their stories generated questions and stories from the EYCEJ organizers in the room as well. They asked Martha and I about how we navigate activism and movement building as women of color, especially in places and spaces dominated by white men and white institutions.  What movement history could inform their work and their lives?  How do we do this work in the long term?

I can’t remember how Martha and I responded to the questions but what I do remember is how the conversation knit together all of our stories past and present — as a third generation Japanese American woman who found her voice in the environmental justice movement, an immigrant Nicaraguan woman radicalized and experienced in her work with the Black Panthers, youth and organizers with family ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Long Beach, East LA, Boyle Heights, and Bell Gardens. Even though we were born in many different decades, have had many different experiences growing up, have been involved in many different campaigns, and have way different capacities with technology (e.g. using smartphones, powerpoint, live streaming from periscope, etc.), our stories reflected a shared commitment to growing our movements and also our commitment to each other as we do the work together.

13275545_1172281332803800_975224773_o After the conversation, I was reminded of the powerful words of Grace Lee Boggs, the Chinese-American feminist, activist from Detroit who once wrote,

We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.

There is no doubt that the young leaders from Bell Gardens High School (as well as college students and young organizers) are the next generation of movement builders in our work. But in a movement context, their presence and leadership are also central to the work here and now. In the EYCEJ meeting room that night it was only through the youth that the rest of our stories were able to come together in rich and intersectional ways. The high school students were deeply rooted in their lived experiences and they made sure that our discussions remained focused on the intersectionality of race, gender, age, and nationality.  They were acutely aware of the injustices they faced but rather than dwell on their problems, they probed us for new perspectives, examples, and tools for becoming better movement leaders. Grace Lee Boggs also says that our human evolution is not a linear process; talking story with and through the students made that point in clear and brilliant ways.

The youth of EYCEJ weave their stories with many others –youth, organizers, and allies from many neighborhoods and movements – and their rising collective power is making change in the East and Southeast LA, and Long Beach.  Whether it is fighting for smaller class sizes, demanding cleanup at the Exide plant, making sure the I-710 Freeway expansion brings community benefits instead of more polluted air, fighting back against Walmart, or growing their own food,  EYCEJ continues to build leadership – new and old- and models the way for other communities across the country.

Join us on June 23rd to meet these young movement leaders and be inspired.  #FightingForLife  #WeAreJustTryingToBreathe

Written by Martha Matsuoka 



Garcetti Whats good?!



MMheadshot a Martha Matsuoka is Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Executive Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. Her teaching focuses on environmental justice, community organizing, urban policy, environmental movement history, and community-based research. Her research focuses how community-based organizations organize to influence policy and planning and currently focuses on ports and freight transportation. Martha is one of two honorees at this years Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration



In fighting environmental racism, we know far too well what targeted violence feels like.

We are too familiar with the feeling of gasping for air.

We are too familiar with the suffocating smell from trucks, ships, trains.

We are too familiar with the similarity of gun smoke and exhaust.

We are too familiar in knowing that both are signifiers of death.

That both are followed by hospitals.

That both are followed by distress, sleepless nights, and pain.

We must remember that much like any other violence, it isn’t simply an accident but an extension of decades of policies and laws targeting communities of color.

That it is an extension of rhetoric that normalize violence against queer, trans, people of color.

We must remember violence many times isn’t the product of bullet but also comes in paper, ink, and signatures.

We must remember the creation of this is the constant identification of people of color, queer, trans, all those marginalized as expendable and unnecessary for what is defined by this machine as  ‘progress’.

We must remember that what continues to fuel this is homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, white supremacy, and racism.

We must remember that its engine is colonization, dehumanization, and massacre.

We must remember
It was a queer trans club
It was a latin night
It was a trans night
the 50 brothers and sisters dead
The 53 injured
The 103 hit by bullets in a room with a capacity of 300.

We must remember those who do not have the privilege of having the possibility of death be a distant idea, but a constant companion.

For the families and individuals
We stand with you.
We see you.
We hold your pain with you.
We fight with you.

If one attack can be felt across the world, then one victory can also be held by all of us.

This is why we must and will continue organizing.

Through organizing we affirm that we exist.

Through organizing we affirm that we are resilient.

Through organizing we affirm that we are powerful.

Through organizing we affirm that we are and will always be powrful enough to continue
Fighting For Life.

OUR MONEY, OUR CLEANUP: DTSC, Exide & the Path Forward


For years we have worked to resolve the Exide issue, from closure to cleanup, and while we are encouraged by the Governor and legislature allocating $176.6 million to go towards the cleanup effort, our members had concerns that a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption, pushed by the Governor and Assemblymember Santiago, would present more problems than solutions. CEQA ensures that environmental and health impacts of projects, in this case testing and cleaning up lead contamination at thousands of homes, are studied and impacts are properly mitigated (adequately dealt with so we are not forced to shoulder the burden, in this case further lead poisoning and other impacts). With informal processes outside of CEQA, responsible parties, in this case the state, can make promises through “parallel processes” (conversations with interested parties, in this case the community) and fall through without any accountability. This has already been the case as we have recommended how to better protect our communities with the residential lead cleanup that has already happened, and for months have been largely ignored despite the fact that it has been discussed and documented in an Advisory Group hosted by state and regional agencies.

Our community leaders have been involved in this fight since we were speculating the extent of contamination from Exide, to the point where many of them have now found that they are Priority 1 or Priority 2 properties (levels of lead in soil that classifies their property as toxic waste or near toxic waste), mostly families with children and infants in the household. It is these leaders who have provided vision and energy throughout the fight to shut down Exide and clean up contamination. It is also these leaders who took the position that CEQA exemption is unacceptable because of the danger irresponsible cleanup efforts pose.

We agree with and support the perspective of some DTSC staff that the Exide Advisory Group would be an appropriate place to plan what scoping for the CEQA process should look like.

Home Lead Testing Access Agreements:

We have worked to raise the visibility of the matter through print, radio and TV media. We have presented at countless community meetings and classrooms, knocked on thousands of doors, and collected hundreds of access agreements. Most of this was done before DTSC, or anyone else outside of our communities (and most elected officials within our communities) were interested in engaging with us to develop their skills in working with community to build trust and process access agreements to move community cleanup forward. We definitely want to recognize Supervisor Solis and the County Department of Public Health, City of Commerce Councilmembers Oralia Rebollo, Tina Baca Del Rio, Ivan Altamirano, Leila León, and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who stepped up to support the efforts of our members to fill the gap that existed in outreaching for access agreements.

After some turnover at DTSC, their staff became much more engaged. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress, which we are willing to work with. Earlier this year we even agreed to take on a short-term outreach contract and brought on two part time staff members to lead the work, both of whom are currently awaiting cleanup of the properties where they live.

Unfortunately, we have experienced issues and weeks ago decided we would not be interested in conversations on possibly extending the contract. We decided not to extend our contract with the state to do outreach and access agreement enrollment for multiple reasons. First, it has been extremely difficult working with the state, with DTSC in Sacramento taking a one month break from processing forms without letting anyone know, including their local community engagement staff and lead contractor, and DTSC in Sacramento potentially losing signed access agreement forms we sent them. This sort of breakdown is not something we are willing to work with. More importantly, we stepped in almost two years ago to focus on informing impacted residents on the issues and cleanup opportunity, support them in requesting cleanup, and serving as advocates throughout the cleanup process because the state wasn’t doing it effectively, and no one else was stepping up. DTSC is now moving to hire new outreach staff to do the access agreement enrollment, and are planning to open a local office. With this new capacity, we can step away from leading this work and continue to keep the agency accountable. We have been successful at pulling the state along. The next steps in the push are to expand the area being sampled from 1.7 miles from Exide, to 4.5 miles, given that the state released blood lead data for children under 6 that shows higher rates of exposure up to 4.5 miles from Exide. Additionally, we will be working to lift the conversation for addressing the health and social impacts of Exide lead exposure over the last 30 years and call for resources to address these issues (to fund early child development programs, nutrition programs, youth employment, reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated and other support services to address impacts on educational attainment and levels of violence related to lead).

Concerning the $176.6 million allocated for residential cleanup, DTSC in Sacramento failing in the access agreement process has highlighted the division between departments within DTSC, community engagement staff left to fend for themselves while having to cover for failure in other areas of the agency. It is becoming clear that this is what has happened over the years with the permitting and enforcement areas of the agency as well. Community engagement staff should not be used as public relations shields, they should be working to keep us informed so we can hold the agency and industries accountable. It is our position that, along with new funds dedicated to community cleanup, the state should be dedicating significant funding to create an office under Ana Mascareñas, DTSC ‎Assistant Director for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs, to build a statewide staff with the capacity to hold the permitting, enforcement and cleanup branches of DTSC accountable and work to ensure impacted communities are able to meaningfully participate in the public processes. This is how culture change can happen at DTSC, and some sense of trust in the department can begin to be rebuilt.



Our communities view this money as our money. Why? Well, let’s respond to a question posed by Assemblymember Santiago in his reelection campaign materials. “Who took on Exide and fought to protect our neighborhood?” I am assuming the Assemblymember is genuinely asking the question, since he was nowhere to be found for years. Last year, when members of EYCEJ and CBE met with Assemblymember Santiago, he discouraged us from pressing the state for Exide cleanup funds, dismissing the responsibility of the state in allowing this whole mess to happen. Like the many failures of DTSC, we didn’t allow this to stop us. We continued to press on.

Now, we are here with $176.6 million to start a serious cleanup process. This is an opportunity to put the failures of DTSC aside, though we continue to hold that there needs to be an independent investigation of the department in it’s handling of Exide over the last 30 years (US EPA where you at?!). The new DTSC office opening up in the Exide impacted communities, and the staff being brought on to work on the Exide issues, need to hear the demands of our core members, those who have fought for years and continue to wait for a proper cleanup of their homes. They demand that the local office and staff be dedicated specifically to Exide. They do not want Exide identified funds that were hard fought for to fund any of the DTSC activities unrelated to Exide. This is not an opportunity to pad budgets or fill gaps. Additionally, the DTSC Exide team must be allowed to operate independently from the rest of DTSC. We do not need the failures of the past mixing in to the work moving forward.

We propose that a local coordinator from DTSC’s staff be selected, with concurence from the Exide Advisory Group, to run the operations of the local office and Exide related work. DTSC Staff Member Cesar Campos, with his background working with communities, would be a good fit. They shall report directly to Assistant Director Ana Mascareñas and Director Barbara Lee. In our experiences attempting to work with DTSC over the years, we have found that there are those who want to do right by us, and new leadership does as well, but middle management acts as a barrier, miscommunicating, misdirecting, and slowing down progress. This Exide Pod (local office with dedicated staff) can act as a pilot for how future DTSC operations are conducted. The Exide Pod can meet directly with community members every other week, reporting back on progress, and troubleshooting issues that come up. A dedicated local office will serve to meet the needs of any member facing issues related to Exide, from initial information to every step of the enrollment and cleanup process.

We have already gotten a taste of what this can look like, with DTSC staff and multiple community stakeholders already engaging in a conversation around the formation of a workforce development and local hire plan for residential cleanup. DTSC has been very responsive to input and seems to actively work to engage interested parties. This promises to be a model for the department, both the plan itself as well as the process to get there.

We have had to push every step of the way to get to the point we are at now. It is time for DTSC to step up and accept the challenge to do better. #NoMoPlomo

Honoring Professor Martha Matsuoka Doing Worthwhile EJ-Social Justice Work? You Want Martha on Your Side!

“Brilliant, creative STRATEGIST. Local, regional, international NETWORKER. Critically loyal COMRADE, COLLEAGUE, MENTOR, FRIEND. Unassuming, formidable LEADER/ORGANIZER. These are all the many sides of Martha Matsuoka that I have observed, heard about, and experienced.

MMheadshot a

On any given day, you can see Martha going from situation to situation that demonstrates her many talents and commitments. You may encounter her where she is urging us to think strategically, not just emotionally and reactively, about an organizing goal. Or advising her undergraduate students at Oxy about a future in the EJ/SJ movement. Or crossing borders to build bridges between groups and individuals who may not be able to see and understand their shared interests and destiny, mired as they are in the scarcity model of the foundation world. Or simply gripping the reins saying, “Let’s get on with it,” through taking the earliest action steps including scribing meeting notes to calling potential contributors and supporters to taking to the streets and people’s front doors to washing dishes and tidying up a room after the meeting. We know from working with Martha that leading by humbly and diligently performing every job needed, as well as contributing critical theoretical perspectives to shed light on complex situations, builds trust and confidence.

For the past twenty years, Martha has been a North Star in the Bay Area feminist movement against militarism and for genuine security for people and the physical environment. In 1996, Martha and another comrade Rev. Debbie Lee organized the Bay Area speaking engagement of Okinawan feminist activists—Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence—who came after the infamous rape of the 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three US Marines to narrate their stories of the devastating impacts of the heavy US military presence on their tiny islands. The quality of the event and the learning that took place that February was extraordinary. Everyone there was shocked, horrified, as well as deeply moved by the courage of the group members led by Ms. Suzuyo Takazato, then a local elected official as well as activist, who dared challenge the Japanese and US governments to take responsibility for crimes committed again Okinawan people, especially women and girls. They, and fellow Okinawan citizens, went so far as to demand the removal of US bases from their land!

Okinawa Women Against Military Violence

Okinawa Women Act members reported to us long after the 1996 meeting that they were emboldened by the Bay Area gathering–so well organized and orchestrated by Martha and Debbie Lee. Equally impressive were the ways that Martha played a central role in organizing what was to become the Bay Area Okinawa Peace Network and a year later the East Asia-US Women’s Network against Militarism, birthed in Naha, Okinawa in 1997.

Our Martha manifests much through all her work on the ground, on boards of EJ organizations and foundations, and in her classrooms. She also shows up as wonderful friend, someone to count on when we hit the bumps AND when we want to play. She’s always up for a delicious meal—high standards since she is the well-socialized, eldest daughter of Mrs. Eiko Matsuoka, the inimitable octogenarian leader of the El Cerrito Japanese-American community who can identify precisely the missing, or not enough, ingredient in a baked dessert or inari sushi. Martha also is an unrelenting competitor of particular computer games, believe it or not. And she never gives up!

That’s Martha Matsuoka! One of “Las Marthas” being recognized at the Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Congratulations Martha from your Bay Area comrades and friends who admire, respect, and, most of all, love you for all you do for and with our movements and for the transformative light and energy you are in a world filled with cynics, haters, cheaters, and killers of all life forms!”

Margo Portrait


Margo Okazawa-Rey’s primary activism, research, and writing address issues related to militarism, armed conflicts, and violence against women. Her work continues to be informed by having been a member of theCombahee River Collective, which advanced the concept of intersectionality in “A Black Feminist Statement.” She is one of the cofounders of the internationalNetwork of Women against Militarism, a group of feminist activists who address impact of US military presence in East Asia, Guam Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. She has deep connections in South Korea and for the past ten years in Palestine with theWomen’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counsellingin Ramallah. She is currently Elihu Root Peace Fund Visiting Professor in Women’s Studies and on the faculty of the School of Human and Organizational Development at the Fielding Graduate Universityin Santa Barbara, California. She also is Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University. She earned her doctorate from the Harvard graduate School of Education.


National Movements, Local Organizing by Jan Victor Andasan

“It was like I was driving home from Long Beach back to Carson. No matter where you go, the issues are the same. We were on a toxic tour with Gulf Port residents heading to Pascagoula, Mississippi and there was a huge flame. A refinery was flaring. A resident remarked that this happened everyday, that this was normal. That moment, it felt like home, it felt like we were all fighting the same battle, whether you were in Long Beach, South Bay, Houston, or Gulf Port. The community had similar challenges, an industry whether it is freight or oil & gas that devalued the lives of the residents living around them. They invest in profits, not people.

NEJAC attendees with committee members

From March 15 to the 18th, I had the privilege of being able to represent East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice & our allies from environmental justice organizations in Southern California at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Convening at Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi. The Moving Forward Network (also known as MFN) brought coalition members from all over the nation to engage with the community in Gulfport and learn about the environmental challenges they face in the region. We came as a coalition to give NEJAC recommendations on pushing for zero emission technologies to the United State Environmental Protection Agency.

Going to the NEJAC at Gulfport, Mississippi was an eye opening experience. It further validated the importance of working in coalitions nationally. At times, the battles we face within our cities seem solitary for our communities here in California. We have to stand in solidarity with folks fighting corrupt politicians, weak policies and regulations, and government agencies that are incapable of doing their job without pressure from those impacted by various polluting facilities such as ports, rail yards, and refineries.

The working class, multi-racial community that is Gulf Port is like Long Beach. It’s like Houston. It’s just Newark. It’s a community under attack. It’s a community living in the auspices of a multi billion-dollar industry that prioritizes profit, not people. People are living next to refineries, to ports; they are exposed to large amounts of pollution.  Their health is impacted; their health is at risk. This is the reality that communities from all over the United States face daily.

Panel with MFN representatives from LA Melissa Lin-Perella (NRDC), Jan (EYCEJ), Judith Azareth (TEJAS / Texas), Kim Gaddy (Clean Water Action New Jersey)

What I learned is, we are not alone. We are all fighting a battle in our cities for our home, our communities, and our health. We are asking for dignity, for clean air, to respect our livelihoods. We are facing difficult elected officials, difficult agencies. We are going through hurdles. We have lost family, to cancer, to sickness. We are strong. We are resilient. We must continue to fight, wherever we are. We are not alone. We are all fighting a similar battle. That is why it is important for us to have a conversation locally and nationally. When you take a step back, it is pretty clear that there is a larger system that allows environmental injustice to propagate in working class, people of color communities.”

Written by Jan Victor Andasan, EYCEJ Community Organizer

When “Caring for Kids” Becomes Convenient: Assuming Ignorance After Inaction

image2Exide Picture

The Issue:
For years we have worked to resolve the Exide issue, from closure to cleanup, and while we are encouraged by the Governor’s plan to allocate $176.6 million to go towards the cleanup effort, our members have concerns that a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption, pushed by the Governor and Assemblymember Santiago, will present more problems than solutions. CEQA ensures that environmental and health impacts of projects, in this case testing and cleaning up lead contamination at thousands of homes, are studied and impacts are properly mitigated (adequately dealt with so we are not forced to shoulder the burden, in this case further lead poisoning and other impacts). With informal processes outside of CEQA, responsible parties, in this case the state, can make promises through “parallel processes” (conversations with interested parties, in this case the community) and fall through without any accountability. This has already been the case as we have recommended how to better protect our communities with the residential lead cleanup that has already happened, and for months have been largely ignored despite the fact that it has been discussed and documented in an Advisory Group hosted by state and regional agencies.

Our community leaders have been involved in this fight since we were speculating the extent of contamination from Exide, to the point where many of them have now found that they are Priority 1 or Priority 2 properties (levels of lead in soil that classifies their property as toxic waste or near toxic waste), mostly families with children and infants in the household. It is these leaders who have provided vision and energy throughout the fight to shut down Exide and clean up contamination. It is also these leaders who have taken the position that CEQA exemption is unacceptable because of the danger irresponsible cleanup efforts pose.

The Response:
To come to our position opposing CEQA exemption, we held dialogues with our youth and adult core members and came to consensus. We discussed the benefit CEQA exemption would provide, quicker start of cleanup, but our members deemed this short sighted and irresponsible. CEQA is designed to protect our communities. It requires that impacts are understood and addressed. It requires a public process and provides for accountability. In their assessment, our youth and adult community leaders found the following: 1) The whole reason we are in this mess is because DTSC acted irresponsibly, and did not understand the full impacts of the Exide facility on our communities. 2) There has been much work put in to turning the state agency (DTSC, Department of Toxic Substances Control) around, but if we allow for this CEQA exemption to move forward, it will be in the vein of the old DTSC. 3) Not understanding the full impacts of this cleanup is dangerous and would be seen by our community leaders as a disservice, and a step backward for the state. 4) While we understand the benefits of expediting this process, the amount of time that we would gain is not worth the danger and fear we would face. 5) It is time for the state to set its principles and do right by our communities.

On March 15, we sent a letter (link below) to the Governor expressing the concerns of our members and opposition to CEQA exemption. We also sent the letter to Assemblymembers Anthony Rendon, Cristina Garcia, Jimmy Gomez, and Miguel Santiago, California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Director Matt Rodriguez, DTSC Director Barbara Lee, Senators Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. The Governor’s Office reached out later that day and admitted it was a mistake to not consult with the impacted communities in this process. We scheduled a meeting with the Governor’s Office to discuss how to appropriately move forward for the following week.

On March 22, representatives from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, California Communities Against Toxics and Resurrection Church met with representatives from the Governor’s Office, DTSC, Senator de León’s Office, Assemblymember Santiago’s Office and the technical advisor for the Exide Advisory Group (contracted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DTSC). The state came in with an agenda, but we immediately asserted that it was inappropriate for the Governor or the legislature to hold up Senator de León’s $176.6 million appropriation bill because there is disagreement about Assemblymember Santiago’s CEQA exemption bill. After an hour long conversation, the Governor’s Office agreed that the Governor would do what we wanted because he wants what we want. This was significant and was a primary goal of our meeting because we did not want the funds to be tied up in political games (more on that in the “Political Baggage” section of this piece). Conversations on environmental review should not hold up the appropriation.

The next half hour was spent reiterating that CEQA exemption is unacceptable and is off the table. The Governor’s Office agreed that this was a clear demand and our conversations moving forward would be focused on figuring out how to do option 2 (expedite CEQA) or option 3 (full CEQA).

The last 15 minutes were spent by DTSC introducing documents they brought to the meeting that we hadn’t seen in advance and discussing next steps. Towards the end of this last section of the meeting, the technical advisor was asked for his opinion on the matter and he shared that he was interested in seeing what the CEQA exemption process would look like. Despite the fact that we had spent an hour and a half getting the Governor’s Office to agree to not hold up the appropriation and take CEQA exemption off the table, and the fact that the technical advisor serves as an advisor and does not represent our communities, somehow the Governor’s Office, and perhaps DTSC and the Office of Assemblymember Santiago, left the meeting thinking that CEQA exemption was back on the table. I left the meeting agreeing to learn about what an expedited CEQA would look like, and the Governor’s Office was going to speak to the Governor and get back to me to confirm he would not veto the $176.6 million appropriation.

We spent the following two days communicating with the Governor’s Office, DTSC and the offices of several members of the legislature, consistently reexplaining our positions that the appropriation should not be held up and that CEQA exemption is unacceptable. In our last conversation we learned that we would not find out what an expedited CEQA is, because it was effectively a CEQA exemption as well, meaning two of the three options on the table were CEQA exemptions. This was very misleading and should have been off the table when we met. This was clearly the source of all of the confusion and has begun to feel like causing this confusion has been strategic for the state in an attempt to discredit community positions.

We stil have not heard directly from the Governor on this, though several elected officials (Supervisor Solis and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia) have spoken to the media supporting CEQA exemption, but have not spoken to us on the matter.

The Title:
When “Caring for Kids” Becomes Convenient: Assuming Ignorance After Inaction
There are claims that the CEQA exemption is being pushed because the communities have cried for action, despite the fact we were ignored for decades and are now being ignored when we oppose a CEQA exemption. There are those who are claiming they are pushing for CEQA exemption because they are all of a sudden “caring for kids” in our communities, not understanding that we need the protections of CEQA because the state has/continues to act irresponsibly. After inaction from those who will step up now to speak for our communities, their deficit perspective on our communities leads them to believe we are ignorant and our actions are “mindless” (literally what someone said). Our work speaks for itself, but for those that don’t know, please let me give you a small peek into how East Yard gets down.

We work to build community experts, well informed and well equipped self-advocates to engage in public processes to ensure self-determination when it comes to decisions that will impact our communities. This includes understanding and engaging in the CEQA process, a process that time and time again has served to protect our communities.

Regarding Exide specifically, we have informed the outreach efforts, knocking door to door to find that residents were initially being discouraged from requesting soil sampling over a year ago, and continually offering support to government agencies and jurisdictions on how to conduct proper outreach in our communities. We have informed the extent of the contamination, consistently pushing for wider sampling, introducing a California Air Resources Board air model to show wind patterns are also prevalent in the Northeast and Southwest direction, not just North and South, and uncovering a soil sampling study that showed high levels of lead in the City of Commerce a year before the state admitted Commerce residents are impacted. We are working to inform the Exide site cleanup effort, working with our expert allies to expose the risks to health and propose solutions, which has included visiting the Exide site with an environmental disaster cleanup team with expertise beyond what the state has to offer. Most recently, we had to participate in educating decision makers on how CEQA works, which was deeply troubling given positions have been taken in favor of CEQA exemption.

Because of all of this, it is incomprehensibly offensive when there are claims that we “don’t understand CEQA,” are “confused about options” and our “mindless” efforts will “get more children sick.” I would charge that we, the many of us that have been involved in this struggle for years, decades, generations, know exactly what we are talking about.

The Political Baggage:
It appears as if political baggage is playing a primary role in this process. Ego, beefs, and attempts to gain and/or exert political power are typical games politicians play in office. This should never be acceptable, but is especially problematic in this case. From what it looks like, the Governor, though publicly stating the Governor’s Office is working with us, is invested in a CEQA exemption and holds the most power in this process, the power of veto. His track record has shown he hasn’t been friendly when it comes to CEQA and in our conversations with his office, his reasons for the CEQA exemption don’t hold water in the face of the experiences, perspectives, needs and positions of our members. Let us not forget that until very recently, the Governor has been completely silent and complacent on this Exide issue. So the governor is passing the buck to Assemblymember Santiago, the author of the CEQA exemption bill, and Assemblymember Garcia, a co-sponsor of the bill. Assemblymember Santiago’s Office communicated that he felt he was being left out when Pro Tem de Leon moved forward with crafting the $176.6 million appropriation bill, and that removing the CEQA exemption would make Assemblymember Santiago’s bill empty and effectively useless. These are terrible grounds for supporting CEQA exemption. Given the influence Speaker Rendon has in the region and the state, and with Assemblymember Santiago being the new Assembly Majority Whip, one might begin to believe he is also supporting CEQA exemption, though we haven’t heard much from him or his office.

On the other side, on the Senate/Assembly divide, and also potentially the CEQA exemption issue, is Pro Tem de León, whose $176.6 million appropriation bill is being threatened by the success or failure of Assemblymember Santiago’s CEQA exemption bill. We have seen Governor Brown veto the long hard work of the Pro Tem in the past, specifically on issues related to Exide and DTSC accountability. I’m interested in learning more about the Governor’s history with the Pro Tem, and as those involved in the fight against the prison in Boyle Heights in the 80s have reminded us, we definitely can’t forget that Governor Brown was pro prison.

Having this understanding, you can begin to get a sense for the pettiness that may be involved in this process. We will really get an understanding on where everyone involved is at as the appropriation does or does not move forward.

We will be watching and we will be transparent about what we are seeing.

-mark! (EYCEJ Member and Executive Director)

Click link below to read EYCEJ letter to Governor Brown sent March 15, 2015

EYCEJ Exide CEQA Exemption Opposition Letter



People not Profits: The Fight for Environmental Justice

Taylor Blog

At the beginning of this month, many activists in the greater L.A. region watched in horror as we saw the removal of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Executive Officer, Dr. Barry Wallerstein. You should be horrified too.

AQMD is the regional body tasked with protecting public health by regulating pollution from stationary sources in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside.

What we witnessed was a coup by the new Republican majority board members, backed by fossil fuel industry. That their first order of business was to not only dismiss the agency’s director, but also uphold a vote to support a plan that allows businesses to pollute rather than reduce their toxic emissions is incredibly dangerous. Health shouldn’t be a matter of partisan politics, but unfortunately we’ve come to expect this wherever money is involved.

However, let’s not be fooled; some Democrats on the AQMD Board are pro-polluter too. We don’t have to look too far back to see Councilmember Joe Buscaino rejecting the AQMD staff plan (RECLAIM) to reduce air pollution in favor of a weak plan proposed by oil refineries, power plants, and other industries, allowing them to continue to pollute the air we breathe (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-aqmd-reclaim-20151210-story.html). And if we go back three years ago, we saw Joe Buscaino prematurely supporting the Southern California International Gateway rail yard project (SCIG), which not only threatens the health of the region, but has the largest negative impacts on West Long Beach. Instead of recusing himself for coming out in favor of the project before the environmental and health impacts were known, Buscaino supported the project by voting in favor of it when it went to the Los Angeles City Council. AQMD, along with a slew of other parties, joined us in suing the City of Los Angeles, with Buscaino’s bias being one of the grounds for the lawsuit (the project being the very definition of environmental racism is one of the other grounds for the lawsuit). How can we trust AQMD Board members, Republican or Democrat, who support environmental racism? Will this new Republican majority provide cover for Buscaino to move a pro-polluter agenda while publicly presenting himself otherwise, knowing how the votes will play out? Will AQMD pull out of the SCIG lawsuit, representing another act of war on our health?

With the assassination of Berta Caceres, an indigenous Lenca Honduran woman and activist against environmental injustices against her people, we are sadly reminded that there is a global sickness we must rid ourselves of – putting profits above people. This is a system that murdered Berta in her home for asserting her rights and the rights of her people to live peacefully on their native land; a system that can only thrive on exploitation; a system that is fueled by violence against human bodies.

Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

What else should we expect when we’ve become so accustomed and desensitized to violence? And does the poisoning of our bodies not constitute an act of violence? Much like the travesty of injustice in Flint, Michigan where politicians were complicit in the system that poisoned poor Black people, most of whom were children, our local politicians who sat idly by as Exide Technologies rained invisible bullets of lead into the bodies of thousands of people.

A slow and painful death from cancer is no less violent than the blood drawn from a bullet fired from a gun. Unless we stand up to this violence, our communities will continue to see sick and dying bodies.

We are constantly reminded that many elected officials do not act in the best interest of their constituents – regardless of their party affiliation. From the hateful rhetoric of Trump, to the decisions of the AQMD board, we are witnessing an era where virulent politics are brazenly displayed. We must fight back.

This is your call to action. Join the movement. Start a movement. Build the movement!

Written By: Taylor Thomas

Why you won’t see EYCEJ at the LA Mayor’s Exide event tomorrow:

StopEnvRacism Ciclavia

First off we would like to make it clear that we are not discouraging anyone from participating in tomorrow’s activities. A component of the event includes door knocking to get residents in Boyle Heights to sign property access agreements to have their soil and paint tested for lead. The more people sign up, the further we advance our long struggle for justice on this issue.

What we have issue with is how long it took Mayor Garcetti to acknowledge the Exide issue (especially when compared to his response at Porter Ranch), the fact that we had to push for this to happen, and have had to continually push to see any action out of his office (which is now only beginning to look anything like his response in Porter Ranch), and the response has been problematic. On top of this, one particular staff member from his office has been rude, condescending, and low key threatening (no need to mention names since the name comes out of everyone’s mouth as soon as we mention there has been conflict with the Mayor’s office). We are not here for that.

We, along with other community allies, have had to push this Exide issue every step of the way, moving the CA Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), moving the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD, more on corporate polluter politicians at AQMD in a forthcoming statement), moving the CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), moving the Governor (more on that in a forthcoming statement about a terrible proposal for a CEQA exemption for Exide residential cleanup) and even the Mayor of LA. We continue to have to push.

The Mayor’s Office is disconnected from what is happening in our communities. One example is when the Mayor’s Office invited our staff and members to get trained to do door knocking ahead of this Saturday’s event. They were not aware that the DTSC staff prepared to train them, were prepared by our staff and members. In fact, the DTSC staff members’ first experience walking door to door on this issue was at one of our monthly outreach blitzes a week before the Mayor’s Office was offering the training. They were not aware that before DTSC ever approached us to start conversations on how they could do more successful outreach, we had already knocked on over 1,000 doors and had gotten hundreds of access agreements signed by residents of Boyle Heights, Unincorporated East LA and the City of Commerce. Our communities have had to take on this work for years because those in power have failed us.

We have pushed back because we don’t need press conferences. The time for statements from politicians was when Exide was still open, or before the Governor announced a plan to fund partial residential cleanup. Other elected officials have stepped up with action to help make these things happen, and we don’t need to list them because our communities know who has stepped up and who has fallen flat. We know who has done real work and who has shown up for party. At this point we don’t need a response from the LA Mayor in the form of a one-day event. As we explained weeks ago to his office, now is the time for a response and commitment from the City of LA. We need the City to commit funds, similar to what the County has done, for a sustained effort to reach residents and test residential properties to move us closer to justice. We are not here for anything less.

We are not here to pose with the Mayor in front of cameras at a press conference, or stand next to him as cameras capture him knocking on a door. Plenty of people will rush to his side for that. We are not interested in glorified reelection campaign activities. We are not here for that.

What we are here for is to continue to fight for what our communities deserve. We are here to meet with the Mayor, and his staff who have been positively responsive, when we can seriously discuss what our needs are as Exide impacted communities.

At the end of the day, you won’t see EYCEJ out with the Mayor on Saturday because we stay out here in these streets building up a movement.

-mark! Lopez (EYCEJ Member and Executive Director)

*If you are interested in joining us in outreaching to the Boyle Heights, East LA and Commerce communities to sign residents up to have their soil and homes tested for lead, you can join us:

Saturday, March 19, 2-6pm in East LA & Boyle Heights


Sunday, March 20, 2-6pm in the City of Commerce


Dia De Los Muertos: Re-membering our ancestors


Our Dia de Los Muertos celebration this year came in a form of a small dinner. I took the morning to put up this altar before everyone arrived to add personal photographs and items.

I have put together altares in the past, but this year it felt different.

This year I had my stepdad named Guilberto Rodriguez and a very close amiga named Marina Uranga Pando pass away, so naturally I felt more responsibility in putting together an altar with intentions and memories ingrained into it.

I have been taught that every part of the altar has a meaning. It is meant to honor those energies in our life that keep us in balance, like the elements, directions, family edlers, mujeres, hombres, and children.

As I was putting the altar together, it forced me to think about what it means to remember our ancestors? What does it mean to have ancestors visit you? To have them with you?
In thinking about Marina and Guilberto, I am pushed to piece together memories, feelings, thoughts, in essence meaning of a life on its own and as part of a community. It pushes me to acknowledge that everyone’s life has meaning and a purpose. That sometimes that meaning extends longer than what we will ever be able to live.

Placing objects in the altar is about taking an object, acknowledging it’s importance, and allowing that importance to connect and call out to those who have passed. Putting together an altar is a ceremony of giving importance and meaning. This placing of objects makes me think of how all of our communities are often given the opposite. Our communities in many ways are deemed meaningless and unimportant. It is that exact view of our communities that allows for us to be the center of soo much toxic waste.

In a domestic violence workshop we held in our community room, we were taught that violence isn’t always an action. Violence can also be the lack of action. Violence is also neglect. It is this neglect that allows for our life expectancy to be shortened. It is this neglect that allows for our communities to be surrounded by so much violence.
As I place objects and acknowledge it’s meaning, I can’t help but feel a level of anger. As I place meaning for our dead, I think about how many lives has this neglect shortened? How many years not spent with family and friends is this neglect responsible for?

At times I feel like Marina speaks to me. She doesn’t speak to me in voice, but through the meaning that her actions took within my life. The stories that where shared with me. Through the underlying anger that she carried in her actions driving the need to fight against the violence that our communities face. The anger that pushes us establish that we exist, we are alive, that we have meaning.

This is how I speak with my ancestors. Their life is full of decisions that carry meaning well beyond a single life. I didn’t know all of them, but I know of them, and their actions. Those actions have meaning and importance in my life.

So I set up this altar to honor those ancestors- children, elders, mujeres, hombres.
To honor them by re-membering them. By piecing and sowing together objects, memories, intentions, with meaning and importance.

I have come to understand remembering as a putting and keeping together.
It is to re-member those who I have or haven’t known of. To re-member my actions to theirs.

Los re-cuerdo. (To agree with again)
I re-member you. (To piece together again)

‪#‎LaLuchaSigue‬ ‪#‎LaGenteViveVive‬

In Honor of:
– Guilberto Rodriguez
– Felicitas Ramos
– Unnamed nephew
– Queer uncle (name unknown)
– Marina Uranga Pando
– Those still haven’t met

by Xugo Lujan