EYCEJ – Opposed to Measure US
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, made up of residents on the frontline of toxic polluters, has been fighting for the health of our communities – and by extension the planet – for two decades. We challenge bigoted stereotypes about us – that our communities are lazy, uneducated, and aren’t equipped for self-determination. One of the biggest enemies in our quest for justice has been the fossil fuel industry. Our meetings have been astroturfed by paid actors, our schools have been taken over with bribes in the form of new programs and giveaways, and our communities have literally choked and burned so these corporate interests can gain profits. So it may seem counterintuitive to oppose a measure to tax oil production. We need to be clear that we are not opposed to industry paying for the rampant damage they cause. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re facing is a ballot measure that is high on promises and empty on deliverance, which is why we are adamantly opposed to it.
We recognize that this statement is coming out relatively late, and we are not putting this out to sway voters. However, following our consensus process, we decided we needed to make this statement to share our principles so folks understand our perspective.
The optics around this measure has been intentionally deceptive. While there are large aspirations to fund equity initiatives throughout the City, actual commitments are curiously absent. Although the resolution the City made references the intent to fund community, youth, and climate programs, the actual text of the resolution says these things may be funded. The resolution even explicitly states: “this Resolution is non-binding on any future or 18 subsequently constituted City Council.” Besides that, even if the language was firmer, resolutions are promises – policy-wise they are as good as Monopoly money. They have been used as ways to give the illusion that a government body will move on something without actually giving the legal means to do so.
In the media, you will see a lot of what this tax “may” fund, but less so about what it actually will fund. The revenues from this tax will go to the General Fund, which will largely fund policing as the Police Department receives close to half of the funds in the General Fund. The City Council and City Manager have control over the budget and how money in the General Fund is spent. The makeup of the City council changes every four years, so the promises of any sitting council devoid of a tangible policy with clear metrics, targets, outcomes, and mechanisms of accountability are worthless. While it’d be nice to believe that the City will actually spend resources the way our communities want them to, these elected and appointed decision-makers have shown time and time again that they will maintain the status quo at all costs; only throwing us bread crumbs here and there to keep up the guise that they care about our collective well-being.
Speaking from an environmental justice perspective, the City and the current council have had opportunities to address inequities due to environmental racism:
- In 2018, with 72 hours’ notice, the I-710 Freeway Expansion Project Local Advisory Council (Uranga, Austin, and Richardson) voted to support Alternative 5C against community wishes. Alternative 5C will bring home and business displacement, diesel pollution, and no targeted jobs to the 710 S corridor communities. Subsequently, as a part of the Metro Board, Mayor Robert Garcia voted to move this alternative forward against community opposition. Alternative 5C never went to the full council for endorsement.
- In 2018, the City voted to spend millions on keeping our failing incinerator open. Prior to that, our City was supporting the push behind AB 655 (O’Donnell), which would have given renewable energy credits to incinerators. Mayor Robert Garcia testified in support of the bill, but we defeated it.
- The current draft of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan is woefully inadequate in setting proactive and concrete steps to mitigating our climate risks, especially in frontline neighborhoods such as the Westside. The actions fail to get us to zero-emissions powered by renewable energy. We do not have a plan that works to end the extraction and use of fossil fuels here. It does not have a pathway to a community choice energy program. There is no plan to close our incinerator and reform our waste system. The City has even wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on the consulting firm AECOM over the last three years for a plan that was supposed to be completed in January. They extended the contract earlier this month.
- The City regularly downplays the impacts of its biggest source of pollution in its jurisdiction – the Port of Long Beach. We regularly see and hear the PR around the benefits of the Ports, from the billboards to the sponsored events, but we rarely hear about the immense health impacts they have on our City, and particularly West and North Long Beach. We often hear of the high percentages of emissions reductions from the Ports over the years; but these stats are always using a baseline of 2005, and not being compared against immediate past years, where you will see that different emission categories have either remained relatively flat or even increased. It is also rarely advertised how often the Ports pass soft policies or escape being regulated through voluntary measures such as Memorandums of Understanding, which health advocates have opposed.
It is not lost on the membership of EYCEJ why this ballot measure is confusing, especially when we see folks whom we trust in our communities supporting it. But when we look at the fine details of it, the proposed magic of this measure does not hold up. We see it for what it really is – another performative gesture by the City that will dangle the hope of closing equity gaps by taxing oil, while not actually moving the needle on equity whatsoever. How will programs and initiatives addressing climate, youth, and environment be created or expanded when this revenue source, already a limited amount of money, is guaranteed to decline over time?
We want people to remember that politicians do not lead us, and every victory we’ve ever had has been hard-fought by everyday community members. There is a lot to be said about the continued stalling of our movements due to co-option, political posturing, and accepting gradual progress for the sake of gaining political capital. We hope that these conversations will be brought to the forefront and expose the gaps and opportunities in our shared spaces and that we can continue to uplift the grassroots knowledge, experience, and hard work in our hoods.
Signed – EYCEJ Long Beach Membership