TODAY DTSC is patting itself on the back for taking LA County Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn to visit active cleanup happening at Exide impacted homes. DTSC is proud of themselves for “surprising” the contractors by showing up “unannounced”, 2 hours before Supervisors Solis and Hahn, and visiting homes not on the “Pony Show” schedule. These visits are supposed to prove to elected officials, and maybe to DTSC themselves if they are delusional enough, that the cleanup process is happening the right way.
The tragically funny plot twist is that YESTERDAY the contractors were scrambling to reach all the cleanup workers, including flying Executives into Los Angeles, to make sure the “Pony Show” goes off as planned. In a text message shared with us, workers are instructed to follow protocols just for a day, just for the “Pony Show”:
After the “Pony Show” today, we heard from cleanup workers that following protocols just for a day really highlights for them how wrong the cleanup has been going. There is no way they can follow the proper protocols every day and meet the timeline demands placed on them by their bosses. The quicker the cleanup at a home happens, accomplished by cutting corners and not following proper cleanup protocols, the higher the profits for the contractors. This is why the contractors operate by ridiculing, reassigning and in some cases firing cleanup workers who have raised issues when cleanup protocols are not followed. At this point, the toxic work culture is so established that following the cleanup protocols for one day, for the “Pony Show”, actually feels bizarre.
There is zero indication that the current contractors getting paid millions of dollars to cleanup our communities are capable of not being bad actors. They are taking advantage of us! The show must not go on!!! And we understand the amount of pressure that cleanup workers are under by their contractor bosses, pressure to cut corners and not follow proper cleanup protocols, pressure to show up to a DTSC public meeting to fight for the contractors under the guise of fighting for their jobs. Just know we have seen contractors come and go, but the movement, the cleanup, and the jobs we fought for are here to stay until all Exide impacted homes are properly cleaned up.
So for today’s “Pony Show,” and the encore performance that will be happening at the DTSC public meeting tonight, we gotta say 0/10 WOULD NOT RECOMMEND!!!
The DTSC public meeting on February 23 capped off 9 years of Exide cleanup failure.
That night DR. MEREDITH WILLIAMS, Director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) TOLD US “I BELIEVE IN THE WORK WE ARE DOING.” DESPITE the years of hearing from residents who have had unresolved issues with the contractor not fully cleaning up our homes, damaging our property, facing racist and sexist comments, and having our health threatened by the contractor not following proper cleanup protocols. DESPITE the years of hearing from cleanup workers who are told not to follow proper cleanup protocols and face intimidation, sexism, physical violence and targeted firings. DESPITE worker injuries due to a cleanup culture that prioritizes DTSC staff in Sacramento receiving reports from the contractor that say cleanup is happening on time, within budget, and without issue instead of caring about what we are really facing on the ground. DESPITE our Get The Lead Out soil sampling project with USC and Occidental College finding that over 75% of cleaned up homes we sampled still have elevated levels of lead, and almost 97% of homes we sampled outside of the preliminary cleanup area have elevated levels of lead.
In fact, we got to witness the DOG AND PONY SHOW first hand when employees of the current cleanup contractor called in to say their boss is great. DTSC staff even thanked them for their service, meanwhile we were receiving messages from local hire cleanup workers about how these individuals are some of the WORST PERPETRATORS OF VERBAL AND PHYSICAL VIOLENCE. We are told this included one individual who BRAGGED ABOUT KILLING A CLEANUP WORKER AND STILL GETTING A PROMOTION! The cleanup worker died after being run over by large machinery at an Exide home cleanup site, and the contractor didn’t even report it to OSHA. This was shared at a public meeting months ago and there was no follow up. It’s no wonder cleanup workers continue to be afraid of speaking out publicly because of the toxic work environments DTSC has facilitated through mismanagement and largely absent oversight.
Despite the many more comments exposing the failure of this process, many comments repeated meeting after meeting for years, we hear that DTSC staff claimed this was a positive meeting. THIS ONLY LIFTS UP THEIR INCOMPETENCE, NOT RECOGNIZING THE TRAUMA THEY ARE INFLICTING WITH THEIR IRRESPONSIBLE ENGAGEMENT.
AND NOW THEY ARE ABOUT TO LAUNCH A NON-APOLOGY TOUR?! We’ve seen this tactic from public agencies before. “Don’t like what you are hearing from community leaders? Go look for other people who will tell you what you want to hear.” WE’VE SEEN DTSC utilize the tactic of spreading misinformation to unaware community members to bolster their position, the STATUS QUO. WE’VE SEEN DTSC rely on contractors to push their workers to speak out in favor of the contractors and DTSC to undermine what they call “disgruntled workers and community members” and support the STATUS QUO. WE’VE SEEN DTSC turn a blind eye to contractors gaming the system and counting workers from Lake Elsinore, Bakersfield and Orange County as “local hire” workers who then become the lap dogs of the contractors, acting as if they represent our communities, upholding the STATUS QUO. Unfortunately, last minute, they have convinced someone who leads public engagement for another government agency to facilitate the first stop on the tour. But WE’VE SEEN DTSC do this before, not properly preparing for engaging the public in a responsible way, because they are content with continuing the STATUS QUO. At one point, a professor who specializes in group facilitation and conflict mediation was hired to facilitate the Exide Technical Advisory Group public meetings. After the first public meeting, he refused to continue because of DTSC’s conduct. Once you engage with DTSC, you see how they like to act brand new and lie in service of the status quo. FOR OUR COMMUNITIES, THE STATUS QUO IS DTSC FAILING TO PROTECT US. FOR OUR COMMUNITIES, THE STATUS QUO IS POISON AND DEATH. This is why we are committed to FIGHTING FOR LIFE!!!
So, we wonder, what will DTSC say at their non-apology tour stops? Will DTSC staff continue to posture in defense of a failing agency, the way they did February 23? Will they speak on decisions they were not around for, the way they did February 23? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that the current 1.7 mile radius boundary of the cleanup area was established because of soil sampling that went out to 4 miles, despite the fact we witnessed DTSC leadership try to limit their liability to 2 homes eventually opening up to 10,000 homes in a closed-door meeting after being exposed by LA County consultant Dr. Adam Love for misrepresenting soil sampling data? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they cleaned up contaminated schools in our communities during the summer despite the fact that they misrepresented data to LAUSD Principals, and we had to expose their lies to the LAUSD Board, which forced DTSC to cleanup during the first two weeks of school while kids were in session, putting kids at greater risk? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they have staff on site at every cleanup site despite the fact that at times they have only had two staff in the field overseeing as many as 30 cleanup crews across the Eastside and Southeast Los Angeles, with actual oversight and compliance enforcement being severely under resourced and cutting corners, violating cleanup protocols and abuses running wild? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they are surprised to hear of cleanup violations, despite issues with the current contractor being communicated to DTSC consistently starting years ago? WILL THEY REPEAT THEIR FEBRUARY 23 LIE that they remove trees from contaminated homes despite the fact that just 2 hours before the meeting we were talking with a resident that didn’t even get their sugar cane removed? They were told they have to remove it themselves. This is aside from us witnessing soil tracked into the street (who knows if it’s contaminated soil, but a violation either way), exposed soil around trees, and grass that will not make it to the summer.
These are all common violations, of our health and trust. On February 23 we heard public comment from a Maywood resident who said they CAUGHT THE CONTRACTOR WORKERS ILLEGALLY DUMPING CONTAMINATED SOIL IN THEIR YARD. DTSC staff feigned dismay, clutching their pearls, vowing to follow up, completely PRETENDING THAT THEY DIDN’T HEAR THIS EXACT PUBLIC COMMENT MONTHS AGO AND DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!
There are too many DTSC lies to recount here, and in reality, we’ve heard their February 23 lies for years. THE TRUTH IS DTSC DOESN’T WANT TO KNOW THEY ARE FAILING, with DTSC Assistant Deputy Director Mehdi Bettahar being one of the worst perpetrators of not wanting to acknowledge issues with the cleanup. To be clear, this isn’t a one house issue. These violations are a culture the contractors operate with and DTSC accepts through an “IGNORANCE IS BLISS” APPROACH.
So, after years of engaging closely with DTSC, how can we move forward in good faith when DTSC moves in this way? HOW CAN WE SHOW UP TO THEIR NON-APOLOGY TOUR KNOWING THEY WON’T BE TRANSPARENT OR ACCOUNTABLE, BUT INSTEAD WILL ONLY INFICT FURTHER TRAUMA AND STIR UP CONFLICT BETWEEN BOOT LICKING CONTRACTOR EMPLOYEES AND OUR COMMUNITY?
WE CAN’T. WE WON’T!!! What is clear to us is that the state needs to make a commitment to resampling all cleaned up homes and expand the sampling area to a 4.5 mile radius around Exide to get a better understanding of how far the Exide poison goes. WE CALL ON CAL EPA SECRETARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION YANA GARCIA AND GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM TO HALT THE HARMFUL PROCEEDINGS OF DTSC AND MEET WITH US TO CREATE A PATH FORWARD THAT ENSURES COMPLETE CLEANUP OF ALL EXIDE IMPACTED HOMES AND THAT ENSURES THAT THE HEALTH AND SOCIAL IMPACTS OF EXIDE’S CONTAMINATION ON OUR COMMUNITIES IS PROPERLY ADDRESSED. Meanwhile, we’ll see what the next DTSC circus act is.
As I write this, our planet’s ecosystem is steadily falling further into collapse. The battle for the survival of life on Earth is heating up (no pun intended), and at the center of this struggle is the tension between the self-determination of working class communities on the frontlines of pollution, private, market-driven development, and the regulatory entities that consistently fail to live up to their missions and enable malfeasance from industry for the sake of “the economy”.
In the South Coast Air basin, comprising four counties and millions of people, we live with some of the poorest air quality in the nation. The impacts of this are felt more strongly in some communities than others. The communities with freeways carrying drayage trucks carving up their neighborhoods; the communities with rail yards literally next to their bedrooms; the communities with oil and gas pipelines under their homes and refineries and storage tanks at the end of their blocks; the communities swallowed up by massive warehouses. The rendering plants, the chrome platers, the peel-off yards, the list goes on and on. The stenches from chemical releases fill our noses and homes. The soot from diesel exhaust covers our homes and lungs. The flares from refineries blanket our skies. The queue of trucks at the ports and warehouses takeover roadways. They’ve been our companions for decades.
So when residents with deadly pollution knocking at their doorstep engage with an agency tasked with regulating these problems, they do so out of urgent need and desperation. Because after years of putting up with these unwarranted assaults, people realize that the conditions they are exposed to are not acceptable and should not be normalized. We then take it upon ourselves to get as educated as possible on the scope of these problems, and generate solutions that will actually address them at the root. We do this with great care, intention, and time that is in addition to trying to survive with low wages, resource-deprived neighborhoods, reduced life expectancy, and bad health.
One of those solutions we have been advocating for is mass investment in, transition to, and deployment of zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure. In June, a coalition of organizations submitted a letter to our regional air agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, challenging the district’s efforts to funnel millions of dollars from public coffers into near-zero technologies. We know that investments in near-zero, and renewable natural gas specifically, is a terrible scheme uplifted from the oil and gas sector that props up combustion-based operations and vehicles, will keep us tied to fossil fuel infrastructure for decades, and continue to worsen our already poor health outcomes. Near-zero investments are not an innocent that needs saving, but a threat to our health and climate that is being fought against up and down the state.
We know the trappings of these types of false solutions because we’ve seen them play out many times over the years. Frontline communities often act as the canaries in the coal mine – struggling to bring attention to these tactics and being dismissed and even gaslit while still suffering under the weight of bad policy shepherded by inept and unprincipled leadership. Years from now we will rue all of the negative impacts, wasted funds, and dangers that will come from expanding near-zero technologies and infrastructure. We will read headlines of leaking pipelines, explosions, stranded assets, and deadly emissions. History will repeat itself.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District will be responsible for this history repeating itself. But we are adamant that doesn’t have to be our future. The health of our communities, and the health of our planet demands that we make a swift change in direction. And so we continue to fight these duplicitous interests – rather than chasing profits, #WeAreJustTryingToBreathe
Writen by Janet Valenzuela
What an honor and privilege it has been to work with East Yard members on this Water Tour series for the month of August. This month we visited Dominguez Gap Wetlands in Long Beach, Ford Park in Bell Gardens, Riverfront Park in Maywood, Roosevelt Park in Florence-Firestone, and San Gabriel River Basin in Pico Rivera. The goal and intent of this series are to learn more about water access and sustainability in our communities. At the same time, this will be a great opportunity to envision and imagine the possibilities of what water capture and filtration can look like in our hoods. The tours are intended for EYCEJ members and families to learn and hear about water infrastructure in our communities and how these projects are part of addressing water conservation and contamination.
At each location, members toured the site and learned about the benefits of water capture systems that reduce runoff and mitigate water toxins from the Lower Los Angeles River Basin. It was a great way to highlight how much we have learned about storm water regulation and water conservation. The program left us thinking how we can act as water stewards and allies to our Tongva and Indigenous diaspora community who continue to model traditional ecological knowledge and practices that remind us that water has memory and water is sacred.
A big thank you goes out to Council for Watershed Health, Sacred Places Institute, Tree People, Bell Garden Public Works (Grissel and Desi) and L.A. County Public Works (Andrew) and Miguel Ramos (East LA member) leading us in a bike ride to the basin and Marlene (East LA member) for leading a Full Moon Ceremony.
We’d also like to take a moment and acknowledge the natural disasters impacting vulnerable families. Our hearts go out to the families impacted by the flooding, wildfires, and drought disasters everywhere.
For years, East Yard has participated in The Mono Basin Outdoor Education Center (OEC) program, connecting our members and team to the source of the Los Angeles basin’s municipal water, and the restoration efforts of the Mono Lake Committee and the Kutzadika’a tribe after decades of continued extraction from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. This year, the East Yard team got together at Mono Lake to reconnect with one another after being apart from each other for more than a year. Prioritizing and centering our collective care enables us to continue moving forward with our day-to-day work of fighting for life and justice in our communities
During our time at Mono Lake, the East Yard team learned about the history of the region, the numerous issues impacting different communities, preservation work, and the ongoing fight to restore the lake’s water levels.
What is now Mono Lake has and always will be the land of the Kutzadika’a Tribe. We learned about the history of the Kutzadika’a in the region, their traditions, and the eventual theft and exploitation of their lands by capitalist colonizers. They lived off the land and migrated as needed throughout Payahuunadü (now known as Owens Valley and the Eastern Sierra region), their way of life was severely impacted and eventually destroyed, first in the late 1800s when white people started destroying the natural landscape to mine for gold and silver in the mountains. Hunting grounds and food resources were destroyed to feed people’s greed for money. The people of Payahuunadü were viciously forced off their lands to make way for speculators and secure water for Los Angeles.
Years later, the building of the Owens Valley aqueduct destroyed even more of the resources they relied on for their livelihood and their water was stolen by what is now known as the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The construction of the aqueduct eventually led to the complete destruction of the Owens Lake ecosystem. To this day, LADWP has continuously failed the Kutzadika’a people and the greater region by not honoring their obligations to restore the health of the Mono Lake ecosystem and all those who rely on it.
Despite everything that has been done to the Kutzadika’a people, they continue living at Mono Lake and other surrounding areas. They maintain their traditional practices and educate others who aren’t familiar with their history and traditions. They also continue to fight for federal recognition – a process that flies in the face of reason for an Indigenous people to have to be “recognized” by the very government that stole their lands. Passage of the bill would not only mean the tribe would possess certain inherent rights of self-government and tribal sovereignty, but it will be a testament to the generations of work and land stewardship they have kept alive.
For some of us, this was the first time we learned some of the history of the L.A. aqueduct and how water gets to our homes. Growing up in a city, there is an inherent disconnect from nature and from the knowledge of where our food, water, and other vital resources come from. Through our participation in the outdoor education program, we now have a better understanding of how these systems are impacted by our water consumption, but most importantly, we learned that our conservation efforts can go a long way. In our communities, we are taught by our families that conservation of water, food, electricity, etc., will help save money, but not preserve natural resources. Balanced solutions will ensure that we don’t take more than what we need from nature while doing our part to improve the conditions of the Payahuunadü.
Our East Yard communities are indebted and carry the responsibility to ensure violence- such as what happened in Manzanar, the Paiute river, and Mono lake- does not continue and is repaired. The agencies and institutions that perpetuate poor air quality, water pollution, and soil contamination are the same as those who have harmed the land and its indigenous caretakers for centuries. Ultimately, this trip to Mono lake reminds us all to continue in resistance, in solidarity, and in community.
To learn more about the history and ongoing struggles at Payahuunadü, you can visit Reimaging Payahuunadü. You can also follow @theaqueductbetweenus, @where_water_flows, and @owens_valley_indian_water on Instagram to learn more and stay up to date on conservation efforts.
May 5, 2021 – CEHAJ Statement Regarding I-710 Corridor Expansion Project
More than 20 years ago transportation planners proposed expanding a diesel truck pipeline through the Gateway Cities called the I-710 Expansion Project. Communities along the I-710 corridor, neighborhoods that are predominantly made up of people of color and have been negatively impacted by the freight industry, immediately began to organize. Throughout the last two decades, these communities, already experts about what it was like to live alongside one the busiest freeways, have also become technical experts that have consistently asked our transportation agencies to consider a better approach that centers public health. This effort was often met with opposition from our transportation planners – with the prevailing notion that we need to pursue this project to expand the freight industry even though it would perpetuate the racist legacy of our transportation system.
Region 9 of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently advised Caltrans and LA Metro that they cannot proceed with the project without doing a quantitative analysis under the Clean Air Act called a “hotspot” analysis. This analysis makes sure that new transportation projects will not result in violations of federal clean air standards or make existing violations worse. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) makes conformity determinations for highway projects like the I-710, but EPA plays an important advisory role. It is our understanding that the project proponents cannot show this project will meet the standard of the Clean Air Act, and EPA advised that they must do this quantitative hotspot analysis – despite LA Metro and Caltrans trying to figure a way out of doing this quantitative hotspot analysis. EPA articulated and came to the conclusions the community had known all along that a project adding diesel truck lanes would be bad for air quality. As a result, this EPA letter provides the perfect opportunity to stop this harmful project proposal, which is pushing forward decades old thinking of how to solve our transportation and air quality problems.
Caltrans and Metro must start over and work with impacted corridor communities to develop a transformational and modern set of solutions that truly addresses the urgent need to improve local air quality, safeguard housing, businesses, and public spaces, and provides much needed career opportunities for corridor residents. The approach rejected by EPA – of just paving additional truck lanes to stuff more diesel and fossil fuel trucks in our communities – is not a real solution to address our transportation and public health problems. This approach is also averse to what the current Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, noted:
“Black and brown neighborhoods have been disproportionately divided by highway projects or left isolated by the lack of adequate transit and transportation resources. In the Biden-Harris administration, we will make righting these wrongs an imperative.”
Now is the time for LA Metro and Caltrans to innovate. Innovation means stopping the current legacy of oppression that ignores community concerns while pushing to expand a transportation system that disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities. In the greater Los Angeles area, and frankly everywhere, we can and must do better, especially now. Caltrans recognized the need for this shift in its 2020 Equity Statement, where it committed to “meaningfully engage communities most impacted by structural racism in the creation and implementation of the programs and projects that impact their daily lives” and to “reform [their] programs, policies and procedures based on this engagement.” The Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice (CEHAJ) invites our transportation leaders to stand by these commitments by working with us on a project that centers community health and needs first by advancing:
By actually partnering with impacted communities, we can do something truly innovative. CEHAJ applauds the EPA advice letter that articulates what we have known and said for decades – more lanes for diesel trucks will not solve our air quality crisis, it will only make it worse.
Here are the steps to move forward
Communities for a Better Environment ■ East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice ■ Earthjustice ■ Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles ■ Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma ■ Long Beach Residents Empowered ■ Natural Resources Defense Council ■ Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College
Adriana Reyes, miembra de East Yard, y su familia han vivido a pasos de la esquina de Atlantic y Washington en la ciudad de Commerce por años. Han visto cómo el lote cambia de un negocio a otro, ninguno durando demasiado ni satisfaciendo las necesidades comunitarias. Pero cuando se enteraron de que se iba a construir una combinación propuesta de gasolinera y 7-eleven, decidieron hablar y luchar.
East Yard y nuestra membresía se enteraron por primera vez de esta propuesta en 2020, cuando el desarrollador Elliot Megdal estaba en una reunión de la Comisión de Planificación de la ciudad de Commerce para obtener la aprobación de su proyecto. Les miembres y organizadores siguieron realizando una investigación para obtener más información sobre el proyecto de Megdal, solo para descubrir que estaban tratando de eludir el sistema al solicitar permisos de exención para evitar las reglas de CEQA y AQMD. Las regulaciones de salud de AQMD establecen que gasolineras deben estar a 300 pies de distancia de casas residenciales, lo que Megdal no cumplió. Si bien la comisión de planificación de la ciudad rechazó el proyecto, el Ayuntamiento de Commerce City votó para permitir que el proyecto continuara con una Declaración Negativa … y sin considerar la salud de la comunidad.
Les miembres del vecindario no querían que se abriera una estación de servicio junto a elles, por lo que asistieron a las reuniones del consejo de la ciudad de Commerce para hacer comentarios públicos en contra del proyecto. Una de esas oradoras fue Jennifer Reyes, la hija de Adriana. “Tenemos la ferroviaria, la autopista 710 y muchas más gasolineras. Si fuera solo una tienda, está bien, pero he oído hablar de tantos incendios en gasolineras, por lo que tener uno cerca de nuestra casa no es una buena idea “, dijo Jennifer.
Esta fue la primera vez que hablo en público y, aunque al principio podría haber estado nerviosa, sabía que no podía simplemente sentarse y permitir los impactos significativos que tendría este proyecto para la salud del vecindario. “¿A cuánta más contaminación estaríamos expuestos? Mi mamá tiene problemas de salud y su amiga vivía cerca y sufría de cáncer. Ya respiramos tantas toxinas, por lo que aprobar otra envía un mensaje de esos miembros del consejo de que en realidad no les importa, que se preocupan más por las ganancias. Ellos saben quiénes son ,” dijo Jennifer.
East Yard finalmente tuvo que luchar contra la propuesta en los tribunales porque las mismas agencias que existen para proteger a las comunidades de sitios tóxicos como las estaciones de servicio no estaban haciendo su trabajo. Los desarrolladores siempre toman ventaja de la situación política para salirse con la suya y capitalizar su codicia a costo de los demás. “Si bien las demandas nunca son una solución, son una herramienta que podemos utilizar para responsabilizar a los contaminadores y al gobierno”, explica Co-Directora Ejecutiva de East Yard, Taylor Thomas.
El tribunal falló a favor de East Yard y a Megdal se le negaron los permisos necesarios para construir una gasolinera junto a las casas. East Yard no se opuso a la construcción de la tienda, pero Megdal se mostró inflexible en la construcción de la tienda y la gasolinera juntas, por lo que el proyecto de desarrollo no avanzó. Adriana y su familia se alegraron de saber que el proyecto no seguiría adelante, a pesar de que el lote sigue vacío y es una plaga para el vecindario. Esperan que cualquier negocio que abra allí, sea algo que contribuya al vecindario, no lo envenene.
Por eso es fundamental que los miembros de la comunidad sepan lo que está sucediendo en sus vecindarios y que las organizaciones comunitarias como East Yard apoyen el liderazgo de sus miembres y hagan que las agencias y los gobiernos locales rindan cuentas a sus residentes. Los desarrolladores no intimidarán a nuestra comunidad y ciudades para que contaminen negocios.
East Yard member Adriana Reyes and her family have lived steps away from the corner of Atlantic and Washington in the city of Commerce for years. They have seen the lot change from one business to another, never lasting too long or meeting the communities needs. But when they learned that a proposed combination gas station and 7-eleven was going to be built, they decided to speak up and fight it.
East Yard and our membership first learned about this proposal in 2020, when developer Elliot Megdal was at a Planning Commission meeting for the city of Commerce looking to get his project approved. Members and organizers followed up by conducting research to learn more about Megdal’s project, only to find out that they were trying to go around the system by applying for exemption permits to bypass CEQA and AQMD policies. AQMD health regulations state that gas stations must be 300 feet away from residential homes, which Megdal was not in compliance with. While the city’s planning commission rejected the project, the Commerce City Council voted to allow the project to continue with a Negative Declaration… and without considering the community’s health.
Members in the neighborhood didn’t want a gas station opening up next to them, so they attended Commerce city council meetings to give public comment against the project. One of those speakers was Jennifer Reyes, Adriana’s daughter. “We have the railyard, the 710 freeway, and we have so many more gas stations. If it was just a store it’s ok, but I’ve heard of so many fires by gas stations so having one close to our house is not a good idea,” said Jennifer. This was their first time speaking in public and while they might have been nervous at first, they knew they couldn’t just sit back and watch because of what it would mean for the health of the neighborhood. “How much more contamination would we be exposed to? My mom has health issues and her friends lived close and suffered from cancer. We already breathe in so many toxins, so to approve another sends a message from those council members that they don’t really care, they care more about the profit. They know who they are,” said Jennifer.
East Yard eventually had to fight the proposal in court because the same agencies that are in place to protect communities from toxic sites like gas stations were not doing their job. Loopholes are always exploited by developers so they can get their way and capitalize on their greed at the expense of others. “While lawsuits are never a solution, they are a tool we can use to hold polluters and government accountable,” explains East Yard co-executive director, Taylor Thomas.
The court decided in East Yard’s favor and Megdal was denied the permits needed to build a gas station next to homes. East Yard was not opposed to the construction of the store, but Megdal was adamant about building both the store and the gas station together, so the development project didn’t move forward. Adriana and their family were happy to hear that the project would not move forward, despite the lot remaining empty and a blight to the neighborhood. They hope that whatever business does open up there, it will be something that contributes to the neighborhood, not poison it.
This is why it is critical for community members to know what is going on in their neighborhoods and for community-based organizations like East Yard to support the leadership of their members and hold agencies and local governments accountable to their residents. Developers will not bully our community and cities into polluting businesses.
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:
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