Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar today took himself out of the running to fill the congressional seat expected to be vacated by Rep. Xavier Becerra’s appointment as state attorney general, while state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, threw his hat into the ring.
“After careful consideration and much discussion with my wife Richelle and family, we have decided not to run for the 34th Congressional seat that will soon be vacated by the appointment of Congressman Xavier Becerra to the attorney general position,” Huizar said today. “I will proudly continue as a Los Angeles City Councilmember for the 14th District.”
Gomez, meanwhile, told the Los Angeles Times today that he will run for the seat.
“After talking it over with my family and supporters, I have decided to run for the 34th Congressional seat,” Gomez said, according to the Times. “… Now more than ever, we need strong values-based leadership in Washington that will protect our families, friends and neighbors from divisive rhetoric and policies. I’m ready to stand up and do just that.”
Gomez lives in Eagle Rock and was just elected to his third term in the Legislature.
Former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez declared his intention to run for Becerra’s seat soon after Becerra’s appointment was announced by Gov. Jerry Brown. Perez was appointed a UC Regent by Brown in 2014.
Journalist and activist Wendy Carrillo announced her candidacy today as well. The Boyle Heights resident most recently served as host and executive producer of the public affairs program “Knowledge is Power” on KPWR radio (Power 106).
Other names that have been floated as possible contenders include, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo and L.A. Unified School Board Member Monica Garcia, whose name is also being mentioned as a candidate for Cedillo’s or Gomez’ seat should one of those two move on to another office.
Brown appointed Becerra on Thursday to succeed fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last month.
If confirmed by the state Senate and Assembly – as expected – Becerra will serve the final two years of Harris’ term and become California’s first Latino attorney general.
A special election would then be held to fill Becerra’s congressional seat.
The unrelenting efforts of residents and community activists deserve credit for California Gov. Brown and state legislators securing nearly $177 million for testing and cleanup of properties contaminated by the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, state and local Latino leaders said today during a news conference at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.
“This is what community looks like,” proclaimed Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, pointing to the group of residents and activist at his side and in the audience.
“This is a watershed moment for all, but there is still much to do.”
He was referring to the people from Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Maywood and other southeast communities who have spent decades fighting for the state to hear their pleas for justice for the men, women and children being poisoned by high levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants from the now closed acid-lead battery recycling plant.
“These are reparations,” pointed out Gladys Limon, attorney for Communities for Better Environment. “While Governor Brown proposed this, it took a long time for him to do so.”
After years of silence, Gov. Brown publicly acknowledged the Exide contamination for the first time Wednesday when he asked state legislators to allocate $176.6 million from the general fund for testing and cleanup on the eastside.
The funds, once approved by the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee, will come in the form of a loan. The state will then go after Exide and any other parties responsible for contamination to recover the costs.
“I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano, who lives in a home with high levels of lead in the soil, during the event. “This is long overdue and we can’t stop fighting until the last house is clean.”
The funds will expedite and expand testing for up to 10,000 homes and remove lead-tainted soil from 2,500 residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding plant. The multi-million spending plan would increase the number of crews assigned to the week-long cleanups from 2 to 40, according to Barbara Lee, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Many residents have told EGP over the years they are frustrated with inept oversight by the DTSC, and today, many still say they do not trust the agency to handle the funds or the cleanup moving forward.
DTSC allowed Exide to operate for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.
“Let me clear, there is no safe level of lead,” de Leon said today.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, one of the most severely impacted communities, said he’s anxious to see a timeline for the testing and cleanup process, now that funds will finally be available. He wants strict oversight of state regulators, who have moved slowly to protect the community.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia noted that the funds are “just a down payment, not just in funding but the work from elected officials.” Estimates put the entire cleanup at $400 million, possibly making it the costliest environmental catastrophe in California history.
De Leon told EGP that he has serious concerns about the toxics substances control agency’s ability to handle the cleanup, and said that question would be part of his negotiations with governor’s office moving forward.
As EGP first reported, residents and community activists had grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.
They were angry that there had been no public statement from Brown, and the slow pace of the decontamination process.
It was just a few weeks ago that L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she had tried to reach the governor to ask him to allocate $70 million for the cleanup, but he was unresponsive.
“I called the governor and thanked him for the funds,” she said today about his turnaround.
“I also invited him to come and see what’s going on,” she said in Spanish. “He said ‘we’ll see,’” she said.
Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said pressure from the community made the difference.
“The community kept elected officials on task,” said Lara.
“I want to personally thank EGP and the Eastside Sun for their incredible investigative journalism for bringing bright sunshine to residents of Boyle Heights and to this incredible environmental crisis,” said de Leon.
Rev. Monsignor John Moretta earlier in the week told EGP that when the community gathered to celebrate the closure of the Exide plant last year, they thought it was a victory. They have since realized that the real work was still ahead.
The same can be said about the state’s funding now, he said. Moretta and several other people said they want an investigation into state regulators and for Los Angeles’ city attorney and the state attorney to bring legal action against Exide, which has abandoned toxic waste sites in five other parts of the country.
This is not the end, he said.
In the end, the event was intended to be a recognition of the community’s activism.
U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra said holding the celebration at Resurrection Church was fitting.
“Folks had to rise from the ashes again,” he said. “Residents had to each add their grain of sand for years, now the governor has added his.”
As the child of immigrant parents who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez can still vividly recall the joy he felt during years when he was lucky enough to receive one toy during Christmas.
“That was a big deal,” he reminisced last Friday as he prepared to welcome nearly 2,000 children and their families to the 3rd Annual Holiday Toy Giveaway in El Sereno.
“I know one toy could mean a lot to a child,” Gomez told EGP as the young boys and girls excitedly waited for their visit with Santa Claus.
“I want to see the toys!” children could be heard telling their parents as they jumped up and down to get a closer look from their place in line.
Arlene Hernandez and her five children held the coveted first place in line, which extended down Rosemead Avenue. She told EGP she heard about the event while at the Barrio Action Youth & Family Center where two of her children receive tutoring.
“It’s exciting and I feel grateful because there’s a lot of people who don’t have money for gifts,” she said. “It’s generous that [the assemblyman] is doing this,” she added.
Once inside, Hernandez’ children and the many children who followed excitedly scanned tables filled with toys lined up around Barrio Action’s gymnasium. What they saw were dolls, plush animals, rattles, board games, cars, superhero figures and much more.
“This is my second year coming and I like that it is getting bigger and bigger,” reflected Hernandez as she looked out at the tables filled with toys separated by age.
According to Gomez, when he was elected to the Assembly in 2012 he made a commitment to give back and stay visibly active in his district, which includes much of east and northeast Los Angeles.
“I want to make sure we are giving people a little bit of hope during the holidays,” he explained about his involvement in the charitable event.
A successful toy drive and sponsors, Time Warner, Barrio Action and other organization, made the giveaway possible, according to the assemblyman’s office.
Recipients, ages newborn to 13, were required to pre-register at Barrio Action, according to Gomez’ spokesman Aaron Keshishian. He said the event was “very gratifying.”
As Teresa Garcia waited in line with her three children, two nieces and a nephew, she told EGP her teenage daughter takes anti-bullying classes at Barrio Action, and that’s where they heard about the toy distribution.
Like so many others, they patiently waited, vouchers in hand, for their turn to pick up their toy.
Barrio Action Executive Director Tammy Membreno told EGP they worked with Assemblyman Gomez to bring a little happiness to families living in the area.
“We can’t take families out of poverty, but we can lift a burden off them by providing toys for their kids,” she said, emphasizing that many of the parents they see are young and providing them with toys to give their children is a great help.
After all, “It’s about compassion during the holidays,” she said.
Gomez — recalling how as a boy he wished with all his heart to be next to Santa Claus —couldn’t resist the urge to take his own picture with Santa, this time with a little tweak to the traditional pose, with Santa sitting on his lap to ask for something special this holiday season.
Santa’s request? For Gomez to keep fighting in the assembly for California families.