Gov. Takes ‘Environmental Justice’ Tour of Areas Ravaged by Pollution

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Gov. Jerry Brown got a close-up look Tuesday at the traffic, pollution, and industries that have long wreaked havoc on the health of residents living in southeast Los Angeles County.

It was a rare visit by the governor who has in the been criticized for being more interested in opening casinos than protecting the health of residents living in cities like Commerce and Bell Gardens and other east and southeast neighborhoods.

Brown was there at the behest of Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), who took the governor on a tour of some of the most environmentally challenged areas in her 58th Assembly District.

The tour included stops around the 710 overpass at Florence, the perimeter of the Commerce rail yard, Bandini Park and the brownfield at Garfield and Gage (in Commerce).

Former Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa once told EGP that Commerce is the country’s “third largest port,” referring to the number of shipping containers, diesel trucks and trains that pass through the city, bordered by the Long Beach 710 and Santa Ana 5 freeways and a network of rail yards where trains abut neighborhood homes, schools and parks, as well as industrial warehouses.

As a result, several studies in recent years have designated the region as having the most harmful air pollution in the state, or at least being among the top 10 most polluted areas to live.

“Today, the Governor got to breathe the same air as I have all my life,” said Garcia in statement following the tour.

Gov. Brown “looked across the brownfields that surround my communities and met with my neighbors who share our communities’ concerns,” said Garcia who grew up in Bell Gardens.

“…It’s important to actually see and breathe, first-hand, the issues that many Californians contend with their entire lives. It’s not all palm trees and beaches or redwood forests and snow-packed ski resorts,” Garcia said

Brown also took time for a closed door, roundtable discussion at the Neighborhood Youth Center in Bell Gardens where he met with a specially selected group of environmental activists working to improve conditions in predominately Latino communities.

The tour and discussion were closed to the media.

Many of the activists who met with the governor were involved in the fight to close the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant, which for decades spewed toxic chemicals into the air, contaminating as many as 10,000 properties in Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Huntington Park and other areas nearby.

State regulators were highly criticized for allowing Exide to operate for decades on a temporary permit and with near impunity, and for their slow response to cleaning up the contamination, a process that is expected to take years to complete.

Local officials and community activist demanded action from the governor, but he refused to engage publicly in the process, at one point sparking a demonstration at the grand opening of a Bell Gardens hotel where angry protesters carrying a 10-foot tall papier-mâché effigy of the governor called for him to step up.

“Governor Brown comes to Bell Gardens to acknowledge the expansion of the Bicycle Casino but has not acknowledged the contamination of Exide Technologies,” Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, said at the time.

The tour and discussion come as State Legislators consider extending California’s cap and trade program, which both the governor and Garcia support.

Brown has made the environment and climate change the corner stones of his administration, and an example for the rest of the world. Political observers often refer to Brown’s actions on the environment as his “most important legacy.”

However, like many local environmental justice groups, Garcia does not believe the current program does enough to protect local communities from pollution-related health hazards.

She is pushing for air quality regulations to be added to the next phase of the program, and has introduced AB 378 in hopes of seeing so-called benefits from program reach the overlooked constituents she represents.

“When we talk about California leading the world on climate change, I agree, but we’ve got to really lead by example and address the real and ongoing ramifications in our own backyards at the same time,” Garcia said.

The assemblywoman pointed out to the governor that environmental policies the state takes pride in are not visible in her backyard. “You don’t see solar panels on rooftops,” she told the governor, reported the L.A. Times. “Whether it’s electrification or hybrid cars, or cleaner air, you don’t see it. None of those things have been felt here,” Garcia said.

“… All Californians should be entitled to an equal piece of justice for their environment. That’s what I believe in and what I shared with the Governor today,” said Garcia Tuesday.

“It’s not often any Governor spends a day in my backyard or any working class community of color, but I believe this goes to show Governor Brown’s willingness to work with us while we seek an environmental solution that will benefit every single Californian.”

Central Basin to Appoint Three New Directors to Board

December 29, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Hoping to restore the public’s trust in the scandal-ridden Central Basin Municipal Water District, the makeup of the agency’s board of directors will soon change to include three new appointed directors, with a call for nominations starting next week.

Assembly Bill 1794, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, requires the agency to appoint three directors based on a vote by its customers. The three new members will join the five publicly elected members currently on the board. However, in 2022 – following the 2020 census – the board’s makeup will change again, transitioning to four elected and three appointed directors.

Current board members were recently briefed on the change that will go into effect after the first of the year, starting with a call for nominations on Jan. 3

Unlike elected board members, appointed directors will be required to meet certain qualifications and restrictions mandated by the state law that strives to eliminate potential conflict-of-interest issues. The appointed directors must have five years of water experience and will be limited to one term. They are prohibited from receiving a car or communications allowance, and cannot own more than .5% of a private company.

Central Basin Board Director Leticia Vasquez questions the process for the three new appointed directors during the Dec. 19 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Central Basin Board Director Leticia Vasquez questions the process for the three new appointed directors during the Dec. 19 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Three separate selection committees will be formed to make the appointments, with each group making one appointment.

The first group will be made up of representatives of the Central Basins’ five largest water users, the cities of Vernon and Santa Fe Springs, the Golden State Water Company, Liberty Utilities and California Water Service. The second group will include a representative –likely the city manager – from each of the 19 cities the agency services. The third director will be selected by a vote of all retail agencies that is proportional to the number of service connections each retailer has.

The process outlined did not sit well with current board members.

Director Leticia Vasquez, who represents the cities of Lynwood, South Gate, Florence-Graham, Willbrook and portions of Compton in District IV, repeatedly expressed her concern that not every user will have an equal voice. Although the agency services 41 large water users, only five of those will get to vote under one category, she pointed out.

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” she complained. “Again, we’re leaving people out.”

Central Basin’s General Manager Kevin P. Hunt said every customer would be represented under one of the categories. He reiterated that the process is dictated in the legislation, adding that the agency had limited input.

Nomination ballots are due Jan. 24 and will be opened in public the following day. By Jan. 31, voting ballots will be delivered to purveyors who will have until Feb. 21 to return them. The results will be announced Feb. 22 and the new directors will be installed March 3.

Hunt acknowledged that while he disagrees with the process, it is the last thing state auditors recommended the agency do following a scathing report that found widespread-mismanagement, conflicts of interests and poor leadership at the agency.

He added the process will provide good candidates and ensure that selections are not made in a back room.

Director Phillip Hawkins disagrees, calling the state measure a “bad bill” that is “basically illegal.”

“We have to get over 40,000 to get voted in while five agencies can put a director on a public agency, I don’t see how that could ever work,” he complained.

Hunt acknowledged that while there use to be a lot distrust of the water agency, things are turning around, referring to the Central Basin’s successful bond sale last year, which increased its bond rating.

“We’ve come a long way,” Hunt said.

State lawmakers based the bill on state auditors’ recommendations that called for more technical expertise to the board.

“The Central Basin Accountability bills will better protect consumers and begin to restore the public’s trust and ensure the District stays on track once and for all,” the bill’s author Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia said when the legislation was signed into law.

 

Southeast L.A. County Leaders React to Election

November 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

By the time the polling booths closed Tuesday in California, Southeast Los Angeles County residents attending a “Bad Hombres and Nasty Women” election night party were already glued to their phones and TV screens, anxiously watching the electoral votes tally up against their candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The tongue-in-cheek event, hosted by Democrat Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia at The Bicycle Casino Hotel in Bell Gardens, was supposed to be a victory celebration, after all, almost all the polls earlier in the day had signaled victory for Clinton. Instead, a Donald Trump piñata sat untouched at the bar and a solemn mood persisted throughout the night.

At a Democratic "victory party' at The Bicycle Casino Tuesday, Hillary Clinton supporter Evamarie Balderas watches in disbelief as numbers fall into the win column for Donald Trump. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

At a Democratic “victory party’ at The Bicycle Casino Tuesday, Hillary Clinton supporter Evamarie Balderas watches in disbelief as numbers fall into the win column for Donald Trump. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Garcia kicked off the evening by asking attendees to stay focused and hopeful, despite Trump’s early lead.

“Irrespective of what happens we must show unity,” she told the crowd.

Yet, as the clock moved closer to midnight and projections for key battleground states like Ohio, Florida and Iowa brought Trump closer to the 270 electoral votes he needed to secure the election, the bar got busier as attendees struggled with disbelief.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” one person said.

“How did it get like this,” asked another in shock.

The local elected officials, campaign strategists and residents tried to do the math and tally the numbers, hoping for a Hail Mary victory for Clinton, but it was increasingly clear the night would not end as they’d hoped, and the impact would be far-reaching.

“This is a wake up call for our community and for our state,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard told the crowd as Trump’s lead continued to grow Tuesday. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

“This is a wake up call for our community and for our state,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard told the crowd as Trump’s lead continued to grow Tuesday. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Even if she wins, it’s very disappointing that someone who has dishonored our culture, insulted every minority, talked [disparagingly] about immigrants – and in spite of all that, so many people supported him …even Latinos,” a dismayed Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard told EGP .

The cloud from the presidential race made it difficult for elected officials at the event to celebrate their own victories: Garcia was reelected to serve the 58th District, Sen. Ricardo Lara will contine to serve the 33th District, Rep. Linda Sanchez, chair of the Hispanic Caucus, will once again represent District 38 in Congress and Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress easily held on to her seat in the 40th District.

“This is a wake up call for our community and for our state,” Roybal-Allard told the crowd as Trump’s lead continued to grow. “Take tonight, regardless of turnout and use it as a foundation for building awareness, strengthening our community and being proud of being American.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez speaks to room full of Democrats Tuesday at the "Bad Hombres and Nasty Women" election night party in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Rep. Linda Sanchez speaks to room full of Democrats Tuesday at the “Bad Hombres and Nasty Women” election night party in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

In the early hours of the morning, business mogul and TV personality, and now President-Elect Donald Trump would rule the night, beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, receiving 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228. Clinton was ahead in the popular vote.

Excerpts from EGP’s Election Night interviews:

Senator Ricardo Lara on electing more “nasty women and bad hombres:”

“We’re used to fighting,” he said. “We’re looking to elect more women and Latinos to state legislator.”

Rep. Linda Sanchez on being proud of California Democrats:

While campaigning in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona there were always “busloads of California Democrats [trying] to help turn those states blue,” she told the large crowd of Democrats. “As we’re still waiting for election results I know I did everything in my power before November to bring it home for Hillary Clinton.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard on Hillary Clinton’s Challenges:

“Part of what happened was the press and FBI Director [James] Comey,” she told EGP. “It was hard to recover from misinformation that was out; the FBI really undermined the election.”

On the U.S. Senate Race: “Its kind of sad that in the most Latino state we didn’t elect the Latina,” she said. “Southern California will not have reps in Washington.”

On Prop 64: “Given what’s happened in Colorado and facts from reputable, proven science that have shown marijuana negatively impacts the brain, there is just not enough research and safety regulations in place.”

On a Trump Presidency: “The reality is if Donald Trump wins the election I don’t know if he will follow through on what he promised like the wall and getting rid of immigrants,” she told EGP. “Everything is up in the air.”

Senator Tony Mendoza on what election means for State: “California will not change one bit, it stands alone and is trendsetter,” he said. “We have to set the example, nationwide we still need a lot of work to do.”

“Next session we have a lot of untouched issues, many that revolve around transportation.”

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia on increasing the number of women and minorities in the State Legislature: “I made a commitment to uplift other women,” she told EGP. “For women and women of color the work starts today to make sure our country looks more like California.”

On Prop 64: “There needs to be a change in the system,” she said. “My community is more likely get in trouble.”

Commerce Mayor Ivan Altamirano on Measure M:

“If it passes I’m hoping it will create a win-win and we can all sit at the table and start to fix our neighborhoods,” he told EGP. “In a way the repair of the 5 freeway was the main concern for Commerce, the expansion of the freeway needs to happen right, not 20 years from now.

Montebello Unified School Board Member Joanne Flores on Prop 51: “It will help us with funding tremendously,” she told EGP. “It will compliment funds we already have from our local bond that passed.”

New Fee on Car Batteries Could Expand Exide Cleanup

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When Larry Mendoza learned Gov. Jerry Brown had signed legislation imposing a fee on car batteries to fund the cleanup of lead contaminated sites like those near the Exide plant in Vernon, he felt like Sacramento is finally listening.

“The community has been asking for [more funding] for such a long time, it finally feels like the sate is being proactive,” the Commerce resident told EGP.

Beginning April 1, consumers and manufacturers will be required to each pay a $1 fee on every lead-acid car battery sold in California.

“When theses technologies reach their end life, we often learn, the hard way, that these products, when not disposed of properly, come at a cost to their environment and to our health,” wrote Gov. Brown in a letter to the State Assembly.

Retailers currently charge a refundable state-mandated fee intended to encourage customers to properly recycle unused and depleted batteries. Retailers are allowed to keep money not returned to consumers.

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Southeast legislators join members of the community to celebrate the signing of AB2153 in Commerce last week. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The new $1 battery fee is expected to generate approximately $30 million a year to cover costs associated with the cleanup of sites contaminated by lead-acid batteries.

“It’s one thing to be able to come up with legislation, it’s another to come up with a funding source,” Sen. Ricardo Lara acknowledged during a press conference in Commerce last week celebrating the bill’s signing.

Earlier this year, the governor approved a $176.6 million loan to help speed up the testing and cleanup of properties found to have lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals on site due to Exide’s violations of pollution and toxic waste standards.

California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, the regulatory agency charged with overseeing the cleanup, plans to use the funds to test approximately 10,000 properties in Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon and to clean an estimated 2,500 homes in the impacted area.

Funds collected from the battery fee can be used to pay back that loan or added to the Exide cleanup budget.

Over the years, state regulators have repeatedly cited a lack of money for the delays and limitations in dealing with the health hazard. Area residents, elected officials and environmental activists are now hopeful that the new revenue stream will allow the cleanup to be expanded beyond the current target zone.

The bill’s principal author, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, lives in Bell Gardens, a city just outside the area currently being investigated. She has repeatedly asked the state to consider expanding the study area because she and others believe the contamination is not limited to the 1.7 miles surrounding the Exide plant.

“With a guaranteed source of revenue we can now entertain the idea of expanding that radius,” she told EGP.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards for Environmental Justice, told EGP the new fee is another step in the long walk for justice.

“At this point, we are looking at the inter-generational impacts to health, academics, social, violence and crime,” he said. “We need a [long-term health] study to be able to fully remediate the effects of the contamination.”

In a statement to EGP, DTSC stated the agency will use the funds to investigation and cleanup areas that are “reasonably suspected to have been contaminated by the operation of a lead-acid battery recycling facility.”

Garcia told EGP she wants those responsible for the contamination to be held criminally accountable.

“We still need an investigation into what allowed this to happen,” agrees Lopez.

Activists have long questioned why state regulators allowed Exide to operate on a temporary permit and with impunity for decades, putting public health at risk. They have also called for criminally prosecuting Exide officials and anyone else who was complicit in the environmental crime.

Sen. Tony Mendoza said it’s frustrating that the Exide crisis has not received the same federal and national attention as other environmental disasters, such as the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint Michigan.

The Exide plant in Vernon is one of 14 now closed lead battery-recycling sites in the state. Cleanup of the site is expected to be the largest and most expensive environmental disaster in state history. City of Industry-based Quemetco is the only lead battery recycler still operating in California. Testing is currently underway to determine if the surrounding communities were contaminated by the plant’s toxic emissions, which have also exceeded state health standards.

“Decades of improper lead-acid battery recycling have left these communities to face enormous environmental challenges,” noted Brown in his signing statement.

As of last month, 2,900 properties in the 1.7-mile target zone have been tested for lead and 236 have been cleaned.

Larry Mendoza says he hopes legislators understand how critical it is to fund and expedite the process, adding that seeing legislators working with the community and addressing some of their concerns has him feeling more optimistic.

“Sadly,” he added, “what unites us is the pollution of lead.”

Public Blasts DTSC at State Committee Hearing

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials first held a hearing on the decontamination of the now shuttered Exide Technologies facility, eastside residents made a turnaround trip to the Capitol where they demanded state legislators step up and push for funds needed to address the cleanup. Five months later, with $176.6 million now set aside by Gov. Brown for the cleanup effort, it was the Committee’s turn to pay residents, which they did last week, holding their meeting not far from the Vernon plant.

As is customary, officials from the state, county and city of Los Angeles updated the committee on their respective cleanup efforts and community outreach. But residents who live in East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon and Huntington Park – areas believed to be contaminated with lead and arsenic – told the committee that those reports were not giving legislators a full picture of what’s really going on.

Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council President Vera Del Pozo said she was tired of hearing officials and DTSC go talk about things the community has heard repeatedly.

“Stop telling us what you’ve done and just clean this up now,” she said, prompting applause from the audience.

One after another, residents renewed their calls for a quicker, more efficient remediation process, starting with a cleanup plan they said should have already been completed.

“There are many ongoing and serious problems that need to be addressed,” said Gladys Limon, staff attorney at Communities for a Better Environment during the assembly committee’s meeting at Roosevelt High School.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the approval of the cleanup plan. The agency, charged with overseeing the investigation and remediation of the 1.7-mile preliminary investigation area, is soliciting input from the public before drafting the cleanup plan.

The public comment period begins June 16 and will continue for 30 days, ending July 18. Once the draft impact report is completed the public will have 45 days to review the document and provide comments that will be used to prepare the final report. Two scoping meetings to gather public comment are planned for June 25 at Perez Park in Huntington Park and June 30 at Commerce City Hall.

 Students from Bell Gardens High School attend a public hearing held June 9 at Roosevelt High School, where dozens of residents called for greater oversight of the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Students from Bell Gardens High School attend a public hearing held June 9 at Roosevelt High School, where dozens of residents called for greater oversight of the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee explained that under the current CEQA timeline, cleanup, which could end up being the largest in the state’s history, would not begin until June 2017.

Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, urged legislators to force DTSC to expand the investigation area to 4.5 miles, a demand repeated by dozens of residents living just outside the zone.

“We’re leaving people behind,” Williams stressed.

Roosevelt student Michael Valencia said he lives two blocks from the meeting site, yet his home and the school itself are outside the preliminary cleanup area.

Dr. Brian Johnston, chair of emergency medicine at White Memorial, asked that the agency do more soil sampling beyond the 1.7 miles. He cited a 2010 study conducted by the Air Quality Management District that stated Exide’s cloud of toxins could reach as far as Altadena and Palos Verdes.

Lee explained that results from soil samples collected as far as 4.5 miles from the Vernon plant led the agency to conclude lead emissions could have traveled 1.7 miles from the facility. She reminded the committee that the state’s multi-million loan can only be used to address remediation in that area.

Many residents, however, complained that the agency’s report was a repeat of an “infomercial” they’ve heard many times before, and even argued that DTSC lacks the expertise to carry out the cleanup.

“[The problem] is bigger than what they’re trying to paint,” said a frustrated Joe Gonzalez.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who sat in for committee members unable to attend, said that many of the community’s complaints are valid.

“We need to expand the area,” she told EGP. “We definitely need to do that.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, who also sat in on the committee, told EGP he expects the committee to include what was discussed at last week’s meeting in an end of the year report on all the hearings.

“This is one more example of us being more inclusive,” Santiago said. “It demonstrates legislators are taking this seriously, putting pressure and holding DTSC accountable.”

Garcia told EGP she plans to use the public testimony to ask the agency better questions.

“We get regular updates from DTSC but it is through their eyes and their perspective,” she said.

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis reminded legislators that more funds would be required to not only decontaminate the area but to also educate the community about the dangers of lead exposure, known to cause neurological diseases, learning disabilities, cancer and other serious health problems.

“This can’t happen again,” Solis said of the contamination. “There needs to be an investigation.”

Lee defended herself and the agency, reminding the committee and the public that in April 2013 Exide was ordered to suspend operations and in March 2015, months after she took over as director, the plant was forced to close permanently.

Since then, 1,800 homes have been sampled, 3,400 access agreements have been signed and over 200 homes have been decontaminated, she said, adding DTSC currently samples 135 properties a week but expects to increase to 200 per week in the coming month.

“We have much to do but we have made progress,” said Lee.

In the minority, one resident thanked the agency for cleaning her East Los Angeles home. But most residents felt their demands and frustration were justified.

“Just because we are asking for more doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge what you have already done,” said Boyle Heights resident Irene Peña.

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, told EGP the group encountered problems while working with the agency to gather access agreements, an effort they do not plan to continue.

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

El Público Arremete Contra DTSC en una Reunión del Comité del Estado

June 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuando el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos realizó por primera vez una audiencia sobre la descontaminación de la instalación Exide Technologies ahora cerrada, los residentes del Este se volcaron hacía el Capitolio donde exigieron a los legisladores del estado avancen y exijan los fondos necesarios para hacer frente a la limpieza.

Cinco meses después, con $ 176,6 millones apartados por el gobernador Brown para el esfuerzo de limpieza, fue el turno del comité para pagar a los residentes, lo cual hicieron la semana pasada, llevando a cabo su reunión no muy lejos de la planta de Vernon.

Read this article in English: Public Blasts DTSC at State Committee Hearing 

Como es habitual, los funcionarios del estado, condado y ciudad de Los Ángeles actualizaron al comité sobre sus respectivos trabajos de limpieza y alcance a la comunidad. Pero los residentes que viven en el Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Vernon y Huntington Park—áreas que se cree están contaminados con plomo y arsénico—dijeron al comité que esos informes no estaban dando a los legisladores una imagen completa de lo que realmente está pasando.

Vera Del Pozo, presidenta de la Junta de Vecinos de Boyle Heights, dijo que estaba cansada de escuchar a los funcionarios y el DTSC ir a hablar acerca de las cosas que la comunidad ha escuchado en repetidas ocasiones.

“Ya dejen de decirnos lo que han hecho y solo limpien esto ahora”, dijo, lo que provocó los aplausos del público.

Uno tras otro, los residentes renovaron sus llamados para un proceso de remediación más rápido, más eficiente, comenzando con un plan de limpieza que dijeron ya debería haber sido completado.

“Están pasando muchos problemas graves que necesitan ser abordados”, dijo Gladys Limón, abogada de Comunidades para un Mejor Ambiente en la reunión del comité de la asamblea en la preparatoria Roosevelt.

Bajo la Ley de Calidad Ambiental de California (CEQA), el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) debe preparar un Informe de Impacto Ambiental (EIR) para la aprobación del plan de limpieza. La agencia encargada de supervisar la investigación y remediación del área de investigación preliminar de 1.7 millas, está solicitando la opinión del público antes de elaborar el plan de limpieza.

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Un residente de Commerce demanda un que haya revisión sobre la limpieza de Exide durante la reunión pública del 9 de juno.

El período de comentarios públicos comienza hoy 16 de junio y continuará durante 30 días, terminando el 18 de julio. Una vez que el proyecto de informe de impacto esté completado el público tendrá 45 días para revisar el documento y formular observaciones que se utilizarán para preparar el informe final. Se prevén dos reuniones de alcance para recopilar comentarios públicos para el 25 de junio en el Parque Pérez en Huntington Park y el 30 de junio en el ayuntamiento de Commerce.

La directora de DTSC Barbara Lee explicó que bajo la línea de tiempo actual de la CEQA, la limpieza que podría llegar a ser la más grande en la historia del estado, no comenzaría hasta junio de 2017.

Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California contra Tóxicos, instó a los legisladores para obligar a DTSC para ampliar el área de investigación a 4,5 millas, una demanda repetida por las docenas de residentes que viven fuera de la zona.

“Estamos dejando a gente atrás”, destacó Williams.

El Dr. Brian Johnston, presidente de medicina de emergencia en el White Memorial, pidió a la agencia que haga muestras de suelo más allá de las 1,7 millas. Él citó un estudio de 2010 realizado por el Distrito de Administración de la Calidad del Aire que declaró que la nube de toxinas de Exide podría llegar tan lejos como Altadena y Palos Verdes.

Lee explicó que los resultados de muestras de suelo recogidas hasta 4.5 millas de distancia de la planta de Vernon llevaron a la conclusión que las emisiones de plomo podrían haber viajado a 1,7 millas de la instalación. Ella le recordó al comité de préstamo de varios millones del estado sólo puede ser utilizado para abordar la reparación en esa zona.

Muchos residentes, sin embargo, se quejaron de que el informe de la agencia fue una repetición de un “anuncio informativo” que han escuchado muchas veces antes, e incluso argumentaron que DTSC carece de la experiencia necesaria para llevar a cabo la limpieza.

“[El problema] es más grande que lo que están tratando de pintar” dijo frustrado Joe González.

La asambleísta Cristina García, que estaba representando a los miembros del comité que no pudieron asistir, dijo que muchas de las quejas de la comunidad son válidas.

“Tenemos que ampliar la zona”, dijo a EGP. “Definitivamente necesitamos hacer eso”.

García le dijo a EGP que planea usar el testimonio público para hacer mejores preguntas a la agencia.

“Recibimos actualizaciones regulares de DTSC pero es a través de sus ojos y su perspectiva”, dijo.

La supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles Hilda Solís recordó a los legisladores que se necesitarían más fondos, no sólo para la descontaminación de la zona, pero también para educar a la comunidad sobre los peligros de la exposición al plomo, que se sabe causan enfermedades neurológicas, discapacidad, cáncer y otros problemas de salud graves de aprendizaje.

“Esto no puede volver a pasar”, dijo Solís de la contaminación. “Es necesario que haya una investigación”.

Lee se defendió y defendió a la agencia recordando a la comisión y al público que en abril de 2013 Exide recibió la orden para suspender las operaciones y en marzo de 2015, meses después de que ella se hizo cargo como directora, la planta se vio obligada a cerrar de forma permanente.

Desde entonces, 1.800 casas han sido examinadas, se han firmado 3.400 acuerdos de acceso y más de 200 casas han sido descontaminadas, dijo, añadiendo que DTSC actualmente examina 135 propiedades a la semana, pero espera que aumente a 200 por semana el próximo mes.

“Tenemos mucho que hacer, pero hemos avanzado”, dijo Lee.

En la minoría, un residente agradeció a la agencia para la limpieza de su casa en el Este de Los Ángeles. Pero la mayoría de los residentes sentían que sus demandas y frustración estaban justificadas.

Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities  para la Justicia Ambiental, dijo a EGP que el grupo tuvo problemas al trabajar con la agencia para reunir los acuerdos de acceso, un esfuerzo que no planean continuar.

“Hemos tenido que empujar a cada paso del camino para llegar al punto en que nos encontramos ahora”, dijo. “Es hora de que el DTSC de la cara y acepte el reto de hacerlo mejor”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Cuota en Baterías de Vehículos Podría Pagar para Limpiar el Plomo

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Un proyecto de ley de California dirigido a la financiación de la limpieza de las comunidades contaminadas con plomo, como las que rodean a la planta de reciclaje de baterías de Exide ahora cerrada pronto podría obligar a consumidores e industrias a pagar una cuota de $1 por cada batería de automóvil de plomo-ácido que se vende en el estado.

Bajo la Ley de Reciclaje de Baterías de Plomo-Ácido (AB 2153)—aprobado por la asamblea del Estado el pasado viernes—los fondos recaudados serían depositados en un fondo para pagar por los esfuerzos de limpieza como los que actualmente se están llevando acabo en Boyle Heights, Los Ángeles, Commerce, Maywood y Huntington Park, donde unos 10.000 hogares pudieron haber sido contaminados por la antigua fundición de plomo. La exposición al plomo esta relacionada con el cáncer, defectos de nacimiento y problemas de desarrollo cognitivo en niños, mujeres embarazadas y ancianos.

Read this article in English: Fee on Automobile Batteries Could Pay for Lead Cleanup

“La asamblea del Estado está enviando un mensaje claro a los residentes en las comunidades afectadas que ellos si importan y que no los vamos a dejar que se queden sobre el suelo envenenado”, dijo la autora del proyecto, la asambleísta Cristina García.

Durante años, Exide Technologies recicló cientos de baterías de automóvil de plomo-ácido en su sitio de Vernon, acumulando decenas de violaciones de residuos peligrosos en el proceso. Exide, una de sólo dos instalaciones al oeste de las Montañas Rocosas, se le encontró que tenía emisiones de arsénico emitido en el aire y plomo en el suelo, exponiendo a 110.000 residentes del este y sureste a toxinas que causan cáncer.

Los funcionarios estatales estiman que el costo para limpiar las propiedades contaminadas podría ser llegar hasta los $500 millones, de lo cual Exide es responsable de pagar bajo un acuerdo con la Oficina del Fiscal de EE.UU., pero podría tomar años para recoger y al final no cubriría el costo total.

Si se aprueba, García estima que la nueva tarifa juntaría $70 millones al año para el fondo de limpieza de baterías de plomo-acido.

“Es algo que hemos estado hablando durante años”, dijo Mark López, director ejecutivo de East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice “¿Es suficiente para todos los problemas de plomo en California? No. Pero es un paso en la dirección correcta”.

David Scher, propietario de Auto Supply en el Este de Los Ángeles, con orgullo vendía baterías Exide durante años. El año pasado, después de comprobar que la compañía “no estaba actuando como un buen ciudadano corporativo”, Scher dijo se cambió a un proveedor diferente.

Baterías de auto marca Exide están en los estantes de Auto Supply en Este de Los Ángeles.

Baterías de auto marca Exide están en los estantes de Auto Supply en Este de Los Ángeles. (Cortesía de David Scher)

Scher le dijo a EGP que no le gusta la idea que los clientes paguen por adelantado para la limpieza causada por las corporaciones contaminantes.

“No debería haber llegado a este punto”, dijo. “Ellos están castigando a las víctimas”.

En un movimiento sin precedentes, a principios de este año el gobernador Brown aprobó un préstamo de $176,6 millones de dólares para ayudar a acelerar y ampliar pruebas y limpieza de viviendas, escuelas, guarderías y parques en el radio de 1,7 millas alrededor de la planta de reciclaje de baterías.

Los fondos recaudados de la cuota se utilizarían para volver a pagar el préstamo de varios millones de dólares hasta que los fondos se recuperen de Exide o cualesquiera otras partes responsables.

El asambleísta Miguel Santiago, co-autor del proyecto, explica el fondo es una manera para que el estado “espere lo mejor pero se prepare para lo peor”.

Se crea una vía legal para que el dinero del estado sea utilizado para tratar las cuestiones ambientales mientras que el estado persigue a los contaminadores.

“La situación de Exide le enseñó a California que no estábamos preparados para algo como esto”, dijo Santiago, en referencia a lo que muchos creen que va a ser la más grande y costosa limpieza ambiental en la historia del estado.

La AB 2153 también requiere que los fabricantes de baterías incorporen un símbolo de reciclaje en la batería, informando a los consumidores que el producto debe ser reciclado correctamente. Los que no cumplan pueden recibir multas de hasta $1,000 por día; esas cantidades también se depositan en el fondo de limpieza.

La versión del senado del proyecto de ley necesita ser aprobada antes de que pueda pasar al gobernador, el cual las autoridades estatales anticipan que podría suceder antes de agosto. Si es firmado por el gobernador, la nueva tarifa entraría en efecto el primero de enero de 2017.

“Exide sigue afectando mi patio trasero con los restos de la contaminación por plomo”, dijo García tras la aprobación de la medida en la asamblea.

“Este proyecto de ley es extremadamente vital para asegurar la limpieza y llevar alivio a nuestras comunidades”.

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

June 7, 2016 Primary Election Preliminary Results

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

United States President
Democratic Party
Hillary Clinton    1,940,773 (55.8%)
Bernie Sanders     1,502,187 (43.2%)

Republican Party
Donald Trump    1,175,270 (75.3%)
John R. Kasich    176,655 (11.3%)
Ted Cruz        144,173 (9.2%)

United States Senator
*Kamala D. Harris    2,051,252 (40.3%)
*Loretta L. Sanchez    943,091 (18.5%)
United States Representative
32nd District
Grace F. Napolitano    41,423 (51.73%)
Gordon E. Fisher        19,439 (24.27%)
Roger Hernandez        19,219 (24%)

34th District
Xavier Becerra        52,349 (79.61%)
Adrienne N. Edwards     13,410 (20.39%)

38th District
Linda T. Sanchez        63,037 (70.45%)
Ryan Downing        18,572 (20.76%)
Scott Michael Adams    7,870 (8.8%)

40th District
Lucille Roybal-Allard      43,809 (76.66%)
Roman G. Gonzalez      13,336 (23.34%)

State Senator
33rd District
Ricardo Lara        72,151 (100%)

State Assembly
51st District
Jimmy Gomez        45,075 (100%)

53rd District
*Miguel Santiago        16,316 (47.04%)
*Sandra Mendoza        13,727 (39.57%)

58th District
Cristina Garcia        41,082 (100%)

63rd District
*Anthony Rendon    32,700 (77.83%)
*Adam Joshua Miller    9,317 (22.17%)

*Runoffs

Measures
State Measure 50 – Suspension of Legislators
Yes        3,756,975 (75.3%)
No        1,234,537 (24.7%)

Montebello City Measure W – Sale of the Montebello Water System
Yes        3,984 (48.95%)
No        4,155 (51.05%)

Montebello Unified School District Measure GS – $300 Million Bond
Yes        13,652 (77.08%)
No        4,059 (22.92%)

Los Angeles County
District Attorney
Jackie Lacey    941,391 (100%)

Longtime Bell Gardens Activist Remembered

May 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Holding back tears, for a brief moment Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez found it difficult to muster the words to adequately honor a local man who had spent years of his life as an activist and volunteer in Bell Gardens.

“Ron Hoyt was an honorable man,” said Rodriguez, a tissue in her hand. “He was a man that was very involved with our community and who did what he thought was right,” she said during the City Council meeting Monday.

William “Ron” Hoyt died April 29 in his Bell Gardens home after a long battle with lymphoma. He was 89.

Lea este artículo en Español: Bell Gardens Recuerda a Activista, Comisionado

He was remembered at the same meeting where his widow Sally Hoyt was recognized as the Bell Gardens’ Older American of the Year. Sally, like her husband, is a longtime city activist and volunteer.

“Ron loved the city of Bell Gardens and he wanted the best for it,” said Sally about her late husband.

“He was the greatest man on earth. He was genuine,” she told the people gathered at City Hall.

Mr. Hoyt was born on March 17, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri. He attended high school in Wichita, Kansas and earned a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Wichita. In 1950, he moved to California and obtained an Associate Arts degree in chemistry from El Camino College.

Sally Hoyt (center) accepts posthumous recognition from Bell Gardens City Council for her late husband Ron during Monday’s meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Sally Hoyt (center) accepts posthumous recognition from Bell Gardens City Council for her late husband Ron during Monday’s meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Mr. Hoyt worked in the metal finishing industry for 47 years as a chemist, production manager, vice president of production, process design engineer and following his retirement as a consultant.

The Hoyts met in nearby Commerce while working at a metal finishing facility that specialized in the aerospace industry.

“He was my boss,” Mrs. Hoyt told EGP, a coy smile crossing her lips. They were married for 55 years.

The couple was very involved in their local community. Together they attended nearly every council meeting since the early 1970s. They worked on many political campaigns, were members of the Friends of the Library and belonged to three senior clubs.

“They were inseparable,” reflected longtime friend Rosie Vasquez, a former Montebello councilwoman and Bell Gardens employee. “They were both dedicated to the city.”

The late Mr. Hoyt served 12 years as chairman of the Bell Gardens Planning Commission. According to City Planner Carmen Morales he took his role very seriously.

“He did not want the commission to be perceived as a rubber stamp,” Morales explained. “He would read every line, looked at every dimension, caught misprints and had plenty of questions,” Morales recalled.

As a planning commissioner, Mr. Hoyt played a role in many of the major developments that have since financially benefited the city, including the Los Jardines Shopping Center, The Bicycle Casino and Hotel and the Village Square shopping center.

He was not a member of the city council, but his contributions on the planning commission helped keep the city financially stable, Vasquez said.

Ron Hoyt, left, died in his Bell Gardens home April 29. (Courtesy of Sally Hoyt)

Ron Hoyt, left, died in his Bell Gardens home April 29. (Courtesy of Sally Hoyt)

“He wanted Bell Gardens to be a better place because it was our home,” recalled his wife.

“He was a very quiet sincere intelligent man who cared about people, about his city and was willing to work for it to make it a better place,” added longtime friend Eddie Vasquez.

In 2014, the Hoyts were the inspiration behind legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia: Assembly Bill 1596 required all vote-by-mail applications, when completed, to be mailed directly to the county registrar’s office and not to middlemen or political campaign organizations. AB 1596 became law in 2015.

A celebration of life is still in the planning stage, according to his wife, who explained her late husband chose to donate his body to science.

“That’s the type of person he was,” she said. “Even in his death he thought about other people.”

Ron Hoyt is survived by his wife, 7 children, 32 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren.

“He will be a great loss to our community,” said Rodriguez. “He did a lot for our community, but all of us who knew him, knew him for the person he was not for what he accomplished.”

Activists Call Funds For Exide Cleanup Just the ‘First Step’

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

When the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant in Vernon finally closed last spring residents exposed to the plant’s toxic pollution celebrated, mistakenly believing their battle for justice was over.

It’s not a mistake they will make again, several Boyle Heights residents told EGP following the long-awaited announcement by Gov. Brown and state officials last week that nearly $177 million in state revenue will be allocated to pay for testing and cleanup of properties contaminated with lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals spread through emissions from the plant.

“I can’t believe it, it’s like winning the lottery for the community,” said an elated Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights before cautioning more money will be needed to fully clean contaminated homes.

Terry Cano’s Boyle Heights home has been found to have unsafe levels of lead but not yet decontaminated. She said she will not be happy “until it’s all set in stone.”

Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church told EGP the community wrongly believed they could rely on the Department of Toxic Substances Control to quickly start testing and decontaminating homes. Instead, he said, they grew increasingly frustrated by how slowly the agency was moving.

Following the closure of the recycling plant, residents and environmental activists – from Boyle Heights, Commerce, Huntington Park, Bell, East Los Angeles and Maywood —angrily demanded that the DTSC and elected officials do more to help residents harmed by Exide, namely allocating state money to speed up the process.

It would take nearly a year, and hundreds of hours of public testimony at hearings and untold number of letters to state, national and local elected officials for the governor to finally act.

Mostly it took the Porter Ranch SoCal Gas Co. gas leak catastrophe to shine a light on California’s double standard when it comes to protecting the health and wellbeing of its poorer residents of colors than those who are more affluent and white.

 Rev. Monsignor John Moretta, center, joins elected officials at a news conference Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Rev. Monsignor John Moretta, center, joins elected officials at a news conference Friday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The $176.6 loan to DTSC from the state’s general fund will be used to expedite and expand testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the Vernon plant.

It’s not a small chunck of change, but Marquez points out it will only cover about half of what the cleanup – possibly the most expensive in California history – is expected to cost.

Two days following the announcement of the governor’s funding plan, half a dozen state and local elected officials, all them Latino, held a press conference at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to tout their roles in securing funds and to recognize the community’s most vocal residents for standing up against an environmental injustice, forcing the governor to take action.

“I want to thank the governor for recognizing the health crisis, but it was mostly the dedication and determination of community organizers and residents who have rightfully demanded a safe and healthy environment for their families that has brought us to this point,” proclaimed Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, pointing to residents and activist at his side and in the audience as the real heroes in the long-playing Exide battle.

“This whole fight has been for the babies of the eastside,” said Mark Lopez, executive director for East Yards For Environmental Justice. “It is now looking a lot healthier and safer.”

Although happy money is at last forthcoming, many people, including de Leon and Lopez, question whether DTSC can be trusted to handle the catastrophe moving forward. De Leon said that concern would be part of the negotiations with the governor over funding details.

For Cano, the solution is for the “federal government to take DTSC out of the equation and handle it themselves.”

They point out that the department of toxic substances control bares much of the blame for allowing 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.

Last week, on the eve of the funding announcement, Dr. Jim Wells, technical advisor to DTSC’s Exide Community Advisory Group, said he believes the extent of the contamination goes beyond the 1.7 miles currently being investigated by the regulatory agency. At the meeting, Wells and Jane Williams – executive director of California Community Against Toxics – told DTSC Director Barbara Lee and AQMD Executive Director Barry R. Wallerstein that the time has come to get an accurate representation of the magnitude of the impacted area.

“We know it’s neglectful and criminal for them to not act in a timely manner to extend the impacted area further,” said Cano, whose brother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “All the while we [residents] are the ones that have to pay for this.

As it stands now, according to DTSC, the proposed $176.6M would allow for testing of 10,000 properties by July 2017, and an estimated cleanup of 2500 homes by July 2018.

State officials say they will seek reimbursement from Exide for the multi-million dollar loan to DTSC. The company’s closure agreement with the U.S. Attorney – in lieu of criminal charges – requires the company to cover the entire cost of the cleanup, but Exide has filed for bankruptcy and residents and elected officials worry the company – which has shuttered and left behind contaminated plants in Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas – will get away with “murder.”

Exide’s bankruptcy status protects the company from non-criminal lawsuits.

“They [regulators] had more than enough reason to close the plant down, why did they need this agreement,” questions Cano. “We had a right to sue and that right was taken away from us” by the federal agreement.

Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Miguel Santiago plan to introduce legislation to mandate a fee on car batteries sold in California to pay for the Exide cleanup. The measure would create a state mandated Lead-Acid (Car) Battery Recycling program, and have $1 of every fee go to re-pay the $176.6 million loan and any other industry contamination.

“We matter we are not going to wait any longer,” for cleanup, Garcia told EGP. “We shouldn’t be punished for our zip code.”1

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