EGP Wins Award for Reporting on Exide

October 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Eastern Group Publication (EGP) was presented an award for outstanding reporting by New America Media, an organization that represents ethnic media outlets and journalist from across the country.

More than 200 people turned out Sept. 19 for the 2017 NAM California Ethnic Media Awards in downtown San Francisco.

Former EGP reporter Nancy Martinez, (pictured) was recognized Sept. 19 by New America Media for Outstanding Coverage of the Environment.

Former EGP reporter Nancy Martinez, (pictured) was recognized Sept. 19 by New America Media for Outstanding Coverage of the Environment.

The event was a celebration of California’s ethnic media sector, the “bridge,” said NAM Executive Director Sandy Close, “that connects the diverse communities of the state to the wider civic realm and to each other.”

Judges selected 12 winners in 11 categories, including Politics and the 2016 Election, Health Care, Immigration, Education, Sports, Youth Voice and Cross Cultural Reporting. Awardees were chosen from a pool of 140 entries in four languages across California.

There are hundreds of ethnic media outlets across the state, serving communities both large and small. Whether they are large broadcasters, daily broadsheets or weekly and monthly magazines, hundreds of thousands of California residents regularly turn to ethnic media for news and information.

Former EGP Reporter Nancy Martinez won in the category Outstanding Coverage of the Environment for her story on the decades-long struggle to get elected officials and state regulars to address Exide Technologies’ toxic emissions and soil contamination in east and southeast Los Angeles, even as nearby Porter Ranch got immediate attention last year when a natural gas leak threatened the area’s more affluent residents.

Her article, “Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard,” was “years in the making,” said Martinez, who began reporting for EGP at 22. “It really made a difference in my career because it elevated the type of reporting I was doing. It was a journey to get to that point.”

The awarded article is one of dozens of stories EGP has published over the last decade on the Exide environmental catastrophe that continues today, as residents and state regulators battle over the plan to clean up lead and other chemicals at thousands of homes, schools, daycare centers, businesses and parks.

State regulators, environmentalists and public health groups have called the fallout from Exide’s decades of polluting the largest environmental catastrophe in California history.

Martinez’ article was the first to point out the stark difference in how residents in lower-income, predominantly Latinos communities are treated compared to wealthier, predominately white residents when it comes to environmental justice issues. The article gave voice to the frustration and fear of residents long ignored.

“EGP thanks New America Media for its recognition of Nancy Martinez’ outstanding reporting on the Exide environmental catastrophe, and the double standard that still exists when it comes to environmental justice for people of color and limited means,” said EGP Publisher Dolores Sanchez.

“Martinez is well-deserving of this award.”

De Plomo a Tuberías, Estudiantes Desarrollan Técnicas de Investigación

September 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Un pequeño grupo de investigadores comunitarios en el Sureste de Los Ángeles está en búsqueda de soluciones a los problemas medioambientales que incluyen la contaminación de plomo, las escorrentías de aguas de tormentas, los oleoductos y la seguridad de ciclistas.

Por nueve semanas, 14 investigadores y asistentes encuestaron la zona, analizaron documentos de la ciudad y condujeron exámenes y entrevistas. Esto fue parte de la Colaborativa de Investigación de Justicia Social Marina Pando, un proyecto de East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, basado en Commerce. La organización, sin fines de lucro, fue reconocida por tener la cantidad de miembros activos fallecidos más alta el año pasado.

De acuerdo a la colaborativa, el programa capacita a estudiantes universitarios de color y de primera generación, a nivel de licenciatura. El entrenamiento los capacita en cómo conducir investigaciones dirigidas hacia la justicia social en sus comunidades.

“Vivimos en estas comunidades y detectamos la urgencia que se necesita para encontrar soluciones”, dijo Suzette Aguirre, residente de South Gate de 24 años e investigadora.

“Significa algo diferente, [y más] a los investigadores cuando examinan los hogares de sus vecinos”, explicó a EGP Floridalma Boj-Lopez, una candidata a un doctorado en USC y coordinadora del proyecto.

Boj-Lopez agregó que alguna de la información que fue colectada podría ser usada para satisfacer inquietudes en la comunidad que no hayan sido examinadas por organizaciones más grandes.

Los investigadores fueron divididos en cuatro grupos, enfocandose en áreas especificas de estudio. Estudiaron el impacto de la contaminación del plomo en los vecindarios alrededor de la ex planta Exide y las consecuencias de vivir cerca de los oleoductos en el oeste de Long Beach. Ellos también investigaron los problemas a que se enfrentan las ciclistas que viajan adjuntas del tráfico saturado por camiones de carga. Al igual, también analizaron la calidad de las escorrentías de aguas de tormentas que se unen en el Río de Los Ángeles.

Cada equipo presentará sus hallazgos el viernes en la Iglesia Cristiana Westside en Long Beach.

(Foto de EGP por Nancy Martinez)

(Foto de EGP por Nancy Martinez)

Un grupo de investigación que estudió la escorrentía industrial en sitios cerca del Río de Los Ángeles, encontró manchas que parecían ser de grasa deslizándose a lo largo de la instalación del río, dijo Mark Lopez a EGP, director ejecutivo de East Yards. El grupo planea compartir fotos y los resultados de los niveles de plomo que fueron encontrados. Luego, la información pasará a la agencia legal correspondiente para posible aplicación legal.

“Cada proyecto está extendiendo el trabajo de una de nuestras campañas”, señaló Lopez.

Julius Calascan, de 23 años, ha sido voluntario para East Yards por tres años, hablando en reuniones comunitarias acerca de la contaminación por Exide.

“Siempre he querido jugar un papel más grande en la organización y esto es una manera diferente de ayudar a la causa”, dijo Calascan.

Usando un aparato de mano, el cual detecta pH-metros, Aguirre junto con Andrea Luna, residente de Bell de 21 años, analizan docenas de ejemplos de tierra de casas en el Este de Los Ángeles, Commerce y en South Gate.

Ellas estaban preocupados de que los químicos, perjudiciales para el cerebro expulsados por la ex planta de reciclaje Exide, hayan perjudicado a las familias en el vecindario.

Los residentes del área fueron advertidos por los reguladores estatales en evitar el contacto con la tierra alrededor de sus casas hasta que se determinara si era segura. La abstención, puso un alto a cosechas de vegetales jardines, en los cuales muchos dependían para mantener una dieta saludable.

“La diabetes es prevalente en ésta área, la cual carece de opciones para alimentos saludables”, explicó Aguirre, estudiante de nutrición y química en la Universidad Estatal de California en Long Beach. “Queremos cambiar la situación y explicar más a fondo los impactos sociales y a la salud que tuvo Exide”, dijo a EGP.

Aguirre dijo que ellos se preguntaron que harían los residentes mientras tanto para remediar el problema de la descontaminación, lo cual podría durar años.

“Queríamos encontrar una solución de corto plazo que pudiera extraer el metal de la tierra”, dijo Luna a EGP, explicando que tienen una lista de plantas y vegetales que necesitan desintoxicar, lo cual planean presentar el viernes. Luna también dijo que quieren distribuir panfletos que ayuden a reducir el miedo que resulta al estar en limbo.

Whitney Amaya, de 23 años y residente de Long Beach, junto con Calascan, enfocaron sus investigaciones en las tuberías de gas bajo el oeste de Long Beach. Ellos dijeron que el proyecto les dio un mejor conocimiento de los tipos de investigaciones que pueden hacer en sus posgrados.

“Estaba contemplando obtener una maestría en una universidad posgrado pero no tenía experiencia investigativa”, dijo Amaya, quien se graduó de UCLA el año pasado.

Amaya le dijo a EGP que si no hubiera sido por el financiamiento y la capacitación que recibió por medio de la colaborativa, no lo hubiera hecho por su propia cuenta.

Cada uno de los participantes fueron pagados para llevar a cabo sus investigaciones . Los fondos para la colaboración vino de un $ 50.000 CAL EPA justicia ambiental pequeña subvención , así como $ 5,000 de donaciones individuales .

El programa, junto con sus fondos, han crecido significativamente desde el año pasado, de acuerdo a East Yards. Ahora están en planes de expandir sus investigaciones a un grupo comunitario mayor.

Jessica Prieto, la coordinadora, es graduada de la Universidad Estatal de San Francisco y dice que espera que cada investigador lleve consigo un conocimiento del problema, y asuma la posición de experto comunitario.

“Ojala se sientan con el poder de actuar y sepan que pueden hacer algo al respecto”, dijo ella.

 

Actualización: 16 de septiembre , el año 2016 3:45 p.m . una versión anterior de este artículo no tiene la cantidad correcta que East Yards recibio de CAL EPA y donaciones individuales . La historia ha actualizado para aclarar cómo se pagaron los investigadores .

Demands to Expand Exide Test Area Grow

May 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

At the first public hearing since the governor signed legislation to appropriate $176.6 million for the testing and cleanup of residential properties surrounding the now shuttered Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, residents were not jumping for joy or thanking state regulators. Instead, they were tired, frustrated and irked that testing for lead has not been expanded further into east and southeast L.A.

A number of residents testified in support of extending the 1.7-mile cleanup zone to 4.5 miles, getting support from DTSC’s Exide Community Advisory Committee, which voted last Thursday to recommend expanding the testing area and to appoint an independent third party to oversee the cleanup.

It is not clear what practical impact the vote will have, but in a statement to EGP, the Department of Toxic Substances Control explained that the agency had set the 1.7 mile testing boundary based on preliminary analysis of soil data, which found that lead emissions from Exide may have traveled 1.3 to 1.7 miles from the facility.

“DTSC appreciates the input of the committee, which was set up to advise DTSC as we move forward,” the agency’s statement says.

Clara Solis lives just outside the 1.7 testing area: Last week she presented DTSC with a petition signed by area residents demanding the testing area be expanded.

“You really don’t know what you are doing because you haven’t tested those areas,” said the East Los Angeles resident.

Rachel Vermillion, who frequents public hearings for the SR-710 extension project, complained her community is constantly bypassed.

A study released last month by the Department of Public Health found that children who live near the Vernon plant have higher levels of lead in their blood.

According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had 4.5 micrograms of lead in their blood; children living 1 to 4.5 miles from the plant had 2.41 to 4.5 micrograms or higher levels of lead. According to the Center for Disease Control even low levels of lead can affect IQ and academic achievement. The agency believes there are no safe blood lead level for children.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, center, discusses blood lead levels during a meeting April 28 in Commerce.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, center, discusses blood lead levels during a meeting April 28 in Commerce. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Of the 10,000 or so properties in that preliminary investigation area, 213 properties have already been cleaned. State funds will be used to test all 10,000 properties and to clean the 2,500 homes with the highest levels of lead.

Jim Wells, technical advisor to DTSC’s Exide Community Advisory Group, previously stated he believes the contamination goes beyond the 1.7 miles boundary. That would mean millions of people at risk and tens of thousands of additional properties contaminated.

“…To better understand what the conditions really are,” more “robust” data must be collected, Wells said.

One Bell Gardens High School student wanted to know if schools were informed that the area has one of the highest number of children with lead in their blood.

Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez accused DTSC of “minimizing the amount of blood that’s safe in the body.

“The safe level of lead in the body is zero,” he said.

Huntington Park resident Maria Kennedy is a member of Communities for a Better Environment.

She told the committee she felt DTSC was downplaying the Dept. of Public Health’s blood level report. “Homes should be tested for lead regardless if Exide is responsible,” she said. “We should be thinking about the high levels of lead in children and secure funding” to handle the problem, Kennedy said.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee responded that the state has stepped up to the plate, approving a multi-million dollar funding plan. Lee said she needs to demonstrate those funds are being used properly before attempting to secure more money.

“The state has never put forward that kind of money, it’s going to keep us busy for the next couple of years,” she added.

But Teresa Marquez of Boyle Heights feels money should not be the concern.

“We may not have the money but we need to know” the extent of the problem, she said. “How can you get more money if you can’t prove the need?”

Contamination must surely reach Bell Gardens, said Xugo Lujan with East Yards for Environmental Justice. “It’s not like it reaches Atlantic and drops to the floor,” he said pointing to the map. Jorge Lara, another Bell Gardens student demanded to know if homes outside the 1.7-mile radius would be tested. He never got an answer.

Noel Pimentel of Commerce said the city’s residents who were incorporated into the testing area last summer are still waiting for test results.

Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Rebollo asked Lee why homes with young children and pregnant women are no longer considered first priority given the agency’s previous assertions that they would be a top priority for cleanup even if their soil tested less than 1000 ppm.

“We’re confused and residents are upset,” she complained. “They were told they would be priority one and now they are being told they are priority two.”

Lee did not directly respond but assured that the agency plans to decontaminate 2,500 homes with lead levels of 1,000 ppm or higher.

Dozens of Commerce families signed up to have their blood tested for lead during a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ event at Bristow Park Sunday.   (City of Commerce)

Dozens of Commerce families signed up to have their blood tested for lead during a ‘Cinco de Mayo’ event at Bristow Park Sunday.
(City of Commerce)

According to Lee, DTSC is developing a new system to prioritize properties for cleanup. Lee said DTSC does take the risk of exposure into consideration.

“There’s just too many in one bin,” she pointed out, hedging her remarks.

Not satisfied with Lee’s response, Rebollo pushed the director to explain how the agency plans to address possible contamination at schools.

Schools have not tested as high as residential properties, responded Lee.

Testing results will be available to schools in the coming weeks, and could be made public if the school district approves, according to Su Patel, DTSC site project manager.

“I find it contradictory that you say children are a priority when you don’t have a plan in place for schools,” criticized Rebollo.

Lee reiterated that expanding the testing area from 200 homes to 10,000 properties requires a change in the three-bin prioritization process.

“We need more bins,” she said. “We can’t have 2,000 in first place because we won’t know where to start.”

Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards and the advisory group’s community chairperson, closed the nearly four-hour long meeting by saying elected officials and state regulators must understand there is still a long way to go.

“There seems to be a growing frustration during meetings that comes from folks taking credit when the cameras show up, when we get the money, but when there is critique, those folks want to act” like everything they are hearing is new.

Proposed Retail Center Splits Commerce

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A proposal to build a retail complex that could include a big box type retail store on Washington Boulevard near the 710 Long Beach Freeway in the City of Commerce is drawing heat from a local environmental group, at the same time others in the city say the development will bring needed jobs and added revenue to the city.

Plans for the for the proposed Commerce Retail Center Project on Washington, running from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street, include a 122,450-square-foot “Major Anchor” retail store, with adjoining restaurants and other retail spaces.

Lea este artículo en Español: Centro Comercial Propuesto Divide a Residentes de Commerce

It would be built on land the city is selling as required under the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state. The city is in escrow with Gatwick Group, LLC, however, the sale is contingent on approval of the retail project.

The city’s planning commission reviewed plans for the proposed development, but last week split 2-2 on whether or not to recommend approval to the city council. One of the five commissioners recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest.

Speculation among the project’s opponents is that the project applicant, Venture Retail Group, plans to lease the site to Walmart, although no specific retailer is named in the project, only a description that describes a retail format found at many of Walmart’s larger stores.

Planning Commissioner Mike Alvarado told EGP he strongly supports the project, saying it would again make Commerce a “Model City,” a reference to the city’s motto.

“The city, as it is now, looks horrible, it is decaying,” Alvarado told EGP, explaining that revenue generated from the development would help pay for repairs to streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure put off for years.

Opponents, however, say the land is too contaminated with toxic chemicals spread by the now closed Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon and past industrial uses. It is “irresponsible” to move forward without first creating a cleanup plan, says Mark Lopez, director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

The property was once home to a heavy machinery business, according to Lopez. Toxic materials, percholorethylene (PCE) and tetrachloroethylene (TCE), that could affect movement and control of the body, can be found on the site, Lopez said.

A final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Commerce Retail Center Project was released on March 3 of this year and is waiting approval. Lopez believes the review of potential environmental issues, including health hazards has been inadequate.

He says the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) hasn’t yet characterized the elevated levels of soil contamination, adding the organization does not “trust” DTSC to do an adequate oversight job given the agency’s failures in the Exide contamination issue.

DTSC however, citing its “great deal of experience and expertise overseeing the investigation and cleanup of these types of properties across the state,” told EGP in an email statement that the agency is using its “expertise to ensure the work at the Gatwick site in the City of Commerce is done properly so property is safe for its planned use.”

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The agency said it has reviewed and evaluated the developer’s risk assessment and cleanup plans and “sent our comments back to the developer for revision,” DTSC spokesperson Sandy Nax told EGP.

“In addition, the developer has recently acquired a new land parcel within the same block from the City of Commerce. DTSC has required investigation of the subsurface soil in the new parcel and the Proponent will be conducting soil sampling soon.”

East Yards and others also say they are concerned the project could negatively impact the I-710 Corridor Project to improve an 18-mile stretch of the I-710 from Long Beach to the Pomona 60 Freeway in East Los Angeles. The goal of the 710 project is to “improve air quality/public health, improve traffic safety, modernize the freeway design” to accommodate projected growth in the area.

The project has been under review for years, and at one time contained a proposal to take upwards of 100 homes in the Ayers neighborhood to make room for the expansion. If built, the retail center would be located near the 710 Freeway where Lopez said they fought to locate the new northbound off-ramp to avoid the taking of the Ayers neighborhood.

“So part of our struggle was to redesign the project so it wouldn’t take those homes and what we did, instead of having the off-ramp [east of the freeway], it would come to the other side where they want to put the Walmart,” Lopez said, adding they know for a fact that a Walmart is slated to open on the site.

“So if they build a Walmart, who’s going to have better protections from the lawyers, Walmart or the homes?” asked Lopez.

Lauren Wonder, a spokesperson for Caltrans District 7, told EGP there is currently no project alignment for the I-710 project. Nothing has been decided, she said. “The time frame for the final environmental impact report is now early 2017.”

Until the final I-710 EIR is published, comments received and the document is finalized, any discussion of future impacts “will only be a speculation,” Commerce’s Publics Works Director Maryam Babaki told EGP.

Both Babaki and Alvarado say it could take 10 or more years to move the I-710 project, and the city can’t just wait until it does.

Alvarado said he has no problem if Walmart ultimately winds up being the anchor tenant, adding he wants a tenant that will attract more people and benefit other businesses in the area.

Commerce’s General Plan calls for service commercial, general commercial and light industrial uses in the area. A big box store, like Walmart or Target, could generate $600,000 to $800,000 in added revenue per year for the city, according to Maryam Babaki, Commerce’s director of Public Works.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano told EGP he hasn’t decided whether to support the project, saying, “this is not a decision to be taken lightly.”

“I want to know all the players and pieces of this project and quite frankly I don’t believe all of that information has been disclosed,” he said.

“Our community is actually divided on this project. It seems like everyone in the city is already calling this project Walmart except for the developers.”

Altamirano said several factors must be taken in consideration, such as the impact on traffic and the number of good paying jobs it will bring for residents. We also have to look at crime in the area, and whether there are enough sheriff deputies to patrol the area, he told EGP.

Alvarado told EGP the city is already working on traffic improvements in the area, including the widening of Washington Boulevard. The opponents are “a group of people that want to hold back progress of the community,” he said. He and others believe the real issue is opposition to Walmart.

East Yards calls Walmart’s employment track record “problematic,” claiming company workers earn low-wages and work too few hours to qualify for benefits, and has closed up stores with little notice to employees.

Alvarado doesn’t buy the argument, and points out that that other businesses in the area, including at the Citadel, only pay their employees the minimum wage and “nobody complains.”

A date has yet to be set for the project to go before the full city council for review, but it is likely to be within the next few weeks, said Alvarado.

Altamirano said that he will not be rushed into making a decision that will have such a significant impact on the community.

“Once all the information is provided then we can move forward on what is best for the residents of Commerce,” the mayor said.

“Those that don’t want a Walmart are rightfully concerned about the negative effects Walmart has historically had on communities. Those that are in favor of the project I believe really just want a shopping option, Walmart or not.”

—-

Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

galvarez@egpnews.com

Panel de la Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Después de años de indignación pública sobre la contaminación de Exide Technologies a ciudades y barrios del este y sureste de Los Ángeles finalmente parece estar llamando la atención de legisladores estatales, probablemente en respuesta a las crecientes acusaciones que California tiene un doble estándar cuando se trata de cómo maneja las emergencias ambientales y de salud en las comunidades latinas de bajos recursos.

Read this article in English: Assembly Questions Actions on Exide

El martes, el Comité de la Asamblea sobre Seguridad Medioambiental y Materiales Tóxicos llevó a cabo una audiencia en Sacramento sobre los planes para descontaminar la planta de reciclaje de baterías, actualmente cerrada, en Vernon la cual se cree ha contaminado hasta 10.000 hogares y negocios con plomo y arsénico, poniendo a más de 100.000 personas en mayor situación de riesgo ante enfermedades neurológicas y cáncer.

Fue la primera audiencia por funcionarios electos estatales desde que las protestas por las reiteradas violaciones de la planta de las normas de emisiones químicas tóxicas se hicieron públicas en 2013.

Como EGP informó por primera vez, los residentes del Este de Los Ángeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell y Huntington Park están cada vez más frustrados y enojados por el “doble estándar” que han observado entre el trato dado al problema de la fuga de gas en Porter Ranch donde la mayoría de residentes son afluentes de raza blanca y la contaminación de plomo de Exide donde las comunidades afectadas son predominantemente latinas de clase trabajadora.

“Tal vez deberíamos llamarnos Boyle Heights Ranch, tal vez nos darían más atención”, el Monseñor John Moretta de la Iglesia de la Resurrección dijo al comité el martes.

Residentes del Este y Sureste de Los Ángeles se reúnen con miembros de la asamblea en Sacramento para hablar sobre la contaminación de la planta Exide Technologies en Vernon. (Oficina de la Sup. Hilda Sólis)

Residentes del Este y Sureste de Los Ángeles se reúnen con miembros de la asamblea en Sacramento para hablar sobre la contaminación de la planta Exide Technologies en Vernon. (Oficina de la Sup. Hilda Sólis)

En conferencia de prensa antes de la audiencia, la supervisora del Condado de Los Ángeles, Hilda Solís, el senador y presidente electo de la asamblea Anthony Rendón, y el asambleísta Miguel Santiago pidieron al Estado a destinar $70 millones de presupuesto del próximo año para pagar por la limpieza de las propiedades residenciales más contaminadas.

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades, se trata de un caso de injusticia ambiental”, dijo Solís, denunciando a los reguladores estatales por su lento progreso en la eliminación del suelo contaminado con plomo de los hogares del este y sureste. Sugirió que el dinero podría ser recuperado después cobrándole a Exide. Una demanda podría ser requerida.

“DTSC no ha hecho un buen trabajo en la limpieza”, dijo Rendón. “Necesitamos asegurarnos que Exide limpie el desorden que dejó en nuestras comunidades”.

Junto a los funcionarios en la conferencia de prensa y para la audiencia estaba también un autobús lleno de residentes de las áreas afectadas. Habían viajado al Capitolio para exigir el mismo nivel de acción por parte del estado que se le está dando a la fuga de gas de Aliso Canyon en Porter Ranch, y dijeron a los miembros del comité que los reguladores estatales necesitan acelerar la eliminación del plomo del suelo contaminado de su hogares.

Hasta el momento, el Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) ha limpiado alrededor de 200 propiedades en la zona designada de contaminación.

El resentimiento creció después que el gobernador Jerry Brown se negara a abordar personalmente la “catástrofe” de Exide algo que si hizo en Porter Ranch, donde ha declarado estado de emergencia.

“Podemos culpar a DTSC por el manejo y la aplicación de Exide y por tomarse tanto tiempo, pero no los podemos culpar por que el gobernador no les dio dinero para limpiar la contaminación”, Mark López, activista con East Yards para la Justicia Ambiental le dijo a EGP antes de la audiencia.

Durante la reunión del comité del martes, el asambleísta Santiago repetidamente preguntó a la directora de DTSC Bárbara Lee si existían obstáculos que limitan el aumento del número de viviendas que se limpian cada semana. Ella no respondió directamente a sus investigaciones, pero dijo que DTSC esta limpiando tres propiedades por semana. A ese ritmo, se tardará siete años en limpiar las 1.000 propiedades, dijo Lee.

“Tenemos una sentencia de muerte, no podemos esperar más”, dijo entre lágrimas Terry Cano, una de los residentes de Boyle Heights que viajó a la capital del estado a declarar. Ella alegó que miembros de su familia han muerto de cáncer causado por contaminantes de Exide en su comunidad.

Cano también expresó su frustración con el enfoque de la agencia estatal sobre la contaminación en las instalaciones ahora vacantes de Exide en lugar de centrarse en los lugares donde la gente todavía vive.

“Esto es el equivalente a responder a un edificio en llamas y que los bomberos respondan al fuego y no a la familia que se esta muriendo”, se quejó.

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades", dijo la Sup. Sólis durante la audiencia. (Oficina de la Sup. Sólis)

“Una enfermedad invisible ha afectado a estas comunidades”, dijo la Sup. Sólis durante la audiencia. (Oficina de la Sup. Sólis)

Lee defendió las acciones de la agencia, señalando que 22.000 horas de tiempo del personal se han dedicado a trabajar en el cierre de Exide. Agregó que la Administración Brown ha sido un gran apoyo en su trabajo, asignando $7 millones en fondos estatales para las pruebas y la limpieza.

Sin embargo, funcionarios electos locales dijeron que no se ha hecho lo suficiente.

“DTSC le ha fallado a nuestra comunidad”, dijo Santiago.

Hay una preocupación de que el dinero está detrás de la respuesta del Estado a la limpieza.

La asambleísta Cristina García llama a los $8 millones de presupuesto del gobernador para la limpieza de Exide “insultante”.

“Se siente como si el gobierno está simplemente lanzando monedas de un centavo a la gente [de bajos recursos] para mantenernos tranquilos”, dijo.

Instó al Comité a recomendar al Estado que de ser necesario busquen en la reserva, para garantizar que el gobernador asigne $70 millones en el presupuesto de este año.

“Tenemos que hacer las cosas bien y mostrar a los residentes de las comunidades de bajos ingresos que son predominantemente latinos son tan importantes como nuestros homólogos de las comunidades más afluentes”.

Jane Williams, directora ejecutiva de Comunidades de California Contra Tóxicos, sugirió a los legisladores estatales que consideren un impuesto de batería para ayudar a compensar el costo asociado con la limpieza en lugar de esperar a que Exide asigne los fondos. Ella le dijo al comité que la compañía de reciclaje de baterías tenía una larga historia de contaminación en sus plantas en todo el país.

“Exide tiene un patrón y práctica de ir contaminando comunidades y dejando su contaminación”, dijo.

La alcaldesa de Huntington Park, Karina Macias, dijo que ha hablado con muchos residentes que se sienten frustrados con el proceso y no ve ningún plan financiero claro ni un compromiso. También expresó su frustración de que el comité esperó hasta el final de la larga reunión de cuatro horas para escuchar a los ciudadanos, las víctimas de la crisis. Casi todos los residentes que viajaron a Sacramento tuvieron que abandonar la reunión para recuperar el autobús de regreso a casa, sólo uno se quedó a declarar.

“Han estado esperando por mucho tiempo”, dijo antes de entregar las cartas de la comunidad para el registro.

Eduardo de la Riva, concejal en Maywood, dijo que no aprecia que representantes de Exide en la reunión trataron de cambiar la culpa de los altos niveles de plomo en el lado Este a otras causas, como la pintura con plomo, autopistas cercanas y el entorno industrial. Pidió que la agencia estatal reconozca que la limpieza debe ser su prioridad.

“Aplaudimos a DTSC para los pasos que ahora están empezando a tomar, pero el daño ya está hecho”, dijo. “Debemos actuar ahora”.

Una grabación de vídeo de la audiencia se puede ver en línea en http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Exide, Porter Ranch: A Double Standard

January 14, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The complaints of headaches, bloody noses and asthma by Porter Ranch residents sound all to familiar to eastside activists who’ve spent years fighting their own large scale local environmental health hazard.

So are the demands for government officials to immediately shut down Southern California Gas Co.’s natural gas storage facilities near Porter Ranch that residents blame for their health crisis.

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide, Porter Ranch; Un Doble Estándar

Strikingly different, however, has been the response from state regulators and elected officials – including Gov. Jerry Brown –who for years failed to take the same level of bold action to stop Vernon-based Exide Technologies from putting the lives of thousands of east and southeast working class, predominately Latino residents at risk.

Money, race and political power are at the root of the inequity, activists claim.

Armed with high-powered attorneys, residents in Porter Ranch are demanding the closure of SoCal Gas’ Aliso Canyon facility where a leak was discovered Oct. 23, leading to hundreds of complaints from residents about negative health effects and demands for the utility company to pay to relocate residents in the impacted area. In less than three months more than 2,000 residents have been relocated, schools have been shut down, students were moved and the company is expected to pay for the housing of pets and additional policing.

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Residents from Boyle Heights to Commerce angrily protest Governor Brown’s silence on the Exide Technology pollution scandal during a red ribbon cutting ceremony he attended in November not far from the Vernon battery recycling plant. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

No one denies the seriousness of the problem in Porter Ranch, but east and southeast area residents and activists can’t help feeling there’s a double standard at play, especially when it comes to Gov. Brown who last week declared a State of Emergency in Porter Ranch after touring the Aliso Canyon facility and meeting with affected residents, something he’s failed to do in the Exide case.

His declaration allows the state to mobilize the necessary state personnel, equipment and facilities, and to waive any laws or regulations in place to deal with the environmental issue. It also gives the governor power to allocate emergency funding to fix the leak, which is expected to take three to four months to repair.

Boyle Heights resident Doelorez Mejia was pleased to see the quick call to action by the governor and state officials in Porter Ranch, but couldn’t help feeling the injustice of the situation.

“I’m disappointed our community was not considered as worthy for such swift protection,” she told EGP. “But sadly, I’m not surprised.”

She was referring to the years that pleas from residents living near the Exide acid-lead battery recycling plant were ignored. And the dozens of meetings where residents testified about the people – young and old – in their families with cancer, children with learning disabilities and other illnesses they say can be blamed on years of breathing in the toxic chemicals spewing from the Exide plant.

In 2013, air quality officials reported that Exide had violated toxic chemical emissions putting more than 110,000 east and southeast area residents at a higher-risk of cancer. Lead and arsenic had been found in the soil at nearby homes and at least one park.

It wasn’t the first time Exide had violated state standards on toxic emissions, nor would it be the last.
But unlike in Porter Ranch, demands around Exide went unheeded. Residents were not relocated, classes were not cancelled and the facility could not be closed despite operating for decades on a temporary permit issued by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).

Public outcry during dozens of community meetings, hearings and protest marches over their exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and lead – known to cause permanent neurological damage to children and pregnant woman – failed to force the closure of the facility. In fact, it took the U.S. Attorney’s Office stepping in and strong-arming Exide – with the threat of federal criminal charges – to agree to a negotiated permanent shut down in April 2015.

Testing and air emission modeling in the area now show that as many as two million people may be at an elevated risk for cancer and other health issues due to years of exposure to lead from the Exide plant. State toxic regulators now believe that upwards of 10,000 properties may need to be tested and decontaminated. So far, only 184 contaminated properties have been cleaned.

Exide was allowed to open adjacent to homes that had been in the area for generations. In Porter Ranch, city planners had allowed developers to build on vacant land next the Aliso Canyon facility, which had been there for decades.

Residentes afectados por Exide protestaron durante una ceremonia en noviembre donde asistió el gobernador Jerry Brown, quien no se ha pronunciado al respecto. (EGP foto por Fred Zermeno)

An appearance by Gov. Jerry Brown at the opening of a new hotel in Bell Gardens two months ago drew loud protests from activists angry that he has yet to speak out on the Exide Technologies pollution scandal. (Photo courtesy of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice)

Boyle Heights resident Teresa Marquez acknowledges that both the Porter Ranch and Exide environmental hazards pose a threat to public health, but says she knew the response would be drastically different in Porter Ranch,  since even at the local level public officials have been more active in the Valley.

Boyle Heights is a neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, Marquez pointed out, yet Mayor Eric Garcetti has not made an appearance at an Exide meeting or made public statements calling for a prompt response the way he has about the gas leak, she said disappointingly. Where’s the city attorney, who is now filing lawsuits to protect Porter Ranch residents?

“The key difference is money and white,” she said frankly. “And we’re just poor Latinos.”

Porter Ranch is a more affluent Los Angeles neighborhood located at the northwest edge of the San Fernando Valley. Its residents are mostly white, with a medium household income of over $120,000. In contrast, Exide’s contamination impacts the highly dense communities of Bell, Boyle Heights, Commerce, unincorporated East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Maywood and Vernon; all home to mostly working class Latinos.

“I can’t help but wonder why the horrible disaster at Porter Ranch has captured so much attention, while the equally horrible disaster at Exide has captured so little,” Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Chair Hilda L. Solis told EGP in an emailed statement.

It was not until the facility was forced to close that eastside residents began to see elected officials take notice of their concerns, said Marquez. But even as they celebrated that victory many residents knew the challenge ahead was cleaning up the lead from dirt that to this day prevent children from playing in their own backyards.

“They wouldn’t dare relocate [Porter Ranch] families into our communities,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

He told EGP their anger is not at Porter Ranch or its residents, but at the state and governor “who can be responsive but chose not to respond.”

“The gas leak should have been shut down last month, that being said, Exide should have been shut down decades ago.”

Late last year Brown attended a hotel opening in Bell Gardens, not far from Exide. Lopez and other eastside residents were also there, outside angrily protesting the governor’s silence on Exide. They carried signs and a 10-foot paper-mache effigy of Brown. Unlike in Porter Ranch, the governor has yet to visit communities impacted by Exide or publicly comment on the long-playing Exide environmental crisis, despite it now being called one of the largest public health disasters in the state’s history.

Gladys Limon, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment told EGP the governor’s and state agencies’ responses to the Porter Ranch catastrophe reveal a stark racial disparity in efforts to protect communities from health and safety risks caused by industrial operations.

“The state neglected the thousands of families in Southeast and East L.A. for decades, and the Governor to this day has failed to personally acknowledge the Exide health emergency and to meet with residents,” she said.

Former County Supervisor Gloria Molina told EGP that she continuously called the governor’s office to get him to take action, but never got a call back.

“The governor is totally uninterested,” she said, adding it may have something to do with the low number of registered voters in the area.

“He takes pride in being the environmental governor but he seems more interested in protecting trees than people,” Molina said.

Some environmental activists say they believe the governor’s response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak may be more in line with his commitment to be the world’s leader in reducing greenhouse emissions, than about health concerns.

Marquez said she was surprised to hear Brown had met with Porter Ranch residents.

“He hasn’t spoken to us,” she said. “I don’t know why he hasn’t taken similar action … he just simply doesn’t care about our community.”

EGP reached out to the governor to get his response to concerns by eastside residents that he has been indifferent to their plight, but, in keeping with the criticism from the community and elected officials, Brown again failed to personally comment on the situation. Instead he passed off our request to the Department of Toxic Substance Control, the state regulatory agency in charge of the cleanup, which has for years been strongly criticized for its handling of Exide.

“Protecting the community around the Exide Technologies facility in Vernon is a high priority for the Administration,” reads the response from DTSC spokesman Sandy Nax, who credited the governor for providing additional funding for the residential sampling and cleanups currently underway.

Bell Councilman Nestor Valencia told EGP he and other area residents have criticized DTSC for moving too slowly with soil sample tests and the clean up of properties.

“It goes to show the disparity of the southeast and East Los Angeles communities [compared] to other communities,” he said.

Residents just want the same response they saw in the Valley, Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias told EGP. They want the same protocols for all communities, she said.

“Nobody should have to live under circumstances like that – where their health is impacted,” said Macias. “No offense to Porter Ranch but it’s unfortunate for us to not see such a response when we are talking about a toxic substance.”
Instead of hope, Mejia says the response by elected officials to the Porter Ranch disaster reaffirms what she already knew.

“They don’t care so much about our inner-city people. They don’t care about the industrial neighborhoods or the workers the way they do about wealthier communities.”

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

 

A version of this article was published by Eastern Group Publications in the January 14, 2016 print editions.

[Update 1:30p.m:] Added additional comments by residents.

DTSC Director Apologizes to Eastside Residents

April 10, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

[Updated: April 16, 12p.m.]

“I’m sorry.” Two words Eastside residents never thought they would hear from the state agency charged with regulating a controversial Vernon-based acid-lead battery recycler found to have repeatedly violated toxic chemical air emissions standards.

For the first time since taking the helm of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Director Barbara Lee personally addressed a public meeting discussing the now-closed Exide Technologies plant. DTSC has been heavily criticized for “failing” to protect the public from arsenic and lead emissions, chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological damage.

“I know many feel the department has failed you, I want to start of by saying I’m very sorry,” Lee told hundreds of residents and environmental activists during a meeting April 9 at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to discuss Exide’s closure plan.

The tone at last week’s meeting was quieter and less combative then past meetings, but skepticism and mistrust still hung heavy in the air.

“We want to know what happened …we want to know who is responsible,” demanded Mark Lopez, director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justices.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee apologizes to eastside residents Thursday at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee apologizes to eastside residents Thursday at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Lopez asked Lee if she would consider opening a criminal investigation into DTSC’s handling of the Vernon plant, which it allowed to operate on an interim permit for decades despite being found to have exposed eastside residents to cancer-causing toxins.

Lee did not at first directly respond to the request, instead denying any criminal activity on the part of the department, but Lopez pressed on.

“We want accountability. What happened before was not your fault, but moving forward is all your responsibility,” said Lopez, drawing loud applause from the approximately 200 people at the meeting.

“Would you be willing to let me think about it?” Lee asked.

Dozens of members of the Los Angeles Latino Business Chamber of Commerce attended the Distinguished Speakers Series event April 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Dozens of members of the Los Angeles Latino Business Chamber of Commerce attended the Distinguished Speakers Series event April 10. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Lopez agreed, explaining he didn’t expect the DTSC director to make a decision right then and there. “I just want to make sure you respond on the record in front of all of us,” he said.

Lee was appointed to head DTSC about four months ago and was not part of the protracted battle to shutter the troubled plant, but said she understands why residents mistrust the agency.

“It’s important we do not let this happen again,” she said, promising to do things differently moving forward.

For more than a decade, area residents complained to DTSC and the South Coast Air Quality Management District about Exide, but it took an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office to permanently close down the facility.

Federal authorities announced last month that they had struck a deal to close the plant in exchange for Exide and its executives avoiding criminal prosecution for their illegal handling of hazardous waste. The deal requires Exide to pay the entire cost to clean its plant and homes in the surrounding community found to have been contaminated. DTSC will oversee the closure and clean up.

“We won folks,” Monsignor John Moretta happily told the crowd.

However, not everyone is as convinced or ready to forgive.

“I don’t want to hear I’m sorry because nobody is more sorry than me,” said a tearful Terry Cano before she shared that her father had died from cancer she believes was caused by Exide’s emissions.

“You’re telling me this is the best you can do,” she said, angry that there will be no criminal prosecutions.

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano shared her concerns with the way DTSC handled the Exide plant in Vernon last week at Resurrection Church. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano shared her concerns with the way DTSC handled the Exide plant in Vernon last week at Resurrection Church. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The meeting drew residents from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Maywood, Commerce and Huntington Park, the area most heavily impacted by Exide generated pollution. Several people said the deal did not do enough to compensate the people harmed by the Vernon plant.

Teresa Marquez told Lee she believes the director wants to move the agency forward, but questioned whether any DTSC employee had been fired over the agency’s handling of the facility.

Lee said DTSC is being overhauled and new deputy directors have been brought in to replace staff no longer at the agency.

That prompted Lopez to again push for a criminal investigation.

“We want to know where they are now and if they are working for another similar agency making those same [bad] decisions,” he said. There is no victory until a closer look is taken at the systemic problems that allowed a company like Exide to keep polluting the community for so long, without that, real change is not possible, Lopez said.

A Huntington Park resident asked Lee to consider expanding the area being tested for lead and arsenic to include more nearby communities. Currently, testing is focused on East L.A., Boyle Heights and Maywood, which Lee explained was determined by AQMD modeling that identified the areas most likely to be contaminated.

“Predictions also come in the form of weather forecasts and they’re not always right,” the resident responded.

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, pictured right, apologizes to eastside residents at Resurrection Church April 9 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC Director Barbara Lee, pictured right, apologizes to eastside residents at Resurrection Church April 9 (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Moving forward, Exide has to submit a closure/post closure plan to DTSC by May 15. The agency will review the plans for compliance then present the plan to the public for comment sometime in the fall. Removal of the buildings and structures at the site is expected to start in spring 2016 and take 19-24 months to complete.

“For too many years we did not listen well to you,” Lee told the audience, acknowledging that many residents are not yet ready to trust the agencies responsible for regulating Exide.

“I don’t expect by standing here I will change that, I have to earn your trust,” she said. “I can’t promise you I will always get it right, but I will always give it my best. I hope you will be ready to take one step forward with us,” she said.

“It’s refreshing to hear a different tone,” remarked Maywood Councilman Oscar Magaña.

But for Boyle Heights resident Joe Gonzalez, the fight is far from over.

“We haven’t won,” he said, “we just threw the first punch that will change the momentum.”

 

 

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