Residents Are the Heroes In Exide Victory

February 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The unrelenting efforts of residents and community activists deserve credit for California Gov. Brown and state legislators securing nearly $177 million for testing and cleanup of properties contaminated by the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon, state and local Latino leaders said today during a news conference at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights.

“This is what community looks like,” proclaimed Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, pointing to the group of residents and activist at his side and in the audience.

“This is a watershed moment for all, but there is still much to do.”

He was referring to the people from Boyle Heights, Commerce, East Los Angeles, Maywood and other southeast communities who have spent decades fighting for the state to hear their pleas for justice for the men, women and children being poisoned by high levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants from the now closed acid-lead battery recycling plant.

“These are reparations,” pointed out Gladys Limon, attorney for Communities for Better Environment. “While Governor Brown proposed this, it took a long time for him to do so.”

After years of silence, Gov. Brown publicly acknowledged the Exide contamination for the first time Wednesday when he asked state legislators to allocate $176.6 million from the general fund for testing and cleanup on the eastside.

The funds, once approved by the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee, will come in the form of a loan. The state will then go after Exide and any other parties responsible for contamination to recover the costs.

“I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano, who lives in a home with high levels of lead in the soil, during the event. “This is long overdue and we can’t stop fighting until the last house is clean.”

The funds will expedite and expand testing for up to 10,000 homes and remove lead-tainted soil from 2,500 residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding plant. The multi-million spending plan would increase the number of crews assigned to the week-long cleanups from 2 to 40, according to Barbara Lee, director of the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Many residents have told EGP over the years they are frustrated with inept oversight by the DTSC, and today, many still say they do not trust the agency to handle the funds or the cleanup moving forward.

DTSC allowed Exide to operate for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.

“Let me clear, there is no safe level of lead,” de Leon said today.

Local elected officials came together at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights Friday to praise Eastside residents and environmental activist for pushing the state to  address Exide contamination. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Local elected officials came together at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights Friday to praise Eastside residents and environmental activist for pushing the state to address Exide contamination. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, one of the most severely impacted communities, said he’s anxious to see a timeline for the testing and cleanup process, now that funds will finally be available. He wants strict oversight of state regulators, who have moved slowly to protect the community.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia noted that the funds are “just a down payment, not just in funding but the work from elected officials.” Estimates put the entire cleanup at $400 million, possibly making it the costliest environmental catastrophe in California history.

De Leon told EGP that he has serious concerns about the toxics substances control agency’s ability to handle the cleanup, and said that question would be part of his negotiations with governor’s office moving forward.

As EGP first reported, residents and community activists had grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they observed in the treatment of the mostly-white, affluent Porter Ranch gas leak and the blue collar, and the predominately Latino communities affected by Exide’s lead contamination.

They were angry that there had been no public statement from Brown, and the slow pace of the decontamination process.

It was just a few weeks ago that L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she had tried to reach the governor to ask him to allocate $70 million for the cleanup, but he was unresponsive.

“I called the governor and thanked him for the funds,” she said today about his turnaround.

“I also invited him to come and see what’s going on,” she said in Spanish. “He said ‘we’ll see,’” she said.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said pressure from the community made the difference.

“The community kept elected officials on task,” said Lara.

“I want to personally thank EGP and the Eastside Sun for their incredible investigative journalism for bringing bright sunshine to residents of Boyle Heights and to this incredible environmental crisis,” said de Leon.

Rev. Monsignor John Moretta earlier in the week told EGP that when the community gathered to celebrate the closure of the Exide plant last year, they thought it was a victory. They have since realized that the real work was still ahead.

The same can be said about the state’s funding now, he said. Moretta and several other people said they want an investigation into state regulators and for Los Angeles’ city attorney and the state attorney to bring legal action against Exide, which has abandoned toxic waste sites in five other parts of the country.

This is not the end, he said.

In the end, the event was intended to be a recognition of the community’s activism.

U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra said holding the celebration at Resurrection Church was fitting.

“Folks had to rise from the ashes again,” he said. “Residents had to each add their grain of sand for years, now the governor has added his.”

Copyright © 2019 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·