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.”

It’s Official: Becerra New State Atty. Gen.

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Following confirmation by the State Assembly and Senate, Xavier Becerra was sworn in by Gov. Jerry Brown Tuesday as California’s new attorney general.

The now former Democratic congressman from the 34th District in Los Angeles—who officially resigned his congressional seat on Tuesday—replaces fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November.

Becerra took the oath of office during a joint session of the State Legislature, where Gov. Brown delivered his annual State of the State address, that turned out to be a fiery promise to fight any policies from the Trump Administration that threaten California.

“It is humbling and exciting to assume responsibility for vigorously advancing the forward-leaning values that make California unique among the many states,” Becerra said following his Senate confirmation. “I’m eager to get to work. Gov. Brown and state legislators have already shared valuable ideas on our path forward. And next week I hope to sit down with sheriffs from across our state to begin our work together keeping our families safe and enforcing our laws fairly.”

“Under a new presidential administration, our nation will be entering uncharted waters. I know that Xavier will vigorously defend the values that Californians hold dear,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “He will defend and expand California’s reputation as a national leader on voting rights, consumer and environmental protection, and civil rights. And, he will ensure that all Californians, minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and vulnerable populations enjoy equal protection under the law.”

Becerra represented his Los Angeles County district in Congress since 1993. Prior to that he was an Assemblyman and a deputy state attorney general. He was also chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant — in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said when he appointed Becerra to the post in December. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Becerra will serve the final two years of Harris’ term and becomes California’s first Hispanic attorney general. His congressional seat will be filled by a special election that will include an April 4 primary and June 6 general election.

Gov. Appoints Becerra to Replace Harris as Atty. Gen.

December 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

He’s the highest-ranking Latino in Congress, but Rep. Xavier Becerra will soon vacate his Congressional seat to become California’s first Latino Attorney General.

In a surprise move last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Twitter his appointment of Becerra to replace Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris who has been elected to the U.S. Senate.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant — in the State Legislature, U.S. Congress, and as a deputy attorney general. I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change,” Brown’s announcement said.

Becerra called the nomination “an opportunity I cannot refuse.”

The son of Mexican immigrants, Becerra, 58, is closing out his term as House Democratic Caucus Chair. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 and is the first Latino to serve on the powerful Committee on Ways and Means. He’s also Chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security.

Before his election to Congress, Becerra served in the State Assembly and as a deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice. He earned a law degree from Stanford Law School and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University.

A high-profile surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, Becerra was for a time floated as a possible vice-presidential running mate.

Brown’s nomination, though unexpected, is being viewed across the state as a strategic move to replace Harris with someone well prepared to do legal battle with the Trump Administration on multiple fronts, including climate change, immigration, and the economy. His intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of Capital politics, federal departments and budgets, as well as the relationships built over the last two decades are assets that could serve the state well in what could be a rocky road ahead.

(Office of Rep. Xavier Becerra)

(Office of Rep. Xavier Becerra)

“As a former deputy attorney general, I relished the chance to be our state’s chief law enforcement officer to protect consumers, advance criminal justice reform and, of course, keep our families safe,” Becerra said in his statement accepting the nomination, expressing gratitude for the governor’s confidence in his abilities.

“Governor Brown and our state leaders lean forward when it comes to advancing and protecting the rights and interests of the more than 38 million people in California,” said Becerra. He pointed out that during his 24 years in Congress he’s “been part of some of the greatest debates confronting our nation, from opposing the Iraq war, to fighting to help Americans recover from the Great Recession, to launching the bipartisan immigration talks and helping write our nation’s health security law.”

Becerra has national stature, regularly appearing on political talk shows and campaigning for Democrats across the country.

MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz congratulated Brown on the appointment, calling it “inspired.”

“California’s attorney general has numerous critical responsibilities, including defending the laws of the state and defending the rights of all of its residents. It is abundantly clear, based on MALDEF’s experience working with Rep. Becerra, that he will undertake these responsibilities with great skill and tremendous commitment; great success will result for all Californians,” Saenz said.

The California Latino Legislative Caucus is also hailing the appointment. Caucus Chair Assemblyman Luis Alejo called it “another historic milestone for Latino leadership in California…

“Rep. Becerra’s experience and leadership at the national level will be of great service to California as we gird ourselves for potential federal rollbacks of the progressive policies we have enacted for the people of this great state,” Alejo said. “With the racially divisive rhetoric we heard from the campaign of the President-elect, we can think of no better champion in the Attorney General’s office than Rep. Becerra.”

As attorney general, Becerra would become the second Latino in statewide office; Secretary of State Alex Padilla is the other. Both bodies in the State Legislature are also headed by Latinos, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who said “Becerra clearly has the experience to step into this vital role,” and the “tenacity” and “much-needed qualities for an attorney general given the troubling times ahead.”

Brown’s nomination will become official when Harris is sworn-in on Jan. 3. He must be confirmed by both the Senate and Assembly, which is widely expected to go forward without problem.

The timing of his appointment could make Becerra eligible to run for up to two additional terms — serving nearly 10 years as attorney general. It could also serve as a high-profile launching pad for a run for U.S. Senate or governor.

 

Brown Orders Permanent Water Cuts

May 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Southland residents will need to permanently curtail their water use under an order issued Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown that bans activities such as hosing off sidewalks and requires urban suppliers to continue producing monthly reports on water-reduction efforts.

The order calls for long-term implementation of temporary water conservation measures put in place to combat the ongoing statewide drought, with Brown pointing to parts of the state that are still dealing with dry conditions and the likelihood of continued water shortages.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Brown said. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

Brown’s order will permanently ban practices such as hosing off sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces; using hoses without shut-off nozzles to wash cars; allowing runoff to occur when watering lawns; and failing to re-circulate fountain water.

Urban water suppliers like the Department of Water and Power will also need to provide monthly reports about water use, conservation and enforcement.

The order also instructs the State Water Resources Control Board to tweak water conservation rules by January and create emergency restrictions for the next year.

Metropolitan Water District General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said the executive order is “completely consistent with conservation objectives for Southern California.”

He added that the water agency, which provides water to 26 cities and agencies in Southern California, supports Brown’s effort to make “conservation a way of life for California each and every year.

“While this relatively normal rain season in Northern California is a welcome change from last year’s historically low snowpack, Southern California remains in drought conditions,” Kightlinger said.

The state Water Resources Control Board, which still needs to implement Brown’s order, released proposed revisions to its emergency water restrictions Monday that would allow local agencies to set their conservation goals according to how well they are able to meet demand over three years of water shortages.

If agencies are able to meet water demands, they may not face mandated water-use cuts.

The State Water Resources Control Board will consider the revisions on May 18.

Since water-conservation mandates were imposed by Brown in June 2015, DWP customers have cut their use by a cumulative 15.8 percent compared to the same period beginning in June 2013 — the baseline year used by the state to measure savings. The state-imposed conservation mandate for the DWP is 14 percent.

Across California, residents have cut their use by 23.9 percent since June 2015 — just below Brown’s call for a 25 percent reduction.

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation to Fund Exide Clean-Up

April 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation today providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.

“Children should be able to play in yards free from toxics,” Brown said. “With this funding plan, we’re doubling down on efforts to protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

There was no immediate word on when the effort would begin or how long it would take. The cleanup effort is subject to an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Assembly Majority Whip Miguel Santiago applauded Gov. Brown for signing the Exide Clean-Up Package comprised of Assembly Bill 118 and Senate Bill 93.

“The Exide Technologies facility has been able to pollute my community unabated for more than 33 years, which is entirely inexcusable,” said Santiago, author of AB 118.

“Today’s action is an historic step toward fully resolving this appalling situation; but make no mistake – our work is not done here.”

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup.

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

A crew from the Department of Toxic Substances Control cleans a home in East Los Angeles Wednesday. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

As of last August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million was due to be paid by March 2020, according to state officials.

Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, called for a fast start to the state’s cleanup efforts.

“We’ve heard the distressing news recently that children living near the closed Exide plant had elevated blood lead levels so there’s no time to waste,” he said. “… I will continue working closely with state and local partners so that the testing and cleanup of homes moves forward expeditiously
and above all, in partnership with the families impacted by the lead contamination. We shouldn’t lose focus of what’s at stake here – restoring a clean and safe environment for our families.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti released a Spanish-language public service announcement, also featuring actress Angelica Vale, urging residents near the plant to have their property tested, and to undergo blood-lead level testing.

“My office will do everything possible to help the (Department of Toxic Substances Control) expedite the cleanup,” Garcetti said. “Identifying the areas and the people affected by lead contamination is a critical first step.”

The city of Commerce, in conjunction with the County health department, will be conducting free confidential lead blood testing at Rosewood Park from 9a.m. to 3p.m. during the annual Kids Are Cute Baby Show. The park is located at 5600 Harbor St. Commerce 90040. For more information, call (323) 722-4805.

EGP staff writers contributed to this report.

Exide: L.A. Councilman Makes Move to Step In

February 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Saying he’s lost confidence in the state agency overseeing the cleanup of toxic lead contamination from the now closed Exide plant in Vernon, Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar today introduced legislation to urge Gov. Brown and the State Legislature to move quickly to protect the health and safety of families in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Southeast cities.

Huizar, who represents and is himself a resident of Boyle Heights, said he’s grown impatient with the California Department of Toxic Substances Controls’ “snails pace” in handling of testing and cleanup of the estimated 10,000 homes in the contamination zone.

“We are tired of asking for assistance,” Huizar said during a news conference at City Hall. “We cannot leave this responsibility to DTSC anymore.”

Boyle Heights residents join L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar, center, as he announces a resolution urging the governor and DTSC to expedite the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Boyle Heights residents join L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar, center, as he announces a resolution urging the governor and DTSC to expedite the Exide cleanup. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Huizar today introduced a resolution, also signed by several other members of the Council, that calls on the governor or Legislature to make sure DTSC has an adequate plan and funds to execute a full cleanup of lead and arsenic at homes surrounding the Exide plant.

The agency is currently taking public comments on the plan the decontaminate and dismantle the battery-recycling plant in Vernon, but has no complete plan for residential cleanup.

Huizar called the state’s lack of  urgency “astonishing,” given that this “is causing deaths and future harm to our children, and quite frankly a lot of fear and a lot of questions that go unanswered.”

Huizar also introduced a motion at City Council asking City Atty. Mike Feuer to explore what legal options the city has to force the state to act, including the possibility of a lawsuit.

The motion also calls for the appropriate city departments to prepare and submit comment on DTSC’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on Exide’s proposed closure and decontamination plan before the March 28 deadline.

As many 100,000 residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park are at higher-risk for neurological diseases, learning disabilities and cancer due to repeated exposure to levels of lead so high they can cause birth defects, learning disabilities, cancer, and other chronic health issues.

Huizar said he is especially concerned with the public right of ways and parks where thousands of families and children gather.

“The city should not be at odds with the state agency responsible for protecting the environmental well-being of the citizens of California,” Huizar said. “Unfortunately, it has come to that point.”

DTSC allowed Exide to operate for over 30 years on a temporary permit despite repeated violations of toxic chemical standards, Huizar said. Exide chose to permanently close the Vernon site after the company struck a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office to avoid criminal prosecution.

“Governor Brown didn’t get us in this mess…but today we need the governor’s leadership to bring support and get us out of this mess,” he said.

“We need state agencies to treat this like the emergency it is,” he urged.

The councilman said he has little confidence Exide will pay for the cleanup given its bankruptcy status, so it’s going to be up to the State to allocate funding to expedite the cleanup process.

The hefty price tag to fully test and clean every property, which some estimates put as high as $400 million, is keeping DTSC from moving quickly, residents believe.

Exide had so far put up $9 million, the state $7 million and the County of Los Angeles has said it’s allocating $2 million to speed up testing.

According to DTSC, 496 properties have been sampled and a total of 752 access agreements have been signed by property owners. Only 193 homes have been cleaned so far.

Boyle Heights resident Terry Cano was at Huizar’s side when he introduced the resolution. She said a vast majority of people in her neighborhood are dying or living with cancer. She said high levels of lead where found in her home a year ago, but DTSC has yet to clean up the contamination.

“Don’t us as minorities matter, don’t our lives matter,” she asked. “We are victims of Exide and a failed state.”

DTSC Spokesman Sandy Nax told EGP the agency currently only has two crews working on cleanup. Each property takes about a week to be cleaned, limiting the cleanup to two homes per week.

Nax told EGP DTSC is committed to ensuring both the closure and cleanup are conducted in a safe and protective manner.

Cano said the state agency is “dragging their feet” to cleanup contamination that is killing people left and right and could “wipe out a whole minority of people,” she said, struggling to hold back tears.

“How can this be happening in the United States? In Los Angeles?”

As EGP first reported, eastside residents have been frustrated with what they say is a double standard in the state’s swift response to the gas leak in more affluent Porter Ranch. Whereas they’ve been waiting for years for the governor, Legislature and city to act to protect them, it only took Gov. Brown two months to issue a state of emergency in Porter Ranch.

Now that the Southern California Gas Co. gas leak has been temporarily controlled, Huizar said he hopes to see the same type of prompt response from the state in Boyle Heights, no matter how much the cleanup costs. He pointed to the state’s surplus as a source for funding.

“Yes we need to put some away for a rainy day,” said Huizar “But it’s a rainy day here.”

Update: 2-13-16 to remove repeated paragraph.

Bell Gardens Forced to Sell Shopping Centers

February 4, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Before Ross, Marshall’s, Starbucks and Petco opened their doors in Bell Gardens, the area around Florence Boulevard and Eastern Avenue was nothing more than a collection of vacant lots and rundown buildings.

Drugs and crime were prevalent in the area, which also happened to be home to one of the largest adult bookstores in the region. The city tried unsuccessfully for years to close the store down, but in the end, redevelopment money is what pushed out the store and it’s undesirable customers, Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner told EGP.

Lea este artículo en Español: Bell Gardens es Forzada a Vender Centros Comerciales

Today, two busy shopping centers sit at the intersection of Florence and Firestone, drawing thousands of customers from Bell Gardens and surrounding cities to spend their money in the southeast city. It’s been a vast improvement on many fronts for the predominately working-class southeast city, from providing jobs to shopping convenience and revenue for city services.

But now, Bell Gardens is being forced to sell off the Los Jardines and Village Square Shopping Centers and to give 91% of the money generated from the sale to the state. It’s part of a negotiated settlement reached in the aftermath of Gov. Jerry Brown’s and State Legislators’ disbanding of the 400 or so redevelopment agencies across California.

For decades, redevelopment agencies (RDA) helped cities like Bell Gardens revitalize their communities by providing funds for projects ranging from affordable housing to commercial developments and government facilities. Funding for RDA came from loans from the cities themselves, bonds and property taxes generated by the agency’s investments.

“If you look at these shopping centers [in Bell Gardens] there’s a possibility none of these would be here without the RDA,” Wagner points out.

Facing a crippling budget deficit, the governor and state leaders in 2011 decided to eliminate all of California’s redevelopment agencies and keep the in state coffers. “With the stroke of a pen,” cities, already struggling with tight budgets due to the recession, saw their funds to combat blight wiped out, Wagner said.

Brown argued that the state could no longer afford to finance the agencies and insisted the money would be better spent on school districts and county services.

An audit at the time by State Controller John Chiang found widespread accounting and reporting discrepancies at 18 RDAs across the state, fueling support for shutting down locally run redevelopment agencies. The audit found examples of spending abuses and Chiang questioned the effectiveness of RDA’s mission to combat blight.

The policy shift stopped new money from coming in for redevelopment and required that any money still in the redevelopment agencies and city-owned properties purchased with redevelopment funds be liquidated and turned over to the state.

Local municipalities criticized the decision and tried to stop the change, but failed.

In the years since, cities across California have been negotiating with the Dept. of Finance – charged with reviewing any transactions by the now defunct RDAs – to protect their investments.

Finally, “we’ve had to bite the bullet,” City Attorney John W. Lam told EGP.

Bell Gardens must now sell seven of its RDA-owned properties, including the two shopping centers and a cell tower located on one of the properties.

The shopping centers and cell tower generate $250,000 annually in ground lease revenue for the city.

“That number may not sound like a lot, but for a city of our size that will have an impact to our services,” said Community Development Director Abel Avalos.

The Los Jardines Shopping Center, located in the 7000 block of Eastern Avenue in Bell Gardens, is home to dozens of stores that draw thousands of shoppers to the area. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Los Jardines Shopping Center, located in the 7000 block of Eastern Avenue in Bell Gardens, is home to dozens of stores that draw thousands of shoppers to the area. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Wagner told EGP the damage could have been a lot worse; “in the millions” of dollars, he said.

At one point the firehouse, police department parking lot and neighborhood youth center were all on the chopping block. In the end it was determined those properties and two additional city-owned parking lots are for governmental use, exempting them from the sell-off.

“The best case scenario would have been to keep all the properties, but we believe we protected the majority of our assets.”

“I believe Bell Gardens was a model for redevelopment agencies,” Wagner said, calling the loss of funds a “great loss” to cities like Bell Gardens that used its funds as intended, to build much-needed affordable housing and to replace blighted areas with thriving businesses.

Primestor Inc. developed the Bell Gardens shopping centers and will have first dibs on purchasing the ground leases.

Wagner says the city has a good relationship with Primestor and is confident the developer will purchase the property.

Avalos told EGP the city has received a few informal inquiries about an RDA property on the 5000 block of Shull Street, which could be used for either light manufacturing or higher density housing. The remaining properties would be sold for commercial development, he added.

Bell Gardens will get just over 9 percent of the sales revenue, but will continue to receive sales tax and property tax. The money being lost could have gone back to the community, Lam said.

Any ambitious plans the city had for revitalization may no longer happen, cautions Avalos.
There’s no more money for affordable housing, stressed Lam.

According to Wagner, the city will also take a big financial hit on the $30 million it initially invested as seed money for the redevelopment agency back in the 1970s, since it doesn’t appear that the state will reimburse municipalities any time soon for their loans to the agencies. That money is owed to the local taxpayers, he said.

A little over half of the city’s initial investment has been paid back over the years, but there’s still about $14 million owed to the city’s General Fund, according to city Finance Director Will Kaholokula.

The interest they originally agreed to will also not be honored, instead capped at 10 percent.

“The governor said ‘sorry cities, too bad…you’ll get your money last,’” said Lam, explaining it could take 50 years for the state to pay the entire amount back.

Now the city is tasked with bringing in developers to privately fund projects.
According to Wagner, it’s something the city has done before and will do again.

“The loss of tax money developments will not stop Bell Gardens from attracting business to the city.”

—-

Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Jerry Brown, Where Are You? It’s Time to Step Up on Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

California’s “environmental governor” has been missing in action in the fight to stop the devastating damage being done to east and southeast Los Angeles residents by state regulator’s failures to stop years of toxic chemical dumping in those communities.

Those residents – most of them Latino and working class – are mad as hell, and rightfully so.

For more than a decade, this newspaper has been publishing stories on the dangerous polluting of these same neighborhoods – from unincorporated East Los Angeles to Boyle Heights, to Maywood, Commerce and cities nearby. The number of community meetings and protests we’ve covered over the years are too many to count. Yet, the illegal health and environmental damage for the most part went unabated.

The most recent revelations — if you can call three years recent — that the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon was allowed to operate for decades on a temporary permit despite repeated violations of state toxic chemical emissions is inexcusable.

So is the lack of urgency and action not only by state regulators, but also by the state, national and local officials elected to serve, and to protect them.

If it weren’t for the people in the impacted neighborhoods unrelentingly beating the drum on the crisis in their community, Exide would likely still be in business today.

Sadly, it’s taken the catastrophe at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Porter Ranch to stir up awareness by state official to what east and southeast residents have known along: There’s a double standard in California when it comes to protecting people of color and limited means from environmental injustice.

On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Assembly finally held a hearing on the Exide debacle and plans to clean up the toxic pollution it has left behind. The meeting was held in Sacramento, not where the problem is.

In more affluent Porter Ranch, officials brought the hearing down to the people. Gov. Brown personally went to Porter Ranch and declared a State of Emergency, but couldn’t be bothered to drive two-miles from where he was attending the opening of casino in Bell Gardens to peek in at the Exide damage.

Residents in the areas contaminated by Exide had expressed doubt about former Supervisor Gloria Molina’s assertion that the governor had not responded to her calls to him to discuss Exide. How could it possibly be true that the governor had refused to call back a supervisor from the largest county in the state? We now know it wasn’t just one supervisor, but two. Sup. Hilda Solis says she has received the same treatment.

Is it any wonder the people living in neighborhoods polluted by Exide are angry? We think not.

Gov. Brown owes these communities an apology for the lack of respect he has shown them. Tell us Jerry, what would it have taken to stand up and say to the community, ‘I’m on it and I’m making sure my administration is doing everything to ensure your safety?’

We have to wonder how the governor’s friend Cesar Chavez would have reacted to this very obvious slight. But let’s face it, Brown isn’t the only official whose been missing in action. Why aren’t the legislators who represent these communities banding together to pressure the governor and their fellow legislators to put up the money needed for the cleanup?

In the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer have both been very out spoken in their criticism of SoCalGas’ handling of Porter Ranch. Boyle Heights is in the city of angels, but you don’t hear them talking about bringing lawsuits or demanding that these constituents, whose children can’t even play in their own backyards, be relocated until their homes are decontaminated.

Yes Angelenos, it’s painfully clear: If you are poor, and a person of color, there is a double standard in the Golden State.

It’s time that changes and for the state to come up with the initial $70 million needed to get the clean up of residential properties moving.

Assembly Questions Actions on Exide

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Years of public outrage over the Exide Technologies’ contamination of cities and neighborhoods in the east and southeast Los Angeles area finally appears to be getting the attention of state legislators, likely in response to growing accusations that California has a double standard when it comes to how it handles environmental and health emergencies in low-income Latino communities.

On Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials held a hearing in Sacramento on plans to decontaminate the site of the now shuttered battery-recycling facility in Vernon believed to have contaminated as many as 10,000 homes and business with lead and arsenic, putting over 100,000 people at a higher-risk for neurological diseases and cancer.

Lea este artículo en Español: Asamblea Cuestiona las Acciones de Exide

It was the first hearing by state elected officials since protests over the plant’s repeated violations of toxic chemical emissions standards became public in 2013.

As EGP first reported, residents from East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park have grown increasingly frustrated and angry over the “double standard” they’ve 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.

“Maybe we should call ourselves Boyle Heights Ranch, maybe we’ll get more attention,” Rev. Monsignor John Moretta of Resurrection Church told the committee on Tuesday.

At a press conference before the hearing, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Speaker-elect Sen. Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago called for the state to allocate $70 million out of next year’s budget to pay for cleaning up the most contaminated residential properties.

“An invisible disease has affected these communities, this is a case of environmental injustice,” said Solis, decrying state regulators slow progress in removing soil polluted with lead from east and southeast homes. She suggested the money could be recovered later from Exide. A lawsuit could be required.

“DTSC has not done a good job on the cleanup,” said Rendon. “We need to make sure Exide cleans up the mess it has left in our communities.”

Joining the officials at the press conference and for the hearing was a busload of residents from the impacted areas. They’d traveled to the Capitol to demand the same level of action from the state that is being given to the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch. They told committee members that state regulators need to speed up the removal of lead tainted soil from their homes.

So far, the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has cleaned about 200 or so properties in the designated contamination zone.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Assemblyman Santiago repeatedly asked DTSC Director Barbara Lee whether there are obstacles they can address to increase the number of homes being cleaned every week. She did not respond directly to his inquiries, but said DTSC is cleaning three properties per week. At that rate, it will take seven years to clean 1,000 properties, complained other speakers.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, center, speaks before the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in Sacramento Tuesday. (Los Angeles County)

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, center, speaks before the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials in Sacramento Tuesday. (Los Angeles County)

“We have a death sentence, we can’t wait any longer” said a tearful Terry Cano of Boyle Heights who traveled the long distance to testify. She alleged that members of her family have died of cancer caused by Exide’s polluting of her community.

Cano also expressed her frustration with the state agency’s focus on the contamination at the now vacant Exide facility instead of focusing on places where people still live.

“This is the equivalent to responding to a burning building and firefighters respond to the fire and not the dying family,” she criticized.

Resentment is growing over Gov. Jerry Brown’s failure to personally address the Exide “catastrophe,” something he has done in Porter Ranch, where he has declared a State of Emergency.

“We can blame DTSC for the handling and enforcement of Exide and for taking so long, but we can’t blame them for the governor not giving them the money to clean up the contamination,” Mark Lopez of East Yards for Environmental Justice told EGP before the hearing.

Lee defended the agency’s actions, pointing out that 22,000 hours of staff time has already been spent working on the Exide closure. She also said the Brown Administration has been very supportive of their work, allocating $7 million in state funding for testing and cleanup.

“I can assure you the governor has us all committed to this site, it’s a priority for us.” echoed Matt Rodriguez of the California EPA,

Local elected officials, however, seemed unconvinced.

“DTSC has failed our community,” Santiago said.

Concern that money is behind the state’s slow response to the clean up.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia called the $8 million in the governor’s budget for the Exide Cleanup “insulting.”

“It feels like the government is just throwing pennies at brown people to keep us quiet,” she said.

She urged the committee to recommend the state dig into the reserves if it has to, to ensure the governor allocates $70 million in this year’s budget.

“We must do the right thing and show the residents from low income communities who are predominately Latino that that they are just as important as our counterparts from affluent communities.”

Jane Williams, executive director for California Communities Against Toxics, suggested state legislators consider a battery tax to help offset costs associated with the cleanup instead of waiting for Exide to allocate funds. She told the committee the battery recycler had a long history of contamination at their plants across the country.

“Exide has a pattern and practice of contaminating communities and leaving contamination behind,” she said.

Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias testified she has spoken to many residents who are frustrated with the process and just don’t see any clear financial plan or commitment. She also expressed frustration that the committee waited until the end of the four-hour long meeting to hear from the public, the victims in the crisis.

Nearly all of those residents who traveled to Sacramento had to leave the meeting to catch their bus home, only one was left to testify.

“They’ve been waiting for too long,” she said before handing over letters from the community for the record.
Maywood Councilman Eduardo de la Riva said he did not appreciate Exide representatives at the meeting trying to shift the blame for the high levels of lead to other sources, including lead paint, nearby freeways and the industrial setting. He asked that the state agency recognize the cleanup should be their priority.

“We applaud DTSC for the steps they are now starting to take but the damage has been done,” he said. “We must act now.”

A video recording of the hearing can be viewed online at http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=3327

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Twitter @nancyreporting

nmartinez@egpnews.com

Gov. Brown Signs Law Mandating Vaccinations

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Almost all school children in the Southland and across California will be required to be vaccinated against diseases such as measles and whooping cough under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 277 was co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. Pan is also a pediatrician. The legislation was prompted in part by an outbreak of measles traced to Disneyland that began in late December and ultimately spread to more than 130 people across the state.

Cases were also reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

The legislation eliminates vaccination exemptions based on religious or personal beliefs. It will require all children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated unless a doctor certifies that a child has a medical condition, such as allergies, preventing it.

“I want to thank all of the parents, families and my colleagues and Governor Brown for their advocacy and thoughtful deliberation of this legislation,” said Allen, former president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board. “Today is a good day for California.”

Brown, in a bill-signing message sent to the state Senate, acknowledged there was opposition to the bill, but said children’s health is important to protect.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infection and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in his message. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Brown noted that the legislation exempts children from immunizations if there are “circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history for which the physician does not recommend immunization.”

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said last week they supported the bill’s intent of “boosting vaccination rates through the state,” adding that the requirement “will ensure a safer and healthier environment for our schools.”

Opponents criticized the bill as infringing on the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children. Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said it “denies parents the right to exempt genetically susceptible brothers and sisters of vaccine-injured children, denies parents a religious exemption and denies conscientious objectors a public-school education.”

Interim Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser countered that the recent measles outbreak “highlights the importance” of ensuring as many people as possible get vaccinated.

“Measles remains a serious health threat that is present in many parts of the world,” he said.

“Attaining the highest vaccination rates possible in Los Angeles County will assure that our children and all residents are safe in the event that additional cases are imported in the future.”

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl hailed the bill, saying it will protect “our children and our communities from a host of entirely preventable communicable diseases.”

Leah Russin, co-founder of Vaccinate California, an advocacy group that pushed for the legislation, said parents can now “breathe a sigh of relief knowing our children and others will be better protected from preventative diseases.”

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said vaccination rates have dropped in schools in recent years, raising the risk of disease outbreaks.

“The bill protects the health of our children and our communities, especially those too young or too ill to receive vaccines,” Torlakson said.

“The bill protects against the outbreaks of debilitating, crippling and costly preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. It will help keep students healthy so they can attend school, learn and succeed.”

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