Jóvenes de YouthBuild Piden Apoyo al Condado de Los Ángeles

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Alrededor de 200 adultos jóvenes se reunieron afuera de la Junta de Supervisores el martes, con la esperanza de convencer al condado para apoyar un programa de trabajo y desarrollo para jóvenes.

Ondeando pancartas que decían “Trabajos no cárceles” y con camisetas con la palabra “imparable”, la exuberante multitud marchó desde la plaza Pershing Square como parte del Día Mundial de YouthBuild.

YouthBuild es un programa nacional de desarrollo de jóvenes basado en la comunidad que ofrece a personas de bajos ingresos de 16-24 años de edad la oportunidad de terminar la preparatoria y obtener un diploma, entrenamiento para trabajos—usualmente en la construcción—y eventualmente convirtiéndose en líderes comunitarios.

La organización recibe fondos federales y la supervisora Hilda Solís, quien supervisó el programa durante su mandato como secretaria del Trabajo bajo la administración Obama salió de la reunión de la junta para mostrar su apoyo.

“Es muy bueno ver a un grupo tan grande y comprometido llamar la atención de la necesidad urgente en Estados Unidos para la oportunidad para nuestros jóvenes”, dijo Solís después.

“He visto de primera mano cómo YouthBuild ha ayudado a crear vías de oportunidad”.

Los organizadores del grupo dicen que es tiempo para que el condado intervenga con apoyo financiero. Están pidiendo $15 millones para ayudar a financiar 21 programas en todo el condado.

“Podemos ayudar al condado a reconstruir la comunidad”, Rossie Johnson, presidenta del Colaborativo YouthBuild Región de Los Ángeles, le dijo a City News Service en los escalones del Hall of Administration.

Johnson dijo que los programas de YouthBuild pueden proporcionar soluciones a los múltiples problemas del condado, incluyendo la necesidad de vivienda asequible. En un momento en que el condado está reevaluando sus esfuerzos de justicia juvenil, YouthBuild también da a jóvenes adultos que salen de la cárcel o detención de menores las habilidades que necesitan para tener éxito en la comunidad.

“Estamos muy bien con las poblaciones de reentrada”, dijo Johnson, haciendo alarde de una tasa de reincidencia del 1 por ciento bajo un programa reciente de subvención.

Más tarde, dentro de la sala de audiencia de la junta, uno de los estudiantes de YouthBuild llamó a la organización “un hogar para la redención”, diciendo a los supervisores que al pasar por los campamentos de los desamparados por la tarde fue un recordatorio de lo que pudo ser.

Otro joven, Marco Antonio Vivar, dijo que sin YouthBuild él “estaría en una celda de cárcel o estaría en un ataúd”, pero en cambio es parte del liderazgo de la organización y se graduará con una licenciatura en ciencias de la computación e ingeniería.

A nivel estatal, el 13,8 por ciento de los jóvenes de 16 a 24 años de edad están fuera de la escuela y sin trabajo, de acuerdo a YouthBuild, pero Johnson dice que las cosas están mejorando en la industria de la construcción.

“Queremos que nuestros jóvenes tengan esos puestos de trabajo” y terminen como “ciudadanos productivos que pagan impuestos”, dijo.

A nivel nacional, YouthBuild informa que el 77 por ciento de los inscritos obtiene un diploma o certificado reconocido por la industria y el 61 por ciento consiguen un trabajo o van a la universidad.

Youth Group Call for ‘Jobs Not Jail’ Spending

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

About 200 young adults rallied outside the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, hoping to convince the county to support a youth jobs and development program.

Waving signs reading “Jobs Not Jails” and wearing T-shirts with the word “Unstoppable,” the exuberant crowd marched from Pershing Square as part of Global YouthBuild Day.

YouthBuild is a national community-based youth development program that offers low-income 16- 24-year-olds the chance to finish their high school diploma, train for jobs — often in construction — and ultimately become community leaders.

The organization gets federal funding and Supervisor Hilda Solis, who oversaw the program during her tenure as labor secretary for the Obama administration, stepped out of the board’s meeting to show her support.

“It’s great to see such a large and engaged group drawing attention to the urgent need in America for opportunity for our youth,” Solis said later. “I have seen firsthand how YouthBuild has helped create pathways to opportunity.”

The group’s organizers say it’s time for the county to step up with financial support. They are asking for $15 million to help fund 21 programs countywide.

“We can help the county rebuild the community,” Rossie Johnson, chair of the Los Angeles Region YouthBuild Collaborative, told City News Service on the steps of the Hall of Administration.

Johnson said YouthBuild’s programs can provide solutions to multiple county problems, including the need for affordable housing. At a time when the county is re-evaluating its youth justice efforts, YouthBuild also gives young adults leaving jail or juvenile detention the skills they need to succeed in the community.

“We’re very good with re-entry populations,” Johnson said, boasting of a 1 percent recidivism rate on a recent grant program.

Later, inside the board’s hearing room, one of the YouthBuild enrollees called the organization “a home for redemption,” telling the supervisors that walking past homeless encampments this afternoon was a reminder of what might have been.

Another, Marco Antonio Vivar, said that without YouthBuild he would have “been in a jail cell or I would have been in a casket,” but instead is part of the organization’s leadership and set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering.

Statewide, 13.8 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are out of school and out of work, according to YouthBuild, but Johnson says things are picking up in the construction trade.

“We want our young folks to be in those jobs” and end up as “productive, tax-paying citizens,” he said.

Nationally, YouthBuild reports that 77 percent of enrollees attain a diploma or industry-recognized certificate and 61 percent get a job placement or go on to college.

L.A. County Supervisors Frustrated By Pace of Exide Cleanup

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

County workers have moved quickly to assess soil, arrange cleanup and reach out to 500 families living near the now-shuttered Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, where a recent study found children have higher levels of lead in their blood, a public health official told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Staffers have focused on homes in East Los Angeles, Commerce and Maywood, sending out a dozen three-person teams to sample and test for lead, Department of Public Health Interim Director Cynthia Harding told the supervisors.

The board, frustrated by the pace of the response from state regulators, recently asked DPH to intervene.

Harding said her department sampled and tested 500 properties in less than three weeks.

A contractor for Exide took about 2 1/2 months to assess 50 homes, while the state Department of Toxic Substances Control managed to get to the same number of homes in two weeks, according to Harding.

“We did 50 homes a day,” Harding told the board.

DTSC is also working on cleanup, and Harding said the agencies were coordinating, via weekly meetings, to “make sure we’re not stepping on one another’s toes.”

Harding said 83 percent of residents received results of county soil tests the next day, along with information on available health resources. The balance of the residents weren’t home when county employees stopped by multiple times.

Public health nurses were sent to visit the 45 homes where lead levels were found to be at hazardous waste levels, above 1000 parts per million.

All but eight of the 500 homes, four of which had no soil at all, had levels at least in excess of the DTSC threshold for remediation, Harding said.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said state staffers failed in their outreach to residents. They didn’t explain how residents should protect themselves from potentially contaminated soil and didn’t bother to tell families who had to vacate their homes during cleanup about vouchers for temporary housing, she said.

“DTSC really has to pay attention to what the needs are of this community,” Solis said.

“There are many people who have already suffered enough.”

In addition to continuing community outreach on soil testing and health education, county officials continue to press for faster action by the state and have thrown their support behind bills which call for $176.6 million in funding for cleanup.

Solis characterized it as a David and Goliath-like fight.

“We’re David and we’re up against some very big lobbying guns up there,” Solis said.

The $176.6 million in funding for further testing and environmental cleanup has been approved by the state Senate and is pending a vote by the Assembly.

State officials said the money 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.

The study performed by the state Department of Public Health at the request of DTSC found that children under age 6 who lived near the plant ¬– which was permanently closed in March 2015 – were likely to have more lead in their blood than children in Los Angeles County overall.

According to the study, 3.58 percent of young children who live within a mile of the plant had levels of 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood. Among children who lived between one and 4.5 miles of the plant, 2.41 percent had 4.5 micrograms or more.

According to DTSC, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers 5 micrograms or greater to be an indicator of significantly high lead levels requiring public health action. California’s baseline, however, is 4.5 micrograms.

Although the study focused on proximity to the plant, researchers found that the age of housing was a contributing factor to lead levels, noting that homes closer to the facility tend to be older. The age of housing is significant, since lead levels in paint were not regulated until 1978.

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.

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.

Se Extiende Financiación para Ruta de DASH Boyle Heights/Este de Los Ángeles

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

La Junta de Supervisores del condado de Los Ángeles aprobó el martes una recomendación de la presidenta de la Junta, la supervisora Hilda L. Solis para ejecutar un acuerdo de financiación por tres años con la ciudad de Los Ángeles para el servicio de transporte público DASH Boyle Heights/Este de Los Ángeles.

Desde 2007, el condado, en cooperación con la ciudad de Los Ángeles, ha co-financiado el servicio de autobuses DASH de la ruta Boyle Heights/Este de Los Ángeles, que sustituyó a la línea de metro bus 255.

La ruta Boyle Heights / East LA DASH asegura que los residentes en el Este de Los Ángeles seguirán teniendo acceso directo al hospital del condado Medical Center (LAC + USC) y el Hospital del Doctor Este de Los Ángeles.

County Moves Forward On Water Conservation Plan

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors moved forward Tuesday on two plans aimed at increasing local water supplies in a time of sustained drought and pressure from federal regulators.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl authored two motions, one seeking to coordinate the capture of stormwater runoff countywide and the other calling for a netzero water ordinance for unincorporated areas of the county.

Federal and state regulators are tired of waiting for the county and its 88 cities to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act, Kuehl said, adding that penalties could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We’re required to do it,” Kuehl said, proposing a Drought Resiliency Work Plan focused on capturing rainfall and preventing runoff of trash and toxic substances.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich said water conservation efforts should focus on building new reservoirs funded with state water bonds already approved by voters.

Kuehl said a broader approach was needed and she was “trying to find the fairest way to pick up this tab because we’re not going to avoid it.”

Antonovich was concerned that the drought plan would look too much like a 2013 effort to fund stormwater projects through a fee on property owners, despite protests to the contrary.

“The property owners will still have to pay,” Antonovich said, adding that would hurt seniors on fixed incomes.

In March 2013, the Clean Water, Clean Beaches measure, championed by former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky as a way to pay for stormwater runoff projects, was defeated on a 4-1 board vote.

The failed measure proposed an annual fee — estimated at $54 for a typical single-family home — to pay for green infrastructure.

Opponents objected to the fee, calling it a tax on rain, as well as to the allocation of funding, selection of projects and the process for approving the measure.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said, “It wasn’t a pretty picture … three years ago … We’re trying to get it right now.”

The board directed the Department of Public Works to report back in 45 days with a plan and to submit a recommendation for funding the plan 90 days out.

No details of any plan or funding mechanism were outlined in Kuehl’s motion, co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis. However, the board vote anticipates submitting the plan to voters in November if adopted by the board.

Kuehl also proposed requiring new housing and commercial developments to show no net increase in total water consumption.

A net-zero water ordinance or water-neutral development could be achieved with drought-tolerant landscaping, low-flow plumbing fixtures and water recycling, Kuehl said.

If projects can’t get to zero on their own, developers could achieve the goal by subsidizing projects to retrofit water use at schools or hospitals.

Supervisor Don Knabe expressed concern about the ordinance’s impact on the county’s efforts to expand the supply of affordable housing and solve a crisis of homelessness.

Developers agreed, saying the ordinance would slow new construction and hike home prices.

Several business advocates urged the board to slow down and do additional studies on the economic impact of a net-zero ordinance.

“This appears to be another attempt to ram through legislation in a rush,” said Dustan Batton of the Los Angeles County Business Federation or BizFed.

Kuehl objected to the suggestion that more research should be done before moving forward with an ordinance.

Environmental activists agreed, with a Heal the Bay representative saying it was unfair for residents to have to severely cut back water use to meet state goals while major construction projects move forward “without any clear accounting” for their drain on local water supplies.

The board’s vote was 4-0 to proceed in crafting an ordinance over the next year, with Antonovich abstaining.

County Approves Art Grants

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved $500,000 in arts grants for organizations focused on delivering mental health, disability, environmental, homeless, immigrants rights, youth and veterans services.

The Arts Commission fielded more than $1.3 million in requests for funding from 78 eligible organizations under the first Community Impact Arts Grant program.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said the program is designed to “assure access to the arts for all,’’ making art available to residents outside of museums and other traditional settings.

There are practical reasons to broaden access, Solis told colleagues, saying that one in six jobs countywide is in the arts.

“A diverse pipeline, one that begins at an early age, is critical,” Solis said.

Grant applications were scored based on artistic merit, service to the community, evaluation methodology and fiscal and administrative competence.

Those chosen are set to receive, on average, 57 percent of what they requested, according to the commission.

Nonprofit organizations will use the monies to pay for classes, workshops and exhibits covering music, dance, photography, jewelry making, writing, painting and theater.

The commission is expected to announce specific grantees within the next day or so.

L.A. County Sets Up Strike Team to Oversee Oil Wells

March 31, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to set up a “strike team” to ensure that oil and gas wells in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County are operating safely.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis say that regulations governing wells are inconsistent and it’s the county’s job to keep residents safe.

“We have spent too much time reacting to environmental crises, one catastrophe after another .. (including the) Athens Tank Farm, Aliso Canyon methane leak (and) Exide battery recycling facility,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We have a job to do and I think it’s ours to do.”

There are 1,687 oil and gas wells in unincorporated areas of the county, 95 percent of which are run by a dozen operators, according to a report by the Department of Regional Planning that relied on data from the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.

Nearly 60 percent of those wells are part of the Inglewood Oil Field, which operates under a broad set of regulations that mandate air and groundwater monitoring, emergency response plans and other protocols. But the balance are subject to regulations that vary from site to site.

The strike team will be charged with evaluating the remaining wells and recommending additional oversight or operational changes needed to keep residents safe.

The board also asked its lawyers and land planners to update zoning codes to ensure that future oil and gas facilities do not operate “by right.”
Historically, where zoning has permitted this type of industrial use, operators haven’t had to pull any special permits before drilling.

“Drilling should not be allowed by right in any zone,” Ridley-Thomas said.

A Montebello resident told the board she was worried about how Southern California Gas. Co. officials were going about decommissioning a gas storage facility in her neighborhood.

Yvonne Watson, who is also a Sierra Club advocate, said the utility was unable to tell residents when it would finish shutting down the facility, which it first agreed to close in 2000.

“You don’t have anything to worry about, everything’s safe,” Watson said SoCalGas officials told community members in a presentation last week that she called “a joke.”

SoCalGas has stopped operating the Montebello gas storage facility and sealed a majority of the wells, but is still working to recover “cushion gas” that maintains pressure in the remaining wells.

“This is precisely why I co-authored this motion,” Solis said in response to Watson’s safety concerns.

Based on a suggestion by Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the county will also establish a five-member advisory panel of experts to work with the strike team.

Each supervisor is expected to appoint one member by May 1.

On Antonovich’s recommendation, the board also voted to send a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to create a multi-agency task force led by the Energy Department to investigate the cause and effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in Porter Ranch.

Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed such a task force last week, asking that it also determine whether the facility can continue to operate safely.

County Begins Own Soil Testing Near Exide

March 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Tired of waiting for state regulators, county teams are working in neighborhoods affected by contamination from the now-closed Exide battery plant to test soil and offer resources to residents, the Board of Supervisors was told Tuesday.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said residents deserved quick action.

“For over three decades, the Exide battery plant operated on a temporary permit. During that time, the company rained arsenic, benzene and lead down on its neighbors,” Solis said. “For too long, the concerns of nearby residents went unheard or were ignored.”

The Department of Public Health has a dozen three-person teams testing soil at 45-50 homes per day, the department’s interim director, Cynthia Harding, told the supervisors.

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015, but “left behind a legacy of environmental contamination in Maywood, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, Commerce and East Los Angeles” reaching out in about a 1.75-mile radius, Harding said.

Though gaseous plant emissions are no longer an issue, lead contamination in the soil, which can cause developmental delays and cognitive impairments, remains a concern.

The county estimates that up to 10,000 homes could have lead contamination, with about 10 percent of those expected to show levels qualifying as hazardous waste.

In one bit of good news, the deputy director of the department’s Health Protection Division said only about 6 percent of the homes evaluated to date have shown that highest level of contamination.

DPH teams, which work with an outside contractor, offer results to residents one day after testing soil outside their homes, according to Solis.

“They’re going to get results the next day,” Solis said. “That’s something that (the Department of Toxic Substances Control) should have been doing all along.”

If lead contamination is found, public health nurses meet with families recommend blood tests for any children living in the home. Those tests are provided free of charge by the county.

To date, 398 homes have been tested by county workers and officials hope to reach a goal of 500 by March 15.

“It’s really critical that all 10,000 homes get assessed,” Harding told the Board of Supervisors.

Even more important, Solis said, is finding out from state regulators, “How immediately will they begin the cleanup?”

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed an additional $176.6 million for further testing and cleanup, but those funds are subject to approval of the state budget.

As of year-end, DTSC workers had removed more than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil, analyzed more than 20,000 soil samples from hundreds of properties and cleaned up 186 residential yards.

The fallout from the contamination could also have an affect on property values, County Assessor Jeffrey Prang said Monday.

Prang said he will review the values of properties affected by lead and other contamination from the Exide battery recycling plant to see if any tax relief could be offered to their owners.

“I have deep concern for those affected by Exide’s contamination of their property,” Prang said. “It is my responsibility to ensure all properties are fairly assessed and provide tax relief when warranted. Consequently, I have ordered my office to identify any and all avenues to help property owners during this difficult time.”

Affected properties are thought to be in Boyle Heights, Vernon, Maywood, Huntington Park, Commerce and other areas.

Property and business owners typically need to fill out a form to request such a review, but Prang’s office will go ahead and pull up the assessment records to take another look, according to Prang spokesman Michael Kapp.

The decline-in-value review looks at whether a property’s current market value is less than the assessed value as of Jan. 1 of the previous year.

Any tax relief would not affect this year’s tax bill, but may affect a future bill, Kapp said. There is also a possibility that depending on when the property was purchased, the decline in value may not be enough to result in a lower tax bill, he said.

Property owners with questions about the review can call the assessor’s office at (626) 258-6001.

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

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They point out that the department of toxic substances control bares much of the blame for allowing Exide to operate for decades on a temporary permit, even after repeatedly being found to have exposed more than 100,000 people to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals and collecting dozens of hazardous waste violations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exide: State to Fund $176M to Speed Up Testing, Cleanup

February 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

For years, communities surrounding the now-shuttered Exide Technologies plant in Vernon have fought to be heard: first to force the closure of the facility and then to ensure a thorough, swift cleanup of neighborhoods contaminated by toxic emissions — something many believe was stalled due to a lack of funding and sense of urgency on the part of state officials.

On Wednesday, Gov. Brown at long last took a major step to address Exide’s contamination by proposing the state spend $176.6 million to expedite and expand testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks in the 1.7-mile radius surrounding the battery recycling plant.

The multi-million dollar spending plan is detailed in a letter to the California State Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee chairs. The funds will be in the form of a loan from the General Fund, and California will “vigorously pursue Exide and other potential responsible parties to recover the costs of this cleanup,” according the governor’s office.

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

The now-closed Exide Technologies plant is located at 2700 South Indiana St. in Vernon. (Department of Toxic Substances Control)

“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” said Brown in his first public statement on Exide. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”

Barbara Lee, director of the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control told reporters Wednesday the new funding will allow DTSC to hire more staff to test the remaining properties in the contamination zone and to remove lead-tainted soil from 2,500 properties labeled highest priority.

So far, close to 200 homes in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood and Huntington Park have been cleaned since the plant was forced to close in April 2015, according to DTSC. Currently, DTSC only has two crews assigned to the large-scale decontamination, but Lee said that number could go up to as many as 40 crews cleaning at least one property each per week.

Senate leader Kevin de Leon applauded the governor for recognizing the “urgent need” for emergency action. Ongoing talks with the governor’s office led to this day, the senator said. “Urgency legislation” to appropriate the funding will be introduced within the next week or so, de Leon told reporters.

While the governor’s proposal is widely welcomed, it’s also bittersweet.

Especially for residents and environmental activists who for years heavily criticized Brown and state agencies overseeing the cleanup for their slow response to the Exide “epidemic,” which may have contaminated 10,000 homes and exposed as many as 2 million people in East and Southeast Los Angeles communities to toxic levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals.

Brown’s long silence on Exide irked eastside residents who saw his rapid response to the SoCal Gas Co. gas leak in more affluent Porter Ranch and emergency declaration to marshal state resources to deal with the catastrophe as confirmation that there’s a double standard when it comes to the treatment of poor people and communities of color.

“Our communities have been fighting Exide for decades, and with today’s announcement from Governor Brown, it is clear he has heard our calls for swift and comprehensive cleanup,” said Mark Lopez, executive director of East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice.

Lopez, however, pointed out that the funding is not enough to complete the entire cleanup, but called it the “next step in the long road to justice on this issue” after the state failing for years protect the community from Exide. It sends a clear message that the cleanup will now be a priority for the state, Lopez said.

Brown’s proposal comes just two days after a group of Boyle Heights residents told EGP they had grown tired of attending meetings and hearings, and felt it was time to get the weight of the federal government behind them after seeing no real action for years from their elected officials.

“We need the federal government to take DTSC out of the equation and handle it themselves,” Terry Cano said Monday.

“I think they believe if they close their eyes and ignore it, we’ll just die out,” said Joe Gonzalez, who says he has cancer and just two months to live.

They blame state regulatory agencies for allowing Exide to operate for 33 years on a temporary permit, all the while spewing toxic levels of lead, arsenic and other chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological diseases and learning disabilities in the mostly working-class communities.

Last Friday, saying he too had grown impatient with DTSC, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar intruded a resolution signed by five of his colleagues urging the state to move quickly to allocate funding. Huizar, who represents and is himself a resident of Boyle Heights, also asked that City Atty. Mike Feuer explore what if any legal options the city has.

Huizar said Wednesday the much-needed funds “do right by communities that for so long suffered undue harm because of Exide’s negligence and a complicit state agency that failed to regulate the battery recycling company,” He’s looking forward to seeing a timeline that spells out when testing and remediation will start and how long it will take.

Lee responded to criticism of the governor Tuesday night at a meeting of the Independent Exide Community Advisory Committee.

“He’s spent hours talking about Exide, working on what he wants to propose,” she said before alluding to an impending announcement.

Yesterday she told reporters Brown’s proposal is a “big milestone” for the state and an indication of how committed the governor is to the cleanup.

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

DTSC workers clean a Boyle Heights home. (DTSC)

De Leon said Wednesday that the state would work closely with the U.S. Attorney to ensure Exide lives up to its agreement to pay for the cleanup, or face federal criminal charges.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard implored state legislatures to immediately approve funding to expedite the cleanup.

“The health and well-being of our communities depends on swift and sustained action by the state,” she said. “To date, the state’s effort has been dangerously slow and underfunded.”

The city of Commerce released a statement calling the contamination an “environmental disaster,” adding the testing and cleanup has been a “long and arduous process.” On Tuesday, the council asked staff to discuss with the state expanding its targeted areas in Commerce.

“This long-fought victory is a result of Assembly, Senate and local officials working together to raise the fierce urgency of this issue to the Governor,” said Assembly Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said in response the Brown’s proposal.

Rendon also singled out Assemblymembers “Miguel Santiago and Cristina Garcia for their relentless devotion to restoring justice to East and Southeast L.A. residents victimized by the illegal behavior of Exide management.”

Garcia said Wednesday she plans to work with her colleagues to create a necessary CEQA exemption to expedite the testing and cleanup of these homes.

Garcia and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago also plan to introduce legislation to mandate a fee on car batteries sold in California.

“This measure would create a state mandated Lead-Acid (Car) Battery Recycling program, and have $1 from that fund go to re-pay the $176.6 million loan program,” she announced.

In addition to testing and cleanup, Lee said some of the $176 million would go toward workforce development and job skills training for local residents and businesses to help revitalize the community. Lee also announced the state is looking at ways to improve how they manage waste and reduce the exposure of lead, adding staff is currently identifying how manufacturers can make batteries safer for humans and the environment.

Brown’s announcement came after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to the governor and legislative leaders, calling for them to allocate more funding for the cleanup effort, saying the $8.5 million originally proposed by the governor was inadequate.

“For too long we have seen two Americas: one in which affluent neighborhoods get immediate help and relief. The other America is made up of poor working-class families who silently suffer,” Solis said. “Today’s announcement from the Governor reconciles these two Americas.”

Last week for the first time since taking office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti met with Boyle Heights residents disappointed by the city’s lack of action on their behalf.

Garcetti told EGP he has directed the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation to work with community leaders, County Public Health and DTSC to help advance testing and cleanup and plans to launch a public education effort to ensure that more residents are tested for lead contamination.

“No one should have to live in fear of serious health risks from their own home and no child should be robbed of the joy of playing in their own backyard,” Garcetti told EGP. “Those who live in Boyle Heights and the surrounding communities deserve better.”

DTSC’s Assistant Director for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs Ana Mascareñas said the agency is considering holding large-scale events such as health fairs and opening resource centers to allow residents to drop in and get information about the cleanup process.

Exide agreed in March 2015 to close its lead-acid battery recycling plant and pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods.

Of that amount, $26 million is to be combined with $11 million currently in trust to safely close the plant, according to DTSC. As of August, Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, had paid $9 million into a trust and another $5 million is due to be paid in by March 2020, according to state officials.

Longtime Boyle Heights resident Frank Villalobos told EGP he was elated by the announcement but pointed out the funds will only address the impact to property and not the permanent damage residents face with illnesses caused by the contamination.

For now, “our prayers have been answered,” he said. “The state is now starting to show concern.”

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