Task Force Arrests Suspect In Church Fires

January 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A 25-year-old man arrested in connection with a series of arson fires and vandalism targeting houses of worship throughout Southern California, most recently in Boyle Heights, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail Saturday.

The Inter-Agency House of Worship Task Force arrested Christian Michael Garcia on Thursday on suspicion of arson and vandalism. Garcia was booked at 7:20 p.m. Friday into the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Jail in Van Nuys, according to online inmate records.

Read about communication reaction in this story .

The case against Garcia will be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Monday for prosecution, authorities said.

“Arson and vandalism targeting houses of worship is a serious crime and we have zero tolerance for willful acts of destruction in the city of Los Angeles,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a joint statement.

“The destruction of a house of worship not only devastates the affected congregation, but affects the entire community,” they said. “We will always investigate and prosecute the serious crime of arson to the fullest extent of the law.”

The most recent incidents involved an incendiary fire and vandalism at Resurrection Church on Thursday in Boyle Heights and the Church of the Angels in Pasadena on Jan. 13. Authorities say Garcia is also connected to multiple other acts of arson and vandalism that have occurred at houses of worship in Los Angeles County.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

Thursday’s fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. at the church on the 3300 block of East Opal Street. It took about 60 firefighters nearly 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned primarily on the first floor. The flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.

The Pasadena fire at Church of the Angels broke out at 2:20 a.m. Jan. 13 at 1100 N. Avenue 64. The blaze at the 129-year-old Episcopalian church was classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department. A few historic statues were “significantly damaged,” and there was fire and smoke damage inside the church, she said.

“The collaboration of our federal and local partners and the tireless work of investigators from the various agencies in the task force, made this arrest possible and is a testament to the productive working relationship first responders have here in Southern California when a community is threatened by criminal activity,” Pasadena Fire Chief Bertral Washington and

Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said in a joint statement.

City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights and other Eastside communities, thanked the LAFD Arson Unit, the LAPD, Pasadena police and fire agencies “for their remarkable work and expediency in ensuring the person responsible for these and other heinous crimes will be held accountable.”

“Monsignor (John) Moretta and Resurrection Church have stood time and time again for Boyle Heights, and Boyle Heights will always stand for Resurrection Church,” Huizar said. “We applaud these investigators and we look forward to assisting the Resurrection Church rebuild knowing that the true spirit of this parish can never be destroyed.”

Fire at Boyle Heights Church Called ‘Suspicious’ – Community Outraged

January 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A “suspicious” fire damaged a Catholic church in Boyle Heights that also serves as a center for community activism this morning, and an investigation is underway to find the cause.

Flames were reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church, located at 3345 E. Opal St. in Boyle Heights. No one was injured, according to fire officials.

The multi-agency House of Worship Task Force has been called in to investigate. Two religious statues outside Resurrection were vandalized. One was toppled over. On the other, the face of Jesus was splattered with bright green paint.

A dumpster outside Resurrection church is filled with charred and water-soaked remnants of fire Thursday. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez)

The task force, with members from several law enforcement agencies, has been investigating a rash of suspicious church fires, including a Jan. 13 fire in Pasadena that damaged the Church of the Angels, a 129-year-old Episcopalian church at 1100 N. Avenue 64. That non-injury blaze, which broke out at 2:20 a.m., is also considered suspicious but to date has not been classified as a hate crime, according to Lisa Dederian of the Pasadena Fire Department.

The fire at Resurrection was primarily centered on the first floor of the church, and the flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. It took 62 firefighters 26 minutes to douse the fire, according to Margaret Stewart with the fire department. Firefighters were conducting extensive salvage operations and water removal during the early morning hours, Stewart said. Due to the vandalism, the fire has been deemed suspicious, Scott said.

This newspaper has often referred to Resurrection Church, which includes an elementary school and headquarters for the local Neighborhood Watch — a group that does much more than keep an eye out for crime — as “ground zero” in the battle against environmental injustice and other social justice issues plaguing the working class community of Boyle Heights.

Most recently, church members led the fight to shutter the polluting Exide plant in Vernon and to force the cleanup of thousands of homes, schools and parks contaminated with lead from the factory.

That history caused an immediate outpouring of concern from the community and elected officials.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said he and his family regularly attends the church and he heard the “heartbreaking news” about the “fire and vandalism” when he awoke this morning.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to assist law enforcement in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime,” said Santiago in a statement released earlier today.

“…my wife, Celina, and I will keep the church and its parishioners in our thoughts and prayers moving forward,” he said, adding that he does not “understand this sort of senseless vandalism.”

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14) said he met with the church’s pastor, Monsignor John Moretta, early this morning. Huizar said he was fully briefed by LAPD and LAFD inspectors.

“What I can share for now is the LAPD and LAFD investigators assured me that they will do everything in their power to get to the bottom of what caused the fire,” said Huizar, explaining he could not be more specific because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“I assured Monsignor Moretta that we will do everything in our power to help them rebuild and come back stronger than ever,” Huizar said in a press statement.

According to Moretta, the fire damaged the Church’s vestibule, but firefighters were able to keep it from spreading. The fire was in an area known as the “candle-room,” where worshippers light candles as part of their prayers for special intentions, such as the recovery of someone who is ill or in thanks for something good that has happened.

Candles were burning that night, but, according to fire officials, the candles are specially designed to burn slowly and safely. “They can burn overnight, that’s per fire code, so we’re looking for other potential causes,” said Capt. Scott.

The situation, though devastating, could have been much worse.

“We were lucky, some of our neighbors were out at that hour and saw the fire and called it in,” Moretta told EGP Thursday.

Billy Gordon told CBS2 News that he saw smoke and flames coming from the church and called 911.

“My first thought was that I hope there’s nobody in there and then the second thought was the statue that’s knocked over there, should we try and rescue it, you know it was knocked down on its face and then maybe we shouldn’t move this thing. He said, no don’t touch it, it’s a crime scene.”

A section of Opal Street was cordoned off for hours as fire fighters mopped up the scene and the Worship Task Force began its investigation.

“I’ve been here [at Resurrection] for 34 years and have never seen anything like this,” Moretta responded when asked if he had any idea who might have started the fire.

He said the task force was still inside, going through the scene: “We need to let them finish their work first.”

The task force was combing through the debris, going inch by inch through charred and wood soaked remains searching for evidence of what caused the early morning blaze, said fire officials.

It will take time to repair the damage from the fire, smoke and water, but the church will continue to hold services, either outdoors or the in parish hall, Moretta said.

“We had weddings and baptisms scheduled for this weekend,” he said. “We’ve been working all day on making alternate arrangements,” he said, telling EGP he’d been up since 2:00 a.m.

The church is all closed up. From the outside, the damage seems minimal: a narrow section of windows blackened by smoke; the front doors charred around the edges; a dumpster filled with water damaged remains from the interior.

It’s much worse than it appears, Santiago said after touring some of the damage.

“It’s devastating to see … the damage from the fire and the water,” he told EGP. “It’s gruesome and cruel,” he said, again promising to do anything he can to help the church.

While every fire takes its toll, the fire at Resurrection Church is especially troublesome to the people who seek not only spiritual guidance there, but also the many social services offered to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

Parishioner Sylvia Manzano says the fire has shaken her.

“It’s very, very awful, I feel nervous, I feel angry,” Manzano told CBS 2 reporter Kandiss Crone.

“Who would do something like this,” asked Ramon in Spanish, not wanting to give his last name because he’s in the country without permission. “This church, father, they do go things, they don’t hurt anyone,” he said, shaking his head in disgust and disbelief. “This is a disgrace. You have to be mentally ill or full of hate to attack a church, to throw paint on Jesus,” Ramon said.

 

Fire Damages Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights

January 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A “suspicious” fire damaged a Catholic church in Boyle Heights that also serves as a center for community activism this morning, and an investigation is underway to find the cause.

Flames were reported at 2:05 a.m. at Resurrection Church, located at 3345 E. Opal St. in Boyle Heights. No one was injured, according to fire officials.

The multi-agency House of Worship Task Force has been sent to investigate.

The fire was primarily centered on the first floor of the church, and the flames were kept from the main sanctuary, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott. He said there were signs of vandalism at the scene, and the cause of the fire “appears to be suspicious.”

The fire was doused by 62 firefighters in 26 minutes, according to Margaret Stewart of the fire department. Firefighters were conducting extensive salvage operations and water removal, Stewart said.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said he and his family regularly attend the church and he heard the “heartbreaking news” about the “fire and vandalism” when he awoke this morning.

“I pledge to do everything in my power to assist law enforcement in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime,” said Santiago in a statement released earlier today.

“…my wife, Celina, and I will keep the church and its parishioners in our thoughts and prayers moving forward,” he said, adding that he does not “understand this sort of senseless vandalism.”

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar said he met with the church’s pastor, Monsignor John Moretta, early this morning. He also said he has been briefed by LAPD and LAFD inspectors.

“What I can share for now is the LAPD and LAFD investigators assured me that they will do everything in their power to get to the bottom of what caused the fire,” said Huizar, explaining he could not be more specific because there’s an ongoing investigation.

“I assured Monsignor Moretta that we will do everything in our power to help them rebuild and come back stronger than ever,” Huizar said in a press statement.

“Monsignor Moretta and Resurrection Church have led so many battles to help Boyle Heights. We stand ready to return the favor,” the councilman said.

While every fire, especially to a church, can take a toll, the fire at Resurrection Church is especially troublesome to the people who seek not only spiritual guidance there, but also the many social services offered to parishioners and non-parishioners alike.

“Resurrection Church is a symbol of the heart of Boyle Heights,” said Santiago.

“It is the community’s meeting center; the lifeblood of Boyle Heights in the food, services, education, and shelter it provides to our residents,” he said.

“Our community will rebuild and be stronger than ever.”

Air Quality Regulators Adopt Rules to Limit ‘Stink’ Coming From Vernon

November 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dealing with rancid smells from five rendering plants in Vernon may no longer be a regular fact of life for residents in and around the city after the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted
new regulations aimed at reducing the odors.

“For years, if not decades, periodic strong odors from these rendering facilities have impacted the quality of life for residents of environmental justice communities in Boyle Heights, Maywood, Commerce, Bell and other communities,” SCAQMD’s Executive Officer Wayne Nastri said. “This new rule will require sensible measures already employed in other parts of the state and the country to minimize these odors.”

Rendering plants use animal parts and carcasses and turn them into a number of products, including soap, fertilizer, cosmetics and pet food, but the resulting smells from five plants in the Vernon area have caused complaints from nearby residents for years.

This Farmer John facility is one of five rendering plants in Vernon that will have to abide by tougher regulations on odors coming from the plants under new rules adopted Nov. 3, 2017 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. (EGP Archive Photo)

This Farmer John facility is one of five rendering plants in Vernon that will have to abide by tougher regulations on odors coming from the plants under new rules adopted Nov. 3, 2017 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. (EGP Archive Photo)

As previously reported by EGP, according to the SCAQMD, untreated emissions can be detected up to 20 miles away.

State regulators first proposed Rule (PR) 415 in November 2014, with a plan to schedule a vote on the regulations in July 2015.

The rendering plants and the city of Vernon opposed the rule change, and asked state regulators to delay the rulemaking process to give the facilities time to present “vital information” they felt the agency did not consider.

Vernon’s then director of health and environmental control, Leonard Grossberg, told EGP at the time that the city and area businesses had made odor control a priority for maintaining quality of life for their neighbors, but added that the new regulations would have costly ramifications for the businesses. A member of the city’s Green Vernon Commission, said he worried approval of the rule was a “slippery slope,” and would lead to other onerous regulations being imposed by outside regulators on businesses in the industrial city.

Businesses were given more time to take corrective action.

Last week, at the insistence of Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, a public hearing on the proposed rule, which was to be voted on today, was held at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights,. Once again, residents complained that odors coming from the plant are intolerable and the SCAQMD should approve Rule (PR) 415, which the agency did today.

The new rules – substantially the same as when they were first proposed in 2014 – require the plants to within 90 days cover incoming trucks, wash trucks out before they leave the plant, limit the time animal materials are allowed to be outdoors, repair cracks and holes in outdoor asphalt and concrete areas that can accumulate liquid materials and other measures.

The regulations also require the plants to within three years install either a total enclosure or a closed system for certain processes to keep odors from drifting out of their buildings.

“Boyle Heights has unfairly endured more environmental pollution than most neighborhoods in the city and county,” said Huizar, who lives in Boyle Heights with his family, before the meeting.

“And for decades, the smell pollution from nearby rendering plants has been part of our reality as Boyle Heights’ residents. That needs to change.”

The SCAQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Information from City News Service used in this story.

 

 

 

EGP Wins Award for Reporting on Exide

October 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Martinez is well-deserving of this award.”

Suspect in Eastside Church Assault Arrested

May 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

BOYLE HEIGHTS (CNS) – A 50-year-old man is being held in a Los Angeles jail on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman in a Boyle Heights church, and police are seeking additional victims.

The attack occurred around 10:40 a.m. on May 6 in the sacristy of Resurrection Church on Opal Street, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

The victim defended herself and her resistance caused the man to flee the church grounds in his vehicle, police said. The suspect’s vehicle was later located and impounded by police.

The suspect was identified by police as James Melendez of Los Angeles. He was arrested May 9 on suspicion of assault with the intent to commit sexual assault. He’s being held in lieu of $125,000, according to online inmate records.

Anyone with information about additional victims was asked to call the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Area Detectives-Sex Crimes Detail at (323) 342-8995.

DTSC Director Apologizes to Eastside Residents

April 10, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That prompted Lopez to again push for a criminal investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Los Últimos Problemas de Exide son Buenas Noticias para Residentes Cercanos

August 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Un pequeño convivio se llevó a cabo el lunes en la Iglesia de la Resurrección en Boyle Heights, lugar que usualmente da la bienvenida a residentes para expresar sus preocupaciones sobre asuntos de la comunidad y discutir su ira en contra de Exide Technologies localizada en Vernon.

Pero esta semana el estado de ánimo era diferente. Era de celebración, victorioso. Hubo pizza y pastel.

Los miembros del grupo de Vigilancia Vecinal Resurrección estaban celebrando la noticia de los más recientes problemas legales que enfrenta la planta controversial de reciclaje y fundido de baterías de plomo-ácido, que creen ha puesto la salud de sus familias, amigos y vecinos en riesgo.

  “Esta es una vista previa de la verdadera fiesta”, dijo Monseñor John Moretta, en referencia a la gran celebración que probablemente tendría lugar si Exide se ve obligado a cerrar de forma permanente.

Residentes de Boyle Heights celebraron las últimas noticias sobre Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Residentes de Boyle Heights celebraron las últimas noticias sobre Exide. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Múltiples agencias han estado atacando a la fabricante de baterías y de reciclaje sobre sus repetidas violaciónes de emisión del aire y la presentación de la semana pasada  de la Comisión de Seguridad y Cambios de EE.UU. a Exide reveló que un jurado federal está investigando la planta ante posibles cargos criminales.

El citatorio del juez federal exige “documentos relacionados con transportación de materiales y emisiones a la atmósfera”. Los fiscales federales de Los Ángeles están detrás de la investigación que se dirige a Exide y a algunas “personas no identificadas”, según los documentos presentados.

Funcionarios de la compañía dijeron que cooperarían con la investigación, pero “no pueden estimar la cantidad del rango de pérdida, si existieran” que serían causadas por la investigación federal, de acuerdo con los documentos presentados.

Exide se declaró en bancarrota en junio del 2013 para darle espacio a la compañía para reestructurar su deuda. Los rumores de una posible quiebra en abril provocaron un gran venta masiva de acciones, pero las acciones de la compañía ya habían estado en constante disminución desde su alta en el 2011 debido al aumento de los costos de producción, los problemas de liquidez y la pérdida de cuota de mercado para sus baterías de plomo Exide y North Star a Johnson Controls Inc. Varias demandas colectivas relacionadas con seguridad han sido presentadas contra Exide por los inversores alegando que la compañía no dio a conocer la información relacionada con sus problemas de emisión de arsénico y plomo y una quiebra inminente.

Read this article in English: Exide’s Latest Troubles is Good News to Locals

Noticias de la investigación es exactamente lo que Moretta y grupos locales de justicia ambiental han estado esperando oír desde que se reveló el año pasado que hasta 110.000 residentes y trabajadores del área este y sureste fueron expuestos a productos químicos que causan cáncer.

“Una vez que tiene a los federales encima, es lo más alto que puede llegar”,  dijo Moretta. “Para mí eso significa que ellos están en una gran persecución”.

La última investigación del gran jurado viene de la mano de la carta al gobernador Brown por parte de la Junta de Supervisores del Condado de Los Ángeles instándole a ordenar la limpieza del suelo contaminado alrededor de las casas cercanas a la planta.

Un equipo de ataque de amenaza tóxica establecido por el condado ha identificado 39 viviendas en Boyle Heights y Maywood, donde se encontraron niveles elevados de plomo en los patios. El Departamento de Control de Sustancias Tóxicas (DTSC) ordenó a Exide la limpieza de sólo dos propiedades donde muestras del suelo revelaron altos niveles de plomo de lo usual.

En respuesta, la Supervisora Gloria Molina acusó a DTSC de ser un “obstáculo” para la justicia ambiental en las comunidades locales, citando el “fracaso” de la agencia para pedir una limpieza de los 39 sitios.

Sin embargo, los funcionarios de DTSC dijeron a EGP vía email que la agencia ha tenido una comunicación frecuente con el condado y “les dijo claramente que [DTSC] se ha comprometido a examinar el suelo en esos 39 hogares y la limpieza de las propiedades si es necesario”.

El diario Los Angeles Times informó la semana pasada que los reguladores estatales tienen previsto ampliar las pruebas de 144 viviendas en un área de 2 millas cuadradas al norte y al sur de la planta, incluyendo partes de Boyle Heights, Maywood, Huntington Park y el área no incorporada del Este de Los Ángeles.

En la reunión del lunes, el Alcalde de la Ciudad de Bell Nestor Valencia dijo que le gustaría ver que el área de prueba sea expandido para incluir a más comunidades del sureste, incluyendo a Bell, su ciudad natal.

Pero para Valencia y muchos de los residentes de Boyle Heights, las pruebas y limpieza por sí solas nunca serán suficiente.

“Esto no ha terminado hasta que Exide deje esta comunidad”, dijo Valencia.

“A la larga, el cierre es lo mejor para la comunidad”, hizo eco de Moretta.

Para residentes como Miguel Alfaro, las últimas noticias significan el comienzo del fin para la instalación en Vernon.

“Esta es la punta del iceberg, más está por venir”, dijo Moretta, anticipando más problemas legales para Exide.

La planta, que recicla cerca de 25.000 baterías al día en el 2700 S. Indiana St., ha estado cerrada desde mediados de marzo, mientras que la compañía trabaja para reducir las emisiones al aire con el fin de cumplir con los requisitos estatales y locales. La planta se cerró temporalmente el año pasado debido a violaciónes de las emisiones de arsénico y recientemente demandado por el Distrito de Administración de la Calidad del Aire de la Costa Sur sobre presuntas violaciónes de calidad del aire.

Además, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de EE.UU. anunció que la planta violó los límites federales sobre emisiones de plomo en más de 30 ocasiones entre septiembre y abril.

“Ustedes han estado en esto por mucho tiempo”, dijo Moretta a los residentes. “La corriente está subiendo finalmente a nuestro favor”.

Información City News Service fue utilizada en este reporte.

 

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