(This article was first published in the January 2019 edition of Community Alliance, http://www.alliance.com.)
By Kevin Hall
Parents worldwide are faced with far greater fears and challenges today than at any time in history. They have the enormous responsibility for children’s lives, people they have chosen to bring into a world with a rapidly destabilizing climate. It’s a shared responsibility, of course, because at this point anyone under the age of 50 cannot count on having a stable climate in their old age.
Nearly 20 million people were climate refugees in 2018, according to U.N. estimates. Internally dislocated people, from hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the firestorm victims in Paradise and Magalia, are already straining governmental relief systems in the U.S. Externally dislocated climate refugees, who must seek safety outside their own countries, are dying at the hands of uncaring brutes everywhere from the California-Mexico border to the Mediterranean. Read More
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Community Alliance.
By Kevin Hall
The climate change movement’s new demand of congressional candidates and incumbents is that they refuse all contributions from fossil fuel interests and pledge to support the Green New Deal. While that must also hold true for local politicians, an equally important step for city council members and county supervisors would be to refuse all developer money.
That’s a very tall order in Fresno politics, but that day might be near at hand. A new movement led by local nonprofits is competing with the influence of developer campaign contributions by working to bring more people to the polls through Integrated Voter Engagement programs. Funded largely by The California Endowment but with significant support coming in from other foundations, a few unions, at least one politically ambitious billionaire, and others, their focus is on community residents who normally don’t vote but will when engaged in meaningful ways.
Improved public health policies and practices of local government and other civic institutions is the laudable goal of the effort. But these system changes eventually boil down to votes by elected officials, and that’s when these same politicians face realpolitik choices. Play it safe and side with the moneyed interests or dare to follow the community’s lead and stand up against the forces of institutionalized racism and systemic poverty.
Consider the still unfolding tale of Richard Caglia, an elected trustee of the State Center Community College District, and his 110-acre warehouse industrial development proposal for South-Central Fresno. The saga took a surprise twist in January when Caglia withdrew his request of the city and asked that the city council rescind his permit applications. They did, relieving the city of its losing legal battle they faced at the hands of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability in defense of the council’s earlier approval.
“It’s not just about providing a space for further industrial development, but that we have an honest conversation about economic development that values not just the work that people are engaging in but also their lives and their health.”
However, the project isn’t dead. The land is still zoned industrial, and it’s safe to say Mayor Lee Brand wants to see it developed, along with a broad swath of the city’s heavily industrialized and historically racially and economically segregated south side.
This tension between unfettered profit from industrial development and protection of people’s lives might be as old as the hills, but it’s best symbolized by the man-made mound known as the Orange Ave. Dump which sits at north end of the Caglia property along Cedar Ave. just below Fwy. 99.
The former landfill was recently topped with a large cross, fittingly giving it the look of a giant burial mound. It has been shuttered for years but the contaminated aquifer beneath it still requires constant monitoring. Immediately next to it is the Cedar Ave. Recycling and Transfer station where the multi-generational Caglia family business in garbage hauling continues unabated.
A steady stream of diesel trucks arrives throughout the day; fires break out regularly from the large mounds of wet trash awaiting sorting, spewing toxic clouds of burning plastics and electronics; and next to which Mayor Brand wants to see people working in trucking centers that he euphemistically refers to as “e-commerce” centers.
The unanimous Jan. 17 vote by the council to honor Caglia’s request and rescind the permit applications was a profoundly important moment in Fresno history. It contains all the elements of old Fresno, from the family with strong political connections trying to avoid environmental regulations and the politicians who serve them, to the civic insurgency being led by groups such as Leadership Counsel, Fresno Building Healthy Communities, Communities for a New California, and Cultiva la Salud and the new politicians who claim to represent their neighborhoods.
The emerging debate over industrial development throughout the area will be the defining issue for Fresno’s new city council, which enjoys a 5-2 majority of Democrats, four of whom identify as Latinx and harbor greater political ambitions. The real test of their mettle is still to come.
The political ideology of the remaining Republicans, Steve Brandau and Garry Bredefeld, is set. They can be counted on to vote in favor of the lowest possible bar for industrial polluters. That’s the attitude, of course, that created this catastrophe.
A few years back, when Mayor Brand and former council member turned city economic development director Larry Westerlund were shouting about cutting the red tape and “Fresno is open for business,” we now know they meant state-mandated environmental impact assessments were being ignored. Massive projects such as Amazon, Ulta, Caglia, and the expanded Gap Inc. warehouse were being waived through.
However, now that Leadership Counsel has managed to stop this mad rush and even got the office of State Attorney General Xavier Becerra to weigh in, will real leadership emerge on the city council?
A clue might be found in the example of former council member Oliver Baines. This Democrat just left office after eight years of representing District 3, home to the Caglia project. He spent seven years as a large city representative to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the agency whose staff originally called on the city to conduct a full EIR for the project.
But last January, on the night before the the Democrat-laden city council’s unanimous vote to ignore well-established environmental law, Baines told Channel 30 reporter Cory James, “We’ve done everything we can as a city to mitigate whatever health impacts are going to be out there.” That statement was so far from accurate it would be laughable if not for the dangers posed to the thousands of people living in the immediate area.
It’s now time for the Fresno City Council to break from the developer-driven agenda that has shaped our community for the worse. However, in December the city signed a $1 million contract with consultants to revise the city’s General Plan EIR and develop an “Industrial Area Priority Specific Plan.” The first steps have been taken behind closed doors and the city plans to conduct no public outreach beyond the bare legal minimum.
But as Sandra Celedon told the council before its vote to rescind the Caglia proposal, “It’s not just about providing a space for further industrial development, but that we have an honest conversation about economic development that values not just the work that people are engaging in but also their lives and their health.”
Or as Leadership Counsel stated on its website announcement of the victory, “This and other similar developments must be done in an inclusive, thoughtful and strategic way that benefits the residents of Fresno, not harms them. The proposed development is bad business and a neighborhood killer.”
Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics from 5 to 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month on KFCF 88.1 FM. He is on Twitter at @sjvalleyclimate and @airfrezno. Contact him at email@example.com.
This opinion piece appeared in The Fresno Bee on December 14, 2018.
By Kevin Hall
Climate change denial is alive and well in the San Joaquin Valley. Most worryingly, it is the dominant opinion among politicians serving on our regional air quality board. The eight-county agency handles hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state funds dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases, and the money couldn’t be in worse hands.
At issue is our children’s survival. Not our grandchildren, this generation. The babes and toddlers around us already face an uncertain adulthood due to the latent excess heat stored in the ocean that will be warming the planet for decades to come.
Last year’s jump in global emissions has the world on track with scientists’ worst-case outcome. Under that scenario, sometime between 2030 and 2050 six thresholds known as “tipping points” get crossed at a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature, unleashing natural stores of greenhouse gases that no amount of reductions by humans can reverse.
Yet climate-change deniers on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board have gone so far as blame the tragic loss of life in the climate-fueled Camp fire on a lack of logging. They mistakenly claim forest management practices are responsible for all state wildfires in recent years, though the majority of the deadly infernos have been at foothill elevations, and most important, increasingly frequent wildfires of greater intensity are now a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s not possible to provide specific citations from air board meetings so people might witness this appalling ignorance firsthand. The secretive agency refuses to post an online archive of its proceedings.
Clearly this body is ill-suited for its role in helping to address the immediate and long-term threats of our destabilizing atmosphere, despite the threats faced by 4 million, soon to be 6 million, Valley residents.
Consider the risk from wildfire. Foothill communities lying at the mouths of the canyons and river gorges of the Sierra Nevada could face the same meteorological conditions that led to the deaths of unfortunate Butte County residents in Magalia and Paradise. Like here, the populations of those towns were disproportionately retirees, many of whom had physical mobility limitations and couldn’t escape the flames.
All that’s missing, for now, are the high easterly winds that drove the incineration of 70,000 acres in 24 hours, spawned a fire tornado and took at least 85 lives. Such winds are possible here now as the jet stream’s path becomes increasingly unstable, dipping further south and more forcefully into this region.
The urgently needed adaptations and pollution reduction efforts are complex, involved and expensive. And they’re beyond the interest and ability of our air board.
Of its 15 members, two are appointed by the governor for their expertise in health or air pollution-related science; no complaints there.
But of the remaining 13, eight are county supervisors, one each from Kern to San Joaquin. Five more are city council members, two from cities with populations of greater than 100,000 and three from smaller cities.
The white, male, conservative perspective is grossly overrepresented. With less than 40 percent of the Valley population, whites hold 92 percent of these board seats; men, with less than half the population, comprise 84 percent; and Republicans, a mere third of registered voters, are at 92 percent.
This select group is bound to a political ideology that seemingly requires them to ignore basic science and promote an agenda of less regulation, more pollution, and disregard for everyone’s health and safety.
Let’s reform our air board.
This will take state legislation and uncommon leadership from our Sacramento delegation. An earlier attempt lasted five years and yielded minimal improvement. Democrats including Juan Arambula then proved nearly as intractable as their Republican colleagues, and two more recent disappointments were Michael Rubio and Henry T. Perea, both of whom left office early and now work as oil industry lobbyists.
The push for reform and a realistic action plan must come from the grassroots, pressuring politicians at every level of government for immediate action. A volunteer effort, #ValleyClimate, is underway. For a presentation in your community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @sjvalleyclimate.
By Kevin Hall
Three candidates are vying to become the next representative for District 7 on the Fresno City Council. The one woman, Veva Islas, and two men, Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza, will have raised and spent more than $400,000 on the June primary election alone, an unusually high amount in local races. Clearly, there’s a lot riding on this, but for whom? Read More
May 27, 2018
STEP AWAY FROM THE INCINERATOR
Disasters—whether natural or human-caused—tend to spur action.
They also draw out the opportunists.
We saw this during the ten-year drought when mountains of stressed trees were overtaken by opportunistic bark beetles. Today, the U.S. Forest Service estimates there are up to 129 million dead trees in California’s forests.
By Kevin Hall
Lame duck Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, now in his final year in office and approaching the end of his political career, is disingenuous when he acts as if public health concerns about diesel exhaust are a desperate, last minute attempt to stop a project’s approval, as in the recent Gap Inc vote.
By Kevin Hall
Our kids are the canaries in Fresno’s coal-mine-like atmosphere of microscopic pieces of soot and gases.
The more deleterious impacts to their sensitive, developing systems play out over their shortened lifetimes. One in four suffer acute impacts from asthma, about which Mayor Lee Brand once asked if air pollution is so bad why don’t we all have asthma? He was voting in support of wrapping a commercial almond orchard around California Veterans Home at the time.
By Kevin Hall
“The lower we go, the stronger our negotiating position becomes.” Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, April 4, 2018
With the latest in a string of negative declarations of environmental impacts for warehouse distribution centers, Fresno government’s institutionalized racist policies and practices have impacted people’s health once more. With its early April approval of the Gap Inc.’s expansion, it also approved potentially thousands of additional daily diesel truck trips by schools and neighborhoods.
By Kevin Hall
I was first introduced to Nelson Esparza while he was briefly employed at a local nonprofit, so I agreed to get together and talk politics when he called a few months later. Over a quart-sized ice tea at Irene’s in the Tower, I listened closely as he told me he was running for city council and asked me to join his kitchen cabinet, that close circle of advisers candidates rely on to keep them honest and who have some experience with politics. And I do. Which is why I said no. Read More
By Kevin Hall
A pustule occasionally erupts on Fresno’s complacent face of institutionalized racism. At the Jan. 25 city council meeting it was council member Steve Brandau’s turn. Again. He apparently thought he was cast to play the role of council member Oliver Baines’s anger translator, a la Keegan-Michael Key’s Luther, but Brandau wasn’t joking when he used the pejorative “poverty pimps.”
By Kevin Hall
FRESNO – A recent unanimous vote by the Fresno City Council threatens to knock the city’s developer-controlled politics right off their very old foundations. The legislative temblor struck in late January when the opposing plates of profit and public health converged, cracking open a deep fissure in the city’s current land use decision-making practices. At its core are environmentally racist practices at odds with state law and the city’s own policies.