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.
His pretense stems from his past failures to accept the world-class health research conducted in-part right in his very own district, where the data-map dots of victims’ homes and schools cluster alongside freeways like soot in young respiratory tracts.
I know he has to be playing dumb because I brought the information to him personally in 2011. Seven years ago, as director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, a regional partner in the Building Healthy Communities effort in Kern, Fresno, and Merced counties, I accepted an invitation to attend a neighborhood forum in District 7 at which the proposed Martin Ray Reilly Park was to be discussed.
It was late in the planning process. The donated land and construction financing through a state bond were all in place, and it was clear the park was going to be built…right next to the eastbound 180 on-ramp at Chestnut, but the residents were thrilled at the prospect of a new park. The new freeway that had cut through their middle class neighborhoods like a tornado had also created a border wall of separation from the formerly accessible Carozza Park.
In front of everyone, I explained to an obviously uncomfortable Olivier that the park was so close to the freeway as to be dangerous. The California Air Resources Board’s recommended separation is 1,000 feet; the park’s would be, and now is, zero. I added that it would be against state law to locate a new school where the park was to be built because the risk was so high.
Despite these concerns and as it was clear the park was going to be built, based on my familiarity with the struggles of Frazier Park residents to protect their school kids along I-5 in Kern County’s Tejon Pass, I suggested the city plant tall, tightly spaced trees in the attempt to build a barrier to reduce the flow of carcinogen-laden microscopic flecks of diesel exhaust from the passing trucks.
The only measurable outcome of my input at Olivier’s forum was a 2012 political hit-piece against me in which I was accused of being opposed to parks. I was running for the State Center Community College District Board of Trustees at the time. Fittingly, because of Fresno’s Peyton Place karma my opponent was incumbent Richard Caglia, the scion of a local landfill-owning garbage collecting consortium and the recent beneficiary of another city-issued diesel pollution pass. He won fair, square, and dirty in a campaign that included physical intimidation tactics by the driver of his campaign-centerpiece antique firetruck. Seriously. At a campaign fundraiser and again outside a supporter’s home. This is Fresno, Jake.
I followed up with Olivier four years later by attending the park’s opening day ceremonies and distributing flyers to local media with information and a map to the Poison Parks of Fresno. The city has gone so far as to locate an inner city neighborhood park in the diesel plume beneath 180, and Reilly Park was just the latest in a line of past and planned freeway parks.
Olivier ended the park day by giving me the middle finger and yelling “F*** y**, a**hole!” as he drove out of the lot onto Chestnut Ave. A reporter from Channel 21 had just finished interviewing me at the park entrance and we shared a shocked laugh. Additionally, the information was presented yet again during the 2014 General Plan Update, both in person and in writing.
But the councilman’s prevarications and rolling-stop expostulations cover a deeper truth. He is at heart a libertarian hack who lacks the courage of his convictions, insomuch as he doesn’t come clean on the dais about his dangerous, lazy-minded political philosophy of “let the market decide.” Instead he chooses to minimize health concerns by deriding advocates while favoring the interests of polluters, slumlords, and developers over those of constituents, including his own children.
A former TV news reporter with no other work experience besides city government, the local political rumors have it that his current ambition is to serve as staff director to his anointed political successor. To that end he has endorsed a fellow white male Republican for the majority-minority Democratic district.
Clearly candidate Brian Whelan and Olivier agree on the basics, as they see them. In a recent candidate debate, when asked about environmental concerns in District 7, Whelan did not mention air pollution.