Developer Comfort Zone Ahead

(Published in the February 2020 issue of Community Alliance)

By Kevin Hall

Let’s hope Fresno city council members Miguel Arias and Esmeralda Soria haven’t already cost Andrew Janz the mayor’s race. They’ve certainly taken off the election table a trio of huge issues for hundreds of thousands of voters: affordable housing, sprawl, and climate change.

mapPublic prosecutor Janz is assumed to be running a close second in the race for Fresno mayor against the city’s just-retired police chief, reported rapist Jerry Dyer, a Trump-Republican. Four other candidates, including Rev. Floyd Harris and Nikolas Wildstar, have filed but report no funds raised.

In a big break with fellow Democrats, Janz is refusing campaign contributions from developers. In a city infamous for its sprawl and corrupt political climate, that’s akin to a candidate for state or federal office saying no to oil and methane lucre (ask a Perea).

Local developers really don’t like it when people won’t take their money and implicitly agree to furthering their agenda. Janz is signalling it won’t be business as usual at city hall in his administration. If he wins the office without having sought their support, he certainly won’t feel obligated to them, unlike the current mayor and council members. Continue reading Developer Comfort Zone Ahead

Brown Wave or Whitewash?

A quick response to Joe Mathews ‘Looking for California’s Biggest Wave?’

By Kevin Hall, 1.27.20

With so many flaws in this analysis of Fresno politics (full article below), what really stands out in the superficial “Brown Wave” theme is the writer’s unproven contention that we’ve turned a corner thanks to the city council once again having a majority of Latino members. 

He relies on the stereotype of all Latino Dems as progressive, despite this being a group of three moderates and the Republican-in-all-but-registration, Luis Chavez, the DINO who has endorsed Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims for reelection despite her enthusiastic support for Donald Trump. He also backed Tea Party extremist Steve Brandau for Fresno County Supervisor.

Joe Mathews’ writing on the central San Joaquin Valley last caught my eye with an opinion piece from February 2018 in which he extolled the virtues of Fresno-Madera-Clovis menage-de-sprawl. He suggested naming the leapfrog developments across the river up Fwy. 41 “Future Town.” Seriously. Continue reading Brown Wave or Whitewash?

Drastic changes are needed if California is to win the climate-change challenge

(source links inserted for this website)

When Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his keynote speech at the recent California Economic Summit in Fresno, he failed to say two keywords: climate change. Conversely, he said a lot about our economy while at a climate change summit held in New York just weeks earlier:

“The [California] economy is growing; a fully functioning cap-and-trade program; the most audacious low-carbon green growth goals in the United States of America. There’s nothing left for me to sign — it’s 100 percent across the board, in every category,” he boasted at Climate Week NYC held in support of the U.N. Climate Action Summit in late September.

Our Future
Valley Climate Activists greeted attendees of the California Economic Summit in Fresno on Sept. 27.

Speaking on the eve of wildfire season, Newsom seemed to be tempting fate itself. Conflagrations were soon exploding around the state as if an invading armada were shelling it: Sandalwood, Caples, Saddleridge, Kincade, Tick, Getty, Easy. People fled for their lives — some died — in war zones of flame, smoke, sirens, panic and confusion.

And if Newsom needed another call to arms, two days before the first wildfire hit, San Francisco-based nonprofit think tank Next 10 issued its 11th annual California Green Innovation Index. The report warns, “California will meet its 2030 climate targets more than three decades late — 2061… if the average rate of emissions reductions from the past year holds steady.”

But California and the world must cut emissions by half before 2030. If not, tipping points will be crossed that set in motion irreversible, ever-increasing releases of naturally stored carbon and methane, according to the October U.N.October U.N. report on a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature.

Yet there stood Newsom in Fresno on Nov. 8, one year after the Camp Fire, the deadliest, most destructive fire in state history with at least 85 victims, talking about the state’s economy without once mentioning climate change.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

When pressed by The Bee and KFCF radio afterwards, Newsom explained California is now in the implementation phase of its climate change response, echoing his New York remarks.

Indeed we are.

California’s cap-and-trade program, dominated by oil and gas interests, encompasses 450 businesses emitting 85% of the state’s greenhouse gases and along with two Canadian provinces comprises the world’s fourth largest exchange for carbon credits. Since 2013 it has generated $11.9 billion for reduction efforts.

High speed rail has received a fifth so far — $2.5 billion — but the concrete-intensive project will never offset its carbon footprint, and its construction spews asthma-irritating dust and cancer-causing diesel exhaust continually on West Fresno residents already hard hit by industrial polluters.

Another $2.2 billion has gone toward low carbon transportation. Primarily for alternative fuel programs, these largely serve to extend dependence on fossil fuels and combustion technologies. For example, more than $800 million is slated for a dairy methane program best described as the HSR of agriculture: it offers dubious benefits but negatively impacts vulnerable rural communities, according to an April working paper from Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

Finally, in late September the state Air Resources Board approved the California Tropical Forest Standard, a potential carbon credit source for fossil fuel companies, over the objections of indigenous opponents from around the world who decried the move as “carbon colonization” of their natural resources.

Newsom must address these policies’ shortcomings head on. Because, as the Next 10 report lays bare, cap-and-trade and other market-based solutions won’t work in time. They have not worked in time.

Unfortunately, Newsom and the rest of his generation now in power came of age in an era of market-as-solution, government-as-problem philosophy. Since the 1980s, most California politicians have drunk deeply from that Reagan-with-a-twist-of-Clinton policy cocktail; with it comes considerable financial backing from industry, particularly oil and gas extractors.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

The urgent response appropriate to the scale of our climate emergency will remain out of reach unless Newsom and the state Legislature change direction dramatically. To push them, youth climate strikes will be held on Black Friday. People of all ages will challenge the status quo, fighting against its genocidal outcomes.

Kevin Hall is a Fresno resident and graduate of Fresno State. He formerly reported on farm issues for trade publications and is now an air-quality activist.

Continue reading Drastic changes are needed if California is to win the climate-change challenge

Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

(This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Community Alliance magazine.)

By Kevin Hall

Few were downtown at Fresno city hall on a cold morning in late January to witness the new council fail its first real test of character. The one that matters most in city politics, it’s a single-question exam: Do developers still run this town?

They do.

The new five-member, veto-proof Democratic majority on the council has raised the hopes of many locals. At long last, some say, our humble burg of half a million souls will be governed by a body with a greater interest in the needs of poor and working families, one willing to take on the special interests running roughshod over lives and futures.

Assemi Kashian $ Totals
When dread developer Darius Assemi looks up at the dais in Fresno City Hall, he is looking at more than $200,000 invested by his family members and their businesses in the political careers of the current council and mayor. The city’s election cycle limits are easily ignored and candidates often receive four or five times the limit from Assemi interests. Commercial developer Ed Kashian is the second most prolific backer in local politics.

Continue reading Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

Neighborhood Killers

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.

 

Caglia site
The Orange Ave. Dump landfill rises above the Caglia Family Enterprises-owned Cedar Ave. Recycling Center. The new Amazon distribution center is just above (west) of it and beyond that is the Ulta Beauty Products warehouse. Both projects were approved by the city without any environmental review. Caglia sought the same for 110 acres of land immediately south (left). Photo by Joey Hall

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 sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com.

 

The Politics of Climate Change Parenting

(This article was first published in the January 2019 edition of Community Alliance, http://www.alliance.com.)

Joaquin Arambula and Miguel Arias are not the leaders we’re looking for

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 Continue reading The Politics of Climate Change Parenting