Southeast L.A. activists campaign against Proposition 23


imageAdvocates with an environmental justice organization in Huntington Park are stepping up their efforts to inform South East Los Angeles residents about Proposition 23 and its potential effects on greenhouse gas emissions on their communities.

Members of Communities for a Better Environment, which focuses on environmental health and justice, have been canvassing door to door to educate their communities about the facts of the state-wide measure that proposes to suspend Assembly Bill 32, California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Jennifer Ganata, a community organizer for the group, said that the residents of Southeast L.A. are being affected by pollution and bad air quality from nearby petroleum refineries.

“These communities are some of the most overburdened communities when it comes to environmental pollution, hit by both stationary (refineries, power plants, etc) and mobile (diesel trucks, freeways, etc) sources of pollution,” said the group’s website. “This translates into higher exposure to chemicals that cause illnesses such as asthma, cancer, reduced lung function, reproductive harm among others.”

Proposition 23 proposes to set aside prior legislation that requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the levels that existed in 1990. California would have until 2020 to comply.

Ganata said that residents of Southeast L.A. would benefit from defeating this statewide measure. “People want to see this change because their environment and communities are being impacted.”

Supporters of Proposition 23 say that the state should worry about jobs first, and the environment second. The measure proposes to suspend Assembly Bill 32 until unemployment is at or below 5.5 percent in California. Currently, the unemployment rate is 12.4 percent in California, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We all want to do our part on global warming, but with 2.3 million Californians already unemployed and the state facing a $20 billion budget deficit, protecting jobs and the economy should be our first priority,” said, the official website for those supporting the measure.

“Proposition 23 would simply suspend California’s global warming plan until the economy stabilizes, we get people back to work and we can afford these investments.”

The city of Huntington Park has not taken an official stance on Proposition 23, but Councilwoman Ofelia Hernandez said that the clean air requirements spelled out in Assembly Bill 32 are going to be extremely difficult for cities like hers to meet. “The state ties our hands because they don’t give the funds for the changes,” she said.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance, a partner organization to Communities for a Better Environment, also operates from Huntington Park. Strela Cervas, a coordinator with the alliance, said the Yes on Proposition 23 campaign is misleading because “Prop. 23 claims that it will create lots of new jobs if it passes,” she said.

Ganata and Cervas both emphasized that bad air quality in Southeast L.A. is harming its residents, and the passage of Proposition 23 would only prolong efforts to improve air quality.

“If Prop. 23 passes, it will allow polluters to continue to pollute, and it will actually prevent the creation of more green jobs,” Cervas said. “Additionally, if Prop. 23 passes, our communities will continue to suffer from high rates of asthma, lung disease and other types of environmental health issues that are plaguing our communities.”

Huntington Park and Wilmington are two cities that Communities for a Better Environment and the California Environmental Justice Alliance serve because they are heavily industrial. In the past, these organizations have campaigned for the removal of power plants.

Opponents of Proposition 23 are criticizing two Texas-based oil companies, Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., for supporting the measure. The oil giants have donated $5,606,273.20 to the Proposition 23 campaign, according to, the official website of those opposed to the measure.

Valero and Tesoro both have refineries in Wilmington.

“They are not doing their part to be better neighbors,” Ganata said.

She said they should be looking at ways to benefit the communities by using alternative technologies.

Currently, the city of Los Angeles is in a three-way tie with Long Beach and Riverside for being the cities with the worst ozone-polluted air in the nation, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2010 report. Los Angeles County ranks fifth in the nation.

Additionally, out of the top 25 counties in the U.S. that have the most ozone-pollution, 17 are in California, according to the report from the American Lung Association.

If Proposition 23 passes, “I think that sends the message to the community that industry wins,” Ganata said. “It would feel a little bit disempowering because I’m living next to this, and no one really cares.”

Photo courtesy of California Student Public Interest Research Group