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CCEJN at UC, Santa Barabara. EJ organizing in communities

August 19th 2015
University of California, Santa Barbara
Environmental Justice Presentation to Students
On Wednesday, August 19th 2015, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN) organizer Gustavo Aguirre Jr. was invited to share a presentation on Environmental Justice and community organizing in the California’s Central valley. The presentation covered the project Gustavo coordinates; the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) which is the community powered reporting network that runs of the same platform as IVAN (Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods) in other reporting networks across the state. The class Gustavo presented at was Miss. Rios SOC 108st: Ethnographic Methods course, where there students were interested in listening from a community organizer working with Environmental Justice communities.
Gustavo met Sarah Rios in a community meeting in Arvin over the summer; she was doing research in Valley Fever with farm-workers and prison inmates, who are the most exposed to the spore. While doing research, Sarah tapped into environmental justice communities and organizations, in that, she came across KEEN. KEEN is the reporting network where residents could report environmental violations affecting the community and get industries to respect the communities and laws set in place.
In the class room Gustavo presented to the students an introduction of the organization and project which he coordinates in Kern County. In Kern County there are EJ communities that live with big Ag, Big Oil, and toxic dumps right next door, and in some cases, communities live next to all. These are the communities that Gustavo works with and who participate in the reporting network KEEN. Some examples from reports by residents via KEEN were The Arvin pipeline Leak, where 8 families were evacuated for about 9 months due to gas/oil pipeline leak underneath their homes causing them to leave. This was a big report due to the time and efforts spent while covering the leak. This was a great starting point because it covers the inception of a problem in a community and the evolution of the report along the way, even up to the point of working with local officials to possibly passing a bill in state legislation to help prevent accidents like this to occur again.
CCEJN believes in the principles of community scientists and community sampling/monitoring, we work together with communities to monitor through report logging and samples so we can create environmental literacy in communities with the most need. Part of our presentation covered that lack of general information and regulatory literacy these disadvantage communities face and how we believe building a bridge between community and the regulatory world is necessary. As we work with communities across the Valley, we explain to them in detail how regulatory agencies oversee and enforce regulations set forth by the state or federal government.
The vast majority of students were impressed by the volume of violations that occur in communities like Arvin and Lamont in Kern County. The students had great questions that covered and detailed problems that exist in our communities, such as lack of political will and proper enforcement. Some students even were from the Central Valley or had family in the valley and knew of these problems first hand. In conclusion, the students got a good sense of what it is to be a community organizer in an environmental justice community and the efforts we make to better the communities we work in.

Gustavo Jr takes a picture with the students at UC, Santa Barbara

Gustavo Jr takes a picture with the students at UC, Santa Barbara

Tragic Loss in our EJ Community

With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that our brother and fellow EJ activist Emiliano Mataka passed away this weekend in a tragic car accident. Emiliano was a charismatic and dedicated organizer who helped to shape the movement for social and environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley. He was a founding member of Valley Improvement Projects (VIP), working for social and environmental justice in the larger Modesto area. His parents, Rosenda and John Mataka are founding members and active Unity Council members for CCEJN. Please send your prayers and love to the Mataka family during this tough time.

We hope to gather strength through our community by continued organizing and prayer. All the love in the world goes out the family.

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Bay View Hunters Point IVAN Launch

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–San Francisco, CA

On Wednesday, July 22, 2015, CCEJN joined Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice and other IVAN partners statewide to launch the 7th deployment of the IVAN resident reporting model in the community of Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco. This deployment marks the second deployment of a model in an urban setting. Nonetheless, this community is similar to others with an existing IVAN project, in that the community has been heavily and disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards and is a disproportionately minority and low-income community.

During the initial meeting, members of Greenaction and other community leaders introduced the network and it’s different components. Residents were able to see a live-demonstration of the website and the process for problem solving that members of the taskforce would undertake after a report has been filed. Other IVAN partners talked about their experience with this model and gave an overview of best practices for making sure the project is successful. Cesar Campos of CCEJN spoke to the group about the power of community gathering that can be present with this network. Campos encouraged the community-member to use this model as an organizing, data-gathering, monitoring, and transparency tool with the purpose of improving compliance and enforcement in their neighborhood. He reminded the members to use this model as a way of bringing forth a community agenda that has strength and narratives behind it.

The meeting was also attended by many representatives of government were present. The array of these agencies extended from local agencies like the San Francisco Health Department and the Bay Area Air District, to state-level like the Department of Toxic Substances Control and California Air Resources Board, to U.S. EPA Region IX representatives that were also present. The government participants expressed their support of this deployments and their commitment to participate in the project.

BVHP2

In the final hours of the meeting, the residents of Bayview Hunters Point had an opportunity to talk about their experiences living in the community and fighting against various pollution sources. The residents were very eloquent in their delivery of the problems and showed a lot of community engagement and knowledge about hazards. This was very interesting to see, as the networks in other areas of the state have focused on residents that had less information about hazards and regulatory authorities. Those in BVHP seemed to already share much wealth of information about environmental programs. Of course, this network will serve to engage other residents that may be less knowledgeable, but a strong base does exist.

CCEJN is happy to have participated in this deployment, and excited to see the IVAN network grow. We will continue to work with Greenaction and the Bayview Hunters Point community to see this network succeed, and also work with others across the state that want to replicate this model. We are looking at you Sacramento!

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Spray Field and ponds Toxic Tour: State Water Board in-person update.

July 20th, 2015

Toxic tour & State Water Board meeting on Ponds, SB4, and UIC (Kern County)

On Monday July 20th, 2015 Clean Water Action members Andrew Grinberg and Rosanna Esparza guided a tour alongside Sierra Club members Ann Gallon, Kyle Jones, also attending was Katharine Moore from the Sen. Natural Resources and Water and CCEJN project coordinator Gustavo Aguirre Jr to East Bakersfield in a location known as Race Track Hills (Comanche Rd & Breckenridge Rd). This location has been highlighted because of practices oil operators have been doing there known as the “spray fields”. These spray fields have been closely looked at by the state water board for discharging produced waste water into a hill side. Technically, it is discharging produced oil waste water into a hillside using sprinklers and a large diesel pump. The problem with these practices is that this location is upstream from the City of Bakersfield and the potential to pollute ground water and the Kern River is high. The Kern River is classified as “Waters of the U.S.” creating a concern with water quality and possibly polluting what is considered some of the cleanliest waters in Kern County. The spray fields are only one factor in a bigger picture of what the oil industry has been doing with waste waters in Kern County along with evaporation ponds and injection wells to discharge water.

Shortly after the tour was adjourned, we met with State Water Board officials, Clay Rogers, Dale Harvey, Karl Longley, and Julie Macedo from the Fresno office who provided updates on problems we have here in the Central Valley. The main topics we covered were open waste water pits and ponds, UIC, and SB4. State Water Board officials updated community organizations on activities surrounding ponds. They also gathered information on where the ponds are located and who discharges into these ponds. The board sent out various “13267” orders to disclose where all the oil producers/land dischargers are. Based on all the ”13267”orders, there will be around 100 Clean-up & Abatement enforcement orders covering about 500 ponds and one possible Cease & Desist order for a land discharger in the San Joaquin Valley oilfields. The ponds range from permitted ponds to unpermitted ponds discharging waste water. Some of the efforts the State Water Board will be doing in order to insure compliance and enforcement is open a total of 17 new positions within quality control. These new positions will focus heavily on matters such as the waste water ponds and UIC operations. Continuing with the efforts from the State Water Board to ensure water quality, there is now a Technical Advisory Committee to review current data on potential water and food contamination.

Water Board officials also stated that these enforcement orders have requirements that need to be met, some include ground water quality testing and evidence that contaminants don’t reach ground water. If contamination does occur, the violator needs to show data and provide information on how far the pollution spread, and/or show ground water quality is safe.

In conclusion, the meeting with Clay and staff was an update from where the water board stands in regards to oil operations and land discharges in the Central Valley, more updates to come to KEEN and FERN task forces.

Spray fields in Race track hills (Edison oil fields)-

Spray fields in Race track hills (Edison oil fields)-

Pumping water from an unknown source, possibly from Racetrack hills ponds.

Pumping water from an unknown source, possibly from Racetrack hills ponds.

Cawelo Water District mixing ponds. pool of produced waste water.

Cawelo Water District mixing ponds. pool of produced waste water.

Center for Environmental Health – Kern toxic tour with CCEJN, CWA and GCM

Bakersfield, Ca
July 16th, 2015
Toxic Tour with Center for Environmental Health (CEH)
On July 16th 2015, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Clean Water Action (CWA), Global Community Monitor (GCM), and Center for Environmental Health (CEH) embarked on a local toxic tour in Kern County focusing on oil operations near communities. Organizer Gustavo Aguirre Jr. from CCEJN and Rosanna Esparza from CWA took the CEH Bay Area nurse team and organizer Jessica Hendricks from GCM on a tour to see first-hand the proximity of oil operations and communities in the Central Valley. The first stop on the tour was the Kern River (Chevron) Oil Field in East Bakersfield, the second biggest oil field only next to the Belridge Oilfields in western Kern County.
There we met with Rosanna Esparza who gave everyone an overview and historical background on the oilfield and its origins, the nurse team had great questions and was impressed by the size of the oilfield. From this site we traveled through the City of Oildale which is fence line to the Kern River Oilfields and has been noted for some of the poorest public health rates throughout the county. After touring the City of Oildale we traveled into the Cawelo Water District, which gets the majority of their water from Chevron and the Kern River Oilfields, here they mix the produced oil water with well water to be sold later for irrigation on the west side of the county. At this site we can clearly see where produce waste water from oil operations is mixed with well water to be diluted and canaled to communities like Shafter and Wasco to be sold for irrigation on Non-Human consumption crops. Using Google Earth, one can clearly see the mixing of oil into water, which raises many questions about this site and the ethical practice of the Cawelo Water District. At this site there was a very strong odor of hydrocarbons to a point where we could only be there for a couple of minutes before we felt slight head and stomach pains. However, it is important to highlight places like this that often get overseen by the general public and experts to public health.
Other sites we visited that were important to talk about were the evaporation ponds near McKettrick and also the City of Lost Hills where they are also fence line to oil operations such as fracking. Rosanna has worked very closely with community members from Lost Hills where the majority of Hydraulic Fracturing has taken place in the region, Jessica Hendricks from GCM and Gustavo Aguirre Jr have also joined her in community meets in Lost Hills to do community outreach and possibly embark in future projects with community members.
The CEH team felt it was important to see and visit first-hand the proximity of communities and oil operations. There were questions that cover larger topics in the Central Valley and our collaboration with everyone involved will continue to seek to find solutions to large problems such as the oil industry in Kern County.

Overseeing the Kern River Oilfield

Overseeing the Kern River Oilfield

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Mixing ponds at Cawelo Water Dist.

Mixing ponds at Cawelo Water Dist.

IVAN Summit 2015

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July 13, 2015

Sacramento, CA — Researchers from the University of California, Davis, joined Cal-EPA, El Comite Civico del Valle, SJV LEAP, and Central California Environmental Justice Network to release a report on the IVAN statewide project. This report, titled “From Testimony to Transformation–The Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN) Program in California” studies the impact that these environmental justice networks are having on local communities and statewide policy and regulation making.

Over the last 12 months, UC Davis researchers have been conducting an evaluation of the networks via interviews, demonstrations, case studies, and several events that have informed the final report that serves as the first published report about the emergence, implementation, and future of the IVAN platform. The report begins with a discussion about community monitoring efforts, within the context of enforcement projects, establishes the need for these projects and the history and evolution of IVAN. The report also goes to detail case scenarios from different areas of the state, and ends with recommendations for expanding the usefulness of these projects.

Some of the recommendations highlighted include the need for diversified funding strategies to make the networks sustainable (i.e. the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects), the development of standardized performance measures, linking the platforms directly to Cal-EPA platforms, and increasing the environmental literacy of residents as they seek to participate in these projects. All of those recommendations are important and the IVAN partners have recognized them as priorities for moving forward with this project. Currently, there are already efforts underway to turn all of those recommendations into reality.

At the Summit, leaders from across the state joined the hosts for more detailed discussions. The Summit opened with a panel of community partners, who are the active members leading the networks in Imperial, Kings, Fresno and Kern Counties. This panel discussed the ways in which the networks are fundamentally changing the way we understand public participation, and enforcement and compliance actions across the state. A funders panel followed with foundations and government agencies that have invested in the networks. The funders were able to highlight the importance of seeking community benefits as a good return to their investments, and also gave recommendations to house these networks as avenues for community health, education, and other issues outside of environmental justice.

IVAN Summit 2014

In the afternoon, government partners took the stage to talk about their experiences and participation within the networks. Many government partners expressed support for the networks by mentioning that they help to provide transparency for government, hold government accountable, and allow for back & forth communication with community residents. In our last panel, Martha Guzman, from the Governor’s office, Jared Blumenfeld, of U.S. EPA Region IX, Alice Reynolds of Cal-EPA, and Ana Mascarenas of DTSC, expressed their support for continued engagement with these networks, and directed interesting perspectives for the networks as they grow over the next few years.

Central California Environmental Justice Network is proud to participate in the IVAN project, with the development of the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network and Fresno Environmental Reporting Network. Our staff has been working closely with UC Davis and many other partners over the last year to complete this report and organize this summit. We are hopeful for the future of the networks and will continue to work to solve community concerns through these platforms.

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Air Monitoring Training Workshop

CCEJNLuisEPA

July 9, 2015

Durham, NC

EPA’s Office of Research & Development hosted community leaders from across the United States at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina for a training/workshop on emerging low-cost air monitoring technology. All of these community representatives came to talk about their own experience using low-cost monitors, or using resident organizing to monitor facilities and industries of concern.

The discussion began with detailed information from experts, showcasing best practices for building a community based monitoring project. Including the development of important criteria for building community agency. The discussion led many to talk about the importance to provide research that is of high quality, and has detailed research methodology in good standing with the objectives. Furthermore, residents from Houston, Virginia, and our representative from the the San Joaquin Valley pressed the agency on their plans to use this data generation efforts in ways that can lead to permitting or enforcement practices.

In the past, community-gathered data has not been successful at changing agency practices, and this becomes very frustrating for communities that spend time and resources implementing these research projects. Agency representatives voiced concerns about community-research studies that are not of “regulatory” quality, whether that is because of low-quality monitors or inappropriate methodology. Nonetheless, this forum served as a great place to build community-agency consensus about the power of community monitoring that can lead to influence decisions. This is the first forum of this kind that EPA hosts and will open up future discussions about this topic.

Aside from these conversations, the Office of Research & Development presented their community monitoring toolbox–that provides agency guidance on monitors, practices, and resources that are of different qualities. This toolbox provides future guidance for communities that are looking to begin community-based monitoring strategies.

Pictured above is Luis Olmedo, Director of El Comite Civico del Valle based out of Imperial Valley and CCEJN Director, Cesar Campos, presenting an enforcement project that gained traction in enforcement of a bio-mass facility in Kern County. Luis and Cesar are invested in developing more aspects of community monitoring projects in the San Joaquin and Imperial valleys linked to the KEEN/FERN/IVAN platforms. These projects have served to transfer community-gathered data into agency action that leads to pollution prevention in Environmental Justice communities.

CCEJN - EJ Small Grants

Poor Public Participation by the Department of Pesticide Regulation

June 4, 2015

Lamont–The Department of Pesticide Regulation traveled to Lamont to hold a scoping workshop for their update to rules regarding pesticide use around schools. Unsurprisingly, this is an incredibly complex conversation and something that is very important for many residents in the San Joaquin Valley. The meeting was poorly planned and showed the Departments inability or lack of interest to provide a space for residents to voice their opinions. After the meetings, the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (CRPE), Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) and CCEJN filed the following complaints with EPA office of EJ, the Secretary of Cal-EPA, and the Director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation:

1. One single date in the whole San Joaquin Valley?
2. One single location in the whole San Joaquin Valley? Many folks had to leave early to get home at a decent hour, especially those that made the almost six hour round trip to get here.
3. The meeting was held in a small space and we asked for a bigger location and Lamont superintendent offered a bigger space and DPR said, “no thank you.”
4. We were told ahead of time we’d have 3 minutes and at the beginning of the meeting we were told we have LESS than 2 minutes.
5. If time is really the factor, save time with translation. Why only simultaneous translation for Spanish speakers? Why not for english only speakers?
6. June? June? School is out of session for many. Teachers have already gone out of town on planned vacation. Families in Delano and other kern county communities have middle school and high school graduations tonight.
7. DPR has an interesting practice of separating workshops for growers, applicators, and community members. All of these groups are undeniably tied to agriculture and should be respected equally as such. I’m wondering at what point Cal-EPA begins to question this “Separate but equal” philosophy that obviously can be challenged in legal and/or historical contexts.

Even in poor circumstances, community members from across the valley showed up to voice their opinions on this subject. These residents demonstrate that even though the Department wishes they were not paying attention, they are! They also demonstrate their power to demand better conditions for their children and their communities.

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Support for AB 1420

June 23, 2015

Sacramento–The following is testimony delivered to the Senate Natural Resources Committee by CCEJN Director, Cesar Campos.

“Good morning. My name is Cesar Campos and I am the Director for Central California Environmental Justice Network. My organization works for environmental justice across the San Joaquin Valley with a specific focus in Fresno and Kern counties. In Kern, we host the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network, which is a resident reporting network of environmental hazards. This project allows residents to report any environmental concern or anything that they feel is threatening to their health.
In March of last year we received one of these calls, from a resident in Arvin, California. The resident mentioned that there was a strong smell of petroleum inside her home. My colleague in Kern County rushed to the scene with an air sampling bucket. Shortly after that, another colleague in Kern County called us about a news story that was developing in Arvin—“people are being evacuated from their houses, something about a gas pipeline that leaked” she said. We quickly realized that it was the same story.
My colleague Gustavo arrived at the scene, took an air sample and stayed with the families of 8 houses until they were all evacuated from their homes. There was about a 9 hr time lapse between the initial call and when the residents were all out of their houses. Since this was in the middle of the week, many residents were either at work or at school and came home to find out that they could not sleep in their homes that night. In fact, they would not be able to sleep in their homes for the next nine months. After the evacuation what followed was a frenzy from jurisdictional agencies fumbling with the responsibilities for clean-up oversight.
The Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources did not even show unitl about 6 months after the evacuation, claiming that this pipeline was not within their jurisdiction. It wasn’t until our organizations drafted several letters directly to the Governor and released a video to all major media outlets across the state, that the Division actually showed up. By then, the residents were already incredibly frustrated by this process and had already lost trust in the regulatory agencies that were supposed to protect them.
During the final meeting that the division hosted in December right before the residents were given 2 days to move back to their homes, the residents kept asking for a signed certificate that would assure them that they would be safe returning to their homes. They did not get that. In fact, since December many residents have informed us that their symptoms, things like bleeding noses and headaches have returned since they arrived back in their homes.
This does not surprise us, given that just two weeks after the residents returned, our organizations went to the location with an infrared camera and observed VOC emissions from a nearby tank field owned by the same company. This observation yielded a notice of violation from the Air District.
I’m telling you about this experience because I want to let you know that this incident is far from over, and because you have in front of you a piece of legislation that can prevent future events like this from happening and I hope that you vote in favor of that. Thank you.”

AB 1420, introduced by Rudy Salas, would prioritize the mapping and testing of oil pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas including schools, and residential spaces. Ingrid Brostrom of Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment also testified on behalf of this bill for CRPE. CRPE, CCEJN, and the KEEN taskforce continue to work with the residents in Arvin affected by this pipeline leak to bring them more resources.