Arias, Perez Shill for Deadly Polluters

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Amazon is expanding its distribution center located in the South Fresno. Photo by Peter Maiden

By Kevin Hall

Warning: The following quote from Fresno City Council Member Miguel Arias is hazardous to your health and that of everyone you know: “This agreement is an example that we can facilitate the coexistence of creating new jobs without impacting the health and safety of our neighbors” (March 11, Fresno Bee).

That’s idiocy, or worse, and it’s from an otherwise seemingly intelligent man who, in this instance, is referring to industrial warehouses and their affiliated toxic diesel pollution. The statement might hold true for a green energy company or a delivery service, but not for these 450,000 square feet of Amazon exploitation and injury ringed by truck bays belching exhaust, where in January 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic, injury rates at the first warehouse were double the statewide average, according to Manuela Tobias’s exposé in the Fresno Bee. The City rewarded that news with another development greenlight in the dark of night.

How does one resolve Arias’s oxymoronic combination of bad health science and political theater? Money, apparently, and a willingness to lie either to one’s self or to voters. If it’s the latter, then he’s gaslighting advocates who would never agree publicly with such an outlandish claim yet dare not publicly decry it. He’s known for retaliating against his critics, as reported by Mark Arax, and advocates must continue to work with him on other issues.

Arax’s reporting on Arias revealed a man who sought to dominate subordinates in the workplace through emotional and verbal harassment, specifically two women of color. This was the era of the Fresno Unified School District lease-leaseback scandal, during which Arias worked as Michael Hanson’s self-described “fixer,” according to the reporting at mark-arax.com.

Arias delivered his quotable malfeasance to Fresno Bee reporter Brianna Calix, whose March 11 article delivered the horrible news that residents of south-central Fresno were powerless to stop the second Amazon warehouse from being forced down their throats, thanks again to dirty play by the City of Fresno and either one last kick at south Fresno by outgoing mayor Lee Brand or a first one from his successor, Jerry Dyer.

And unless Amazon’s founder, the staggeringly wealthy Jeff Bezos, is rolling out an entire fleet of all-electric semi-trucks and delivery vans charged with locally generated solar power—and he’s not, he’s burning through fossil fuel on rockets like there’s no tomorrow as he works to ensure there isn’t—then those residents are looking at a lot more toxic diesel particles blanketing their neighborhood and lungs.

Arias is dead wrong. Literally. People will die. Not today. Not next year. The effects are more insidious and slow-acting. But the “coexistence” of trucking centers next to neighborhoods results in acute, long-term exposure due to proximity, which in turn causes higher rates of cancer and other life-shortening afflictions. The effects Arias seeks to gloss over are measured in fewer years of life, of dying in one’s 60s rather than one’s 80s. It’s more than callous.

The nonprofit legal advocacy firm Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, which represents South-Central Fresno Neighbors United and succeeded in forcing an environmental review of the neighboring 2-million-square-foot Caglia project in 2018, found itself with few options this time, according to Calix’s reporting. 

In December the City’s director of planning and development “quietly approved…changes to the development permit for the new project with no public input and little additional environmental review.” Traditionally, bad acts occur during the holiday season at City Hall when the public is busier than usual, and this came at the height of the surging pandemic following Thanksgiving. 

Amazon’s unconscionable assault being endorsed by Arias here is the exploitation of distracted opposition by the wealthiest forces on the planet now profiting madly off the pandemic. Meanwhile, a long list of community partners, many of whom would normally engage on such issues, are doing heroic work through the COVID-19 Equity Project

Community-based organizations are working double time in response to the pandemic and have been doing so for more than a year. They and their constituents—the most vulnerable and hard-hit populations—are now being asked to pay a double price. (This includes Measure C; see Sandra Celedon’s article in the Climate Change special section.)

The Leadership Counsel was able to squeeze some mitigations out of the colossus, despite the mayor and City Council’s determined effort to place industrial development before residents’ health, including new air filtration systems for homes, a fence line adjacent to Orange Center Elementary School and some sidewalks for the kids walking on the dirt next to the thundering trucks.

What apparently comes as news to Arias, despite his ample staff resources in this area and direct social connections to community-based organizations with decades of local experience fighting diesel pollution, is that kids play outside—where the diesel exhaust enters their lungs. There, according to studies specific to Fresno conducted by some of the world’s leading researchers, it mutates their genetic code, resulting in less T-cell production and higher rates of asthma, and a list of other maladies.

Arias’s attitude should come as a surprise only if you haven’t been paying attention. Found in the file labeled “Community Alliance Told You So,” this column in the April 2019 issue explained how a ludicrous proposal to provide developers with refunds if their applications to build weren’t handled quickly enough was really a litmus test for the newly seated Council. And they unanimously delivered the developer-friendly vote. Arias voted for it, as did Esmeralda Soria, Luis Chavez and Garry Bredefeld. The others have since cycled off and into anonymity. 

Kern Fossil Queen

What industrial and sprawl developers are to Fresno, oil and methane are to Kern County. In #OG Valleycrat politics, as usual, Democratic Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez did a weirdly enthusiastic audition for the Assembly while voting to approve environmental clearance for up to 40,000 more wells for decades to come with no environmental review.

Clearly gyrating to replace well-oiled Valleycrat Rudy Salas in the statehouse, Perez spoke of the “wisdom” of Kern County energy policy, disparaged critics as being from “out of the county,” and, according to KGET.com in Bakersfield, just gushed: “I think tonight is a night to celebrate! I enthusiastically and proudly support this recommendation.” For more detail on this special brand of toxicity, please see Caroline Farrell’s article on Kern County in this issue’s Climate Change special section. 

For hope, please read the entire section.

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Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.