By Kevin Hall
Off the Grid
If you live in Fresno’s Tower District, Southeast Fresno, West Fresno or downtown, the pollution monitor that measures wintertime particulate levels for your neighborhood is not actually in your neighborhood, not even close. It’s located near Dakota and First avenues, miles away from and upwind of thousands of open-hearth fireplaces, countless diesel truck trips on freeways 99, 180, 168 and 41 and, ultimately, your lungs. And if you live in Parlier, Sanger, Fowler or anywhere else in southeast Fresno County, your particulate monitor is located in…(wait for it)…Clovis!
That’s our Valley Air Board at work, and later this month it will meet and vote to approve a cleanup plan for particulate pollution. The plan relies on this faulty system of monitors located far from the low-income communities of color with the highest concentrations of poverty found anywhere in the country—the neighborhoods where people’s life expectancies are as much as 27 years lower than those of north Fresno residents with families who account for a disproportionate share of Fresno’s 20 emergency room visits daily due to asthma attacks.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” Those faces of inhumanity will be on public display at 9 a.m., Dec. 20, in the governing board room of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, 1990 E. Gettysburg, Fresno.
This is your chance to tell your story, express your concerns or simply demand change. No expertise is necessary, no science required, just people who are not indifferent to the suffering, disease and deaths of our friends and family; people who are not willing to give these elected “representatives” a free pass. If you would like more information individually or in a group presentation, my contact information is below. Otherwise, prepare your statement for three minutes or less.
One of the longest serving Valley Air Board members is Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case, R.N. At an October county board meeting, advocates from California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Fresno Metro Ministry and Latinos United for Clean Air gave a presentation on the need for more air pollution monitors, especially in the urban neighborhoods and rural communities described above. They asked the supervisors to pass a nonbinding resolution that called for a return of the Arvin monitor to the grounds of the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District.
As described by Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi on Oct. 21, the $30 million fine currently paid mostly by Valley motorists will continue indefinitely unless that monitor is restored, but Supervisor Case spoke against it as a private property rights issue.
Case offered a bizarre comparison with retail shopping: “Have you ever heard of anybody that rented retail space and that retailer decided they wanted to do something different? If you haven’t, take a look at Fig Garden [Village in Fresno]. They kicked a number of retailers out because they wanted to change, kind of, the type of retailers that were in their area. I didn’t hear any big outcry that you can’t do that.”
You see, for supervisors Case, Phil Larson and Debbie Poochigian, what matters most is that industry and Big Ag want that monitor gone. The retail analogy is actually quite revealing: The Valley Air Board is actively shopping for the lowest pollution readings it can find.
Personifying Shaw’s indifference was the Valley Air Board’s CEO. At the county board meeting, this bureaucrat dismissed the high rate of premature deaths of Valley residents caused by air pollution: “It’s a social value that we’ve assigned to each premature death that comes from air pollution. Of the $6 billion [economic impact], over 95 percent of it is that social value, not a direct cost to the economy.”
Join us on Dec. 20!
Kevin Hall is director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno, online at www.calcleanair.org and on Facebook. CVAQ is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the health of Californians. Contact him at email@example.com follow him on Twitter at SJVair.