Most people don’t understand how government works.

On a recent trip to Bakersfield, California, Global Community Monitor attended a day long tour of several Central Valley communities and an introductory meeting with community members, non-profit organizations, emergency responders and government agency representatives focused on environmental and public health issues.

Teresa DeAnda started the day with an introduction of her personal experience about how she saw and felt pesticides being sprayed near her home. After being passed along to five government agencies, she was still unable to file her original complaint. Sometimes dealing with government agencies feels like Dorothy getting directions from the Scarecrow.

Image from Verdoux

Whether it is pesticide spray, strange dust on your car and home or oil refinery flares going off for hours, it is all too common for communities to not have a clear line of communication with the responsible government agency.

The goal of the day long tour and meeting was to kick off a new project: the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) building on successful projects in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.

The Imperial Visions Action Network (IVAN) brought together these same stakeholders: community members, non-profits, emergency responders and agency reps to bridge the gap on community issues. Community members and agencies can be like oil and water – they just don’t mix. The IVAN pilot made it possible for these unlikely partners to work together. The project provided a website for communities to document complaints (in person or online), producing a map of the problem and showing patterns for areas of high complaints.

The IVAN project included a task force that met monthly and had the insight to bring in a “problem solver” that worked to shepherd the community complaints to the appropriate agency and see the investigation through.

The collaboration resulted in 170 cases reported, 62 solved, 44 of which were reported violations that brought in over $90,000 in penalties. The act of actively seeing a complaint through and closing it after a thorough investigation is extremely rare and something Bucket Brigaders would like to see more of.

The IVAN online model was established using the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map for gulf coast residents after the BP oil spill in 2010 as a model. The iWitness map is active today and has received 5,464 complaints from residents in two years.

GCM and the Bucket Brigade strongly believe that community members have a valuable and necessary role in env

Lupe with CRPE talks about pollution from Community Recycling, Clay Rodgers from the Water Board looks on.

ironmental planning, reporting and enforcement. Whether it is documenting air quality complaints or taking their own air samples, with community information and involvement with government agencies, communities can better understand how government works and improve their community at the same time.

GCM is hoping the task force and “problem solver” for Kern County will have the energy, good will and the follow through that it takes to address the many issues in the Central Valley. The KEEN project is just getting started, so stay tuned! We plan to be posting environmental complaints from Arvin, CA…….