A bad economy can be responsible for a slew of financial problems and hardships.

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Maybe you’re struggling to find a job, trying to get by with furlough days or unable to put any money aside as savings; ultimately, we are all forced to do more with less.

But what does a bad economy mean for fenceline communities?  Probably many of the above, but residents in West Oakland, CA are facing an extraordinary challenge as a result of the City’s economic hardships: a clean air solution pulled out from under their feet.

For all of you habitual Airhugger readers out there, you remember the story behind the relocation of the industrial metal recyclers in West Oakland, right?  It’s a win-win solution.  The community, the business and the City all want the recyclers to relocate.  And the City would actually generate revenue by selling this land to the business!

The catch here: the City doesn’t have the money for the upfront costs of infrastructure at this particular industrial site – the former Oakland Army Base.  In other words, the City can no longer afford to build roads, plumbing, electric wiring, etc. at the site, making it not ready for sale, according to the current contract.

Photo taken by STEPHEN LOEWINSOHN

While the City of Oakland struggles to balance its budget, residents in West Oakland are still being exposed to increased air pollution from the same heavy industry that the City promised to relocate over a year ago.

Full disclosure here, it’s not entirely the City’s fault.

As many of you probably know, the State of California is broke.  Recently, the cities took a hard blow with the elimination of redevelopmentfunds from the State.  This was

Courtesy of Keepingright.com

money that was already promised to the City of Oakland, and the City even had signed contracts with businesses to fund redevelopment projects of all sizes.
Needless to say, chaos ensued.  First time homebuyers, small business owners, large contractors and City Staff and Agencies are no longer receivingthe funding they were promised.  There’s talk of lawsuits,

Courtesy of toonpool.com

bankruptcy, appeals and demands, but the fact here is that West Oakland is another fenceline community, teetering in the balance of political gridlock.

The thing is West Oakland’s not alone here.  Countless of fenceline communities across the country are further overburdened by dwindling city budgets and the demand for more jobs.  Do you really think the Keystone XL pipeline would be so debated if it didn’t boast the promise of more jobs during a recession?  And, good luck getting stricter air regulations to promote clean air and healthy communities in a bad economy.  When the unemployment rate is up, unfortunately a lot of environmental concern goes right out the window, which can be very detrimental to the fenceline communities, already suffering from the health impacts toxic pollution: asthma, cancer and neurological disease.

Human health should be on the top of the list of priorities here.  Residents should not have to continue to get dumped with toxic pollution, while government officials and agencies debate this for years in closed meetings and private sessions.  In West Oakland, community leaders, non-profit organizations and business execs have been sitting through meetings with City agencies, planning the relocation of the recyclers for years.  Still, the question remains the same, “When will the recyclers move?”

The problem here is that it’s usually the low income and working class communities that often lose when the economy dips, through the elimination of social services, lack of jobs and lack of public funding.  It is also common to see the same low income and working class communities located right on the fencline of heavy industry and are predicted to get hit the worst by climate change.  Talk about an overburdened community!  Additionally, any improvements related to the industry- like relocation, stricter regulations, etc; seem to always get pushed to the back burner during a recession.

So while we wait on the City to get their part together, we can work for reduced air pollution now with this new regulation sitting at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.  Regulating air emissions on heavy industry will help West Oakland residents as well as the rest of us, breathe a little easier.

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