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Anyone catch the article in the East Bay Express last week, Oakland Officials Withhold Air Pollution Plan?

Image from D. Ross Cameron

The Air District is actually watchdogging City plans and the potential for a significant increase in air pollution in West Oakland, where air pollution is notoriously unhealthy. This might be a first for me but, kudos BAAQMD!

The Air District even suggested some great ideas to mitigate the increase in air pollution associated with the redevelopment, like infrastructure for electrifying trucks and vegetative barriers to trap diesel and particulate matter.  Not to take too much credit, but you read our EXHAUST-ed! report, didn’t you BAAQMD?

But, before we all jump on board and condemn the redevelopment at the old Oakland Army base due to the increased pollution from increased truck, rail and ship traffic; I think it missed one crucial element regarding air pollution in West Oakland, the relocation of the recyclers.

The redevelopment of the old Oakland Army Base will actually help reduce some of the toxic air pollution within the West Oakland community.

Image from Stephen Loewinsohn

Currently, there are two industrial metal recyclers located within residential areas of West Oakland.  Air samples have revealed elevated levels of lead and cadmium in the air surrounding McClymonds High School and many residents trace these air contaminants back to the heavy metal recyclers that are located right across the street from their homes.

After a unified effort between the residents and the business owners, the City agreed to support the relocation of the scrap metal recyclers, from their current location to a much more industrial site at the old Oakland Army Base.  This creates a ‘buffer zone’ or breathing space between the community and the heavy industry, reducing the air emissions, noise, traffic emissions and additional trucks in residential areas.

Either way, considering it’s often times the residents who are forced to demand detailed info from the Air District; it’s nice to watch the Air District hunt down and demand the detailed info they’re looking for.  So, now that the tables have turned, let’s kick back a little and watch it unfold.

But- if you’re an Oakland resident, you should probably call your City Councilmember and remind them that the redevelopment of the old Army Base is an opportunity to install a zero-emission infrastructure to protect our children’s’ health and keep Oakland moving forward.

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

Courtesy of thekitchencabinet.us

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ray Kidd, a community leader in West Oakland, California talks about the air quality concerns in his community and how Global Community Monitor helped them out with the bucket brigade.

Anyone who’s been to multiple Town Hall meetings is well aware that some are nothing more than a dog and pony show, a public relations attempt to credit the politician with caring about community concerns. Well, for all you activists out there – don’t get too jaded yet.

Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland held her first town hall meeting in West Oakland on Saturday, February 5, and over 200 community residents attended!  The meeting was even structured with break out groups, based on a variety of community topics ranging from public safety to the environment.  Each group was able to discuss and list out solutions in order of priority, on giant pieces of butcher paper which were then handed over to the Mayor herself.

In case participatory democracy in Oakland politics isn’t a highlight enough, the community actually identified tangible solutions in which everyone in attendance could agree on!  One solution even appeared as a top priority in two of the break out groups.  Sounds like Mayor Quan knows exactly what she needs to work on – Relocating the Recyclers. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ruth Breech, Program Director

Returning from a recent trip to Michigan, I keep mulling over the shocking devastation that is Southwest Detroit. Years of environmental racism are taking their toll on this 10,000 family community.  In a five page, two day, news spread in the Detroit Free Press, 48217 was recently deemed the #1 most unhealthy ZIP code in the entire state of Michigan. Cancer and asthma plague this area that is surrounded by an expanding oil refinery, steel mills, a sewage waste incinerator, salt mine and littered with secondary chemical plants.

The pollution problems did not happen overnight. Regulators have been asleep at the wheel for over 20 years. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) has cut their industrial and investigating staff from 50 to 10. The agency complains about budget cuts, but has not raised fees on industry since 2001.

Zoning changes and industrial expansions have put the neighbors and industry in a way too close for comfort distance – across the street from each other. Residential areas are thrust against an area zoned for the heaviest industry. There is a constant chemical stench in the air.

This is a true “dead zone” from which neighbors need to find a way out. Read the rest of this entry »

CASS scrap metal furnaceOakland has finally signed a deal (with the folks who masterminded the awesome redevelopment of the grand old Fox Theatre) to develop the 118 acre Army base abandoned since 1999.

But first they’ll need to do a massive toxic clean up from what the Army left behind.  It’s estimated they’ll need 300,000 cubic yards of ‘clean dirt’ to replace the toxic sludge which likely will have to go to a hazardous waste landfill.

Where can they get it – from the new bore of the Caldecott tunnel perhaps, which would put that stuff to good Reuse.  That’s the second ‘R’ of the old environmental modicum: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Turns out Oakland could accomplish the two other R’s by another common sense move as well.  You see, nearby in West Oakland, there’s a potentially great green redevelopment space along Mandela Parkway and Grand Avenue.  With the freeway gone and the new parkway greening up with plants and trees, new businesses like Brown Sugar Kitchen have sprouted up and green infill housing has also moved in.

But the old three Rs are only going to get us so far, and that’s why we also need to be talking about the fourth R…Relocation.

In West Oakland there’s some old less desirable industrial factories cluttering up the landscape and bringing large amounts of toxic diesel truck traffic through the neighborhood.

And the businesses in question are – get this- recyclers, so you get the third R in the deal.

So that’s why Councilmember Nancy Nadel and others are pushing to have these old grandfathered plants, which emit toxic pollution and dust, relocated from near schools and homes to the Army Base.  You also can reduce the diesel emissions by keeping the trucks closer to the Port.

CASS exteriorSo relocating the recycling facilities that include a large industrial aluminum melting plant far away from neighborhoods and green businesses is a true win-win-win for West Oakland.

And that gets us the fourth R (Relocation) that is becoming increasingly important in so-called ‘mixed use’ zones where new homes and businesses end up next to less than desirable old industrial neighbors.

Admittedly, industrial relocation faces a struggle from competing land grab factions on the council, but let’s hope a green future and common sense win the day.  Life expectancies in West Oakland are already 10 years shorter than the rest of SF Bay Area folks because of air pollution. The fourth R will mean cleaner air and a healthier West Oakland.

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