Q&A with Producer from ‘Up in the Air’ Report on Boyle Heights Air Quality (Part 2)

East Los Angeles Community Corporation organizer Jorge Villanueva speaks to more than 36 participants at a Clean Air Boyle Heights Campaign meeting on March 8, 2012. Community organizations are recruiting their community members to participate and give input in shaping the direction of the campaign. Photo by Kris Fortin

(This is the second of a two-part interview. To read the first part, click here)

Yesterday, Eastside Streetsblog published the first of two parts of an interview with KCET’s SoCal Connected Associate Producer Rocio Zamora on her elaborating on her story about Boyle Heights air quality.  In this second part, Zamora talks about stories that didn’t make the aired SoCal Connected report,  the difficulty of pinpointing pollutant sources outside of the neighborhood and importance of knowing what clean air is.

Was there anything in the So Cal Connected report you would have liked to include but couldn’t?

We did. We had a story we were going to focus on at Resurrection Church. It’s very different from Clean Up Green Up, because what Clean Up Green Up’s thing is about not kind of protesting against industry. They’re just like, hey, work with us. We’ll make it easier for you if you go green. We’ll give you like either tax breaks, or we’ll help you go green. We’ll subsidize things here and there. And so they’re trying to work with incoming businesses in Boyle Heights. They don’t want to give up business. And they realize a lot of these mom and pops shops either don’t have the money to go green, so they need a little bit of help, or they don’t know they are doing anything wrong. And so they need to be kind of taught. And that’s what Clean Up Green Up is doing, which I think is great.

What father John (Moretta) is doing (at Resurrection Church), he’s helping organize the community to fight big polluters that are already here that don’t comply with the regulations, whether it’s the Air Quality regulations or (Department of Toxic Substances Control). For example, they fought against Exide Technologies, which is a battery recycling plant in Vernon. But they started noticing that they were having really high contents of lead, and lead is one of the most dangerous polluters to humans. It can cause cancer, but it can also cause slow learning in kids, and a widespread of diseases.

One of the first victories they told me about was the Vernon power plant was wanting to expand. And they totally protested against that, and they ended up winning. They kind of got Vernon to drop that plan, but it’s just like these are the people living in Boyle Heights, they don’t live in Vernon, but they know that all this pollution is coming to them, coming to their kids, and into community.

I thought that that was very important. It was really sad, because time wise, we were short on time. I thought it was a really important and different part of the story.

You mention the Resurrection Church group protesting in Vernon, which is outside of Boyle Heights. Was it clear which polluters outside of Boyle Heights affected the neighborhood?

We wanted to do an interactive map to show where the pollution is coming from. It’s really hard to pinpoint it. The freeways are absolutely evident. But I think, (South Coast Air Quality Management District) had a map that shows all the smog from the ports and everything moves toward Boyle Heights. So Boyle Heights gets it from all areas.

But Boyle Heights is not the end all be all. Long Beach is super polluted. Wilmington there is a lot of pollution. I heard that the asthma rates in Huntington Park are off the charts. Commerce also very polluted. So, I think the landscape, the way Boyle Heights is laid out, made it easier to visualize how it could affect the neighborhood.

The story ended on a lighter note, showing how ACE Beverage Company got 25 new clean diesel trucks, and the pilot air filtering program at schools, but is enough being done and what more needs to be done?

Delmira Gonzalez, middle, explains her groups point about how lack of awareness is a root cause of pollution. Residents identified lack of awareness, lack of green spaces and economic development as factors that effect pollution in the neighborhood. Photo by Kris Fortin

Obviously it’s not going to be enough. So I think Manuel Pastor, put it very eloquently. He said like this is not going to change over night, but this is a step in the right direction. People being aware of the problem, taking the steps they can to fix it. So it’s not going to be a 180. And I think it’s going to take a lot more, but I think that the awareness is there and the want is there.

And he also said in the piece that we had really horrible smog problems in LA, in downtown, in Pasadena in the 80s. And now we’ve come a long way. So I think that when he said that he thinks we could do the same for Boyle Heights. I think it just takes people contributing to it.

What way can Boyle Height residents get more involved or informed?

There’s so many groups that are active right now. There’s Union de Vecinos, MELA, Mother’s of East LA, ELACC, I think they’re doing a tremendous job in informing the community. And it just takes the want to actually go out there and know what clean air feels like. I think one of the anecdotes that we had from one of the residents was like, we take our kids to Santa Monica and they’re saying it feels different. And, you know, it does. If you live in Boyle Heights all your life you don’t notice, but then as you step foot in Pasadena the air feels a little lighter. Or it just feels a little different.

Here are links to some of the organizations involved in the Boyle Heights Air Quality Campaign.

Union de Vecinos
Mothers of East LA
Legacy LA
East Los Angeles Community Corporation -  (To learn more about the campaign, contact Jorge Villanueva)
Proyecto Pastoral