Looking for answers and justice in Kettleman City

Kettleman City, California, is one of the place names that most experts in environmental justice recognize right away, along with Chester, PA, Cancer Alley in Louisiana, and the Niger Delta. Kettleman City has been been a conflict location between the local, deeply impoverished Latino community, the county, the state and the EPA for over a decade now. Kettleman City is the location of the largest toxic waste dump in the state of California–and it’s not just a relative measure. By any measure of volume and toxicity, this is one of the largest facilities in the US.

There are 1,500 residents in Kettleman City, and the conflict has moved back to the public eye after going quiet largely because the community has identified a clustering of birth defects and they are getting traction for their claims under Obama’s EPA. It’s about time. The LA Times has run many stories on the conflict, which I have collected here:

Infant deaths, cleft palates raise concern about toxic landfill in San Joaquin Valley | L.A. NOW | Los Angeles Times

Kettleman City asks: Why so many birth defects? – latimes.com

EPA to review oversight of toxic waste | Greenspace | Los Angeles Times

Schwarzenegger orders state to investigate birth defects in Kettleman City – latimes.com

Kettleman City birth defects: Schwarzenegger steps in | Greenspace | Los Angeles Times

On another sad note, when I was collecting these articles, I saw that rights attorney Luke Cole had been killed far too young in a car crash. Cole was one of the attorneys that helped put the Kettleman City case on the national environmental justice agenda. His obituary is here:

Luke Cole dies at 46; leading practitioner of environmental law – latimes.com

I was pretty pointed in my review in JPAM of the book that Cole co-authored about the original environmental justice conflict in Kettleman City, largely because the authors allowed their personal dislike of EPA staffers to color their writing. They missed an opportunity to write about the institutional issues that really prevented justice from being served here and instead allowed readers to go forward with the impression–all to comforting to American readers–that government employees are lazy and inept and politicians are sleazy and that’s why the residents of Kettleman City were gaining no traction. They failed to describe how the law really is stacked against communities here–property rights are established, environmental rights are not, and the knowledge burdens are prohibitively high to overcome.

Here, I suspect it will be difficult for the community to win on this, but they do have some tenacious activities. Nobody knows what causes cleft palates; we do know it’s one of the more common birth defects, and it does have a higher incidence in Asian and Latino families. This means that the environmental causes get harder to locate because it is not established that Asian communities are disproportionately located near chemical stressors, though it has been established in California for Latino families.

So this is a group of people that has a higher incidence of the problem to begin with, and if this is a small town, the clusters may be related to clusters of families who have a genetic link to the defect.

That said, the case demands investigation; cleft palates are not the only birth defect reported in Kettleman CIty, and the reports have been coming in over a decade. This is an important learning opportunity for environmental policy and public health in addition to being a crucial community issue for the residents.

Cole, L., & Foster, S. (2001). From the ground up: Environmental racism and the rise of the environmental justice movement. New York: New York University Press.

A good breakdown of why I am not optimistic yet

I’ve been looking at houses here in LA, and I get the listings every night from Zillow and MLS. As soon as one little bit of good news hits, there are a bunch of relistings, all placed with higher prices their old list price. Hello, hold-outs who think the good times are here again.

Richard Florida tweeted this excellent link to Business Insider writer John Mauldin’s commentary on why we’re nowhere clear of the US’s financial troubles.

My brilliant colleague Richard Green convinced me to feel better about ARRA funding; my brilliant dean Jack Knott helped me embrace the bailout policy in general, but I’m still incapable of thinking my way through how, exactly, the US can work through the looming deficit and the debt we seemed bound and determined to accrue.

Maybe somebody can help me work out how what we are doing is sustainable over the long-term?

And I love the book that he draws on here: This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

Obama’s State of the Union Address

So last night we listened along to a very gifted man who wove both Ronald Reagen and Jack Kennedy together in the same sentence. I held it together until:

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. (Applause.) From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products. Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. (Applause.)

Thus HSR follows in the same political footsteps as streetcars, interstate railways, and interstate highways: other, competing countries/cities have them and we don’t, therefore we need them so we have all the symbolic trappings of modern hegemony.

link: Text – Text – Obama’s State of the Union Address – NYTimes.com

Unsustainable losses of human capital

The L.A. Times today has a story on bike lanes in Long Beach (yay) and homicide deaths in LA County.

While I generally do not like statistics that try to equate risks in a numbers game–like somehow death, injury, and suffering are linear metrics when they are not–about 250 children die in the entire United States each year from bike crashes. Don’t get me wrong: that is unacceptable. Our goal should be zero.

Nonetheless, that is about the same number of people who died of gunshot wounds within a 4-mile buffer of one part of Los Angeles in just two years. The whole country on the one hand; a 4-mile buffer on the other.

It’s not that we shouldn’t care about bike lanes; we absolutely should. It’s that we have to expand our notion of what the sustainable city is and what does not happen in it. While the addition of bike lanes is a victory and I am glad, there is no victory in the sustainable city until that 4-mile buffer in South Central (or whatever the city is trying to get us to call it now) is as safe as the many 4-mile buffers in Santa Monica that haven’t seen a single homicide death in years. As we focus on important issues like climate change, we must also think about the social devastation of poverty, desperation, and social exclusion played out on the scale we see it in Los Angeles. These deaths–predominately male, predominantly among people of color–are an environmental justice issue.

My colleague David Sloane, works with the city to study and try to intervene in gangs. One of his many gifts is seeing the real issues–the ones that really matter–in the life of poor neighborhoods. Check out some of his work:

Sloane, D.C., with C. Maxson, K. Hennigan, et. al., “It’s Getting Crazy Out There: Can a Civil Gang Injunction Change a Community?”; Criminology and Public Policy 4(3): 577-606; 2005

Sloane, D.C., with L.B. Lewis, L.M. Nascimento, et. al., “Assessing Healthy Food Options in South Los Angeles Restaurants” ;American Journal of Public Health, 95/4: 668-673; 2005

Sloane, D.C., “Bad Meat and Brown Bananas: Building a Legacy of Health by Confronting Health Disparaties around Food”;Planners Network (Winter 2004). Reprinted in T. Angotti and A. Forssyth (Eds.), Progressive Planning, pp. 49-50; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.K. Yancy, L.B. Lewis, et al., “Walking the Talk: Process Evaluation of a Local Health Department-Community Collaboration to Change Organizational Practice to Incorporate Physical Activity”; Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 10(2): 120-127; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.L. Diamant, et al., “Improving the Nutritional Resource Environment for Healthy Living through Community-Based Participatory Research”; Journal of General Medicine, 18(7): 568-575; 2003

Jolly bus design at CyRide

HT to GeoTransExplorer…

CyRide, bless their hearts, always comes off looking like a mini-jewel among transit providers. By using student workers, they keep operating costs and fares relatively low—difficult to do, by contrast, in big-metro systems with unionized shops. They connect town and gown, which gets them ridership, and students ride free. Any college-town transit company that isn’t catering to students is missing important opportunities to serve people and look good in the process.

They also have ticketbooks; unfortunately, they don’t discount them the way they do their pass program (and the way they should).

And they have Charles Grassley, who has been a senator from Iowa since Jesus was a carpenter and who can get them big, sweet chunks of Federal money.

Their latest announcement: they are using federal funding—they just got a huge dollop of ARRA funding—to replace part of their fleet with hybrid buses:

Ames Tribune > Archives > Ames Tribune > News > ‘Cybrid’ CyRide buses on the way

The cool part? Ames residents are being to asked to vote a design. It isn’t often that buses are treated like a real part of the urban aesthetic, so this is a very nice way to market their new buses.

Dowell Myers: Demographic Imperatives and Urban Change

Dowell Myers has been working on three major research projects on forecasting urban change, future homeownership, and Prop 13 taxes. These he has summarized in a presentation on the Demographic Imperatives.

Neglected contributions of demographics
Demographics and housing market trends
The two main drivers of urban change
Understanding turning points and how the future is different
Focus on housing and land use

The Demographic Imperatives can be found here.

Marketing transit well

The LA MTA takes a lot of criticism—sometimes deserved, sometimes not—about how it runs its show. One of the things that the MTA does very well: in the movie industry spirit of our little berg, the MTA markets its image and services very well. From their nifty little M logo to their nice website*, they have image marketing down really well. Their ads are cute and classy and inclusive, and they deserve more credit for it than they often get.

Beverly Ward drew my attention to this little story about CoolTown Studios. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean by a clear and clever message.

*which needs a better online trip planner, but, hey, I understand. If you don’t, then YOU make an online trip planner with the type of bus coverage and frequency that LA county has and get back to me when y’all get done with it….

The Onion Explains Recycling

Sometimes the Onion drives me crazy and they go a bit far for my tastes, but other times they explain a problem so well I have to take my hat off to them. The first time this happened was with their Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others. I spend hours of my time explaining transit’s political environment to people, and the Onion lays it out here in a pithy way that everybody gets.

They’ve done it again here with how scale matters immensely to our collective decisions about recycling and reuse:

‘How Bad For The Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source