Category Archives: Environment

Selfish in the Sea

Many Latino anglers that fish off of L.A. County piers support the creation of Marine Protected Areas.

The opposition to creating Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) off of Southern California’s coast has taken a sinister turn: terrorizing and attacking Latino families.  I have participated in the MPA hearings for a few months now, and I have to say that the latest turn of events does not surprise me.  When you attend these hearings, you are immediately hit with just how far the opposition is willing to go with their tactics.  They will yell, push, and perpetuate all kinds of lies.  No doubt the last hearing on October 21st (click here to view the video of the meeting), in Long Beach was a particularly contentious one, as reported by Long Beach’s Press Telegram.  Perhaps one of the most memorable comments from the anti-MPA crowd were those of a fisherman that started ranting about how if MPA’s were implemented, there would be a “revolution” that would rise against such “government oppression.” “Government oppression?” I asked myself … uhm, “the government” in this instance, is us, the public, so was he saying that the actions of us, average working-class Americans, to make sure that he and other fisherment like him did not run out of fish and therefore protect his freedom to keep on fishing would be “oppression”?  Hey, I’m all for democracy and for making sure that everyone’s way of life is respected but when you start throwing out such blatant reactionary and selfish (yes, selfish) lines you’ve crossed over onto another realm.  In fact, when your crowd starts attacking innocent children that have come to learn about civic participation, you’ve crossed a line that cannot be forgiven.  

What am I talking about? Well, before and during the public comment period, some white fishermen that were unequivocally opposed to any kind of MPA being implemented in Southern California started attacking Latinos that came to the hearing in support of the MPA’s.  In one instance, totally unprovoked, a high-strung white guy started yelling at some Latino high school kids from Compton, harassing them with insulting questions like “do you even know what this is about?”,  “who brainwashed you?”, or “are they giving you extra credit to be here?”.  Nevermind that these were mostly Advanced Placement Compton students that knew quite a lot about the issue, having studied and prepped for the hearing because they wanted to learn about the “democratic process”.  I guess because they were brown, this crazy white “fisherman” guy assumed that they were just dumb kids because they happened to disagree with his point of view.  Well, to be fair, I have heard that the same harassing questions were being hurled at the students that came from Santa Monica High School (who happen to be mostly white kids). 

Yet again, the stink of racism coming from some of the fishermen that showed up to the hearing to oppose MPA’s could not be erased.  When the hearing was interrupted to report that the hotel bathroom had been vandalized, the Blue Ribbon Task Force (“BRTF” for short, the body that conducts the hearings), urged everyone to calm down.  Yet what the BRTF did NOT report to the audience was what was written on the bathroom: “f*ck MLPA” (Marine Life Protection Act) and “f*ck 3” (referring to “Map 3”, the designed map of MPA’s that best supported sustainable fishing and the regeneration of marine life):

Tagging in the bathroom of the hotel that hosted the October 21st public hearing on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) & Marine Protected Areas (MPA's).

Tagging in the bathroom of the hotel that hosted the October 21st public hearing on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) & Marine Protected Areas (MPA's).

The tagging of "F*ck 3" on the bathroom walls was an obvious reference to "Map 3" of the MPA's, which was supported by many nonprofits, local residents, and supporters of the environment.  Map 3 was in stark opposition to "Map 2" which was being pushed by many fishermen and big-fishing industry.

The tagging of "F*ck 3" on the bathroom walls was an obvious reference to "Map 3" of the MPA's, which was supported by many nonprofits, local residents, and supporters of the environment. Map 3 was in stark opposition to "Map 2" which was being pushed by many fishermen and big-fishing industry.

It was obvious that the tagging had been perpetuated by the anti-MPA crowd … but guess who the fishermen blamed it on? Well, why, they blamed it on the Latinos that had come to support MPA’s, of course!  Not only that, but the white  fishermen were also harassing other Latinos from East L.A.  The white fishermen would ask these Latinos families despicable questions like “do you even speak English?”, “did you come to get a free T-shirt?”, or “did they pay you to be here?”  It was a disgusting  display of just what some in the anti-MPA crowd are about.  What’s even worst: when all of this was reported to the moderators of the meeting, it was dismissed as no biggie.  Shame on them for their lax attitude, tolerating racist fishermen to pull such tactics aimed at terrorizing people! 

Again: I am all for respecting everyone’s way of life.  Not all fishermen that are opposed to MPA’s are racist selfish bastards, in fact some of them are very fine men and women that are compassionate and caring and NOT selfish in the least bit.  I also understand their argument: the drafting of MPA’s must protect their way of life, respect their dignity, and ensure that their livelihoods are not placed into unjust danger.  I believe that the role of government is to protect everyone, making sure that the opportunity to prosperity is open to all, and the anti-MPA crowd should not be the exemption.  However, when the fishing industry (supported by the California Fisheries Coalition) and the fishermen resort to terrorizing tactics, lies, racism, selfishness, and they cover their eyes and ears to the fact that we ARE running out of fish, it makes it very hard for me to accept their point of view.  It defeats their argument, and they defeat themselves.  They might’ve made the Blue Ribbon Task Force blink on this round, but mark my words: we, the general public, will NOT stand for such racist displays. 

To learn more about protecting the ocean for our future and our children’s future, you can visit Heal the Bay’s site on this MPA issue or read the latest OpEd from the L.A. Times.

Update: I’m also getting word that the white anti-MPA’s fishermen were harrassing the pro-MPA’s Latino anglers with questions which they would repeat over and over again such as “how old are you?” and “how long have you lived here?” (insinuating “you’re a foreigner aren’t you?!”).   

It’s time to take action!

So what can you do about it?

1) Email the organizers of the “Map 2” crowd and tell them that racism is NOT acceptable and will  NOT be tolerated:

angler4prop2@gmail.com

2) Write to the MLPA Initiative to complain and to demand that they do not tolerate the racism coming from the anti-MPA crowd:

MLPA Initiative
c/o California Resources Agency
1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1311
Sacramento, CA 95814

Email: MLPAComments@resources.ca.gov

3) You can also contact the California Fisheries Coalition (which is one of the main groups that is assisting in organizing the effort to water down the implementation of MPA’s) and demand that they denounce such racist behavior from its anti-MPA’s members:

Vern Goehring, Manager
California Fisheries Coalition
1621 13th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 444-8194
(916) 444-8195 Fax
Email: vern@cal.net

When you write to these three groups, please be respectful but firm in your demands and as detailed of as possible of what happened.

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Coastal Cleanup Day: South L.A.

Did you participate? It was on Saturday, Sept. 19 from 9am to noon.  Since I’m based in Los Angeles, CA, I helped organize three separate cleanups in South Central L.A.: one in Watts, one in Southeast L.A., and another one in Compton.  On-the-day-of, I manned the Compton site.  Below are pictures of the cleanup/beautification volunteer activities that the parents at Washington Elementary joined in.  To view the pictures from that day, click on the picture below:
Compton hosted its own "Coastal Cleanup Day '09" at Washington Elementary.

Compton hosted its own "Coastal Cleanup Day '09" at Washington Elementary.

To learn more about “Coastal Cleanup Day”, please visit Heal the Bay’s website here.

Here‘s the link to INTERNATIONAL Coastal Cleanup Day (coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy).

So where were you on this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day?  Did you help out?

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A Healthier Future

Here’s an article I wrote for Heal the Bay’s “Currents” magazine (intro based on previous work of Heal the Bay’s James Alamillo):

As part of Heal the Bay’s new Healthy Communities Initiative, we have been doing intensive community organizing work in South L.A. to empower residents to heal their environment for the sake of L.A. County’s coastline.  We are all interconnected, and this is especially true with our street trash, storm drains, rivers, watersheds, and ocean.  At Heal the Bay, we believe that a healthy community is one that embraces the belief that health is more than merely an absence of disease.  A healthy community is a product of a healthy environment; and as part of the feedback loop, a healthy environment enables a healthy community.  Most all human health issues witnessed in urban areas have at their root an environmental component. Whether it is air pollution and asthma, water pollution and infectious diseases, urban blight and psycho-social disorders, or poor planning (no parks and lots of junk food outlets) and obesity; there is a nexus between the built environment and human health.  So how can we even begin to heal our environment?  Four community groups from South L.A. have taken up the call to fight for a healthier future in L.A. They have partnered with Heal the Bay to develop several green community spaces in the hopes that these sites would serve as filters that will naturally catch and treat urban runoff before it reaches the storm drain system.    

St. Michael’s Church Community Group 

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

Heal the Bay’s partnership with St. Michael’s community group (housed at 1016 W Manchester AVE) in the area has been a very inspirational one.  Through the leadership of a council of community leaders headed by Jose Javier Estrada, they have engaged in planning and developing much-needed green spaces and building neighborhood beautification projects.  Last year, they worked on building their so-called public “Living Rooms” in a couple of street corners and this year they are focusing on re-energizing their long-term “Vermont Avenue Median” project that would stretch from 89th to 90th ST.  Mr. Estrada explains: “this project has been a very positive experience because it has involved multiple sectors of the community: neighborhoods, colleges, churches, Bernard Parks’ staff, Southeast Neighborhood council, and others.”  In order to make sure that the project has the support of the local community, their group has embarked on a process of incorporation so they can function in a more independent manner and begin to have further name recognition.  For this purpose, they have recently elected their officers as the first step to become a nonprofit group so that they may better represent their constituents and move forward their goals and objectives in order to fight for better neighborhoods because as Mr. Estrada often declares, “everyone deserves a beautiful community.” 

Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

The staff and parents at Wisdom Academy of 706 E. Manchester AVE have chosen a wonderful site for their WAYS Reading & Fitness Park, an outdoor classroom/community green space.  It is a median located behind their school, on the corner of McKinley AVE & 87th ST.  Located in a residential area, their WAYS project is a great piece of land with great tall beautiful trees already in place; it is as if the site itself were calling for some attention.  Answering the call, Wisdom Academy Executive Director Krendra Okonkwo and Principal Alake Watson have formed an alliance with Wisdom’s PTA parent leaders Brandy Williams and Evelyn Aguirre to make sure that the project becomes a reality. The road ahead will not be easy, but the folks at Wisdom Academy remain steadfast in their resolution.  “I’m a big believer of reclaiming space for the community”, Executive Director Okonkwo has often said.  In addition, Principal Watson envisions that “The WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be a driving force to unite the school and local community as we continue through the implementation process.   Local community members will be invited to partake in the building efforts and finishing design of the project.  WAYS proposes to make the implementation safe and fun for everyone by providing a series of educational workshops prior to the weekend of the build … We highly anticipate the participation of the office of our local councilwoman, Jan Perry.  We hope the WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be the start of a powerful collaborative that extends beyond the border of our school walls and touches the lives of families in need of physical fitness as well as serves as a quiet reservoir where reading is literacy is nourished.”            

Youth Opportunities High

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

The Principal at Youth Opportunities High 1827 E. 103rd ST in Watts, Kianna Nesbit, and her assistant Mayra Arroyo have been leading the charge to turn a portion of their school’s parking lot into a community space that would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.  Principal Nesbit explains: “The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as a place where local residents, patrons, and students can commune, relax, and enjoy their community.  This plaza will provide people with a safe, pleasant space where they can partake in recreational activities (basketball and chess), learn about plant/fruit/vegetable life through participation in gardening activities, and/or just sit, converse and enjoy the scenery in our rendition of a serene space.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will be located in the Robert Pitts Center, the Malfundi building.  This center was constructed in 1965 after the civil unrest.  The goal was to create a space where Watts’ community residents could participate in artistic and educational activities.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as an extension of this original objective, a viable, real, and tangible manifestation of that original goal.  This community beautification project will allow the original mission of the Mafundi building to be further felt and experienced by people in this community.”

Washington Elementary PTA

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

The parents at Washington Elementary 1421 N Wilmington AVE in Compton, under the leadership of School Administrator Ema Escobar and PTA President Martha Barajas, have chosen a piece of land in the front of their school.  Under the supervision of their Principal Ontrece Ellerbe, they have banded together to make sure that they are involved in the process of bringing about the construction of an outdoor classroom that would also serve as a green plaza for the enjoyment of the community at-large.  In order to carry out this project, they have also embarked on leadership development and so they have picked four main parent leaders: Maria Rodriguez, Blanca Rivera, Olga Palma, and Petra Luciano that will assist in getting the rest of the parents involved.  In the coming Fall, Washington Elementary students will join Heal the Bay and other schools (including Wisdom Academy’s) to celebrate our annual “Ed Day”: a day of fun, games, and learning to promote the annual county-wide “Costal Cleanup Day” event at Santa Monica Beach.  To learn more about and participate in Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day activities, please visit: www.healthebay.org/ccd

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Parks & trees reduce crime

Studies show that vegetation can help reduce crime!

Studies show that vegetation can help reduce crime!

As an environmentalist working in South Central L.A., I have often encountered the same misconceptions about trees, animals, and well, just nature in general over and over again.  “I know this area and if you build a park in this neighborhood it will just be a magnet for people doing drugs or attract more crime!” or “If you build this park near this school it will attract birds and other animals that will bring disease to the children!” or the classic “who’s going to provide security detail for this green space?!” are complaints all too familiar to my ears.  In fact, looks like I’m not the only one to be so stubborn in my refusal to just unquestioningly accept that trees are somehow inherently “bad”- just read the “Visions of a lush, green South L.A.” OpEd that was written by Toni Ann Johnson (a member of the Southwest L.A. neighborhood council) and that recently appeared on the Los Angeles Times.

Yet, I understand their concerns because of the experience they come from: most people’s perception of “green” or “natural” things has been negative because, just like anything else in South Central, parks have been associated with gang violence, crime, drug use, or worse.  When peole bring up these kinds of concerns during neighborhood design workshops (to open more green space in the area so the community at large can enjoy it), my usual course of action is to explain that aside from the multiple benefits of opening  more green space in an area as unjustly deprived of green healthy spaces as South Central is, the strategy to keep undesired activity away is an investment of community involvement and a constant flow of community activity (festivals, educational events, recreational competitions, etc.)  in the planning and building phases of these communal green spaces.  It’s all about community and that’s how it should be. 

Yet, the pesky lingering question of whether or not trees attract crime still bothered me.  Well, last month I had the fortune of attending a workshop at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative‘s Annual Community Forum and was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Tree People, who quoted a study that actually argues that vegetation can and does function as a deterrent of crime. 

Just check this out:

In a 2001 study in one Chicago public housing development, there were dramatically fewer occurrences of crime against both people and property in apartment buildings surrounded by trees and greenery than in nearby identical apartments that were surrounded by barren land. In fact, compared with buildings that had little or no vegetation, buildings with high levels of greenery had 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes. Even modest amounts of greenery were associated with lower crime rates. The greener the surroundings, the fewer the number of crimes that occurred.  

To review this study and others related to how vegetation can help better the overall health of a community visit: http://www.lhhl.uiuc.edu/

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Beach Report Card Press Conference May 20, 2009

The December 2008 freeze on bond funds has meant that all "California Clean Beach Initiative" projects that were underway last year have been put on hold until funding can be freed up.

The December 2008 freeze on bond funds has meant that all "California Clean Beach Initiative" projects that were underway last year have been put on hold until funding can be freed up.

So it’s that time of the year again, when Heal the Bay releases its annual “Beach Report Card” that grades California’s beaches from a scale of A to F.  For this awesome occasion, I worked my ass off for almost most of last week and the beginning of this one to help Heal the Bay get the word out to the various Spanish media outlets doing in-Spanish press releases, executive summary, and contacting members of the Spanish media (attention Spanish-speaking media folks, if you haven’t reported on Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card and need information in Spanish, visit this site).

In addition, I was fortunate enough to be at this morning’s press conference at the Santa Monica Pier of Southern California; at one point one of the reporters pointed to the beachgoers that were already out on the beach so early in the morning (it was around 11 a.m.) and asked “is it safe for them to go into the water?” (the reporter was referring to people on the part of the beach that is located on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier, which typically has a better water quality compared to the south side of Pier, according to Heal the Bay’s online Beach Report Card; in fact, the south side is usually sporting a big ol’ “Do Not Swim” warning sign).  I couldn’t help but notice how the majority of the people on the beach were mostly young and Latino.  This is no surprise, being that many of them come from farther “inland” communities that get extremely hot around this time of year … and of course Santa Monica Beach, for those of you that don’t know, is a major makeout dating spot-it can actually be quite romantic in the evening. 

I was not the only one to make the observation that most people in the water were Latino though: well-respected and public health expert Dr. Aliza Lifshiftz (she is often featured on the local Univision station and La Opinion), who was kind enough to join and speak at the press conference, also noticed the demographic makeup of those that were going in the water.  For us Latinos, water quality and its condition is extremely important and personal to our health (it can cause serious health problems) because we are the ones that are more likely to go swimming in those  polluted beaches because of lack of monitoring programs, failure of agencies to post notices, or simply because we dont’ have the access to information or political levers that other racial groups have.  To make matters worst, the state budget crisis has forced many agencies throughout the state to either scale back or completely suspend their beach water quality monitoring programs that aim to keep us all safe. 

Amid all these bad news, you may ask yourself, “well what can I do about it? how can I help?”  Well for starters, you can help by checking out the Beach Report Card Annual Report  and look up your favorite beach and demand of the local officials in charge of that beach to do something about it to repair the condition of the water.  You can also do your small part: join one of Heal the Bay’s beach cleanups (which is especially important, being that the Beach Report Card itself identifies only fecal bacteria and does not take into account actual street trash that ends up in the ocean).

Update: we received quite a few coverage in the local media:

Some television stories:

http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-beach-report,0,5432753.story

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/state&id=6824983

http://www.ktvu.com/news/19523064/detail.html

Some of the many newspaper articles:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-beaches21-2009may21,0,6689209.story

http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_12411408?nclick_check=1

http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_12415846

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/may/20/bn20beaches-report-card/  

http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/may/20/county-gets-incomplete-grade-in-annual-water/

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/20/MN0H17OAB8.DTL&tsp=1

http://www.pe.com/ap_news/California/CA_Polluted_Beaches_407921C.shtml

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2009/may/21/state-budget-crisis-could-endanger-beachgoers/

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Bring Back the Beach

Honoree H. David Nahai with boardmember Julia Louis-Dreyfus at Heal the Bay's 17th Annual Benefit Dinner held on May 29, 2008. Photo: Derek Goes

Honoree H. David Nahai with boardmember Julia Louis-Dreyfus at Heal the Bay's 17th Annual Benefit Dinner held on May 29, 2008. Photo: Derek Goes

It’s always exciting to see businesses advertise their products through donations to benefit events for worthy causes because it not only promotes social responsibility, but it also gives businesses an opportunity to advertise their products to key leaders of activist circles. 

One such event is Heal the Bay’s annual benefit dinner, “Bring Back the Beach.”  The kinds of products and services that are donated to be featured and auctioned off to support the important work that the organization does to protect our rivers and ocean and the type of environmental justice work that I’ve been doing in South Central L.A. (PDF Document-scroll down to pages 8 & 9) receive a lot of exposure.  Here’s an excerpt that describes them, straight from the www.healthebay.org site:

This year’s Bring Back the Beach Live Auction once again includes a variety of exciting and unique items, featuring the all-new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. Other Live Auction items include a walk-on role for the New Adventures of Old Christine, exclusive game suites for the Lakers, and a sumptuous stay at the Four Seasons at Wailea.

This year’s Silent Auction offers guests nearly 300 items from which to choose, ranging from exquisite, collectible art works from Jillian Kogan, Jay Lewis, Laraine Mestman and many others; guest accommodations including the Ambrose Hotel, Casa Del Mar, the Fairmont Newport Beach Getaway, Loews Coranado Bay Resort, and Shutters on the Beach; as well as exclusive life-style experiences ranging from private surf lessons and helicopter sight-seeing tours, to an incredible, one-of-a-kind culinary experience with LA Weekly’s Pulitzer-prize winning food critic, Jonathan Gold.

Plus, as part of our continued focus on making Bring Back the Beach a sustainable event through reducing, reusing and recycling, our Auction will once again highlight a number of ‘experience-based’ packages; for example a dining-out adventure with Pulitzer-prize winning, food critic Jonathan Gold was a past favorite.

This benefit dinner will take place on May 28th so there is still time time to support this event (this is especially important and urgent because the state budget crisis has impacted Heal the Bay’s operational budget): you can donate a product or service by calling (310) 451-1500.  In addition, if you or your business would like to purchase a ticket ($500.00 individual) or better yet, purchase an entire table, please visit this site.

I can tell you from personal experience (I’ve worked at this event for the past two years-this will be my third one I will be attending) that this benefit dinner is very fun.  They start with an open bar out in the entrance of the hangar.  As you mingle throughout the display of items that are part of the “silent auction”, you never know who you’ll run into (last year I actually shared a joke with Chef Ramsay).   In past dinners, I’ve actually seen up close and personal  various personalities such as Alex Trebek, Amy Smart, Kelly Slater, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bob Saget, and many more.  Best thing is that although the dinner itself is quite “chic”, it’s not a formal attire event … so basically you just dress “beach chic” (whatever that is, LOL).

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