Let Valley’s green revolution begin

BY REY LEÓN

Fresno May 7, 2014 Updated 15 hours ago

We are familiar with many of poverty’s trappings in the San Joaquin Valley’s rural towns: inadequate health care, disappointing schools, pollution and a lack of good job opportunities.

Transportation poverty doesn’t come up nearly as often, but it’s real, and it’s suppressing the progress of many families.

My own hometown of Huron, a nearly 100% Latino farmworker community, is the poorest city in the state. Unemployment is always in the double digits, and represents a larger percentage than any industry’s employment numbers in the area. Officially, 30% of residents are out of work — that’s more than double the Fresno County average, itself among the highest rates in the nation. The true number of workers seeking a living-wage career, at least, is higher still.

Behind unemployment, Huron’s second-place industry is migrant farm work. In harvest season, our population grows from 6,700 to more than 15,000, at least when things are good. Today, it is evident that only by diversifying our local economy can we make it more sustainable.

Air pollution feels like an intractable problem here, too, and plays a leading role in our high rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Pollution from vehicles is the main source of the problem.

When people in Huron do find work, it can be a three-hour drive to get there. People pile into someone’s old, carbon monoxide-spewing car or take one of the slow diesel buses. When you add in all the farm equipment nearby and ancient diesel trucks that belch out clouds of black fumes in Huron, it’s not surprising that our poor air quality results in so many health problems for people.

Meanwhile, in what feels like a million miles away, we hear that a clean vehicle revolution is underway in other parts of California. “Other” is, unfortunately, a familiar term in our community, where we are always the “other” that puts in the sacrifice but never cashes in on the rewards.

California already accounts for more than one-third of electric vehicles sold nationwide. Electric-drive buses are taking hold in many places. Even electric trucks are coming to market and are replacing dirty diesel models.

Yet, evidence of an electric revolution is almost undetectable in Fresno County — and practically unthinkable to the campesinos in my town.

While the coastal cities of the Bay Area and Los Angeles are enjoying the benefits of clean, zero-emission vehicles, it’s a very different story for us. A gallon of gas is more expensive in Huron than in Fresno, and we also pay the highest price when it comes to our health.

Don’t we deserve clean air and clean vehicles, too?

If there’s any good news, it’s that there are ambitious changes underway to improve these scenarios.

Gov. Jerry Brown has set his sights on electric vehicles, and lawmakers have introduced a plan to ensure that low-income communities and people of color who suffer the greatest consequences of vehicle pollution are full participants in California’s electric future.

The governor’s 2014-15 budget directs $200 million raised from polluting industries through the state’s successful cap-and-trade program to fund electric transportation initiatives, and prioritizes funding in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

And the Valley is likely to see millions more to support clean projects in the years ahead, when polluting oil refineries are added to the program, starting next year. The Hurons of our region will benefit immensely, as will areas such as the west and southwest of the city of Fresno.

The Charge Ahead California Initiative (SB 1275), proposed by Sen. Kevin De León, commits the state to a goal of 1 million electric cars, trucks, and buses on the state’s roads by 2023. The bill builds on existing state rebates to offset the cost of an electric car and re-targets the program to serve low-income and moderate-income Californians.

To invest further in electric vehicles, SB 1275 provides funding for ridesharing programs in low-income communities, an important means of transportation for farmworkers and their families. And it provides additional incentives, making it easier for owners of heavily polluting cars to retire them or replace them with clean ones.

Transitioning roads in Fresno County to make electric vehicles more common will not solve all the challenges of living in a small, poor, rural town, but it will definitely clean the air and improve our health.

The next step is getting the green economy and renewable technologies industry into the Valley, to provide green jobs. This is the other piece of the puzzle to enable low-income communities of color to be participants in an exciting and growing sector of California’s green economy.

Let it begin, for environmental, economic and transportation justice!

Rey León was born and raised in Fresno County. He is the founder and executive director of ValleyLEAP, an environmental and social justice organization serving communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/05/07/3915173/let-valleys-green-revolution-beginthe.html?sp=/99/274/#storylink=cpy

The Central Valley Was Ride-Sharing Long Before Uber

On the Bus, My Hometown Is Hours Away From Schools, Hospitals, and Good Jobs. Carpooling Is a Way of Life Here.

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Public transportation is a huge challenge in Huron, the city of about 7,000 people in California’s Central Valley where I grew up. If you need to make the 110-mile round trip bus trip to Fresno to go to the doctor’s office, courthouse, pharmacy, or grocery store, prepare for a long and time-consuming journey. The rural bus system is slow, infrequent, and all but useless.

My cousin, a farmworker, was in a car accident when I was a kid. To visit him on his deathbed at the nearest hospital, my mother and I got on the bus in Huron. Three hours—and 13 or 14 stops later—we arrived in Fresno. In that time, we could have driven to Los Angeles, 192 miles away, with a pit stop at a burger place. Decades later, that bus ride still takes more than five hours round trip. There is only one bus to Fresno per day; it leaves Huron at 8:30 a.m. and arrives at 11 a.m., and then leaves Fresno at 3 p.m. to arrive back in Huron at 5:30 p.m. People who make that trip spend more time on the bus than they do running errands and attending appointments.

That bus ride is one of the reasons why, in 2008, I founded the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement Project (Valley LEAP), an environmental justice nonprofit that seeks to improve life in my hometown and others like it. The length of the bus ride is a powerful physical and psychological barrier for this farmworker city, which has one of the highest poverty rates (46 percent) in the state. There might as well be a wall between Huron and the world’s opportunities. It’s a struggle for Huron students just to get to the regional high school, which is 20 miles away and takes two hours round trip by bus. Students from Huron begin the school day an hour earlier and end it an hour later, which takes a toll on student achievement. To further one’s education in far-off Fresno or UC Merced is almost unthinkable.

Owning a car is tremendously expensive: the typical cost of gas and maintenance is usually between $400 and $600. For some farmworkers, who often make $1,200 a month, that’s as much as half their income. And we’re not the only town in the Valley where owning a car is a necessity. A forthcoming multi-community study by UC Davis researchers Jonathan London and Alex Karner found that a 45-minute commute by car gave Valley workers access to nearly 90 times more blue-collar, health, retail, and service jobs than a 45-minute commute by bus. Ninety times!

How do people get by? They collaborate. Last year, Eddy Reyes, one our fellows at LEAP, worked with scholars at UC Merced and UC Davis to survey 28 farmworkers in Huron, Hanford, and Fresno to learn how much money they spend on their cars. He discovered that half of them carpool to work—or to put it another way, they leverage their social capital for economic mobility. In this survey, Reyes uncovered an entire informal transportation system that is virtually invisible to outsiders and policymakers in Sacramento. One feature of this system is theraiteros—retired farmworkers who have the trust and respect of people in Huron and provide informal transportation to get people to hospitals, courts, and other critical appointments in Fresno for a cheap rate.

Ride-sharing works in Huron because in this diverse society of migrants, there is a long tradition of social ties that intertwine generations. For example, when my father, a bracero, brought my mother to Huron from Michoacán, she was immediately adopted by an older person in the neighborhood and mentored on adapting to her new American reality. Today elders will often provide rides to recently settled migrant farmworker families who are new to Huron and unfamiliar with the public transportation system. They also provide a tremendous service for people who don’t know how to drive or who lack a car or driver’s license.

We in Huron should be proud of this system, but there’s more we can do to improve transportation and open up access and opportunities to the people here. A Caltrans-funded planning process that resulted in a report by Valley LEAP, the City of Huron, and the local government commission recommended strategies to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists—like widening sidewalks and creating bike lanes—and to improve the local public transportation system by adding benches, maps, and schedules at Huron bus stops.

There are other ideas as well. At Valley LEAP, we want to see the city’s raiteros go “green” by making the city of Huron’s two rarely used hybrid cars available to them. With careful scheduling, raiteros could earn an income and spend less on gas by, for example, taking a family to a child’s asthma appointment at the Central California Children’s Hospital in Madera County. This plan could also save money for Fresno County, which pays for expensive taxi rides for the elderly with Fresno County’s Measure C funds. Making ride-sharing green would lower transportation costs and lessen pollution impacts for both families and the city government.

We’d also like to figure out how to use community-based vans instead of cars so raiteros can shuttle more people to jobs and appointments, and so there will be fewer vehicles on the roads. Vanpooling cuts greenhouse gas emissions for travel by 77 percent—even more than riding some buses and trains.

California Vanpool Authority—or Cal Vans—already does some of this work, getting students to school, workers to farms, and correctional officers to prisons in the Central Valley. Unfortunately, Cal Vans is only available to seasonal users who ride five to seven days a week. We’d like to see the Cal Vans program make some exceptions to this rule so that a portion of their vans can be used based on need rather than on a set schedule.

California is always ahead of the game when it comes to technology and innovation. It’s time to embrace the Valley’s social innovation and stimulate a fluid system to connect our orchards, crops, neighborhoods, downtowns, and more than 20 educational institutions. In ads and labels, organic is sexy, sustainability is hot, and green is slapped on everything (green or not). What we really need is for the workers behind those labels—the people who grow and pick the nation’s produce—to have greener rides, greener pockets, and a harvest of opportunities, too.

Rey León is a UC Berkeley alum, Valley native, and founder and executive director of Valley LEAP, a Latino, Valley-based environmental and climate justice organization. @LATINOENVIRO
This essay is supported by a grant from the Sierra Health Foundation.
PRIMARY EDITOR: BECCA MACLAREN. SECONDARY EDITOR: JOE MATHEWS.

 

Driving Out of the Red with Greener Cars

Policies for Cheaper, Cleaner Auto Transportation in California’s Central Valley
By Lisa Margonelli

March 24, 2014 | New America Foundation

Income inequality in California is already high, and it continues to increase. This income inequality is exacerbated by unequal access to jobs, credit, and efficient vehicles. Wages in California’s Central Valley are lower than in the rest of the state, and workers there must commute long distances, with little access to alternative transportation, in older, inefficient cars. As a result, some working families in the Central Valley spend as much as a third to half of their income on fueling and maintaining their vehicle. Some lower-income neighborhoods also suffer from very high levels of tailpipe exhaust from cars that have become unregistered. This new white paper contains on-the-ground reporting, a new survey of farmworkers, and empirical analysis of the burden of transportation costs on Valley families. Amidst the bad news, the report also discovered that the Central Valley is a hotspot for transit innovation: Valley workers have used their social networks to carpool and vanpool at a higher rate than the rest of the state.

This white paper builds a case for “double green” vehicle policies that work to reduce smog and carbon emissions while saving households money. The passage of Senate Bill 459 started a statewide conversation about how to use millions in state vehicle scrap-and-replace funds to better reach middle and lower income households. Building on that premise, the second half of this report looks at policy options that would reduce families’ costs, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and give workers more choices. A range of national and state programs have successfully made auto loans to lower income households, and this report suggest how the state of California might leverage state tools such as loan loss replacement funds, state low-cost insurance, and scrap and replacement funds to create a sustainable auto loan program. Done well, such a loan program could be expanded to middle class households and advanced vehicles in the future. In addition, the state should work to maintain and expand the use of carpools and van pools in the Valley so that rural families have convenient low-cost and low carbon transportation choices.

Making policies more equitable is key to making them more effective. In California, as elsewhere, policies have awarded rebates and tax breaks to early adopters of hybrid and electric vehicles, even though they tend to have incomes well above $100,000 a year. Another sector of policies raises prices to change behavior. Lower income families, who cannot access credit on fair terms, are left paying higher costs without being able to get electric vehicles or rebates. Yet, they are already changing their behavior–many save on education, medicine, and food to afford their commute. Not only are these policies unfair, they also undercut the effectiveness of millions the state is spending on rebates for electric vehicles. A single 1984 vehicle emits more than 70 times as much tailpipe pollution as a 2012 conventional vehicle, effectively negating rebates for that number of electric cars. To reach its high environmental goals, the state must find ways to partner with working families to reduce their costs while making California greener.

Click here to read the full paper

Witness to Courageous Indignation

Arcela Nunez-Alvarez
Founder and Executive Director at Transnational Communities Corporation (TCC)
Witness to Courageous Indignation
March 9, 2014
By Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez

Over 8,577 farmworkers live in the community of Mecca, California. They include men who work from sunrise to sunset under scorching sun to satisfy America’s hunger for fresh fruits and vegetables; women work alongside the men in the fields while caring for their family’s every need at all times; children who go to school, laugh and play with contagious energy like all children do. What’s different about this farmworker community; however, is that every breath of fresh air they inhale, every drop of fresh clean water that quenches their thirst, every bite they take into a crunchy juicy apple, and every step they take as they walk along ancient dirt roads lined with palms is only a mirage.

The community faces serious socio-economic and environmental issues including air pollution, arsenic in local water, unemployment, low educational attainment, few afterschool programs and activities for youth, limited access to professional development and training opportunities for adults, limited access to technology, and limited access to healthy food.

Unity has real meaning here because people know each other. Their lives are familiar and intertwined. Good news travel quickly and bad news even faster. The majority of adults traveled from distant and faraway lands in search of work and a better future at some point in the last century. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of the population migrated from Latin America, Mexico specifically. Over time, they planted themselves in this land where the success of agriculture in the desert became an admirable scientific miracle for the crops that abound as well as for the strength and resilience of the people who work the land and are now deeply rooted in this community. Today, ninety-two percent (92%) of the population speaks Spanish. Over seventy percent (70%) of the population has less than a high school education and forty-nine (49%) of the population lives below the poverty level with a median household income of $26,592.

Nonetheless, they wake up every morning with the vision of a life, like the rest of us, in which sacrifice gives way to fulfilled dreams and plentiful opportunities. They eat, love, play, pray and die like the rest of America. They believe in democracy and understand it through their children’s pledge of allegiance. They are faithful believers of the American Dream. “Our children are citizens,” a community member pointed out, “and they deserve to be treated like Americans.”

They go to local and state representatives seeking support to help them improve access to basic infrastructure and services such as electricity, safe drinking water, drainage and pavement. However, their pleas for help go unheard time and time again. Everyone around them seems to be deaf and blind to what is happening to them and their children. Some of the community leaders are facing eviction and other forms of intimidation yet they remain strong and unafraid. When they should be bitter and outraged, they speak passionately and poetically about human rights and the wrongs perpetrated against the community. When they should be aggressive and skeptical, they talk about respect and dignity. When they should be greedy and protective of what they have, they willingly share their bottled water and food with others. When they should be exhausted from working so hard, they volunteer more. Action by action, they demonstrate what it means to be a caring person and collectively embody courageous indignation.

Trans-Pacific Partnership | A Trojan horse for corporate control of agriculture

Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | January 29, 2014

A lot of damage can be done with just a few words. In no other context is this as true as the case of so-called free trade agreements. I believe these should be renamed “Free [to exploit] trade treaties”.  The case against free trade treaties can be made through a quick critical analysis of the patenting regime outlined in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty, which I view as a Trojan horse of neoliberal designs for corporate capitalist control of food and agriculture.

The November 2013 documents related to the secretive TPP dumped by Wikileaks have been by now thoroughly analyzed.[i] One of the principal concerns to emerge has to do with the extension of the enclosure of our biological and cultural commons through a patenting regime that, following the dictates of US law, turns everything into a patentable commodity including plant and animal biological materials and processes.

This is a cause for great concern and as a farmer, seed saver, and plant breeder I find a lot to object to in the rules outlined in Section E: Patents/Undisclosed Test or Other Data/Traditional Knowledge (pp. 28ff). United States negotiators and their corporate overseers are trying to extend the U.S. patenting and intellectual property rights regime through this “investor-state” treaty. There are several troubling items in §E involving language proposed by the USA. For example, under “Article QQ.E.1 {Patents\Patentable Subject matter}”, the USA proposes, in paragraph 1 that:

…each Party shall make patents available for any invention, whether a product or process, in all fields of technology, provided that the invention is new, involves an inventive step, and is capable of industrial application. The Parties confirm that: (a) patents shall be available for any new uses or methods of using a known product…

Under paragraph 3, the USA – opposed by several other countries including New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia, and Mexico – further proposes that:

…each Party shall make patents available for inventions for the following (a) plants and animals; b) diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals…and (c) essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals, other than non-biological and microbiological processes for such production. (p. 28)

A note at the bottom of this page notes that “For purposes of this [Section] Article, a Party may deem the terms “inventive step” and “capable of industrial application” to be synonymous with the terms “non-obvious” and “useful””. This establishes language taken right out of U.S. patent law and creates the slippery slope toward the patenting of life.

One group of countries has expressed opposition to the generalization of the standards imposed by US patent and intellectual property law. Specifically, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Chile, and Malaysia propose an alternative that states:

Each Party may also exclude from patentability

(a) diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals; and plants and animals other than microorganisms, and essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals other than non-biological and microbiological processes. However, Parties shall provide for the protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective sui generis system or by any combination thereof. (p. 29)

At the heart of the widening social movements against the TPP is the idea that large corporations should not control something as basic as our food. In the 1970s, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said: “Control oil and you control nations.” Today, the same maxim can be modified to read: “Control food and you control the people.” The struggle for food sovereignty and indigenous autonomy lies at the heart of the widening opposition to the TPP.

An easily overlooked aspect of the TPP has to do with the burden of proof for dispute resolution procedures.  One recent legal analysis concludes that the TPP provisions on TRIPs (trade-related intellectual property laws) would shift the burden for bringing enforcement actions from private right holders to the public (Flynn et al 2012:196). This further seals the idea that the TPP, continuing the tradition initiated under NAFTA, is establishing yet another domain for the exercise of the sovereignty of corporations as parties of regulation unto themselves.

Sources cited

Flynn, S. M. B. Baker, M. Kaminski, and J. Koo. 2012. The U.S. proposal for an intellectual property chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  American University International Law Review 28:1:105-202.

Devon G. Peña, Ph.D. is Founder and President of The Acequia Institute and a newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First. He is a professor of anthropology, ethnic studies, and environmental studies at the University of Washington.

[i] Some recent critical analysis of the TPP include the work done by Public Citizen at its website, https://www.citizen.org/TPP.

Join the Inter-Continental Day of Action Against TPP
January 31st 2014, 4:30 PM
SF Federal Building
90 Seventh Street San Francisco 

https://www.facebook.com/events/264783157012374/

Governor Brown signs two more bills to make California Greener! Good for planet, people and pockets!

SB 43, Wolk. Electricity: Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program. SB 459, Pavley. Vehicle retirement: low-income motor vehicle owners.

[Approved by Governor September 28, 2013. Filed with Secretary of State September 28, 2013.]

This bill would enact the Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program. The program would require a participating utility, defined as being an electrical corporation with 100,000 or more customers in California, to file with the commission an application requesting approval of a green tariff shared renewables program to implement a program enabling ratepayers to participate directly in offsite electrical generation facilities that use eligible renewable energy resources, consistent with certain legislative findings and statements of intent. The bill would require the commission, by July 1, 2014, to issue a decision concerning the participating utility’s application, determining whether to approve or disapprove the application, with or without modifications. The bill would require the commission, after notice and opportunity for public comment, to approve the application if the commission determines that the proposed program is reasonable and consistent with the legislative findings and statements of intent. The bill would require the commission to require that a participating utility’s green tariff shared renewables program be administered in accordance with specified provisions. The bill would repeal the program on January 1, 2019.

SB 43    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_43&sess=CUR&house=B&search_type=email

HISTORY http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0001-0050/sb_43_bill_20130928_history.html

 

SB 459, Pavley. Vehicle retirement: low-income motor vehicle owners.

[Approved by Governor September 30, 2013. Filed with Secretary of State September 30, 2013.]

This bill would require instead a motor vehicle to have been registered without substantial lapse, as determined by the department, in the state for at least 2 years prior to vehicle retirement and to have failed any type of smog check inspection lawfully performed in the state to qualify to receive a specified vehicle retirement payment. The bill would authorize, rather than require, the department to permit vehicle retirement for any motor vehicle that has been registered without substantial lapse in the state for at least 2 years prior to vehicle retirement and that fails any type of smog check inspection lawfully performed in the state.

This bill would require the state board, in consultation with the bureau and no later than June 30, 2015, to update the guidelines for the enhanced fleet modernization program to include specified elements and to study and consider specified elements. The bill would make various findings and declarations. The bill, in addition, would establish compensation for replacement vehicles for low-income vehicle owners at not less than $2,500, would make replacement an option for all motor vehicle owners, and would make this compensation available to an owner in addition to the compensation for a retired vehicle. The bill would prohibit this compensation for all other motor vehicle owners from exceeding the compensation for low-income motor vehicle owners. The bill would authorize instead an increase in the compensation under these programs for either retired or replacement vehicles for only low-income motor vehicle owners as necessary to balance maximizing air quality benefits of the program while ensuring participation by low-income motor vehicle owners, as specified.

 
SB 459   http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_459&sess=CUR&house=B&search_type=email

HISTORY http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0451-0500/sb_459_bill_20130930_history.html

CLIMATE CHANGE

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate Change is Real

Thanks to extensive research and noticeable changes in weather and storm prevalence, it’s getting harder to turn a blind eye to the reality of climate change. Since the Industrial Age spurred the increasing usage of fossil fuels for energy production, the weather has been warming slowly. In fact, since 1880, the temperature of the earth has increased by 1 degree Celsius.

Although 72% of media outlets report on global warming with a skeptical air, the overwhelming majority of scientists believe that the extreme weather of the last decade is at least partially caused by global warming. Some examples of climate calamities caused partly by global warming include:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Drought in desert countries
  • Hurricane Sandy
  • Tornadoes in the Midwest

These storms, droughts, and floods are causing death and economic issues for people all over the world – many of whom cannot afford to rebuild their lives from the ground up after being wiped out by a tsunami or other disaster.

Evidence also indicates that the face of the Earth is changing because of warming trends. The ice caps of the Arctic are noticeably shrinking, the ice cap of Mt. Kilimanjaro alone has shrunk by 85% in the last hundred years, and the sea levels are rising at the rate of about 3 millimeters per year because of all the melting ice. Climate change is also affecting wildlife – for instance, Arctic polar bears are at risk of losing their environment; the Golden Toad has gone extinct; and the most adaptable species are evolving into new versions capable of withstanding warmer water.

Despite some naysayers with alternative theories about why global temperatures are rising – including the idea that the earth goes through natural temperature cycles every few millennia – the dramatic changes in the earth’s atmospheric makeup suggests humans are to blame. In fact, 97% of scientists agree humans are responsible for climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels increased 38% because of humans, methane levels have increased 148%, nitrous oxide is up 15% – and the list goes on and on, all because of human-instigated production, manufacturing, and organizations and individuals work hard to promote an Earth-friendly existence, resistance to change is rampant and actions are slow. For instance, while the US Environmental Protection Agency is still working on collecting data to support development of greenhouse gas reduction expectations for businesses, most of their efforts feel more like pre-research than actual change. Other countries have made efforts – such as signing to Kyoto Protocol to reduce their 1990 emission levels by 18% by 2020 – but the only solution will require the whole world band together.

Steps anyone can take to reduce global warming include:

  • Driving a car with good gas mileage, or investing in a hybrid or electric car
  • Switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFL or LED
  • Insulating your home and stocking it with energy efficient appliances
  • Recycling
  • Using green power available in your area

Check out the infographic below to see what else the changing climate is affecting.

http://www.learnstuff.com/climate-change/

Click on image and after it opens in other tab, click again and enjoy the nice graphic facts!climate-change

Valley’s poor, Latino towns such as Huron can’t get state aid

Published: May 26, 2013

By Mark Grossi — The Fresno Bee

HURON — At 5:30 a.m., the main drag here fills with campesinos — farmworkers facing another sweaty day at low pay. Fieldwork is the main occupation in poverty-plagued Huron.

The 98% Latino city might seem the poster child for disadvantaged communities in California.

It is poorest among cities in the state, according to U.S. Census numbers, and fourth-poorest in California by a state analysis released this year. The analysis also shows that Huron is third-worst for education — three-quarters of residents older than 25 don’t have a high school diploma.

Yet the city of nearly 7,000 does not qualify as a disadvantaged community on the fast track for a piece of the money being raised in the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The money might be used for all kinds of projects to improve the city.

But the fast track to funding is all about health risk, and it takes more than poverty, lack of education and a community of color to be on it. About 20 health-risk factors are considered, including low birth weights, traffic density and exposure to toxic chemical releases.

Rosa Moreno, 45, who grew up in Huron and works with a Latino group to improve the city, says she can’t believe Huron doesn’t qualify as a disadvantaged community with extreme health risks.

“Huron needs the help,” Moreno says. “Why isn’t Huron on that list?”

Huron in southwest Fresno County is not the only Valley poverty pocket that didn’t qualify for the fast track.

This look at Huron and other poor Latino communities is part of The Bee’s series Living in a Toxic Land, an ongoing investigation of environmental risks that confront the San Joaquin Valley.

More than half of California’s 20 poorest ZIP codes are in the Valley. Most are Latino-dominated. But they do not have enough health risks to be on the list, according to the state.

Like many rural areas, Huron has its own local problems. Soil containing naturally occurring asbestos just outside of town. For decades, a creek has flooded periodically and blocked Lassen Avenue, dropping more and more asbestos-laced sediment from the mountains to the west.

Asbestos fibers are linked to lung cancer. Are they harming Huron residents? Past state investigations have concluded the danger is minimal, but residents still wonder.

Sitting in the El Michoacano restaurant in Huron, Moreno says all kinds of health problems are widespread here — asthma, heart problems, cancer. She suffered a cancerous thyroid tumor.

“A lot of people have trouble breathing here,” said Moreno. “There are pesticides in the fields all around.”

Pesticide exposure is among the 20 factors the California Environmental Protection Agency considered when analyzing health risks. But, like poverty, it is only one factor in assessing the risk.

Using its analysis, EPA this year released an online health screening tool, ranking the risk in more than 1,700 ZIP codes. The tool has been hit 130,000 times as Californians check on their own neighborhoods.

The ZIP codes among the top 10% riskiest will be considered a high priority for funding from the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade auctions.

The money comes from businesses buying credits to meet state greenhouse gas emission targets. The auctions are raising millions of dollars, but no specific spending plan has emerged yet.

California Rural Legal Assistance, which represents rural communities, has suggested expanding public transit, providing energy-efficiency upgrades to homes and training residents for green jobs.

Many activists like the state’s work on the new health-screening tool, but they are keeping an eye on where the money goes. They say the state EPA’s analysis is skewed toward disadvantaged communities in urban settings.

“Why are so many disadvantaged rural communities excluded?” asked Northern California sociologist Jonathan Kusel in a written comment to EPA.

EPA leaders say it is not surprising that about half of the 10% riskiest places are in Southern California around the greater Los Angeles area. The region is home to half the state’s population, they say.

In fact, state leaders have heard surprise that rural agricultural areas have so many communities in the top 10%, Sam Delson, EPA spokesman, said. He noted nearly a third of the 10% riskiest places are in the San Joaquin Valley.

Valley ZIP codes among the top 10% in risk include West Fresno and Selma in Fresno County, Kettleman City and Stratford in Kings County and Atwater and El Nido in Merced County. There are others in Tulare, Madera and San Joaquin counties.

When asked why some of the poorest Valley communities, such as Huron, were excluded, Delson said the tool was designed to analyze all the factors. It’s deceptive to look just at poverty.

“We think it’s a good example of why looking at one indicator at a time is not a particularly useful way of understanding an area’s burdens and vulnerabilities,” he said.

But the screening tool should be tweaked, said CRLA lawyer Phoebe Seaton. Aside from excluding some poor rural communities of color, it also masks the needs of disadvantaged towns in the same ZIP code as affluent cities.

She said, “We are confident that the state will make necessary changes.”

Poverty, lack of education and shorter lives are defining features in rural Valley communities.

Compared to more affluent Valley areas, people in many rural communities die a decade earlier, according to a Fresno State study. “Place matters for health in the San Joaquin Valley,” the study says.

On the west side of Fresno County, the ZIP codes of five other communities join Huron among the poorest 20 ZIP codes in the state. The communities include Raisin City, Five Points, Mendota, Tranquillity and Cantua Creek.

In Tulare County, Richgrove and Alpaugh are among the state’s 20 poorest. In Kern County, it’s Arvin. In Merced County, it’s South Dos Palos.

None qualified as disadvantaged communities with the highest risk.

Back at El Michoacano in Huron, Rosa Moreno says she left the town years ago and now lives in the Kings County community of Avenal. She still comes to Huron regularly as a volunteer with Valley LEAP (Latino Environmental Advancement Project).

“There’s no money in Huron,” Moreno said. “People used to get a $20 voucher for transportation, especially when they needed medical attention. Not now.”

Huron has medical clinics, and one of them has a pharmacy. Otherwise, people must go to surrounding cities for prescription medication.

Doctor visits here are rushed, says resident Lupe Aviña, 49, and sometimes medical problems don’t get addressed.

“People leave Huron for almost everything they need,” Aviña said. “You go to Hanford for groceries, gas, shopping and a lot of other things.”

The children of Huron are the biggest concern, say Aviña and Moreno. Another resident, Lydia Ramirez, 39, said the city needs to clean up parks, build a high school and encourage children to pursue education.

But here in the middle of world-class agriculture, there’s no spark for change, she said. “It’s sad. People don’t care about Huron.”


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, mgrossi@fresnobee.com or @markgrossi on Twitter.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/05/26/3314632/poor-latino-towns-cant-get-state.html#storylink=cpy

Rosa n Don Jose

A young man rides his bike along Lassen Avenue Tuesday, May 21, 2013 in Huron, Calif. Huron is 98 percent Latino and the fourth-poorest place in California.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE

Learn About the Life of Cesar Chavez

This is a great short video that is extremely informative, brief and pleasantly entertaining.
The Life of Cesar Chavez by Kevin Cardenas-Valera

Valley’s smaller towns hit hardest by economy

Valley’s smaller towns hit hardest by economy (four of top ten are from Fresno County)

By Kurtis Alexander- The Fresno Bee

Sunday, Dec. 09, 2012 | 10:00 PM

Fresno’s high rate of poverty has grabbed headlines and dominated discussion of the nation’s poor.

But California’s fifth-largest city, where 1 in 4 lives below the federal poverty line, is far better off — statistically speaking — than its smaller neighbors in the San Joaquin Valley.

The city of Huron, population 6,733, is the poorest city in the state, according to new census data. The city’s median household income is $22,969, almost half of Fresno’s $43,440 per household and one-third of the state’s $61,632 per household.

A mostly farmworker community near Interstate 5, Huron is among several rural cities within an hour’s drive of Fresno that rank as California’s poorest. San Joaquin and Mendota, similarly located on the Valley’s west side, also have household incomes that are among the state’s five lowest.

The hardship of these communities is nothing new. But the data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show just how tough the conditions are. The data represent five years worth of census surveys, between 2007 and 2011, and provide a picture of small cities that most data sets are too thin to offer.

“It’s hard here,” said Juanita Veliz, a lifelong resident of Huron. “I feel for the people.”

Most in Huron are hard-working and try to do the best for their families, Veliz said, but a lack of jobs and the seasonal positions in agriculture make it tough to earn a living.

“The lines are always long at the food drives,” she said.

Huron City Manager Gerald Forde said the agriculture industry, which provides about 70% of the city’s jobs, hasn’t provided enough work in recent years to accommodate the labor supply. He attributes this to changes in farming technology, water shortages and evolving market conditions.

Underlying the city’s economic struggle, nearly half of Huron’s residents are foreign born and 98% speak primarily Spanish, according to census figures.

The city, whose population grows by several thousand during the warmer harvest months, sits east of the interstate and is surrounded by miles of row crops and vegetables, such as lettuce and cotton.

At City Hall, Forde and the City Council are working to bring new businesses and job opportunities to Huron. A Family Dollar store, which opened this year, marks a small success.

National trend

Across the nation, small cities on the outskirts of large metro areas have seen bigger rises in the number of poor recently than the inner city, says Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution who studies poverty.

“It’s not that urban poverty went away, it’s just that we’re increasingly seeing poverty in the suburban areas,” she said.

Much of this shift, Kneebone said, can be explained by the small-town jobs that dried up with the recession and generally weren’t replaced. In bigger cities, by contrast, there were more jobs and different industries to fall back on during the downturn.

In Fresno, the poverty rate stands at 25.9%. That compares to 47.4% in Huron, according to the new census data. Huron’s poverty level is statistically no different than the state high of 49.7% in San Joaquin or Mendota’s 47.5%.

The poverty level varies with family size and makeup, but for an average household of two parents and two children, the poverty line last year was $22,811 of income.

Another telltale sign of poverty, Kneebone said, is a lack of education, which factors heavily into how well people can provide for themselves and their family.

Lack of education

In Huron, 75% of the adults don’t have a high school diploma. That’s the most without a high school education of all California cities, according to the census data.

San Joaquin, Arvin (Kern County), Mendota and Orange Cove (Fresno County) round out the five cities with the highest percentages of people without diplomas in the state.

In the city of Fresno, by contrast, about 25% of adults are not high-school educated.

By sheer numbers, Fresno still has more people living in poverty than the county’s rural cities. But Fresno also has more rich and middle-class residents, which means more tax dollars and job opportunities to benefit the community as a whole.

“You have fairly rapid growth in the suburban populations but there may not be the safety-net services in these municipalities,” Kneebone said. “In the suburban areas, they have this additional challenge.”

Seeking answers

Ismael Herrera, director of the San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center at Fresno State, said a lot is being done to assist the Valley’s smaller communities.

State and federal grants are helping cities build affordable housing. Churches commonly offer free meals. And nonprofits sometimes help residents pay their bills.

“Thankfully, we have a lot of partners,” said Herrera, who is a resident of Mendota. “And as neighbors we try to do our part to make sure our neighbor across the street or our neighbors next door have enough to get by on. If my father has some tomatoes he got from work, he might share them. The neighbor down the street might share some corn.”

But most critical to the well-being of these communities, Herrera said, is getting residents to stand on their own financially.

His university-backed program is helping coordinate vocational efforts at rural high schools and community colleges — to prepare people for jobs in the trades, water management and manufacturing, many outside of agriculture.

His program also is working with homegrown businesses, to help them expand.

“You start building the wealth in one household and all of a sudden you see the wealth of the community start to build,” Herrera said. “There’s opportunity for growth and prosperity here.”


California’s poorest cities

Many of the cities with the lowest annual median household incomes are small cities in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

1. Huron $22,969
2. Weed (Siskiyou County $25,659
3. San Joaquin $25,702
4. Mendota $25,807
5. Tulelake (Siskiyou County) $26,389
6. Fort Jones (Siskiyou County) $26,875
7. Orange Cove $27,642
8. Westmorland (Imperial County) $28,375
9. Clearlake (Lake County) $28,604
10. Avenal $29,183

For comparison
Fresno $43,440
California $61,632

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

 

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