Will the State Budget Affect Environmental Justice for the South Bay?

By Christopher A. Ozomgi, Environmental Journalist

For all the pandemic and election-related turmoil engrossing the rest of the United States, California continues to resiliently chug along, awash in good fortune; or so it appeared on January 8th, when California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a proposed 2021-22 state budget that opened eyes across the nation, primarily owing to its $15 billion one-time surplus and $227 billion total. Despite the projected need for extreme budget cuts and other austerity measures — owing to the destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — Newsom’s proposed budget has demonstrated that such projections were patently mistaken; such mistakes can be attributed to a surging stock market that generally insulated the upper-class from economic struggles, thereby flushing the state with healthy tax revenue.

Thus, for the purposes of the Palos Verdes-South Bay Group, the question arises: what provisions are included within said budget to promote environmental justice in the group’s vicinity? Even more specifically, how will environmental inequities, particularly those resulting from pollution in and around the Port of L.A., be corrected?

Relating to the former question — centered around broad environmental justice initiatives in the local area — Gov. Newsom’s budget features a key provision that will help rectify previous environmental mishaps, to the benefit of disadvantaged communities. According to the budget summary the state budget will include a “$500 million one-time General Fund for infill infrastructure grants to facilitate affordable and sustainable housing development on brownfield sites. Developing these sites creates an opportunity to leverage private sector resources for the cleanup of these properties.” A brownfield site is a property that has been compromised by the presence of “a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the EPA. There are an estimated 450,000 brownfields in the U.S., including at least 18 in Wilmington alone. As such, many of these sites waste away, unable to be redeveloped or repurposed due to the severe costs involved with removing the polluting material. Furthermore, given that low-income neighborhoods (such as Wilmington) tend to be positioned near industrial areas and other such pollutant-rich areas, the majority of brownfield sites inhibit infrastructure improvements and depress property values, contributing to community blight and increasing community health risks.  Funding to clean up these brownfield sites will make it possible to develop them for commercial or recreational use, or perhaps for housing.  Thus, carried out successfully, Newsom’s General Fund will restore a lower-income part of the South Bay while simultaneously reducing the area’s land pollution.

Finally, the proposed state budget does indeed address some of the glaring environmental injustices occurring in and around the Port of Los Angeles, with diesel-powered ships “poised to become the region’s largest source of smog-causing pollutants in coming years,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Diesel also powers trucks and trains that carry freight to and from the port by way of the 710 corridor, forcing people living in disadvantaged communities along the corridor to breathe hazardous air. Spectrum News, reporting on infrastructure investments in the budget says 50% “is targeted toward disadvantaged communities that have disproportionately experienced the effects of poor air quality resulting from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, including along the 710 corridor that handles freight in and out of the ports of LA and Long Beach.” Specific examples of such infrastructure investments include “$500 million in funding for low-income Californians to purchase cleaner vehicles, as well as funds to support the purchase of clean trucks, buses, and [trains].” Ideally, such subsidies would facilitate the introduction of zero-emission vehicles into the poorer, more polluted communities — like those along the 710 corridor — which need them the most. Thus, although the fight for emissions regulations in and around the Port of L.A. rages on, Gov. Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 state budget takes concrete steps towards rectifying the pollution-related injustices of the past towards the disadvantaged in the form of infrastructure investments, while hopefully mitigating future injustices.

Assuming these proposals remain intact after the budget is revised in May and passed by the legislature in the summer, Palos Verdes South Bay Group members can rest assured with the comforting knowledge that California’s record-setting proposed state budget in 2021-22 will not ignore the glaring need for environmental justice in the area.

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