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Air quality plan can improve public health in the Eastern Coachella Valley, if decision makers truly listen to community

EAST COACHELLA VALLEY — Almost three years ago, residents in the community of North Shore began talking about what could be done to improve air quality in the Eastern Coachella Valley. 

The Salton Sea has caused  nosebleeds among children, higher levels of asthma, and emits toxic dust from the drying lakebed — including hydrogen sulfide and pesticide residue.  These pollutants freely enter resident homes and plague public community spaces. 

Surrounded by industrial agriculture farmworkers and their families are constantly harmed by pesticides. Other issues like offroading, ozone, particulate matter, and land use decisions are additional concerns that the community has said have been unaddressed for years. Meanwhile, all of this restricts our ability to breathe and stay healthy. 

Community conversations, growing to over 80 people, continued about once a month in residents’ homes and community centers through 2018 and 2019.

At the heart of those conversations was the Community Air Protection Program, from Assembly Bill 617. Since passing in 201, AB 617 created a path for communities that are overburdened with pollution to directly address air quality concerns, expand air monitoring, and reduce emissions for the overall sake of improving public health. 

Thanks to the leadership of community residents, the California Air Resources Board selected the Eastern Coachella Valley in 2019 as one of four communities across California to begin the hard work of developing solutions for the growing environmental and public health concerns in the region. 

Since then the community has worked hard to develop an enforceable plan that could vastly increase air monitoring, reduce emissions, and improve public health. 

But, we’re not quite there yet.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District published a draft Community Emissions Reduction Plan for our community in early November for public review and comment. We were provided just one week to review and comment on a plan intended to respond to community priorities.

While the community has provided input and recommendations for emission reduction measures over the last three years, the plan fails to comply with state law and falls short of improving our ability to breathe. 

AB 617 is one of the many tools available to decision-makers and communities alike to improve our air quality and health for all of the Eastern Coachella Valley.

The draft emission reduction plan has left out key air quality priorities that the community has elevated over the course of this year. This disregard of community priorities has led to feelings of frustration, distrust, neglect, and intimidation within the community steering committee. Adding to these frustrations: a lack of meaningful and effective actions that are meant to reduce emissions. 

We cannot expect to see real emission reduction in the Eastern Coachella Valley from this draft as written. It would defy what AB 617 requires air quality regulators to do.  

Here is the bottomline: We still have an opportunity to work on a plan the Eastern Coachella Valley deserves. 

AB 617 is one of the many tools available to decision-makers and communities alike to improve our air quality and health for all of the Eastern Coachella Valley. This program has helped unite residents, organizations, and agencies from different backgrounds, but the community has not seen its collective voice reflected in the plan or the process.

[Read the drafted Community Emissions Reduction Plan here]

We urge the South Coast AQMD Governing Board to support residents by directing staff to address and incorporate all community input, as well as ensure that the plan includes quantifiable emission reduction targets and enforceable regulatory and incentive strategies. We look forward to working with our representative, Supervisor Manuel Pérez, who represents our community on the Governing Board, to make sure this plan responds to community priorities.

How will you use your voice and your power to support residents in creating a plan that will clean the air and protect the health of all Eastern Coachella Valley residents? Join us on December 4th at South Coast AQMD’s Governing Board meeting at 9:00 am where the draft plan will be considered for approval. 

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