Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to spend nearly $177 million to expedite the cleanup of lead contamination in areas near the former Exide plant in Vernon was celebrated as a victory for local community activists.
“This is a day of celebration,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León at a press conference held Friday morning at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. The church has been the site of weekly meetings for community leaders who for years have fought to close the Vernon plant and seek remedy from the contamination.
“The dedication and determination of community organizers and residents who have rightfully demanded a safe and healthy environment for their families has brought us to this point and I cannot overstate my appreciation for their fearless action,” De León said in a statement.
In recent years, activists had singled out Brown for ignoring an environmental crisis in a mostly working class community. On Wednesday, the Governor laid out a $176.6 spending plan that would pay for the testing of up to 10,000 homes and clean up as many as 3,000 of the most contaminated homes by June of 2017.
Under the plan, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control would test homes in an expanded area that includes portions of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell, Huntington Park and Maywood.
“This Exide battery recycling facility has been a problem for a very long time,” Brown said in a statement. “With this funding plan, we’re opening a new chapter that will help protect the community and hold Exide responsible.”
The Governor’s plan calls for the money to be borrowed from the General Fund and then the state would go after Exide to get the money back. De León said he would co-sponsor legislation to get the funds approved quickly
Several elected officials representing the areas affected by the Exide contamination attended Friday’s press conference. Among them was County Supervisor Hilda Solís, who last fall pushed for the Board of Supervisors to approve a $2 million fund to help with the cleanup. Also present was Councilman José Huízar, who just a week before had introduced a resolution calling for the governor and legislature to move quickly on the cleanup.
Also present were Congressman Xavier Becerra, State Assemblyman Miguel Santiago and State Senator Ricardo Lara.
For years, community activists complained that state regulators allowed Exide to operate without a full permit, despite repeated citations for violating hazardous waste laws and emitting too much lead and arsenic.
The plant agreed to permanently shut down last March in a deal with the U.S. attorney’s office that allowed Exide to avoid criminal charges.
Photo above: Several elected officials joined local community activists at Friday’s press conference in Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. Photo courtesy of Kevin De León’s office.