Ports and CEQA

Ideas and Issues WalMart

San Jose The second day of Site Fighters III continued to pile on the good stuff, sometimes in unexpected ways.

We started off the morning with a presentation from Doug Bloch on the Change to Win staff on their ports campaign to improve the condition of port truck drivers in major ports in the USA, including Oakland, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-Newark, and Seattle. A decision point is finally coming on the campaign as the port authority in the San Pedro — Los Angeles terminal votes on the question of a new lease arrangement for the drivers that could change their independent contractor status and could lead not only to unionization but to some consideration of basic human rights for this largely immigrant workforce. Oakland would make a decision in November potentially.

Doug, a former ACORN veteran from Seattle and Oakland, made a compelling case as well for the ACORN-Teamsters partnership in Oakland around the adverse impacts of truck exhaust pollution on the largely low-income, African-American neighborhood near the port. One of five children has asthma for the highest level of incidence in the state of California in this neighborhood. The drivers are only paid for the actual container load, but have to wait for literally hours and hours in the trucks to get the load, starting at 3 AM in the morning. Many live in the trucks. The conditions are sordid and indefensible. Fortunately, the campaign seems to be picking up steam now.

I dipped into one of the workshops tha,t despite the boring title of “Land Use 101,” featured Mark Wolfe, the legal expert in California on site fights. He was describing the ten, note-taking and eager, site fighters in California and the “handles” they had because of CEQA that turned out to stand for California Environmental Quality Act. The requirements were breathtaking. The WARN staff had briefed me on their utilization on our Merced campaign, but hearing Mark go through the in’s and out’s was eye opening. Every comment forces a required response. Any project can be propelled to the requirements of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) based on something the courts there called a “fair argument” that the project “may” have a significant impact not withstanding the developer’s assertions of a “negative declaration.” Neg-decs are areas where the developer claims to have recognized adverse impacts and already moved to remediate them. Fair argument essentially boils down in any capable hands to a huge tool that, based on good faith, can trigger the EIR and fixed, reasonable timelines for review and a process that is serious, lengthy, and potentially expensive, giving communities real tools and teeth for a planning process. Mark commented that in California they were “blessed” with this law, and one could only say “Amen!” to that and wish that we all had a CEQA back where we call home.

At 30,000 feet in DC the powers that be may not understand the vitality and power of the grassroots movement that has been built to fight Wal-Mart and its kin, but there are two things that seem true. One is that Bentonville understands, and the second is that we are winning!