This was the week that started with our realization that we were dealing with the worst air pollution disaster in history with regard to the Porter Ranch gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon that belonged to Southern California Gas Company. According to the January 24th edition of the L.A. Times, one failed well at the Aliso Canyon facility released more greenhouse gases than any other facility in California over the three months since October 23rd.
Stephen Conley, the U.C. Davis scientist who has been flying his single engine pollution-detecting airplane over Porter Ranch found that in November of 2015, methane levels registered at 50 parts per million, twenty times bigger than what he had measured before. According to the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 17.9 million kilograms of methane was leaking in early November. However, by January 21 of this year, the cumulative amount of methane registered 84 million kilograms. In relatable terms, this would be roughly analogous to 2.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or more greenhouse gas than 440,000 cars emit in a year. The geographical extent of the billowing plumes of methane gas seen on FLUOR images reach as far away as Orange County and San Clemente Island, according to Riley Duren, NASA‟s researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.
By Tuesday, January 26th The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) sued Southern California Gas Co. accusing the company of negligence that extended to the design, construction, operation and inspection of one of the wells at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility that forced thousands to leave their homes. The lawsuit alleges that the gas company had violated air quality regulations and state law for each day that the well, SS-25, continues to leak and faults the utility for a sluggish response to a regional public health threat. The suit seeks up to $250,000 in civil penalties for each day that a specific violation has occurred. According to KPCC, this can amount up to $25 million dollars. All of this came after an abatement order by a special board of the AQMD on the previous Saturday, January 23rd. This board mandated a 1) permanent shut down of the damaged well, SS-25, 2) to establish a leak detection system, and 3) to conduct an independent health study. By Thursday, January 28th, our state Senate had voted to shut down the Aliso Canyon facility permanently.
As an environmental activist and a physician, I am glad that I testified at the AQMD hearing on Saturday, January 16th warning the board about the health hazards of methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene that were discovered in the air surrounding the residential area. I was also honored to be a Sierra Club spokesperson and interviewed with Al Jazeera America and KABC-7 on Thursday, January 28th. This is in essence my Valentine‟s Day present to the residents of Porter Ranch, Granada Hills that we stand with them shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with them as we face this environmental disaster together.
The following Resolution in support of retention of Dr Charles Lester on the California Coastal Commission was passed by the Executive Board on 1/29/2016. More information on the imminent need of this resolution is available in this LA Times article: The coastline belongs to all Californians—but maybe not for long
Whereas, the 1976 California Coastal Preservation Act states that, “the California coastal zone is a distinct and valuable natural resource of vital and enduring interest to all the people and exists as a delicately balanced ecosystem,” that “the permanent protection of the state's natural and scenic resources is a paramount concern to present and future residents of the state and nation,” and sets as a goal to “Protect, maintain, and where feasible, enhance and restore the overall quality of the coastal zone environment and its natural and artificial resources.”
Whereas, throughout the forty-year tenure of the Coastal Act, every public opinion poll conducted concludes overwhelming support for the Coastal Commission’s role in upholding the Coastal Act, and during Dr. Charles Lester’s tenure as Executive Director of the Commission since September 2011 his leadership has led to great accomplishments, including a Sea Level Rise planning document, the largest budget augmentation in 15 years, greater public transparency and accessibility, and new authority to preserve and enhance public access for all coastal visitors.
Whereas, the commission will consider termination of Dr. Lester, but no cause or justification has been given, and recent newspaper articles cite knowledgeable sources that this attempt to fire Dr. Lester would result in significant impairment and harm to the decades-long success of protecting California’s majestic coastline.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Culver City Democratic Club Executive Committee adamantly opposes any and all attempts to fire Dr. Charles Lester from his tenure as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission and strongly supports his long and enduring tenure as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission.
THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that resolution will be transmitted to the following: Governor Jerry Brown, Speaker Toni Atkins, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Dr. Charles Lester, Executive Director, California Coastal Commission, and Steve Kinsey, Chair, California Coastal Commission.
Twenty sixteen marks our President Obama’s last year in office. I feel rather sad as it seems like his historical and amazing tenure as our first Chief Executive of color flew by so fast. But I also feel wistful as I remember that historic night in 2008, sitting inside a Los Angeles-area restaurant/nightclub with my friends and about 100-plus other people watching the election returns. As Barack Obama’s photo flashed on the television screen with the words, “44th President of the United States,” the crowd erupted in cheers and jubilation. The crowd kept screaming as the newly-elected President and his family stepped onto the stage and waved to adoring fans. It was indeed an incredible night.
Fast forward through nearly eight years filled with incredible achievements on the economy, healthcare reform and foreign policy, but also much social unrest and ugly racial tension. For this November’s Presidential election, I have as much trepidation as I did on Election Night 2008. I must confess that back then, I wasn’t sure America was going to actually elect a black President up until the very moment Pennsylvania was called for Mr. Obama. I feared very much the specter of another reactionary GOP presidency in the form of John McCain, along with his fundamentalist lightweight running mate, Sarah Palin. But those two are practically progressives when it comes to what the Republicans are offering up as presidential candidates today.
People are now openly talking about the “F-word” - fascism - as possibly taking root in America. But, thanks to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, people are also talking more about “democratic socialism” and democratic socialist policies like universal health care, free college for all, a living wage and paid family leave. Sanders would be the “first” openly socialist President if he wins. And people are also talking about the possibility of having the first female Chief Executive in Hillary Clinton. A woman as the most powerful leader in the world would have a tremendous cultural effect in how the contributions of women to our society are perceived.
All these tantalizing “firsts” are great, but I want to caution my fellow Democrats and progressive friends into putting too much expectation onto the one person they hope wins the Presidency. I saw this with President Obama: supporters who had unrealistically high expectations of how much he could achieve in office, and who were disappointed when he couldn’t deliver everything they wanted. I see these same unrealistic expectations among my fellow Democrats and progressives today. I think it is the unique culture of American individualism, as well as the fact that the United States elects its executive and legislature separately (as opposed to most parliamentary governments), that drives this desire to put all of one’s hopes for fundamental change onto one person. I think it’s why Congressional, “off-year” elections - which are just as important - don’t get the same attention as they should. The President, at the nation’s founding, was envisioned as an “elected king” - a national figurehead. But, to get back to Civics 101, the President is by law a co-equal partner with the Congress and the Supreme Court. The President can’t do much without Congress’ cooperation and the Supreme Court’s blessing. I think too often many people forget that. And so, they think that the President can change everything. They think that the President affects their lives the most (when in truth, it’s their local City Council that does). So whether our new President in November is Hillary, Bernie or even Martin O’Malley - and we do hope it’s one of those three - please cut him or her a bit of slack. Because a Democratic President also needs a progressive Democratic Congress to make the kinds of policies we liberals want to see to make America a kinder, gentler place to live.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful and festive holiday season. As we take the time to celebrate our community’s bounty with our family and friends, I’m troubled by the spate of incidents across the country that show a contempt and wanton disregard for the spirit of empathy for our fellow human beings. A dark undercurrent in American society is rearing its ugly head. In this hotly contested political season, overt bigotry and attacks on marginalized groups seem to be growing.
Last month, a majority vote in the House of Representatives to ban Syrian refugees from seeking safety in the United States was a particular low point in today's America. What was especially disappointing about that vote was that 47 Democrats joined the House Republican majority in passing a ban. Turning away people in desperate need is not a value the Democratic Party stands for. Fear of "the Other" is certainly not what our party stands for. It's unlikely the bill will pass the Senate, but fortunately, President Obama has vowed to veto it if it does.
Yet another low point continues to come in the form of Donald Trump's ongoing campaign to try to win the GOP nomination for the Presidency by mocking and denigrating just about every group on the planet except for his fellow white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied and male peers. His bigoted barbs - from suggesting protesters should be met with physical violence to calling Mexican immigrants ―rapists‖ to suggesting that mosques be surveilled and that the names of Syrian refugees be put in a database - sound like they come from a different era. However, what's more frightening is how the mainstream media has for too long given him and other right- wing extremists the benefit of neutrality. When political debates become a matter of "both sides do it," blatant lies are called "controversy," and extremism is mainstreamed, our society becomes debased and lives are endangered.
Where is all this going? Just last month, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot and injured at a vigil for a young black man who was killed by police in Chicago. Three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. And in Irving, Texas, open carry fetishists were reportedly intimidating Muslim worshippers at a mosque. Are we about to see a new level of political violence in America against people who don't fit the mold of "straight, white, rich and Christian?" Are too many of us going to sit back and look the other way until it's too late?