My Own Rocky Road to a Healthier Wilmington

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Editor's Note: Anabell Romero is a blogger for ouRXperience. She writes this opinion piece about her role on the Wilmington Neighborhood Council and its consideration of a new initiative. We include the perspective of the Council's chair at the end of this post.

Fernando Cuevas holding up a sign in support of the Clean Up Green Up campaign at the press conference at L.A. City Hall. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

Fernando Cuevas holds up a sign in support of the Clean Up Green Up campaign at a press conference earlier this month at L.A. City Hall. (Photo: Anabell Romero)

In September 2010, I was having dinner with my family when I received a text from my friend, Kat Madrigal, who told me that my name was on the Wilmington Neighborhood Council agenda. She was at the meeting and saw that the council was going to vote on my application to be a Member at Large. I was puzzled, because while I had applied, I did not know I was being considered that night.

Then I wondered, “If I am voted in as a member of the WNC how will I be able to make a difference in my community?”

Kat instantly texted me, “I think you should come.”

I was voted in that night-- one of three members-at-large on a council of up to 23 people. Now almost two years later I am honored to still sit on the board along with others who represent Wilmington residents, businesses, non-profits, senior citizens, education institutions, parks, churches and our youth.

I joined the WNC because I wanted to take action on a number of issues. The ongoing violence, our poor education system, and our lack of resource centers are big challenges. But more than anything, I'm concerned about the toxic air our neighborhood produces by being the home of active rail yards, storage tanks, oil refineries, salvage sites and other industry that dominates and pollutes our community.

The WNC was created in 2001, making it the first neighborhood council in Los Angeles. Ever since, community members have held very high expectations.

During last month's WNC meeting, a representative from Clean Up Green Up told the council about its program and asked members to support it. Clean Up Green Up aims to counter some of the negative environmental effects of heavy industry in three Los Angeles neighborhoods the group identifies as "toxic hot spots": Wilmington, Boyle Heights and Pacoima. One approach of the group -- as stated on its website -- is to "streamline inspection and enforcement" of industry.  Clean Up Green Up also plans to attract green industries through incentives like advocating for tax and utility rebates for these companies.

I was not able to be at that meeting which proved to be especially unfortunate.

Earlier this month members of Clean Up Green Up along with Boyle Heights Councilman Jose Huizar, environmentalists and hundreds of residents from the three neighborhoods held a press conference at L.A. City Hall. I was there and watched as speakers announced this new approach to cleaning up some of the most contaminated neighborhoods.

Then, last week, I received the draft agenda for this month's WNC meeting. The agenda included an "action item" for the board to vote not to support Clean Up Green Up. I immediately replied to the entire board suggesting that we revisit this item and really review the Clean Up Green Up proposal. I also provided some background information about the organization.

I did not receive any replies.

Now we come to last night's WNC meeting. The agenda included the action item about not supporting Clean Up Green Up. Clearly word had gotten around as many people were not only present, but enraged and confused.

People did not understand why the WNC would take a negative stance on a program designed to improve the health and environment of Wilmington, something the community has demanded for years. In addition, Wilmington would be the only neighborhood of the three opposing the program if this motion passed.

Environmentalists, community leaders and residents were prepared to share their thoughts about the WNC's apparent lack of support of the initiative.

But when the agenda item came up, a member of the WNC suggested tabling the item so the Planning and Land Use Committee could review the proposal again. Since this meant a vote would not be taken, public discussion would not occur.

This further infuriated community members. They felt slighted by the WNC by not being given an opportunity to voice their thoughts. However, the WNC was simply following protocol and agreed by unanimous vote to not act on the item until further reviewed.

During the open public comment period at the end of the meeting, people returned to Clean Up Green Up and shared their experiences of living in Wilmington. My friend Kat passionately spoke about the health effects neighborhood industry has on our community, especially regarding a friend of hers who was recently diagnosed with leukemia and happens to live near a rail yard. A community pastor recalled a junkyard explosion by his church and home. He said it took 32 hours to put it out because employees failed to follow safety procedures. Environmental activist Jesse Marquez frowned upon council members because none of us attended the Clean Up Green Up information meeting late last year -- a meeting more than 200 residents did attend.

Then public comments ended and the chair of the WNC was about to authorize a break. This is normally the point when most members of the public leave.

But before everyone could go, I decided to grab a microphone and share my own thoughts.

I asked all attendees to please not judge the entire WNC, explaining that not everyone on the board opposes Clean Up Green Up. This angered my fellow board members who argued I was implying that the majority are in opposition except me.

I publicly apologized and explained that that was not what I was saying or implying.

I then continued to inform community members of how I am a journalism graduate student, which is why I’ve missed meetings in the past months.

I shared with ‘mi barrio’ that I do care about our public health and the importance of being accurately informed and that together we can built a safer and healthier community.

Even though many of my colleagues from the WNC may still be angry at me, I feel relieved to let my community know that I am in favor of Clean Up Green Up and a greener community.

This is only the beginning of a long, rocky journey to help convert Wilmington from a “toxic hot-spot” to a healthy place to raise our children. That’s the change I hope to create.

Editor's Note: yesterday we contacted Cecilia Moreno, chair of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council and invited her to comment on her position about Clean Up Green Up. She sent the following email:

I appreciate you reaching out to me on this issue that is going before the Wilmington Neighborhood Council (WNC) tonight.  I would like to clarify that the information you have is incorrect.  I have not stated nor implied my negative position concerning the Clean Up Green Up (CUGU) campaign.  What I have stated, very vocally, is my disapproval of how this effort has been handled with regards to Wilmington.

It is my opinion that although Wilmington may appear like a clear candidate to be a part of this pilot project, actual inclusion of our community in the development of the motion was completely omitted.  Other than two environmental groups (CBE and Coalition for Safe Environment) NO ONE else was a part of the development and neither of these groups actually gets involved in all the things that happen in my community.  I serve on the Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA Council of Manager, Co-Chair the Spanish Community Police Advisory Board, the Friends of Banning's Landing, Clean Wilmington Program and MANY other Wilmington community groups and NONE were ever approached by the CUGU campaign.

The proposed motion was originally signed by our then Councilwoman Janice Hahn in January 2011.  The CUGU campaign took their effort to the various communities surrounding Wilmington, like San Pedro, Harbor City and other, but NEVER to Wilmington. With the exception of a meeting held at the Senior Center that few people heard about, no outreach actually took place.  It wasn't until February of this year - three years into their effort - that they reached out to the WNC and the Wilmington Chamber and that was really only because the WNC took our request to Councilman Buscaino to put a hold on this effort UNTIL they engaged the Wilmington Community.

Again, I think CUGU has merit, unfortunately we are being forced to take a position of for or against without actually understanding the implications, costs, enactment and enforcement of this policy.


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About Anabell Romero

Anabell Romero is an aspiring journalist who grew up in Wilmington and returned home after graduating from UC Santa Cruz. She is currently a graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She is very committed to her community and hopes to bring positive change. Since 2009 she has been Member at Large of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. She also helped create The Wilmington Wire, a cooperative blog for the community. In addition to graduate school, she works for The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships as Program Coordinator. She has a fondness for informing people about issues that directly impact their community’s infrastructure. Her passion is driven by the fact that she grew up in a largely Latino neighborhood that continues to be faced with many issues that deplete the quality of life for its residents. Her goal is to trigger dialogue about community issues to help empower residents to bring positive change to Wilmington.

Comments (2)

  1. Juan C. Garibay says:

    Hi Anabell,
    I’m really excited to see that you are a board member of the WNC. I wanted to ask about the political power of the WNC- if the WNC votes “no” does that mean the CUGU campaign cannot be implemented in Wilmington? Also, who is on the “Planning and Land Use Committee”? Is it made up of members of the WNC?


  2. Anabell Romero says:

    Hi Juan,

    Thanks! Anyone can become a member. You just have to apply by filling out one of these forms:

    We are actually receiving new applications for the new two-year term and taking all applications by the next meeting Wed. June 27.

    The WNC can only recommend initiatives or programs, but ultimately the L.A. City Council votes on items and they have the power to approve or disapprove anything, since Wilmington is not its own city and is part of the city of L.A.

    The WNC approves letters of support or letters not supporting a specific initiative. Therefore, CUGU campaign can be implemented, but with out the support of our Councilman and the WNC it makes it tough. As of now Councilman Buscaino has not taken a stance.

    The Planning and Land Use Committee is made up of WNC members. There are several committees within the WNC. You should come to our next meeting Wednesday, June 27.

    Thanks for reading my post!