Delano has a long, proud history of organizing for positive change, including legendary farmworker organization efforts that made Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta household names. In that beautiful spirit of “Sí, se puede,” I was proud to speak at a town hall event on health, climate change, and the environment in Delano on Aug. 14. The event was co-hosted by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the California League of Conservation Voters. I was joined by invited guests, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, who represents our community in the Assembly, and a representative for California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, along with many community members.
Several residents expressed concerns about the health of their children and air pollution, water pollution and the powerful oil industry. They also expressed frustration with elected officials, saying they wanted to see them in their community more frequently, not just in an election year.
A woman named Estela said: “The industries like oil only look for the money but they don't care about our health!"
A man named Javier told the assemblymember: "You have to represent us and not the industries.”
Roberto from Lamont said: "This is the best country and this is why we are here, but only a few can access the opportunities."
Jose from Delano said: "Ya es tiempo de que haga algo para el pueblo” — “It is time to do something for the people.”
A woman named Maria pleaded with the assemblyman to help the community: "We need your help. The kids, they're not living, they're dying. Our air, our water. We need help, Mr. Salas.”
Another gentleman took the microphone and asked Mr. Salas to help pass laws that would limit pollution and improve public health, saying: “We're here for a better life. Kids shouldn't have asthma.”
Many attendees asked Assemblyman Salas to vote for environmental justice priority bills currently before the state legislature, including SB 32 to limit climate pollution, SB 1000 to include environmental justice in general plans, and SB 1383 to reduce deadly “super-pollutants” like black carbon and methane.
Mr. Salas said that he agrees with these proposals “in principle.” As an elected official myself, I understand how important it is to listen to the voters and their needs. I also know it is not always clear how to solve complicated problems like air pollution and asthma. But thanks to research studies, we know that laws limiting pollution from big industries like oil have made huge progress in improving the health of our communities and throughout California while creating new economic opportunities in clean energy.
I commend Mr. Salas for spending time in the district over the past several weekends, attending our town hall, health fairs, and “stuff the bus” events that provide back-to-school supplies for children. But at the same time, I hope he remembers how many children in our community frequently miss school because of breathing problems like asthma, which is connected to pollution in our region — resulting in the worst air quality in the nation. Asthma inhalers have joined notebooks, backpacks and pencils as necessary “back-to-school” items for too many of our kids.
I urge Assemblyman Salas to do the right thing for the residents of Delano and all the people he represents by voting for climate solutions, cleaner air and environmental justice bills in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.
Ricardo G. Chávez is the mayor of the city of Delano.