37254Local lawmakers doing wrong by the L.A. River - dailynews.com
- Aug 29, 2013Local lawmakers doing wrong by the L.A. River: Dennis R. Martinez
• Aug. 29, 2013
The story of Angelenos’ interaction with our natural world is not always a downward spiral. In fact, the carefully orchestrated revival of the L.A. River over the past two decades is a testament to civic imagination, intergovernmental cooperation and resilience by a fresh-water ecosystem.
Which is why the decision of three state senators from Eastside L.A. to kill the state bill banning single-use plastic bags is so appalling. These bags, recently banned by the city of Los Angeles and L.A. County, can still be found blowing along the riverbanks and caked on rocks and saplings along the waterway.
Yet state Sens. Kevin DeLeon, Ricardo Lara and Ron Calderon, all of whose districts adjoin the river, cast the deciding votes in May to sink the statewide ban and keep a steady flow of this discarded plastic scourge entering the waste stream and sullying the rebirth of the L.A. River.
The vote by these lawmakers flies in the face of policies of the city and county they represent. These policies are anchored in science about the long-term hazards of single-use bags and evidence that bans work. In parts of L.A. County where the 2010 ban took effect, reliance on single use bags has fallen by more than 90 percent. That alone could translate into 2 billion fewer discarded bags littering the local landscape each year, from Californians’ estimated yearly consumption of 14 billion. That’s millions of fewer plastic bags, which do not biodegrade, cluttering the river and its wildlife and billions fewer plastic globs and particles will sweep into the ocean, where fish and other creatures ingest them, crippling life cycles and creeping into our own food chain.
As an Eastsider myself, I take the vote by this trio to kill the state ban as an insult. It sets back our homegrown movement for cleanup of brownfields, enforcement of pollution standards and investment in good green jobs in the largely Latino and heavily immigrant neighborhoods that stretch from my home in East L.A. down to the estuary of the river near Long Beach.
Their votes are also a profile in cravenness, in a part of our county where the Bell corruption scandal echoes loudly. At the time of the vote, both Lara and DeLeon, who is angling to become Senate president, justified their vote as protecting jobs in several local plants that manufacture single-use grocery bags. Calderon has said little about his vote, given his engulfment in an FBI investigation about corruption in his office. DeLeon also received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury.
But a detailed investigation by researchers with the city of L.A. into claims of job losses at single-use bag makers belies the dire argument of the bags’ political defenders. Only 15 jobs, at one plant, are in jeopardy from local bans that opponents warned would idle hundreds or thousands. And the jeopardy posed to even these workers has more to do with factory owners’ failure to adapt to a changing market.
Each of these three also has close ties to a former Eastside lawmaker, Fabian Nuñez, who is a partner in a public affairs firm hired by plastic bag makers to squelch the state bill. DeLeon is Nuñez’ childhood friend and benefited from Nuñez’ vigorous backing to become a lawmaker. Lara worked for Nuñez for two years before taking a job with DeLeon and winning a seat himself.
DeLeon, Lara and Calderon are also among state lawmakers to receive generous campaign contributions from Hilex Poly, the South Carolina company that is the largest source of single-use bags in the country.
The L.A. River is a living, flowing counter-argument to any narrative of decline or despair. To squander our progress and investment in its ongoing revitalization by failing to curtail the flow of discarded plastic grocery bags into it is more than a willful failure. To put it in terms my Latino father might use, it’s a disgrace to our family — and it’s one that must be quickly made right and atoned for.
Dennis R. Martinez is a founding board member of the L.A. River Revitalization Corp..
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