Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mobilizing in Mountain View

Mikaela says:
A cement-batching company has its hands full trying to locate a new plant across the street from the Community Center in Mountain View. The neighborhood, which has disproportionately beared the fall-out from industries in Bernalillo County for the last 50 years -- largely because they're majority low-income and Hispanic -- has organized quickly, efficiently, and strategically.

Last Thursday night was a public hearing for the company to get an air quality emissions permit (to emit the maximum amount of pollution 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Residents called 800 households, and approximately 150 people showed up. Universally, they testified against the plant. The testimony ran the gamut from angry to scientific. A woman from the North Valley testified about conditions at the company's other location. Her daughter has had severe asthma problems that only worsened when she started going to school, just downwind of the plant. She testified to the affect on traffic and safety of pedestrians and drivers in the area. An expert on public health testified that the South Valley has the highest rates of hospitalization and death in the County, especially for asthma-related symptoms. Other residents talked about how many children walk and ride bikes to the Community Center, where they play games outside. The traffic and pollution from the plant will pose a significant risk to all of these children.

A lawyer for the company told one resident on his way out the door that he had never seen a community fight like this against what is normally a forgone conclusion.

A neighborhood that is normally not heard spoke loud and clear. They were supported by their NM state senator, U.S. Congresswoman Heather Wilson (believe it or not -- although she just sent a letter read by a lackey that asked the air quality board to give the proper weight to residents' testimony although the company "is a good neighbor" and she's sure that "it would do nothing to hurt its neighbors" which seems to be the conservative party line about corporate pollution -- why would they do it when they know it's bad?), and County Commissioner Teresa Cordova, who, as always, spoke eloquently and passionately to champion the community's efforts to determine its own best future.

The best part, though, was seeing how competently this community battled big money -- with an organized effort that we can only hope will pay off for them in the long run. Although an unfortunate economic metaphor, the payoff in this case will be clean air to breathe and water to drink and the kind of economic development that brings vitality -- in health, in sociability, and in money -- for the community as a whole.