August 15, 2008

“Our health is not for sale!”

Southwest Chula Vista residents protest expanded power plant plan

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

Diana Vera lives about 400 feet from the MMC peaker power plant near Main St. in southwest Chula Vista, where the majority of residents are Latinos and low-income families.

The 57-year-old grandmother said she’s concerned that a proposed expansion of the power plant will dramatically increase the health risks her grandchildren will be exposed to.

Southwest Chula Vista resident Diana Vera (left), and Hugo Salazar (right) of the Stop the MMC Peaker Plant Community Movement participated in the protest outside of the Chula Vista Council Chambers.

“Enough is enough,” said Vera, who joined community members and local organizations in a protest this week against the City of Chula Vista’s agreement with MMC where the company agrees to pay the city $210,000 in exchange for allowing it to expand the power plant. The protesters also spoke in front of the City Council during its weekly meeting, urging council members to reconsider their position on this matter.

“Historically, the city has dumped all the toxics to southwest Chula Vista because they’re always taking advantage of low-income families of color,” said Vera, who has lived in the area since she was 11 years old. “We’re finally raising our voice to say we will not tolerate this any longer. We want our children to live free of toxics. It is ironic that in the U.S. where we have freedom of choice and freedom of speech, we have to fight for our right to clean air.”

Vera, who is a member of the Environmental Health Coalition, one of the leading non-profits against the power plant, said her husband, children and grandchildren, and neighbors, were at the protest because they want to live a healthier life.

“The only reason we’re here is because we’re concerned about our community’s health, the health of our children,” said protester and southwest Chula Vista resident Graciela Martinez.

The groups gathered in front of the Chula Vista Council Chambers to protest the issuance of a letter last week to the California Energy Commission effectively dropping city objections to the MMC power plant expansion.

Letters acquired by La Prensa San Diego detail an agreement between MMC and the City of Chula Vista which includes payment of $210,000 by MMC to the city.

Harry Scarborough, vice-president of MMC Energy Inc, in a letter to the California Energy Commission states: “We believe that the City will find that the Project is in harmony with and therefore, consistent with the City’s General Plan.”

But Chula Vista Councilmember Rudy Ramirez, the only councilmember who was present during the protest, addressed the crowd and told them he is against the expansion of the power plant because the proposal contradicts the General Plan, which states that energy facilities should not be within 1,000 feet of sensitive receptors.

According to the Environmental Health Coalition, the new power plant would be 350 feet from homes, 1,300 feet from Otay Elementary School, and 1,200 feet from Otay Recreational Center.

“The City has completely reversed course on their position on the plant while the only thing that has changed is the promise of $210,000. The public deserves a chance to weigh-in on this prior to the Council taking this position,” said Leo Miras of the Environmental Health Coalition.

Among the health risks for residents, especially children and seniors, are poor air-quality, pollution, asthma, and even cancer, states the EHC.

“The power plant is still over 100 percent larger and will increase pollution in the neighborhood, is too close to homes and schools, and is in direct violation of the City’s general plan. The terms of this new ‘agreement’ do not represent any improvements to the project,” stated Theresa Acerro, president of the Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association. “From all appearances, it looks as if the Council has sold out our community health for $210,000. Our health is not for sale.”

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