By Ted Godshalk
There are always some people who cheer for a new business when it comes to town. Ribbon cuttings with politicians and Chamber of Commerce members lining up for a photo opportunity at each and every Grand Opening. In National City recently, an organization moved into town with little fanfare, but this move may be more significant in the long run than any hamburger joint, hotel, or car dealer.
The Environmental Health Coalition moved into its new offices at 401 Mile of Cars Way this January after 25 years in San Diego. Founded in 1980 by Diane Takvorian, Ruth Heifetz, and others, the EHC has consistently waged war on hazardous waste and has campaigned for the right of every community to know about health threats.
The EHC focuses its efforts on the San Diego /Tijuana region. Long active in Barrio Logan, the EHC is also currently working with residents in Chula Vista on the Bayfront development and the preservation of the wildlife values along the bay. In National City, Leticia Ayala heads up the Campaign to Eliminate Childhood Lead Poisoning. This program works in partnership with the city’s Building Department to identify homes with lead-based paint hazards. In the Colonia Chilpancingo, outside Tijuana, EHC worked with local residents and activists to finalize an agreement with the Mexican government for the cleanup of an industrial lead smelter near the homes of 10,000 people. Safer and healthier neighborhoods result when the EHC gets involved.
EHC has many strong programs that deserve recognition. The Research Department, for instance, provides technical assistance to governments and communities alike. Surveys, maps, and issue analysis flow from this organization daily and this information is there for everyone to use to make informed decisions. I know we don’t get that kind of benefit from many places.
One program the EHC has had for a long time is the Promotoras. Trained community members work in their neighborhoods that ring the South San Diego Bay. They are there to listen to the residents when they talk about issues like poisonous fumigation at the port, air quality violations from auto paint shops, and diesel fumes from idling trucks. They are there to help communities solve problems. The Promotoras are here for us! And this is a time when there are very few out there who actually listen to the voices of the community.
There are promises to new initiatives from the EHC; there is much work to be done. I heartily encourage the Environmental Health Coalition’s new work in the area of land use planning. The organization recognizes that many of the issues they struggle with are tied into land use. I welcome the EHC to participate in the Old Town Specific Area Plan we are working on in National City. This organization has shown that it respects the wishes and values of the communities it works with. It has never imposed a vision on anyone, always trying to bring about a consensus with all stakeholders. I think that National City will benefit from many of the resources the organization offers. With over 20 staff people and a dedicated Board of Directors, EHC is larger than many of the small businesses in town and provides an economic benefit to the community as well. But some benefits are not measured in tax increment. Quality of life will always be important around here, and for anyone who believes in working to preserve it, I will cheer for them, ribbon cutting or just quiet launch in a new location.
(The next workshop on the Old Town Specific Area Plan is on Wednesday, February 16th at 6:30 pm at St. Anthony’s Church at 401 West 18th St. in National City.)
Ted Godshalk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org