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(Update) After a Jet Dumped Fuel All Over Her City, Cudahy’s Mayor Is Running for Powerful Air Regulation Governing Board

udahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar is running for the all-powerful South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) governing board responsible for regulating air pollution sources in Los Angeles, Orange County Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, including the Coachella Valley.

This news comes during a year that Los Angeles saw the worst smog in decades.

The South Coast AQMD “is an agency that can do a lot to provide relief and actually do a lot to advance clean air in southeast LA,” Earth Justice lawyer Adrian Martinez told L.A. Taco.

Mayor Alcantar, who was famously appointed mayor of Cudahy earlier this year at age 26, made national headlines when a Delta jet dumped jet fuel on her city, splashing nearly two dozen students at Park Avenue Elementary School, a week after she took office.

LA County’s Western AQMD seat is up for grabs this year, and its current occupant, Rolling Hills Estates Councilwoman Judith Mitchell, is not seeking reelection. Mayor Alcantar is joined by Long Beach Councilman Rex Richardson and Justin Massey, who is mayor pro tem of Hermosa Beach, in her race to secure a spot on the powerful board.

The Western AQMD seat represents 51 cities in LA county, including Cudahy, Compton, Culver City, Huntington Park, South Gate, Long Beach, Maywood, and Malibu.

The Mayors of these 51 cities will decide who they want to represent them on the South Coast AQMD board and vote on Dec. 9th.

The jet fuel dumping incident is far from the first environmental disaster to occur in Cudahy. Exide, the now-closed battery recycling plant that polluted much of SELA with lead dust is four miles away. Thirty years ago, Park Avenue School closed down when sludge made out of petroleum waste oozed from the playground area. The small city also borders the busy 710 freeway.

“I lived a block and a half away from the 710 for most of my life,” Mayor Alcantar told L.A. Taco.

Which makes the case to have Alcantar, who hails from a heavily impacted community by environmental injustices, a compelling pick for a board member, especially during a pandemic that threatens lung health.

Mayor Alcantar would be the first from SELA to sit on the AQMD governing board.

“We don't see, I think, usually folks like me in these seats, but AQMD must show, that it makes it clear, that clean air should not be a privilege. So that it is a basic human right and that even cities like mine should have access to breathe clean air and should have access to public health equity and justice,” Mayor Alcantar told L.A. Taco.

Both Mayor Alcantar and Adrian Martinez made a case for a small city mayor to tackle California’s enduring problem with air quality in the South Coast AQMD. Martinez pointed to Alcantar’s unique perspective as the Mayor of a small city and talked about the importance of making sure smaller cities in LA county are represented. 

“When we look at the Western region, more than half of the region I’m running for is just like Cudahy. So we have smaller cities that oftentimes lack the political representation on these regional boards,” Mayor Alcantar told L.A. Taco.

The mayor spoke about local water quality issues and Delta’s jet fuel dumping on a Cudahy elementary school.

“I saw in practice the connection and the patterns that happen when our cities do not have political representation on these floors,” Mayor Alcantar said.

According to Martinez, entities like the South Coast AQMD have more authority and power to fight pollution.

The letter cited Alcantar’s experience with holding polluters accountable, creating a green vision plan for Cudahy, her work as a deputy for LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and her background as someone who grew up surrounded by environmental injustices.

“Increasingly, air districts have been given more and more authority, particularly as it relates to implementation and AB-617, which is a law companion to the cap and trade bill [a CA program designed to cut greenhouse gasses]. The law is designed to clean up some of the most harmed communities in the region,” Martinez told L.A. Taco.

Leaders from nine environmental justice organizations signed a letter supporting Mayor Alcantar, including California Communities Against Toxics, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Earthjustice, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, West Long Beach Association, Sierra Club, Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College. 

The letter cited Alcantar’s experience with holding polluters accountable, creating a green vision plan for Cudahy, her work as a deputy for LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, and her background as someone who grew up surrounded by environmental injustices.

The letter also mentioned how the Mayor represents her city on the AB-617 Community Steering Committee to create local air monitoring and emissions reduction plans. It also applauds the young mayor for how she sprung to action during the jet fuel dumping crisis and empowered her community to hold Delta Airlines accountable.

Mayor Alcantar is also supported by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Congresswoman Nanette Barragán, L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, and the California League of Conservation voters.

“Regardless of zip code, we should have those things [clean air], and we should as human beings be able to live in a healthy manner...”

The Mayor of Cudahy aims to push the AQMD from “a harm reduction strategy to more of a process of prevention and recovery strategies.”

She also wants to push for cleaner policies that bring in more quality jobs.

“Because we do need our quality jobs to feed our families to keep the roof over our heads,” Mayor Alcantar told L.A. Taco.

Mayor Alcantar stressed that she would prioritize addressing the environmental injustices that often impact Black, Brown, and working-class communities. 

“Regardless of zip code, we should have those things [clean air], and we should as human beings be able to live in a healthy manner,” Mayor Alcantar told L.A. Taco.

Update on Thursday 12/10/20: After a close vote, Mayor Alcantar lost her bid for the South Coast AQMD governing board 23 to 25 to Long Beach Councilman Rex Richardson.

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