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Amid Worst Winter Wildfires in California History, Farmworkers Are Laboring in Hazardous Air

By Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, December 11, 2017

In California, drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend. The fires have scorched some 230,000 acres of land and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfires are already the fifth largest on record in California history. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change. Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns that farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact that the pickers were asking for the safety equipment. For more, we speak with Lucas Zucker, who was evacuated last week due to the wildfires. Zucker is the policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—and he helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. We also speak with Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where drought-fueled wildfires raged toward Southern California’s coastal cities over the weekend, the fires scorching 230,000 acres of land, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. At least one woman has died so far. The wildfire is the fifth largest on record so far in California history, the largest ever recorded in December. Climate experts say the intensity of the winter blazes is linked to climate change.

Authorities have warned residents to stay inside because of the dangerous air quality caused by smoke and carcinogenic ash from the fires. But a number of farms have stayed open, sparking concerns farmworkers are laboring in hazardous conditions without proper equipment. Last week, volunteers handing out free protective masks to farmworkers say they were kicked off some farms, despite the fact the pickers were asking for the safety equipment.

For more, we go now to Southern California, where we’re joined by two guests. Via Democracy Now! video stream, Lucas Zucker, joining us from Ventura in Southern California, evacuated last week due to the wildfires. He’s policy and communications director for CAUSE—Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy—helped distribute respirator masks to farmworkers who had to continue working despite the hazardous air quality conditions. By phone, we’re joined by Democratic California State Assemblymember Monique Limón, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura County.

¿Quién le puso una bomba a Judi Bari? / Who Bombed Judi Bari? (Spanish Subtitles)

By Darryl Cherney - YouTube, November 27, 2017

Premiering on youtube and winner of 6 awards, this feature documentary filled with music, humor, and inspiration is a blueprint for activism in these more than urgent times. The Martin Luther King of the Redwoods, Judi Bari was an Earth First!er, AFL-CIO and IWW labor organizer, radical feminist, world class orator, author of Timber Wars, fiddler and songwriter, fundraiser, mother of two girls and a force of nature. See why she was car bombed and arrested by the FBI and Oakland Police for the deed done against her. Then learn how to save the forests, forge alliances and beat the feds. Foreign subtitles coming soon. Produced by her organizing partner and fellow car-bomb victim and litigant, Darryl Cherney. Directed and edited by Mary Liz Thomson. You can learn more and purchase DVD's, t-shirts and bumper stickers here: http://whobombedjudibari.com/ You can "like" us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Who-Bombed-J...

Disaster in Your Backyard

By Jodi Fleishman - 350.Org, October 31, 2017

Jodi Fleishman is a California Nurses Association Union member, and a nurse on the burn unit closest to the recent fires in Northern California. She shared some of her feelings around the intersection of her work and the fires.

It’s my day off, and I have just finished a yoga class and walked across the street to get a coffee. The barista is making small talk, but what he says next catches my attention, “Does it still smell like smoke outside? There’s a massive fire in Napa..” I get a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I am a Burn ICU nurse and my immediate thought is–mass casualties. Hours later I will get a text from work asking for additional nurses to come in, “Several new burns from Napa fires, SITUATION CRITICAL!” There are only two burn centers in Northern California, we are already functioning at capacity, and I wonder how we will manage.

In the upcoming days, when I go into work I am surprised to learn that we have only a few new critical burns on the unit. As the death toll reported in the news continues to climb, it seems as though most people either got out or didn’t make it, while hundreds remain missing. Those in between are my patients, and their fight for survival, and rebuilding their lives has just begun.

My heart breaks, as I know what is in store for these people. The healing process for burn patients is long and grueling. They often endure months in the ICU—they will be on ventilators, go through multiple surgeries for grafting, twice a day dressing changes, chronic pain, and battling infections. And even after they make it through they physical trauma, they will still have to face the emotional trauma. My job is to help people get through the most vulnerable time in their lives, both physically and emotionally. But the loss, and the grief, and the pain is so layered upon layered, it is almost unfathomable. My patients have lost their homes. Some of them have lost family members, friends, and neighbors. Some have lost their mobility. Some may lose their lives. They have lost life as they know it, and will be forever changed. Their medical team will fight to get them through the infections, and the surgeries and eventually through their rehabilitation. Throughout the months we will listen to your family’s stories, we will share in your grief, we will shed tears, we will carry you with us, and we will go home and hug our own families and count our blessings.

As nurses, we are used to tragedy, we deal with it everyday, but this disaster hit home in a different way. We all know someone who has friends/family who has had to evacuate. Although I live roughly 50 miles from the fires, there has been a Red Alert for the hazardous air quality. It smells like a campfire when I walk outside my front door, and although I am a young healthy woman, I could still feel the tightness in my chest from the smoke in the air. I watch my neighbors walking around with N95 masks on. I think about the vulnerable population—the elderly, the young, those with asthma, and those with chronic heart and lung disease and the risks for them are serious. There are those who will never fully recover from the devastation of these fires. Communities will have to rebuild but will always have scars. My patients will have to rebuild their lives. Rehabilitate their bodies. Adapt to a new body image and new physical limitations. They will have to grieve. They will have to work through their PTSD.

It has been a strange year, one natural disaster after another. But when it happens in your own back yard, and you are one of the responders, you cannot help but feel the fragility of the world around you.

What fueled the inferno?

By Ragina Johnson and Nicole Colson - Socialist Worker, October 20, 2017

THE DEADLIEST wildfires in the state's history ripped through large areas in Northern California this month, terrorizing residents, causing mass evacuations, and leaving behind catastrophic destruction.

Described as a "hurricane of fire," the web of interconnected blazes, centered primarily in Napa and Sonoma Counties, north of the Bay Area, had killed at least 41 people--many of them elderly residents who could not escape--and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate as this article was being written.

The wildfires have burned more than 220,000 acres across wine country, but what distinguished this disaster from others is that the flames didn't stay in the "wild." Hot winds whipped the fires back and forth, sending them a mile or more into urban and suburban areas. At least 6,700 homes and business have been destroyed, with an estimated loss of at least $3 billion.

While the exact causes for the blazes aren't yet known, and may not be for years, if ever, we do know that the scale of the devastation was unquestionably magnified by man-made factors like climate change and exacerbated by things like poorly maintained infrastructure.

And as is the case with all "natural" disasters--from Hurricane Katrina to the more recent Hurricanes Harvey and Maria--the devastation isn't hitting everyone equally. Poor and working-class families--especially undocumented immigrant workers who make up a large portion of the agricultural workforce in wine country--will face an uphill battle to rebuild their lives.

Why Are Women Prisoners Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

Jaime Lowe and Romarilyn Ralston interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, October 18, 2011

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show in California, where raging wildfires have killed at least 41 people and scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City. The fires are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began. At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 displaced after their homes and businesses were destroyed.

More than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. In this clip from the film The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, an inmate with an all-woman crew describes being sent to fight a raging fire in Marin County.

INMATE FIREFIGHTER: My first day here, when I first got to camp, I got thrown on a fire. We had just got through orientation, and the horn went off. And I got thrown on the bus, and off we went, chasing the smoke. We’re driving up the mountain and seeing dirty burn everywhere. All of a sudden, there’s a 40-foot wall of flame on both sides of me.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from PBS’s Independent Lens, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.

To find out more about these firefighters, we’re joined by two guests. In Fullerton, California, Romarilyn Ralston is with us, of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the L.A. chapter, program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration. While she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

And in Los Angeles, journalist and author Jaime Lowe is with us. Her recent story in The New York Times Magazine is headlined “The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires.”

Romarilyn, if you could start off by telling us who is on the front lines? People might be surprised to hear that prisoners, among them women prisoners, are fighting California’s wildfires right now.

Final Straw: Autonomous Northern California Fire Relief Efforts

By Final Straw - It's Going Down, October 18, 2011

Listen and Download Here

I’d like to share a Final Straw Radio mini-episode, a conversation with Emilio of the currently unofficial Sonoma County IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World. This chapter doesn’t yet have an official charter but they were in the process or organizing one when the fires in Northern California started last week and have used this as a platform for fund-raising and trying to work out solidarity relief in Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County.

For this chat, Emilio and I talk about the weather patterns of northern coastal California, relief efforts by the Red Cross and other NGO’s around shelter and care distribution, what their nascent chapter of the IWW is trying to do and related topics. To find more about their chapter, you can go onto Fedbook and stay tuned in the conversation for their relief phone number, a few material needs you can provide from a distance and ways to get involved if you’re in the area.

The alarming ties between Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels and his faux Marine Protected Areas

By Dan Bacher - Red, Green, and Blue, October 12, 2017

The deep relationship between the MLPA Initiative and Delta Tunnels is undeniable. In many ways, the neoliberal MLPA Initiative process, completed in December 2012, has served a template for the Governor’s campaign to build the tunnels.

In spite of some superficial differences, the two processes have been united by their (1) leadership, (2) funding, (3) conflicts of interest, (4) greenwashing goals, (5) racism and denial of tribal rights and (6) junk science. When people educate themselves on the undeniable links between the two processes, I believe they can more effectively wage a successful campaign against the Delta Tunnels and to restore our imperiled salmon and San Francisco Bay-Delta fisheries.

In spite of massive opposition to the MLPA Initiative by Tribal leaders, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, the fake “marine protected areas” overseen by a Big Oil lobbyist and other political hacks went into effect anyway. I fear the same thing will happen in the Delta Tunnels struggle.

In  recent months, have seen a number of decisions, including the Delta Stewardship Council’s approval of the Delta Plan amendments,the NOAA Fisheries no jeopardy biological opinion, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s approval of a permit to kill endangered salmon and other species in the Delta Tunnels, that advance the California WaterFix proposal.

It’s like back in 2011 when after a couple of favorable court rulings, successful direct action protests and growing opposition to the MLPA Initiative, things went bad. The fishing groups lost a major lawsuit, the Fish and Game Commission backed down on their commitment to protect tribal gathering rights, and in spite of the Co-Chair of the North Coast MLPA Science Advisory going to prison for embezzlement of federal money from the Yurok Tribe, the faux “marine protected areas” went into effect anyway.

Nurses Call for Stepped Up Federal Effort on Fires

By Kari Jones - Common Dreams, October 12, 2017

WASHINGTON - With the death toll now topping at least 21 people, and fire officials saying the disastrous North Bay wildfires remaining far from contained, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United yesterday called on the federal government for a far greater urgent response with additional equipment and firefighting personnel.

“The Trump Administration has been distressingly slow in taking the urgent steps needed to protect the people and communities affected,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of both CNA and NNU.

CNA RNs have been directly affected by at least six major wildfires that have raged in Northern California counties, as first responders, evacuating patients in two Santa Rosa, CA hospitals, and also dealing with their own losses. At least 15 RNs have also lost their homes.

Kaiser San Rafael RN Tara Williams described 100 patients being brought to her hospital by bus who “were all pretty overwhelmed and concerned about their homes, but we were giving them food and support and helping them get into a safe space where they could be cared for.”

Now in its third full day of battling the destructive fires, “we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great many days to come,” California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection head Ken Pimlott told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.  In addition to the deaths, some 560 people are reported missing, a number partly due to loss of communication facilities, many people under evacuation order, and a total of 22 fires ripping through the state.

“With California officials fully engaged, and the fires still posing a major threat to lives and homes. But this is a national responsibility as well. We need to see immediate action from the federal government – as well as a robust commitment to rebuilding shattered infrastructure in the path of all of these horrific disasters,” said DeMoro.  

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget shows disturbing priorities at a time when wildfires are increasing, in part due to the effects of the climate crisis, DeMoro noted.

Under the proposed budget, the Huffington Post reported in July, the U.S. Forest Service would face a $300 million reduction to its wildfire fighting programs, another $50 million in cuts to its wildfire prevention efforts and a 23 percent reduction to funding for volunteer fire departments.

The State of Jefferson: a resource struggle centuries in the making

By Willie Stein - Legal Ruralism, March 3, 2017

Nestled among rich forests and steep mountains, the State of Jefferson is a quasi-mythic political dream for many of its residents in Northern California and Southern Oregon. In 1941, residents of the Siskyou mountains, disgruntled at the State of California's persistent neglect of critical road and other infrastructure and its exploitation of the resources of the area, made a theatrical show of 'seceding' from the state. They set up roadblocks to demand documentation of those entering and exiting, and hoisted a flag bearing a distinct "XX" legend to signify their double crossing by the governments of Sacramento and Salem. Today, that XX flag can be seen across vast swaths of Northern California and Southern Oregon to signify a contempt for the remote governments that residents perceive to control resources that rightfully belong to them. Residents are vigorously anti-regulation, and see themselves as the victims of the repression of the state. Jeffersonians rightly perceive that they wield little political clout in California, paying in more than they get back. Are the Jeffersonians the only victims in California's North Country?

The answer to that might start by examining their choice of name- presumably chosen as a nod to the small government, state's rights' oriented Thomas Jefferson. Having lived and travelled in the State of Jefferson, I can't help but think of another resonance, one not intended by the secessionists: That of Thomas Jefferson as one of the initial architects of Indian Removal. The State of Jefferson is laid over a complex patchwork of pre-existing tribal nations that occupied the land. Although the Jeffersonians often claim to be "native Californians", indigenous tribes such as the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Wintu, and many others long predate the arrival of Europeans. I can't help but see the State of Jefferson as a continuation of a long history of erasure of indigenous political formations by those of white colonists.

Diversity in California’s Clean Energy Workforce: Access to Jobs for Disadvantaged Workers in Renewable Energy Construction

By Nikki Luke, Carol Zabin, Dalia Velasco and Robert Collier - UC Labor Center, August 31, 2017

Executive Summary

Over the past decade California has emerged as a national and international leader in vigorously addressing climate change. Throughout this time one of the state’s key challenges has been to ensure that the “green jobs” being created in the clean energy boom not only have good pay and benefits but also are equitably distributed across the labor force. This report analyzes the degree to which California’s underrepresented and disadvantaged workers have been able to gain access to career-track jobs in the construction of renewable energy power plants. The growth of renewable energy has been and continues to be a key element of California’s climate efforts: policy-makers are now considering SB 100, which sets a goal of procuring 60 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030 and 100 percent from zero-carbon sources by 2045.

In California, the construction of renewable energy power plants has primarily been carried out under collective bargaining agreements, known as project labor agreements, which entail the utilization of the state-certified apprenticeship system. Apprenticeship allows entry-level, unskilled workers to obtain free training, a job, and a defined path toward a middle-class career. Until now, little information had been available to assess the extent to which disadvantaged communities are able to access this opportunity.

This paper uses two data sources on entry-level workers in renewable energy construction. First, we use data provided by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) on enrollment in the apprenticeship programs of three principal skilled trades unions (Electricians, Ironworkers, and Operating Engineers) that have built renewable power plants in California from 2002 through part of 2017. The second set of data comes from Local 428 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and concerns workers who built 27 solar farms in Kern County, totaling almost 2,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity between 2013 and 2017, which amounts to about 25 percent of the solar PV power plants installed in the state during this period.

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