Eliminating perceived environmental injustices in Lompoc would cost several million dollars

The city of Lompoc like many other jurisdictions is adding a new environmental justice element (chapter) to the general plan. 

The introduction to the new chapter says, “Today, and throughout California and United States history, communities with lower incomes, lower levels of education, and higher proportions of minority residents often bear a disproportionately large burden of exposure to environmental hazards.”

This assumes that because you happen to be poor and in a specific ethnic group, you have a greater exposure to environmental hazards. This is of course a false assumption. Why? Because in raw numbers there are far more Caucasian families and individuals that fit the “lower incomes, lower levels of education” definition than there are minorities.

Thus, the statement, “Minority residents often bear a disproportionately large burden of exposure to environmental hazards,” seems to be political gamesmanship rather than a fact. For example, the U.S. census reports that the Hispanic or Latino population in Lompoc is more than 60 percent, thus in this area they don’t seem to fit the description of a minority.

To determine the level of risk, the authors of this document chose to use two computer-based measurement tools, both of which could be manipulated to achieve the desired outcome. Despite this trait, the authors still couldn’t establish that any portion of our city was in the danger zone, so they concluded that since two census tracts were both high density and consisted of large numbers of low-income families that they fit the definition of a “community of focus” to justify the actions being recommended.

They concluded that “approximately 51 percent of Lompoc’s population reside in the census tracts that comprise the community of focus. All identified census tracts in the community of focus have significantly higher population densities than Lompoc as a whole (3,807 persons per square mile).”

High density is the root cause of many social and “environmental equity” concerns. It is widely known that Lompoc somehow became a magnet for the low-income housing needs of the county and that at least, according to official city estimates, 30 percent of multi-unit family housing is made up of low-income residents, which is 5 times greater than any other city in the county.

They also concluded that “race and ethnicity are one of the factors considered when measuring health equity and the social determinants of health, along with income, educational attainment, employment status, and access to health care.”

One visible metric is the 200 underhoused (homeless) people in Lompoc. By casual observation, the majority of homeless (unhoused) individuals in our community are Caucasian; rarely do you see Hispanic, Latino, Asian, or Black people represented in great numbers in the homeless community. So, at least by using this example, race and ethnicity don’t appear to be factors.

Another of their claims is that “pesticides are chemicals used by farmers to control insects, plant diseases, and other pests that threaten crops. Pesticides applied in agricultural areas can become airborne and drift to neighboring communities and become a significant source of pollution exposure to residents.”

However, in 1997 the California Department of Pesticide Regulation formed the Lompoc Interagency Working Group. At the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s request, CalEPA’s office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment evaluated illnesses in the Lompoc area. They concluded that analysis of data through 1997 found “few significant differences in illness rates between the Lompoc area and similar communities.”

Since this study was completed, even stricter regulations have been applied to the types and application methods of pesticide/herbicides used in agricultural operations, and even though there wasn’t a hazard significant in 1997, it has been reduced even further than it was at the time of the study.

The authors of the environmental justice element also say that “an urban tree canopy can have various positive health outcomes and help improve quality of life. Trees can help mitigate the effects of climate change and extreme heat events by providing shade and creating a cooling effect in urban areas with high concentrations of concrete and asphalt.”

I agree. However, trees in an urban environment interfere with overhead utilities; damage sidewalks, creating trip hazards; and damage curbs and roads, thus creating traffic hazards. In addition, requiring water-wise landscaping further reduces the amount of greenery, and trees die due to a lack of watering.

They also say that “between 2012 and 2022, there were 260 reported traffic collisions in Lompoc that involved bicycles or pedestrians. About 77 percent of these reported collisions occurred in the community of focus. A high concentration of these collisions occurred along major roadways, specifically North H Street (Highway 1), West North Street, West College Avenue, and West Ocean Avenue.”

Traffic pollution is directly related to high density housing and reduced on-site parking requirements directed by the state of California. It is a fact of life that the more people you pack into a residential block, the more vehicles will be on the streets.

Lastly, to combat so-called environmental injustices, the authors propose a policy of annual inspections to bring substandard housing units into compliance with codes. What this would cost taxpayers in terms of inspectors, clerical staff, and legal counsel is unknown. 

And, how effective would it be? Eliminating perceived environmental injustices would cost several million, perhaps over $100 million, to address the issues in all the multi-family housing units. And if that occurred, either the rent would have to be increased to pay for the upgrades or the property owners would simply evict the tenants and shutter the properties.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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