2017 General Assembly Live Blog- Environmental Justice in Watts, CA

Better Watts Initiative & Jordan Downs Environmental Justice Coalition

What do people know about Watts? The Watts Riots, the Watts towers, gangs, Ice Cube. But there is a thriving community in Watts including community organizers and a rich history from the Black Panthers. Watts is a small neighborhood in South LA, one of the densest populated communities in CA. It’s predominantly a young community. It started developing at the end of World War II with migration from the South, and African Americans concentrated in this area due to red-lining. When jobs dried up the community started organizing and would have meetings on the corners in night clubs. With the beginning of the war on drugs this community started to get hard hit. ⅓ of people in this neighborhood rate their health as fair or poor. The EPA maps shows the most concentrated cumulation of pollution in the area, there’s almost 6,000 people per grocery store, 70% of grocery stores are corner stores. There are a huge rate of asthma-related ED visits. Childhood obesity is at least 30%, and this area has high rates of CVA, CVD, and depression.There is an almost 12 year difference in life expectancy between Watts and West LA. Back in 1900 the life expectancy gap between African Americans and whites was 15 years, so 100 years later we have made very little progress. Sadly Watts has a major lack of health care providers as well.

‘Lives less worthy of life’ is a concept put forward by Dr. Jack Geiger. When we allow these inequities to continue, we’re saying these people have lives that are less worthy.

For the past few years we’ve been working at Jordan High School and in the Watts neighborhood. A few years ago they had to close the Jordan High School field because a glass factory had an explosion and they ended up measuring very high lead levels. A group of UCLA Harbor residents & PSR community organizers came into the community to educate about how to identify lead and what to do about it. There is more public housing in Watts than anywhere else West of the Mississippi. We then started a door to door randomized household survey to assess residents’ perspectives on environment, health, and other community issues, focusing on children’s health. Our results are still preliminary but some of the most interesting results surround water. 87% of residents reports murky or dark water out of their tap, and 95% of residents said they don’t feel safe drinking their water. 54% of residents are relying on bottled water, 33% get it from a large container, which adds another huge costs for residents just to have access to water. There were a lot of other results that were important. Residents don’t feel safe going outside- both needles and trash in the park, and fear of gang and police harassment. The residents started doing health summits in the communities including water justice trainings, health fairs. The community decided to form working groups on the 5 most important topics: 1. Community safety, 2. Clean water, 3. Affordable housing, 4. Environmental toxins/hazards, 5. Nutrition and green spaces. A new bill has come out of this work, called SB623, the CA Safe & Affordable drinking water bill to guarantee affordable and safe drinking water statewide.

‘Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.’ -Talmund

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