The best measure of progress is often the desperation of its opponents. So if there were any doubt about the significance of Wednesday’s L.A. City Council vote to transform the city’s multi-family and commercial waste and recycling system, the shrillness of those in the minority offered final proof.
“This is the day justice and democracy died,” declared one detractor. He was outdone, however, by a fellow naysayer, who, invoking the ghosts of Stalinist Russia, bellowed, “Vote straight communist – the life you save will be your own. That’s what’s happening here today.”
Aside from the minions of big business interests following in lockstep with the Chamber of Commerce, there were few traces of authoritarian rule at City Hall yesterday when the Council made its decision to jettison a system that has failed almost everybody. Indeed, democracy seemed alive and well, with an overflow crowd both participating in and witnessing an epic exercise in self-government.
Three decades ago, women in South Los Angeles stood up against the City of Los Angeles to block the siting of the city’s solid waste incinerator known as the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery (LANCER) project. Organized as the Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, women successfully fought back against powerful industry and business interests and complicit local decision makers, to block an additional polluting facility from being sited in a neighborhood already bearing the burden of toxic waste and abandoned factories.
While communities across the U.S. began organizing around environmental justice, powerful waste industry interests continued their expansion, while avoiding increased opposition to incineration plants and waste plants in general. The California Waste Management Board retained Los Angeles-based lobbying firm Cerrell Associates to produce a memo outlining which communities were least likely to oppose waste incinerators. The memo, titled “Political Difficulties Facing Waste-to-Energy Conversion Plant Siting.” (aka the “Cerrell Memo”) presented a demographic analysis identifying low-income communities of color,