As I write this blog with the Day After Tomorrow on TV in the background, we are in our 13th spare the air day in Oakland, and it’s worse in Contra Costa County and much worse in Butte County where the so-called Campfire burned out thousands and left dozens dead. [The Day After Tomorrow, released in 2004, foretold the movement of the jetstream due to global warming after which a fast moving ice age ensued, considered very fictional at the time, it does not look as far fetched as it once did. Remember Mexico closed their border to North Americans in the film, hmm..]
The air quality has been so bad for two weeks-more than 150 miles away from the fires-that folks lucky enough to have homes have been stuck inside going out only when necessary and then usually in masks… if they can find them. Of course, the thousands of people without homes here and around the Bay have had to improvise-that includes children, old folks, the sick and disabled-the only other choice they’ve been given is to suffer in silence.
Community Organizes Provide What Government Will Not
Luckily for us as a community, groups of volunteers have organized to purchase and distribute N95 masks to unhoused people and others who cannot obtain them. Go to Venmo: @MaskOakland to contribute. They have even gotten them up to burned out residents in the Campfire area itself.
Otherwise I don’t know what folks living in tents or leaky houses in Oakland would do. They might have found out that the libraries and senior centers have filtered air and were staying open a few hours during the day if they have smartphones or happen to walk into one of them. At night, they must struggle to sleep while breathing through a mask. Long term effects may include heart attacks and lung disease.
CAL OSHA Where Are You?
As you drive around town-but we’re not supposed to be driving on a spare the air day or walking either-you will continue to see construction workers, gardeners, etc performing their jobs without masks. I asked one of the many workers renovating houses in my neighborhood whether he’d been offered a mask, he just shook his heard. But if you check CAL OSHA for employer requirements for these workers, masks are mandated.
There are lists of things we can do to provide somewhat better air quality if we live in a house or apartment that is. I saw a good crowd at the Grand Avenue ACE on Saturday trying to buy the better air filters for their furnaces or to tape onto their box fans. They had recently run out of masks and by that time, did not have the higher strength filters either.
The Alameda County Office of Education made the decision to close all the schools under its jurisdiction by Friday, November 16th, after teachers and their unions had reported bad air quality in their schools. But rather than work with the city and county to open recreation centers or other filtered public buildings, they abandoned parents to their own devices.
You’ll have to excuse me if I left any impression that the City of Oakland or the Alameda County Health Department had provided anything to its residents, particularly those most in need, they have not.
I personally tweeted local electeds (numerous times.) For instance, “What is open today in
#Oakland where we can breathe a little cleaner air? Do any of them have filters? @LibbySchaaf @AbelG @Kaplan4Oakland @DanKalb @NoelGallo5 @LynetteGM @annieforoakland”
Only CM Kalb responded that he had masks to give away. But the mayor did tweet that the city shelter,
Many organizations have called for the city to open public buildings 24/7 during this emergency and beyond so that no one has to sleep on the sidewalk, at least during this particular crisis. Bay Resistance has a list of demands for local government agencies and is also chock full of info to help you take care of yourself and your community and suggestions for advocacy should this happen again.
For instance, how to “make an air purifier with a box fan and HVAC filters for cheap.
The above is info I also got from my Assembly Member Rob Bonta, who is working on legislative solutions as I write this. The Scraper Bike Team has posted a comprehensive list of demands particularly for the already environmentally comprised neighborhoods in East Oakland. In an email they said, “It took hustle to get masks to share with schools, local organizations, and the unhoused. We still do not have enough for all that need them. We know that masks are not enough. Our adult masks do not properly work for children because of fit and activity. The recommendation has been to keep children indoors with air filtration. This is difficult as air filtration devices are not affordable for low-income people and information on making your own air filtration device is not as accessible. Everyone has been told to stay indoors to avoid this poor air. This is not possible for our unhoused neighbors and for those housed in spaces unable to keep outdoor air from coming in due to poor insulation.”
And the Scraper Bike Team goes on, “We demand commitments in addressing local air quality.
- We demand funding to mitigate immediate impacts. This will include major greening projects and air filtration.
- We demand funding to help families in healing from long term exposure to air quality.
- We demand a commitment to rezoning East Oakland. Current zoning does not provide enough of a buffer needed to protect neighborhoods next to industrial uses.
- We demand an Environmental Justice element in the City of Oakland’s General Plan. (emphasis mine)
Hayward Fault Anyone?
KPFA’s Brian Edwards Tiekert pointed out that in the event of a major earthquake on the Hayward fault, thousands more will need safe housing and that we may not have tap water for at least seven months.
Since we can see that our city, county and state government agencies much less the Feds–no FEMA funds have come in yet for Butte County and won’t likely help us–were not prepared for this relatively minor emergency and have not yet stepped up, what will happen to us when the fault shudders through these heavily occupied neighborhoods?
Can we count on our local governments to have a plan for so many people whose homes will not be habitable, to have a comprehensive plan other than to tell us to prepare for our own salvation. Yeah, I have supplies for a few days. When will there be water, ATMs, food distribution, electricity, etc? It boggles the mind given how negligent our government agencies have shown themselves to be….
Small Businesses Affected
And once the air has cleared, the plan also has to include small business. The streets have been almost deserted while many of our restaurants and cafes have come to depend on outdoor dining a good bit of the year. Retail itself has been depressed as people are urged to stay home, and parents cannot get to work with kids in the house amid looming health threats. What’s happened to our growing tourist economy these last weeks and when will it return? Is business tax relief being planned for local businesses which operate on thin margins and employ lots of local folks? I’ll be watching for that too!
It’s time to ask, demand and outline for our elected officials what is needed and to require a timetable for those things to be provided. What is the plan? These kinds of disasters are going to happen more often, and after last year, we should not have been caught unawares.
As a former teacher, I’m marking down a big red F and I can only hope that our government will live up to its potential on the next report card. It’s a deadly serious test and we can’t afford to fail it again.