Victory: A Working-Class Neighborhood Defends Itself Against a Dangerous Gas Project -– And Wins
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Ethel Brown, 78, is among the homeowners who signed a lease agreement in the project’s early days. “I really did not understand the ramifications of signing the lease,” she stated in a letter to the Commission. “I was told that this was a perfectly safe project.” Brown did not hear about the project’s risks until two years later. “Much to my dismay, I learned how very dangerous this project is to my family and community…If I had known what I had learned from the [environmental impact report], I would not have signed the lease.” Up until the final Commission vote, SNGS continued to cite these same lease agreements as evidence of public support.
Greenlining Joins a Diligent Oppositon
AGENA and their pro bono team at Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) diligently opposed the project at every step. For five years, residents put their lives on hold to stage rallies, file opposition briefs, and maintain a community presence at Commission meetings.
“The community was highly involved throughout the process,” said Stephen Goldberg, staff attorney at LSNC. “AGENA’s organizing was absolutely essential to the litigation effort at the [Commission].”
The Greenlining Institute was uniquely positioned to supplement this effort in its final round. After several years of working with the Commission, Greenlining has cultivated a reputation of objectivity, thorough and reasoned analysis, and an eagerness to seek win-win solutions with business and industry. Unfortunately, in this case, mutual benefit was not an option; the project simply needed to be stopped.
The Final Push
With the final vote approaching quickly, all parties went in full force. After extensive research, our team toured the proposed project area and attended an all-party meeting convened by Commissioner Catherine Sandoval – the undecided vote – in Sacramento, where area residents coordinated an impressive demonstration to oppose the project. These efforts culminated in Greenlining sending a position letter to each of the Commissioners, consolidating the opposition’s most compelling points with new evidence and arguments generated by our team (you can read that letter here).
In the last week before the vote, Greenlining convened private meetings with Commission executives and high level advisors, including the Commission’s President, Michael R. Peevey. Goldberg noted that “Greenlining’s meetings with the Commissioners were extremely helpful because those were meetings that we were unable to get.” At these meetings, our team emphasized its concerns about public safety and lack of community outreach, particularly the dearth of consideration given to tenants. We also highlighted new evidence that SNGS seriously misled residents about the conclusions of the environmental impact report by distributing a flyer containing blatant falsehoods.
At the same time, area residents banded together for their final push. Two days before the Commission’s vote, a large group of community members rallied in the neighborhood’s Danny Nunn Park, immediately across the street from the proposed project site. Then, at 5:45 AM the morning of the final voting meeting, more than thirty residents boarded a bus from Sacramento to the Commission’s headquarters in San Francisco. Representatives of the Avondale/Glen Elder community packed the auditorium as resident after resident approached the microphone to voice their opposition one last time. The concerns of community stakeholders were supported by the Greenlining Institute in a final public comment (you can watch that here).
A Hard-Fought Victory
But no policy battle can be won without decision makers willing to take a principled stand in the face of a powerful interest. In May, Commissioner Michel Florio – a noted consumer advocate – authored an impassioned decision denying the project (you can read that decision here). Newly-appointed Commissioner Mark Ferron surprised many by joining this decision, emphasizing that state policy only allows significant public safety risks if a project has overriding benefits.