Press-Telegram: Long Beach community played role in preventing SCIG rail yard

The news media have reported widely on the Superior Court ruling that may stop the development of the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard and its threat to the health of surrounding communities like West Long Beach. Yet, we cannot forget the important role that the voice of the community has played in this struggle to prevent the rail yard next to our homes and schools. My personal story is just one of many neighbors who have been involved from the beginning.

I have lived in West Long Beach for approximately 20 years and have two children who graduated from university during the many years of this fight. Like most immigrants, I was seeking the American Dream and decided to make this neighborhood my home because of an employment opportunity and the presence of others in my family.

Once my children started school and began to make friends, I decided to become active in the community to better address their needs, first through advocating for programs at my son’s Head Start center. However, after my daughter began to attend Hudson Elementary School, I immediately noticed that the campus was near the freeway, refineries and railroads. Once when I was volunteering on the playground, the principal had announced that the children should return to their classrooms because of the dangerous level of air pollution.

I soon joined the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma and learned about the consequences of air pollution on our health. One day, my daughter’s friend had a severe asthma attack and one of us had to run back to her school because that was where her only inhaler was kept. I hated to see this little girl suffering. Soon afterwards my daughter was diagnosed as pre-asthmatic. This experience motivated me to became even more involved in efforts to stop the growing threats to our children’s health.

Because the health of my children became such a personal issue for me, I became preoccupied in preventing the proposed development of the SCIG. I continued working with other residents as part of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, often putting in as many as 16 hours each day. I knocked on doors to share information and soon many neighbors began to respond with their concerns. In truth, my family did not always appreciate my overwhelming focus on environmental justice, especially my constant participation in public meetings that went on for hours, sometimes as late as midnight.

Repeatedly, public officials rejected the community’s voice but this gave me more motivation because I had faith that we would ultimately win. We even went to Omaha to rally in front of Warren Buffett’s headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway because its plans for the SCIG would expand operations of the BNSF railroad. We made a video for him called “Dear Mr. Warren Buffett” and made a giant inhaler that we used at a press conference. He didn’t meet with us but he certainly could not miss the media attention the community created.

After leading these community efforts and getting more people like me involved, I am optimistic about the progress we have made. While many of us now believe that the SCIG will not proceed, we still face other hazards, ranging from the expansion of the 710 Freeway to increased pollution from adjacent refineries. No matter the problem, our community will continue to be at the center of these solutions. As we celebrate this important victory, we encourage everyone to join us in making Long Beach a healthy community that we can all be proud to live in.

Elena Rodriguez is a 20-year resident of West Long Beach. This Guest Commentary was printed in the Long Beach Press-Telegram on April 28, 2016. 

Sustainability education comes to Cesar Chavez Park on April 25

10245573_829141777115945_8781812826371356604_n(español abajo) The second annual Green Prize Festival will give residents the chance to learn more about sustainability and eco-friendly ways to improve their lives. The event is organized by long-time BHC partner Green Education Inc., which seeks to educate and transform local communities into green, sustainable neighborhoods. “We selected Cesar Chavez Park this year because it’s a pollution-burdened area. We’re looking to share resources and promote new partnerships that can help make the neighborhood more healthful and sustainable,” explained Stella Ursua, President of Green Education and Chair of the Building Healthy Communities Neighborhoods Workgroup.

The Green Prize Festival will spotlight urban farmers, vendors, restaurants that serve organic and locally-sourced foods, schools, and green technology accomplishments that contribute to building a green, sustainable community. The daylong activities will also include local artists and entertainers, community-based organizations working to improve the environment, and educational workshops. Thanks to a partnership with state environmental organizations, attendees will also get to test drive alternative-fuel vehicles, including electric cars.

As a major piece of the event, the “green prize awards” will honor leaders in the environmental community in the categories “green government official,” “green school,” “green non-profit organization,” and “green small business” along with seven others.

The Green Prize Festival will be held on Saturday, April 25th from 11:00am to 7:00pm at Cesar Chavez Park (401 Golden Ave. LB 90802). For more information or to volunteer for the event, visit


1973556_827711987258924_7606980043308536445_oEl Segundo festival anual de “Green Prize festival” le dará a los residentes la oportunidad de aprender más acerca de sostenibilidad y maneras amigables al ecosistema (eco-friendly) para mejorar sus vidas. El evento está organizado por Green Education Inc., un socio de hace mucho tiempo de BHC, el cual busca educar y transformar comunidades locales en vecindarios verdes sostenibles. “Este año escogimos el parque Cesar Chávez porque es un área muy contaminada. Queremos compartir recursos y promover nuevas asociaciones que pueden ayudar a que el vecindario sea más saludable y sostenible”, explico Strella Ursua, presidenta de Green Education y del grupo de trabajo de Vecindarios de BHC.

El festival del premio verde destacara agricultores urbanos, vendedores, restaurants de origen locales, escuelas y los logros de la tecnología verde que contribuyen a construir una comunidad verde y sostenible. Las actividades del día también incluirán animadores y artistas locales, organizaciones de base comunitaria trabajando para el ambiente y talleres educacionales. Gracias a una alianza con organizaciones ambientales estatales, los asistentes también podrán hacer una prueba de manejo a vehículos de combustible alterno incluyendo carros eléctricos.

Como una pieza importante del evento, los reconocimientos de premio verde honraran a líderes de la comunidad ambiental en las categorías “oficial de gobierno verde”, “escuela verde”, “organización sin fines de lucro verde” y “pequeña empresa verde”, junto con otros siete.

El festival del premio verde se llevara a cabo el sábado 25 de abril de 11:00am a 7:00pm en el parque Cesar Chávez (401 Golden Ave. LB 90802). Para más información o para ayudar en el evento, visite


BHC & GRID Alternatives Bring Solar Energy to Central Long Beach


Volunteers begin installing solar panels on a home on 9th Street in Central Long Beach.


On Saturday, October 4th, two Long Beach families in Central Long Beach received solar energy systems and decades of clean, affordable power, thanks to the result of a collaboration between Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach (BHC) and GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles (GLA).

With the help of over 35 community members and local elected officials, teams of volunteers installed solar panels and canvassed the Anaheim, Orange, Cherry, & Seventh Street (AOC7) Neighborhood to educate the community about solar energy and BHC’s organizing work.

Vice-Mayor Suja Lowenthal joined volunteers on the roof in the morning and by lunch time, Mayor Robert Garcia finished installing the final solar panel for the day.

During lunch, the volunteers, staff, and homeowners were treated to thank-yous from Mayor Robert Garcia, Ely Flores (GRID Alternatives), and James Suazo (BHC Long Beach).

BHC Long Beach Steering Committee member, Stella Ursua, and GRID Alternatives Outreach Coordinator Allison DePasquale, spearheaded the initiative in coordination with the BHC Long Beach Environmental Health Workgroup.

The new solar-powered homes will help reduce the families’ energy bills for years to come and help build a more sustainable Long Beach.

Thanks to all our volunteers from GRID Alternatives; the Environmental Health, Schools, and Neighborhoods Workgroups; and the Long Beach Time Exchange! Check out all the action from the Solar Install at our Storify page: #SolarHappensHere! View photos from the event by clicking here.

About GRID Alternatives: GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles is a non-profit organization that makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to low-income communities. We bring together community partners, volunteers and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for low-income families, providing energy cost savings, valuable hands-on experience, and a source of clean, local energy that benefits us all. GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles has served more than 760 families to-date, for a combined lifetime savings of over $16,000,000, and a reduction in greenhouse gas use equivalent to nearly 48,000 tons of carbon or taking 8,821 cars off the road for a year.

Protect our Air Quality by Joining the A-Team

LBACA Logo GrassThe Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA) is now recruiting community residents for the A-Team! LBACA’s new Community Outreach Liaison, Laura Cortez, will be coordinating all efforts on behalf of the A-Team.

What does the A-Team do? The A-Team assesses the environment using special tools and is exposed to trainings, personal, and professional development to enhance their skills. In addition, members will receive stipends for most activities in which they participate. The volunteer position does require a one year commitment, residence in Long Beach, San Pedro, or Wilmington, as well as attendance to a fraction of LBACA’s Health & Housing and Coalition meetings, but is very flexible and workable for students and parents.

Download their recruitment flyer for more information (available in English and Spanish): LBACA A-Team Information

For more information about joining the A-Team or to learn more, contact Laura Cortez at 562-933-6000 x. 75061 or at Please consider sharing this information using the “share” buttons below!

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