The shallowness of the recent news article describing the conflict between neighborhood residents and the massive Lehigh Hanson Asphalt Plant in West Berkeley was deeply disappointing. A few quotes from opposing sides, mixed with the self-serving platitudes from local politicians, did not result in a meaningful story.
The article totally avoids a simple basic truth at the heart of this matter — perhaps because that truth threatens our city’s self-righteous air of superiority as we continually congratulate ourselves for being at the forefront of the “Green Revolution.” The truth is that Berkeley has a dirty little secret. We believe that for more than 50 years, our city’s powerful elite in their Downtown lairs have knowingly allowed two huge industrial sites to destroy the health and quality of life of thousands of people.
The toxic emissions that spew from Pacific Steel and Berkeley Asphalt are significant and well-documented, as are the blatant failures of California’s Air Resources Board to control them. The haze of chemical-laden dust and fumes that spreads over the homes and workplaces of thousands of people in Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito and beyond causes untold hardship and suffering, but we are told this travesty must be tolerated because — in the words of West Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio — these companies provide “vital services.” Exactly what “vital services” beyond the hefty tax contributions to the city’s bottomless coffers and election-time handouts from powerful unions can possibly justify this devil’s bargain?
Yours in struggle,