L.A.-area and state officials call for quicker cleanup of Exide plant contamination

L.A.-area and state officials call for quicker cleanup of Exide plant contamination
Community members and activists gather in a backyard of a home east of downtown Los Angeles to mark the closure of the Exide Tchnologies battery recycling plant on Thursday, Mar. 12, 2015. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Frustrated with the pace of toxic cleanup efforts surrounding a shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon, state and local politicians are pressing for swifter action from the Brown administration.

"This has gone on too long," Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Tuesday during a news conference at the Capitol; she pledged to go after Exide Technologies, which operated the plant for decades.


The state's Department of Toxic Substances Control is overseeing the cleanup of lead-contaminated soil, but incoming Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said the department "has not done a good job" and promised he'd push officials to act more urgently.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Echo Park) said all legislators should be disheartened by the slow progress in cleaning up affected neighborhoods where most residents are Latino and low-income -- particularly as efforts to address the natural gas leak near the wealthier community of Porter Ranch have mobilized relatively quickly.

"We don't want to send the wrong message. That if you live ... in Porter Ranch that you're more important than the folks that live in East ... or Southeast Los Angeles," Gomez said.

Solis said she'd like to see more state money put toward cleanup, but did not specify how much at the news conference.

A poster at the news conference laid out a $70-million proposal for next year's budget that would be used to assess the contamination and clean up the most affected homes.

But, Solis said, that figure was meant to "begin the discussion." She emphasized that Exide must be held accountable for the costs of the pollution.

California has received around $9 million from Exide for residential cleanup. Last year, the state also dedicated about $7 million to test and clean up homes, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to spend $2 million to accelerate those efforts.

The closure of the Exide facility was the focus of an informational hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday, where Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) pressed for $70 million in state funding for the cleanup.

"It feels like the state is just throwing pennies at brown people to keep us quiet," said Garcia, who called for declaration of a state of emergency.

Solis also chimed in with a call for $70 million at the afternoon hearing.

Administration officials sought to assuage concerns that they were not working with enough urgency.

"I can assure you the governor has us all commited to working on the site," said Matt Rodriquez, the state's secretary for environmental protection. "It's a priority for us. It's a priority for me."

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