In the Pipeline: Trash-related problems are real, so why bring racism into the situation?


No doubt many of you have been following the increasingly complicated situation between the Ocean View School District and Rainbow Environmental Services.

For some time, many residents of the Oak View community of Huntington Beach have taken issue with the odors and other garbage-related problems stemming from Rainbow’s trash facility across from Oak View Elementary School. As they should.

And after several knotty and litigious chapters, Rainbow has agreed to enclose the operation and take other preemptive actions to help quell the problems.


For many of us, it is none too soon and certainly a positive step.

To many observers, the whole mess was a natural progression of what happens when two entities, in this case a school and a trash disposal and recycling site, grow up next to each other. Simply put, the seeds for this issue were planted decades ago.

Some school district officials have been highly vocal about the situation in public Facebook forums and at City Council meetings, rallies and other events. Also, an organized movement in the community has been positive, for the most part.

It’s important that people get involved in causes they believe in, though it’s not easy to be a lead activist for a particular issue (I learned that firsthand in the fire-pit battle a couple of years ago).

I’ve watched activists Oscar Rodriguez and Victor Valladares represent the Oak View cause, and I’ve been impressed. To me, that neighborhood has long represented the short end of a lot of sticks. If you want to have a beef with me, mention the term “Slater slums.” I can’t stand that phrase. I find it demeaning and insulting. I’m glad these guys are defending their community.

But with activism comes responsibility.

My friend Gustavo Arellano wrote a cover piece recently for the OC Weekly, where he is the editor, about the situation. This jumped out at me: Rodriguez, 21, a premed student at Long Beach State and chief operations officer for the Oak View Youth Soccer League, was quoted as saying, “What’s going on here is environmental racism.”

Wait. Environmental racism? Playing the race card against Rainbow? Accusing it of some systemic, calculated scheme to punish a specific race?

What was the basis for this accusation?

I wrote to Rodriguez to ask him about the appropriateness of that term and to invite him to add any context he might feel was necessary. Like, did he have any proof?

He and I have communicated before in a positive way. But this time my message was ignored.

Next I wrote to Valladares, who had reposted that term (quoting Rodriguez). I asked him the same question. And I was ignored.

But the question matters. Is accusing Rainbow of racism the next weapon in this war of words?

Why play the race card? There are some real, fact-driven arguments here. Why incite people like that?

Rodriguez doubled down on his Facebook page recently: “While doing research on low-income communities, little did I know my community was part of a national statistic: environmental racism.”

A large Rainbow logo accompanied the post, along with a third-party definition of the term. It’s too long to include here, but it cites “prejudicial beliefs and behavior” as one element. Search for the term online and read for yourself.

I’m all for the voice of the people and fighting for a community. I’m not for the demonization of any entity by tagging it as racist. Are the Oak View students being told this?

I’m hoping school officials will help, to use their phrase, “put a lid” on the term “environmental racism” before it unjustly catches fire. In the absence of evidence, it’s a dangerous spark to ignite.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 25 books, including “Legendary Locals of Huntington Beach.” You can follow him on Twitter @chrisepting or at