Carrying signs reading "more pollution is no solution" and "diesel pollution is no joke," a group protesting a proposed rail yard at the Port of Los Angeles rallied Friday outside the Los Angeles mayor's official residence.
For much of the day, they stood quietly outside of the mansion where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lives. Many had not eaten since midnight, the beginning of a 24-hour hunger strike. The protesters - about 50 of them at midday - wanted to voice their displeasure with the Southern California International Gateway, a 153-acre facility that would be operated by Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF Railway.
Led by a community group called East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, the protesters were upset that the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners had voted unanimously to support the project on March 7. They noted that each of the commissioners was appointed by Villaraigosa and they asked why the mayor had not tried to stop it.
"He's not making good choices," said Beatriz Reyes, 24, a community health worker who lives in west Long Beach, adjacent to the proposed site. "I believe he is doing what is beneficial to him. He should listen to us."
Residents living near the rail yard - which would be situated in an industrial area bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, the Terminal Island Freeway and the Dominguez Channel - say they're concerned that it will bring more pollution to their communities. They say they fear increased train and truck traffic will result in even higher rates of asthma lung cancer and heart disease. And they note most of the residents living close to the proposed rail yard are low income and cannot afford to move.
Although it is unknown if the mayor was home this morning, Peter Sanders, Villaraigosa's press secretary, said in an email the mayor was aware of Friday's protest.
"The mayor recognizes that some members of the community are concerned about the project," Sanders said. "Those concerns will be aired and considered as the process moves forward. He respects the rights of those who choose to protest lawfully. "
Sanders also noted that port officials view the project as vital for ensuring Los Angeles stays competitive with other port complexes nationwide. Proponents say that facilities such as BNSF's are the most efficient way to move goods from ships to stores and warehouses. They underscore that the new rail yard will eliminate 1.3 million truck trips each year. For now, many trucks must drive between the port and BNSF's current rail yard near downtown Los Angeles.
Angelo Logan, executive director of East Yard Communities, said his group promotes most rail projects at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. But he said this one is different, mainly because of its location. His group has long claimed that the project will increase pollution levels for nearby residents. He said he is upset Villaraigosa has sided with corporate interests.
"We are protesting what he has done, and we are also urging him to take a leadership role on this issue," Logan said. "It's not as much about his authority in terms of decision-making as it is about his leadership. "
Logan said he hoped Friday's action would bring attention to the project. He said he knew of about 100 people engaging in the brief hunger strike, including many who could not make it to the protest.
Those who did come to the mayor's residence in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles said they were committed to stopping the railway, no matter what it takes.
Evelyn Knight, 79, who has been living in west Long Beach since 1968, said she lives three or four blocks from the site and has no plans to move.
"That's my home," she said. "I don't want to run out of my community. I have never run away from anything. I want to fight. I want to help people fight for their rights. "
The project is not official yet. The next step requires approval from the Los Angeles City Council. Logan said East Yards are expected to begin an intense lobbying campaign within the next two weeks.