OAKLAND, Calif. — Environmental, labor, faith and community groups are stepping up efforts to make sure the air quality improvement plan now being drafted by the Port of Oakland does enough to clean up pollution from trucks operating there. Truck diesel pollution is five times higher in West Oakland, near the port, than in other parts of the county, and one in five youngsters has asthma.

On the eve of an Aug. 21 community meeting, the labor-community Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports wrote to Port Executive Director Omar Benjamin, pointing out that current research underestimates both the total air pollution from maritime activities and the trucks’ contributions to pollution as they traverse surrounding residential areas.

During the meeting, coalition spokesperson Doug Bloch urged port officials to emulate the Clean Air Action Plan now being discussed at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. There, truck emissions are considered from loading at the port to offloading at their destination.

“We live with the trucks in the community,” Bloch said. “Without having a good snapshot of trucking’s impact in West Oakland, we can’t get a real picture of the impact on the community.”

Earlier in the day, ACORN members from West Oakland told a Port Commission meeting how the pollution devastates their families’ lives.

Cherice Carter, who moved to West Oakland four years ago, said her husband, who had never had asthma before, suddenly suffered a life-threatening attack six months ago. Yvonne Smith, a 60-year resident of the area, told of two great-nephews who died from asthma.

“The port can play a leadership role with a real local hire and training program,” Shirley Burnell told the commissioners. Noting that the port could create “thousands of jobs,” she added, “It’s only fair that those who suffer the greatest problems from the pollution should also gain economic benefits from the port.”

After the meeting, Burnell said that in West Oakland, “there are no decent jobs. People want to work, and will work hard, but they are just standing around.”

ACORN members also support efforts of port truck drivers who last month brought the Port Commission petitions signed by some 1,200 drivers — a large majority of those working at the port — who want to become employees of the trucking firms instead of “independent contractors” as at present. Trucking firms would be responsible maintenance of the drivers’ aging vehicles, and the drivers would gain the right to union representation.

mbechtel @pww.org