This year marks a turning point for California’s economic and political future as Latinos are set to surpass white non-Hispanics for the first time to become a plurality of the state population. This demographic shift presents new opportunities for Latino communities and their elected officials to shape our state’s legislative agenda and continue California’s important role as a national thought leader, innovator, and policy incubator.
Last week’s about-face by Senators Kevin De Leon and Ricardo Lara to co-author SB 270, the statewide ban on polluting single-use plastic bags, came in part because Latinos led local communities’ demand for the bill’s passage. The announcement of the breakthrough for the statewide bag ban by Senator Alex Padilla, also an Angeleno, coincided with a statement by the Latino Coalition for a California Bag Ban supporting the effort.
Latinos in the Los Angeles districts of both senators also played a critical role conveying supporter’s voices on the urgency and importance of the statewide bag ban to the public, the press, and policy makers.
Latinos were among local activists who passed a series of 15 neighborhood council resolutions throughout Los Angeles calling for the statewide ban. Several cited the abundance of single-use bags lining the Los Angeles River, which flows through communities represented by De Leon and Lara, and highlighted the need for a statewide policy to reinforce local bag bans and reduce trash in waterways.
More than 90 California localities have banned single-use plastic bags. Los Angeles, the largest city to do so, imposed its ban beginning this year following similar bans throughout Southern California, including Long Beach, Pasadena, Huntington Beach, and unincorporated Los Angeles County.
The sophisticated push from the community thwarted efforts by polluters and their public-relations team to distort the issue with cliche arguments that pit jobs against the environment. Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents unincorporated East Los Angeles, noted in a recent oped that, “since the dawn of the environmental movement, opponents have tried to stop progress by exaggerating economic impacts. (SB 270} opponents claimed over 350 jobs would be lost — when the actual number turned out to be around 15.”
Recent polls indicate that Latinos by wide margins back legislation to curb pollution, climate change, and other environmental problems. Only support for immigration reform surpasses Latinos’ pro-environment values.
Latinos understand that protecting our environment is not an obstacle to growing successful businesses. Supporting green solutions and products, like reusable bags and the state’s growing industry to manufacture and market them, creates much-needed jobs.
The emergence of a strong anti-pollution, pro-environment voice within the Latino community – able to break through industry talking points and hold lawmakers accountable – is over due for Los Angeles and California. Humane and earth-friendly resolutions to many complex policy issues, from airborne toxin eradication to water safety and sustainability, are more likely to succeed with engaged, progressive grassroots leadership from Latino communities throughout our state.
Passage of SB 270 will signify a turning point for California’s Latinos, who now embrace their crucial role as leaders in the environmental movement.
Richard Xavier Corral