Things That Matter

Eco-Anxiety Is Real And Compounded Each Year I Live In Fire Evacuation Zones

California is on fire. As I write this, nearly 100,000 acres have burned, or are currently burning in the last couple weeks alone. Within a 25 mile radius of my home in Los Angeles, three major fires are burning. My Nuyorican mom is frantic. The devastation caused to families who lost their homes is undeniably tragic. After California lost a historic 19,000 homes to wildfires last year, Gov. Newsom signed a $21 billion fund into law to help address the rising costs of wildfires on Californias.

Let me tell you that the mental health costs are immeasurable. I was evacuated from my home for 11 days last year. Though I was fortunate enough to return home to a house still standing, my mental health deteriorated from there. As I write this, a year later, I am four days into a voluntary evacuation order due to the Getty fire, and there’s a new word floating around: eco-anxiety.

Experts now believe that eco-anxiety may affect Americans more than the actual wildfires and hurricanes that break records year after year.

Credit: @Ted_Howze / Twitter

In 2017, a report on climate change issued by the American Psychological Association focused on the trauma caused by acute extreme weather events. It explicitly determined that people living in risk-prone areas, indigenous communities, communities of color, and other populations would be especially vulnerable to the mental health effects of climate change. “Communities are also less resilient when they are weakened by social stressors, such as racism, economic inequality, and environmental injustices,” the report concludes. Documentary After Maria illustrates how climate change has permanently altered the lives of Puerto Ricans whose homes were destroyed. Those that remained on the island have endured PTSD triggers in the following hurricane seasons that have otherwise just been part of normal life.

I am a woman with trauma. I am a lesbian with trauma. I am a race dysphoric Arab-Latina with trauma. It’s taken all the courage I have to admit that, last fire season, I was less resilient to the drama of a fire evacuation.

The power went out, and we had no cell signal to alert us to our mandatory evacuation orders.

Courtesy of Danielli Marzouca

When my girlfriend and I woke up that morning, it smelled like smoke, and the power was out. I decided to hike the dogs up to a higher point where we typically have cell service. It was there I saw the fire and learned that our electricity company had shut off power to prevent a fire like the one that sparked the Getty fire, which was as simple an event as a tree limb falling on a power line. We went home and took a *bath.* Eventually, a neighbor alerted us to the evacuation orders. I packed clothes for a couple of days, medication, passports, and the yucca. 

This is all new to me because I grew up in Florida. 

Credit: @PFA809 / Twitter

I didn’t know “fire season” was a thing until I moved to Topanga, nestled in the Santa Monica mountains. I come from Miami, Florida so I am familiar with hurricanes and grew up loving the then-moderate hurricane seasons. The weatherman would tell us which days we’d have off school, and as a kid with no responsibilities, it was all a little bit thrilling to hear the lightning crack above us, and be huddled as a family in a closet having playing school or misa.

As we sped down the canyon highway, we soberly slowed down to pass a car that had flipped over onto its hood, blocking the lane.

Credit: @_Mauriaaa / Twitter

Everything after the evacuation was objectively delightful. I was privileged enough to stay with my girlfriend’s family, who lived nearby, and they even had cable. We watched the news 24/7 looking for updates on our home. The Paradise fire became the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. It killed 85 people who couldn’t escape in time. It was traveling at the rate of an entire football field per second. Soon, the thought that we were taking a bath, and eating mierda for hours before a frantic neighbor told us we were put on mandatory evacuation orders three hours prior, felt terrifying.

A week later, we returned to our home. The worst thing that happened was our food spoiled. We were incredibly lucky. However, that’s when my anxiety and stress levels skyrocketed. For a week straight, I would panic when my girlfriend came home late, even if it was just by ten minutes. I thought she got into a terrible car wreck. I didn’t want to leave the dogs at home for fear that an unstoppable fire would overtake them. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was emotionally unaffected. I felt incredibly alone and fell into a severe depression.

In just a couple of hours, our evacuation orders are expected to lift.

Credit: @kgcurtis / Twitter

I eventually obtained health insurance and got therapy for my anxiety, which has significantly dissipated. The truth is, when I first learned about climate change in my high school’s Environmental Science magnet program, I experienced severe anxiety. I learned I would live to see my south Florida childhood home become part of the ocean floor. I begged my parents to move us more inland, to Okeechobee at least. “Popps, that’s going to be ocean-front property some day. Please.”

I’ve learned that doing the step work to fight climate change and be fire prepared eases my eco-anxiety.

Credit: @Mark_DMcKinney / Twitter

I later learned that animal agriculture is the single greatest contributor to climate change, and went vegan. I vote for policies that protect our earth, and my life on it. This year, I know where to look for emergency alerts. Since we were put on evacuation orders, my car has been packed, facing out the driveway. We take turns staying home with the dog to prevent the worst from happening. I’m learning to accept the things I cannot change, and pray for courage to change the things I can. Once every emergency preparedness task is crossed off my list, there’s nothing I can do. The fires are closer to my girlfriend’s family’s house, and at this point in my financial life, we can’t afford to evacuate and stay in a hotel for peace of mind. This is it. This is how I’m learning to cope with eco-anxiety while surrounded by fire.

Most of the year, it feels like a privilege to look out my window and see lush, green trees, home to red-headed woodpeckers, glowing, yellow-eyed owls, and the neighborhood hawk. The few times over the years that we’ve seen bobcats and mountain lions, these mountains feel so wild, I remember just how wild and dangerous it is for all of us to live here.

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A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

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A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging discrimination against black and Latino renters. The suit, filed earlier this month, takes aim at a 2016 Hesperia rental ordinance that requires landlords to evict tenants who had allegedly committed crimes on or near their property. 

Making matters more troublesome is that the housing law was passed at a time when Hesperia, a Mojave Desert city of just under 100,000 people located 35 miles north of San Bernardino, saw it’s Latino and African-American populations growing. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latinos living in Hesperia rose 140 percent, and the number of African-Americans by 103 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

The housing law, called the “Crime Free Rental Housing Program” led to the eviction of countless families, including children, for alleged criminal activity that included one tenant or even some non-tenants. This was in addition to the eviction of family members who had reported domestic violence to the police. The housing act even involved allegations from authorities of criminal activity even if the individual wasn’t arrested, charged or convicted. 

According to federal authorities, city councilmembers’ statements in creating the controversial ordinance show that it was designed to reverse “demographic” changes in Hesperia.

The suit, alleges that the housing law was put in place for one primary reason, to drive minorities out of the city of Hesperia. The DOJ is seeking to stop future similarly discriminatory housing laws and for financial compensation for those tenants that were affected by the ordinance. The housing law was put in effect from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017.

The DOJ says that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. With the city’s sheriff’s department having determination in which tenants would be evicted, there was an instance when an older Latino couple was removed due to their adult son, who did not live with them, being arrested, the suit said. 

When the measure was initially being drafted, Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmidt made comments about the number of renters that were coming into the city from parts of L.A. County that were known for having large minority populations. According to prosecutors, Schmidt allegedly said that groups left L.A. County  “because it’s a cheap place to live and it’s a place to hide,” and that “the people that aggravate us aren’t from here,” they “come from somewhere else with their tainted history.”

Another questionable comment came from city councilmember Russ Blewett who allegedly said that Hesperia needed to “improve our demographic,” and that he wanted “those kind of people” that the ordinance would particularly target to get “the hell out of our town. 

“I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done,” Blewett said, according to the suit.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African-American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in the press release. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”

As of now, the city of Hesperia has denied any and all wrongdoing in regard to the DOJ lawsuit. 

Rachel Molina, a spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia, told the Victorville Daily Press that the information presented in the DOJ lawsuit is “factually incorrect and grossly misleading.”

“First and foremost, I would like to say that Hesperia is a very diverse community,” Molina said. “We love and embrace diversity in Hesperia. At no time did the City’s crime-free ordinance discriminate against residents of any ethnicity. There are crime-free programs across the United States aimed at providing residents with safer communities — in the recent past HUD supported such programs.”

Before the DOJ filed its own lawsuit, the ACLU took legal action two years ago against the city on similar premises of housing discrimination. 

This isn’t the first time the city and it’s sheriff’s department have faced legal action over the ordinance. Back in 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a suit on the claim that the housing law restricted housing and services for those individuals who had criminal records. In retaliation, Hesperia made adjustments to the law to make the program voluntary for landlords. Just last year, the city agreed to settle with the ACLU lawsuit for $485,000 dollars. 

That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sharon Green, who leads the Victor Valley Family Resource Center, a housing nonprofit organization. Green told the LA Times that the DOJ suit is important in regards to other cities that might be considering similar discriminatory housing laws. 

The DOJ suit will “send a strong message to cities around the country that they cannot discriminate. Our homeless numbers are far too large and there are far too many obstacles to housing already to be dealing with this kind of foolishness.”

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Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

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Los Angeles Made History After Nury Martinez Became The First Latina City Council President

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There was some history made this past Tuesday as Nury Martinez was unanimously elected as the first Latina president in the 110-year history of the Los Angeles City Council. With a unanimous 14-0 vote, albeit Councilman Gil Cedillo was absent, the council chose to put Martinez at the head of one of the most important positions in the city. 

With the historic vote, the San Fernando Valley Councilwoman will be succeeding outgoing Council President Herb Wesson, the first African-American to head the council. Martinez will become just the second woman ever elected to serve as LA city council president. Before Martinez, Councilwoman Pat Russell was the first and only woman elected back in 1983. 

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, who worked as a dishwasher and a factory worker, Martinez took time to credit and thank them during a speech on Tuesday.

Her humble beginnings growing up in Pacoima, a predominantly Latino working-class community in the San Fernando Valley, taught her the importance of hard work. Martinez saw her mom and dad work tirelessly for her family so she could have a chance at success one day. That day came on Tuesday. 

“As the daughter of immigrants, as a daughter of a dishwasher and factory worker, it is incredibly, incredibly personal for me to ensure that children and families in this city become a priority for all of us, to ensure our children have a safe way to walk home every day … to ensure that our families feel safe,” Martinez said on Tuesday. “And first and foremost, to ensure that children living in motels, children that are facing homelessness, finally become a priority of our city, to ensure that we … find them permanent housing for them to grow up.”

Martinez is the product of public schools and became the first in her family to graduate from college. She began her career serving her own community as part of the City of San Fernando Council from 2003-2009 then followed that as a member of the L.A. Unified School Board from 2009-2013. 

It was her upset victory in 2013 beating out well-known Democrat Cindy Montañez, a former state assemblywoman, for a seat on the city council that put her on the LA political map. Despite trailing 19 points after the primary city election, Martinez would win in the general election by 969 votes. 

“To think, six years ago, I wasn’t even supposed to be here. I worked so hard and I was able to turn it around,” Martinez told the LA Times. “It’s not only an honor, but I really and truly feel blessed. And I just want to make everyone proud.”

Martinez has previously taken on issues like ending homelessness, installing rent control laws and supporting low-income families. She hopes to continue fighting for this and similar issues as president of the city council. 

As part of the city council, Martinez worked on behalf of the many families in the San Fernando Valley taking on issues like housing projects, rent control, and paid family leave. These issues will continue to be part of her agenda as president of the city council as well as advocating for children and families. 

“It’s monumental. She looks like the face of L.A. and she’s been elected to the highest position possible,” Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus with California State University, Los Angeles, told LAist.  “Usually people consider city council president to be a stepping stone to elsewhere — and we’ll see what the future holds.”

The significant moment wasn’t lost on many who congratulated Martinez for this historic stepping stone for Latinas everywhere. 

Another trailblazer, Gloria Molina, who was first Latina ever elected to the City Council, told the LA Times that Martinez has an incredible opportunity in front of her to bring real change and representation to the position. 

“She has a real opportunity to bring so much change,” Molina said. “She has an opportunity to create a balance. Martinez’s election is “a very significant accomplishment, not just as a Latina but as a woman. It’s still a men’s game there.”

As the council vote was officially confirmed and the motion to elect Martinez passed, there was a loud eruption of applause from those in the council chamber. The significance of the moment wasn’t lost on Martinez who said that she will use the opportunity to highlight the best that Latinos can offer. 

“I think it’s important to continue to show the rest of the country what this community is made of,” she said. “The Latinos are ready to lead and we’re very grateful to be part of this wonderful country called America.”

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