Under Increasing Community Pressure, Port of San Diego Charts New Direction to Meaningful Clean Air Strategy

Board of Port Commissioners supports public health goals in its Maritime Clean Air Strategy

SAN DIEGO, May 14, 2021 – Portside communities have long suffered from air pollution generated by Port of San Diego operations, which causes cancer, heart disease, asthma, and other respiratory problems. On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, the Port’s Board of Port Commissioners held a virtual hearing on the Port’s draft Maritime Clean Air Strategy (MCAS), a plan that is supposed to outline how the Port will reduce the air pollution it generates and address public health in Portside communities.

A coalition of community residents, and state and local organizations led by Environmental HeaIth Coalition (EHC) mobilized in opposition to the current draft MCAS. They argued that it would maintain the status quo and not meaningfully reduce harmful air pollutants. In response, the Board directed Port staff to develop a new draft that sets specific public health goals for clean air, creates an achievable transition plan to zero emission heavy-duty trucks, while supporting economic development. The Board also asked staff to increase community and stakeholder outreach and provide a longer review and comment period.

“The MCAS as we know is a guiding document, but even as a guiding document it holds itself to be transformative on how we provide a path on encouraging sustainable economic growth that won’t be at the expense of public health,” said Port Commissioner Sandy Naranjo.

Agreeing with Naranjo, Commissioner Jennifer LeSar said, “I really believe that clean air is a civil rights issue.” She called for approaching the MCAS from a restorative lens that does not focus on just meeting minimum requirements but embraces aspirational goals that push the Port to lead.

Some commissioners called for an approach that balances public health with tenants and industry interests. While maintaining the importance of economic vitality, Board Chair Michael Zucchet reminded the commission of the Port’s imbalanced history.

“I don’t think there has been a balance. I think there has been a 100% emphasis on commerce and the maritime industry…,” said Zucchet. “…we can all think of all the ways where environmental quality, where public health has been sacrificed over the years…”

Portside communities, like National City and Barrio Logan, have some of the highest levels of diesel pollution in the region. Children in these communities have more than double the rate of asthma emergency room visits than the county average. A recent report found that over 80% of the cancer risk San Diegans breathe in is from diesel pollution.

“My husband suffers from respiratory problems and has cancer, and the pollution that comes from the port and the trucks that pass through my community every day makes his medical condition worse...,” shared Alicia Sanchez, a National City resident, during the public comment portion.

The coalition led by EHC is calling for an MCAS that 1) decreases the risk of cancer by reducing diesel and other toxic air pollutants, 2) requires heavy-duty diesel drayage trucks to transition to 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2030 – five years ahead of the state’s requirements, and 3) provides the infrastructure, funding, and implementation mechanisms necessary to achieve these goals. Over 200 community members signed a petition in support of these environmental justice goals.

“With the amount of diesel pollution our communities are exposed to, they cannot afford to wait until the state’s 2035 ZEV goal to breathe cleaner air. We need a commitment from the Port of San Diego that they will lead the state in emission reduction, not begrudgingly follow,” said Diane Takvorian, the executive director of Environmental Health Coalition. “Based on what we heard today, it looks like this new Board of Port Commissioners is listening to the community and is ready to do their part so we can all breathe clean air. We are cautiously optimistic, but we will not let up the pressure.”

Port staff is expected to produce a new draft for public review and comment, before presenting a final draft to the Board of Port Commissioners in September 2021. To watch the May 11, 2021, hearing, please click here. The MCAS is item 15.




Angelica Estrada
Communications Director, Environmental Health Coalition
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Founded in 1980, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) builds grassroots campaigns to confront the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and climate change. Visit online  http://www.environmentalhealth.org.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, April 2, 2021


Angelica Estrada

Communications Director, Environmental Health Coalition

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Three Public Members Join Newly Reformed San Diego Air Pollution Control District Board

Ushering in a New Era of Clean Air

With the sixth worst air quality in the nation, Environmental Health Coalition is hopeful San Diego’s new Air Pollution Control District (APCD) board will take bold action to protect the health of the 3 million San Diego County Residents.

San Diego’s APCD appoints the state’s first ever-Environmental Justice Member, along with a Public Health/Physician Member, and Air Pollution Science/ Technology member.

SAN DIEGO, April 2, 2021 – Environmental Health Coalition congratulates the three public members appointed to the newly reformed San Diego Air Pollution Control District Governing Board. The three new members appointed by the Board are Anne Marie Birkbeck-Garcia, MD to the Public Health/Physician Member seat, Enrique Medina to the Air Pollution Science/Technology Member seat, and Georgette Gomez to the Environmental Justice Member seat – the very first in the state.

With these three public members, the SDAPCD Board is now comprised of 11 members tasked with improving San Diego County’s air quality to protect the health of its over 3 million residents who breathe some of the most polluted air in California and the nation. In San Diego, nearly 10% of children across the region have asthma, and children in the areas most impacted by air pollution have three to five times more than the county average in hospitalizations.

“My family has lived in Logan for a few generations and as a result, we have endured a tremendous amount of air pollution in our neighborhood. Due to this pollution, my mother has had to undergo two surgeries for her breathing problems," said Maritza Garcia, a Barrio Logan resident.  “Having an Environmental Justice member on the board that cares about neighborhoods like mine makes me hopeful to see major improvements to clean our air. Our lives depend on it.”

Gomez will be the first environmental justice member to sit on an ACPD board in the state. The immediate past president of San Diego City Council and former EHC Associate Director, Gomez has lived, worked, and represented nearly all the 40 San Diego census tracks that are the top 25% most polluted areas in the state. Most of those census tracks are south of interstate eight in low-income neighborhoods of color.

“Anne Marie, Enrique, and Georgette all deeply understand the terrible health impacts pollution has on our most vulnerable communities because of their personal experiences with it and will work to significantly improve air quality in these communities,” said Diane Takvorian, Executive Director of Environmental Health Coalition.

Raised in South San Diego, Dr. Birkbeck-Garcia is a pediatrician who treats children suffering from respiratory and other life-threatening diseases made worse by severe air pollution. An EHC board member since 2009, Medina is an environmental and occupational health and safety professional who volunteers his time and expertise in San Diego and Tijuana addressing air pollution and health issues.

“It is really exciting to see AB 423 become reality. The new SDAPCD Board is so much more representative of San Diego County’s vast and diverse population,” said Mayor Todd Gloria. “It provides a great opportunity for the Air District to get on the right track and I look forward to air quality improvements in the near future.”

In 2019, following demands from environmental justice communities to strengthen SDAPCD, Governor Newsom signed AB 423 into law. This bill - authored by then Assemblymember Todd Gloria and sponsored by EHC - sought to make the SDAPCD board more accountable, transparent and diverse.


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