As Santa Ana grapples with issues of environmental justice, city council members have refused to appoint an employee of a company that settled a local groundwater contamination lawsuit to the city’s workforce development board.
Doug Beaver, a sales director at a manufacturing company called Cherry Aerospace, won’t take a seat on the city’s Workforce Development Board after City Councilwoman Jessie Lopez raised questions on March 16 over allegations involving his employer’s involvement in contaminating the city.
Council members approved the other proposed appointments to the board — which oversees services to Santa Ana residents seeking jobs in the city — as part of their decision. The appointment recommendations are made by the board’s executive committee.
“I know Mr. Beaver represents Cherry Aerospace … (which) was involved with the plume contamination that was released into our community, and if I’m not mistaken, I believe they were sued by the water board because of the water contamination,” Lopez said at the City Council’s March 16 meeting.
She continued: “I personally cannot be the council member that talks about climate justice and environmental justice and inequities and healthy communities, and help necessarily to put Cherry Aerospace on a pedestal.”
Beaver, reached for comment on March 19, said he doesn’t speak for Cherry and wasn’t an employee of the company at the time.
“I am personally disappointed that private citizens in a position to help and willing to volunteer time to the community are met with such scrutiny from elected officials, going back over a decade in the history of my employer when it was under different ownership,” Beaver said.
In 2008, the Orange County Water District filed a lawsuit against Textron, a company that owned Cherry Aerospace at the time, and other companies for groundwater contamination.
Textron settled the lawsuit in 2014 for $700,000 and a commitment by Textron to remediate its soil and groundwater contamination under the oversight of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
Beaver said his “hope is that the city council engages with more people in the future to develop jobs for those suffering in Santa Ana, and all of Orange County.”
Lopez said she spoke with leaders of the city’s Delhi Neighborhood — a historic Mexican barrio that currently faces serious pollution and toxicity issues — and that they shared her concerns.
Mayor Vicente Sarmiento, who sat on the very water agency that sued Textron/Cherry, said Beaver’s company wasn’t the only one named in the Orange County Water District’s groundwater contamination lawsuit.
“It’s not just Cherry involved in that litigation. I know there are several manufacturers that unfortunately contaminated a lot of the groundwater there and some of the soil,” Sarmiento said before the vote not to approve Beaver. “It is true that Cherry also was a defendant that settled.”
Sarmiento continued: “They never admitted any admission of guilt on that, but they settled the matter. I understand the council member’s concern just because we are going through the discussion having to do with the environmental justice question of contaminants being found not only in groundwater, but soil as well.”
Beaver said he worries “that this refusal to appoint me may deter other folks in the community from volunteering their time to better our neighborhood for fear of rejection, and unwarranted examination.”
Lopez’s move was supported by Councilman Phil Bacerra, who said from the public dais, “many of us on this council have concerns when it comes to some of the actions that certain entities have taken here in Santa Ana when it comes to their disregard for the quality of life for our residents.”
“It would be absolutely hypocritical of us to appoint folks who partake in those sorts of actions,” Bacerra said.
The city is currently trying to tackle its environmental justice issues through a highly-anticipated update to the city’s long term, cornerstone urban planning document known as the General Plan.
The document, which hasn’t been updated in decades, lays out the city’s goals around development, parks, commerce, and now, the environment.
A University of California, Irvine study found unhealthy levels of lead contamination in predominantly Latino neighborhoods, posing specific risks to children.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.