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Officials peg West Sacramento neighborhood as region’s most vulnerable to pollution

Published: Friday, May. 23, 2014 - 12:00 am

Rocio Martinez lives with the effects of what the maps show every day. Two of her four boys have asthma, and after 15 years in her West Sacramento neighborhood, she’s developing it, too. It’s worst in the afternoon, when traffic is heavy with trucks rumbling through to the interstate or the port, but inhalers help.

“Lots of parents here, their children have asthma,” Martinez, 35, says in Spanish through a translator. “It’s unimaginable that three of six people in my home have asthma.”

Ramirez’s family lives on the eastern end of West Sacramento’s Westfield Village neighborhood, a tract of about 5,400 residents among the city’s poorest, which state environmental officials last month pegged on a CalEnviroScreen map as the most vulnerable to pollution in the Sacramento region.

The state uses the map, produced by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, to help determine where it will direct greenhouse gas reduction funding, prioritize cleanup efforts and provide economic development.

The winding blocks north of West Capitol Avenue in West Sacramento house a string of truck yards and machine shops, drilling outfits and marine repair garages in service to the river and the Port of West Sacramento. Squeezed nearby are the mix of modest homes, apartments and row houses that make up Westfield Village, the name it shares with the elementary school that serves its families.

That the two worlds share the same streets is not unique. Pollution and other environmental hazards often hold sway in poorer neighborhoods, studies show. But the data revealed by CalEnviroScreen puts a finer point on the burdens neighborhoods such as Westfield Village carry, hemmed in as they are by economics and income, education, poverty and language.

Pollution is high in Westfield Village, especially in categories such as solid waste and groundwater, but the demographic data are more telling.

“A lot of people have oversimplified this as a pollution scorecard,” said Sam Delson, a spokesman at OEHHA, adding that “in this West Sacramento tract, population characteristics seem to be driving scores more than pollution burden. It indicates challenges that we want to work on.”

West Sacramento is aggressively transforming itself into an urban complement to Sacramento. Developments rise along the waterfront Bridge District and Raley’s Landing. A bridge and trails to link suburban Southport to the city’s urban core are being built while plans for streetcar service connecting the city to the state Capitol continue to percolate.

But challenges persist in Westfield, felt on the street and reflected in the data.

Poverty and unemployment in the area were among the highest of all census tracts in the state, according to the CalEnviroScreen data. Asthma rates, determined by the number of emergency room visits for asthma-related conditions, were higher than 75 percent of California tracts. Low levels of education and high numbers of the elderly and the very young – groups susceptible to pollution’s effects – were also prevalent.

The median household income of roughly $26,500 was less than half the median in Yolo County, according to the latest census figures, which cover the period from 2008 to 2012. One in three of its residents lived in poverty, nearly double the countywide average. Its unemployment rate was 23 percent, more than double the countywide average.

“It’s an area of West Sacramento that’s needed help,” said Katie Villegas, executive director of the nonprofit Yolo County Children’s Alliance, which works extensively in Westfield Village. “West Capitol has come a long way, but there’s still a lot to do in this area.”

The city, Children’s Alliance, parents and educators at Westfield Village Elementary School have worked together to make inroads. Though it sits just east of the census tract, Westfield is the namesake neighborhood’s feeder school, its boundary map a near-mirror image of the neighborhood it serves.

The Children’s Alliance has worked to help neighborhood families sign up for health insurance through Covered California and nutrition programs such as CalFresh. With seed money from Kaiser Permanente, the community opened a neighborhood park on the school’s grounds in 2013, a safe place for families to gather and children to play. A farmers market organized by Yolo Food Bank sets up weekly at the school.

And the city and Children’s Alliance are renovating Sycamore Trail, a main, but perilous, route for many neighborhood children to and from Westfield Elementary.

The trail west of Poplar Avenue and at the rear of the campus was pocked with burned-out mattresses and transients who made camp along its path. Today, renovation plans include lighting, landscaping and graffiti removal, with a view toward connecting the path to West Sacramento’s growing trails network. The phase is set for completion by June 2015.

It’s part of the work parents such as Rocio Martinez hope will help make a difference in Westfield Village. On Thursday, Martinez said her hopes are the same as those in other neighborhoods.

“A safe, clean environment, good-looking streets,” she said in Spanish. “I’d like to see a good-looking community.”

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040. Bee staff writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Read more articles by Darrell Smith

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