The reckless indifference of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration in failing to provide adequate access and participation for non-English speaking Californians shows that the state’s rush to build the twin Delta tunnels at all costs effectively disregards nearly 600,000 Delta residents and 20 percent of California’s population.
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan’s environmental impact report for the twin tunnels project is notoriously huge. With more than 40,000 pages full of legalese, even native English speakers can’t help but feel overwhelmed.
Now, imagine that the overwhelming amount of information is available only in a language entirely different from your own. This is the scenario that 14 percent of the Delta’s 4 million residents are facing. These people speak languages other than English and do not “speak English very well,” according to the American Community Survey of 2012 for the five Delta counties (San Joaquin, Sacramento, Solano, Yolo and Contra Costa).
These Latino, Hmong, Filipino, Cambodian, Chinese and indigenous communities have deep, meaningful ties to California’s Delta. Chinese immigrants originally constructed Delta levees. Today, many of their descendants, along with new immigrants, still reside near, work in, enjoy and contribute to the Delta’s rich culture.
The EIR enumerates 47 “significant and unavoidable” adverse impacts on Delta communities. Non-English speaking Californians will be unaware of these impacts, as almost nothing has been done to inform them. For example, Cambodian, Hmong, Filipino and Hispanic residents fish the Delta for sustenance. They eat the fish they catch, but will be unaware that the twin Delta tunnels project would raise mercury levels in those fish to unhealthful amounts.
Neither the BDCP nor its environmental impact report is available in any language other English. When I spoke to a BDCP representative and requested any information available in Spanish, I received little more than two pages of propaganda brochures advocating for the project that don’t include important details such as the degrading of water quality or increased risk of cancer in certain areas.
The agency does not even plan to translate the 132-page tunnels summary because of budget, technical and time constraints. It’s striking that the state has spent more than $250 million promoting the tunnels, but not one dollar translating the EIR into languages spoken by those who would help pay the multibillion-dollar price tag.
Not one of the community organizations that represent the diverse groups of the Delta was contacted during the 12 statewide “public” open house meetings. These nonprofits include Asian Pacific Self Development and Residential Association, Proyecto Voz, Lao Family Community Empowerment and El Concilio, among others.
Environmental justice groups recently called for an extension of the 120-day public comment period for the EIR, citing the lack of access to information regarding the project, failure to notice meetings in various languages, and limited public access to the document through required computer access and exorbitant fees, as violations of the principles of environmental justice.
Considering there is no public vote on the $67 billion project, the Brown administration is effectively violating the civil rights of the hundreds of thousands of Californians who speak limited English, and wish to participate in the “public” comment process, by leaving them out of the loop entirely.
Javier Padilla Reyes is community outreach coordinator for Restore the Delta, a nonprofit education and advocacy group.