In summary

Proposition 30, the “Clean Air Initiative” on the November ballot, is aimed at restoring California’s clean air. 

By Nick Josefowitz

Nick Josefowitz, a former BART director, is chief policy officer for SPUR, where he advances policy ideas on sustainability, resilience, housing and transportation in the Bay Area.

Shane Ysais, Special to CalMatters

Shane Ysais, a longtime resident of Chino Hills and Moreno Valley, is communications coordinator at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

Ana Gonzalez’s son, Jose, played a lot of baseball until the fifth grade, when he started gasping for breath whenever he ran. The next year, at age 12, Jose often was sick: Bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis landed him in the emergency room five times. Finally, doctors told Gonzalez that Jose’s lungs were weakening due to his exposure to polluted air. Jose was developing asthma.

Ana’s family lives in Rialto, in the Inland Empire, where residents are well-acquainted with the brown haze that blankets the San Bernardino Valley. The doctor told Gonzalez he was certain that exposure to smog — air containing a high level of pollutants made up of particles 1/30th the size of a human hair (referred to as PM 2.5 particles) and other emissions — had caused Jose’s illness, and that he wasn’t alone.

Proposition 30, the “Clean Air Initiative” on the November ballot, is aimed at restoring California’s clean air. 

According to the American Lung Association, San Bernardino has the dubious distinction of topping the rankings for counties with the worst particulate emissions and ozone pollution in the United States. Rialto, where the population is 60% Latino and 12% Black, is home to major distribution centers that store and ship goods all over the United States. From 2005 to 2015, the Gonzalez’s neighborhood underwent an intense period of warehouse development and surging truck traffic that worsened the air pollution.

The fact is that 4 in 10 Americans — 135 million people — live in communities cursed with unhealthy levels of air pollution, and California is the No. 1 driver of that statistic. A recent study found that of the 25 cities with the worst air pollution in the United States, 24 are in California. 

In urban areas, car and truck traffic generates more than 50% of particulate emissions, but the diesel trucks that warehouses attract spew many more toxic gases and particles than cars. Asthma rates and cancer risk are so high in these freight corridors that physicians have dubbed them “diesel death zones.”

You might have thought air pollution in California had gotten better, but it hasn’t. Our air is as bad as ever, as the intense and increasing air pollution from wildfires has wiped out any gains we have made in reducing air pollution from vehicle exhaust.

And though air pollution harms literally everyone who calls California home, it hits certain communities harder than others. The American Lung Association reports that people of color are 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for air quality. 

Stories like the Gonzalez’s have become all too common in the Golden State. We need major investments and swift, sustained action if we are serious about reducing air pollution in California and ensuring health equity to lift up the communities most harmed by our environmental crisis. 

If passed by voters, Prop. 30 will provide $45 billion for loans and subsidies to make zero-emission vehicles affordable, $35 billion to expand zero-emission vehicle charging and fueling infrastructure, and $20 billion to fight and prevent catastrophic wildfires. More than $25 billion of the funding will go directly to reducing the most harmful diesel emissions from trucks and similar vehicles, and at least half the funding for the vehicle and infrastructure investments will benefit disadvantaged communities. 

Prop. 30 will finance this bold agenda in a way that’s true to our California values: by increasing the tax on personal income above $2 million by 1.75%. The funding will come solely from the .1% of Californians most able to afford it, and restore clean air to low- and middle-income families who most need it. The resources are raised fairly; they are invested equitably. 

While some believe we shouldn’t invest state resources to curb air pollution, the truth is, we can’t afford not to. 

Combating climate change is both a universal and a generational issue. As Jose’s doctor said, he is not alone: UNICEF predicts that by 2050, air pollution will be the leading cause of child mortality worldwide. In the United States, it’s Californian children who are at greatest risk. 

This November, California must vote for Prop. 30, a transformative, life-saving, equitable investment in a livable environment.  

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: commentary@calmatters.org