Wildfire smoke blankets the Bay Area on Wednesday, Sept. 10 2020.

Climate Activist: Era of Megafires Likely to Worsen Without Action

Tens of thousands of people are facing evacuation orders and threats to their safety as fires continue to blaze across the Western United States. These disastrous fires are one of the effects of climate change that scientists predicted, said climate activist Laura Neish, executive director of 350 Bay Area and 350 Bay Area Action.

An aerial rendering shows the proposed BUILD development at 700 Innes in Bayview-Hunters Point, with the city's proposed park at 900 Innes at bottom right.

Is This the Bayview’s Big Park Moment?

The Bayview has the city’s attention – for better or for worse, depending on whom you ask. If voters approve a $487 million open-space bond measure in November, it will help fund a park at 900 Innes Ave., the first waterfront land the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks has ever owned. Yet, despite efforts to include the local community in the planning and the benefits, many are skeptical.

Wildfires, like the 2018 Carr Fire pictured, are one of the climate threats California may increasingly face in the coming years and that climate action plans are meant to address.

Oakland Approves Climate Equity Plan, but Organizers Say Funding Needed

Community-centered approaches are key to Oakland’s Equitable Climate Action Plan, approved unanimously by the City Council in July. It is designed to “bring about a just transition to a low carbon future” with green jobs and measures to mitigate the disparities felt by communities affected by climate change, according to a statement by Mayor Libby Schaaf.
But the plan doesn’t have guaranteed funding from the city government. For organizers, that’s a problem. “We need money to pay people to do work,” said Phoenix Armenta, who works with an environmental justice group.

Air pollution can worsen COVID-19, scientific research suggests, but Bay Area regulators haven't moved to tighten air pollution limits.

Air Pollution Worsens COVID-19, but Bay Area Emissions Limits Are Unchanged

Limits on construction activity were lifted May 17 as California reopened. Reopening presaged a summer-long spike in COVID-19 cases. As the pandemic continues through wildfire season, and San Franciscans breathe in pollution from the fires’ miles-wide blankets of smoke, public health experts and researchers contacted for this article agree that human-created sources of pollution should be limited or eliminated.

San Francisco's Director of Emergency Management, Mary Ellen Carroll, warns city residents to stay inside to avoid smoke from Northern California wildfires.

S.F. Officials Warn Residents to Stay In to Avoid Smoke, May Open Respite Centers

City officials advised San Francisco residents to stay indoors wherever possible with the windows shut to protect against smoke from wildfires that has blanketed the region. On Wednesday afternoon, air quality was designated as unhealthy, though it has fluctuated. If smoke pollution deteriorates air quality to “very unhealthy,” the city will open respite centers, officials said in a press conference.

Mask distribution

As Fire Season Approaches, COVID-19 Strains Mask Supplies

The last few years’ fires are all blurring into one for Jessica Tovar, an Oakland resident and advocate at the nonprofit Local Clean Energy Alliance, a renewable energy advocacy group. “I had an office that you could see the port of Oakland from, and in those times, you could not see the port because the smoke was so thick,” she said. Oakland was among the worst-hit cities when smoke from the 2017 Tubbs wildfires spread to the areas around San Francisco Bay, lowering air quality to levels comparable to Beijing, some of the worst in the world. As California’s fall wildfire season approaches, mask shortages mean Oakland residents are at risk of exposure to both coronavirus and to toxic smoke. Tovar, who frequently interacts with underserved Oakland residents, echoed the concerns of advocacy organizations that distribute masks.

A map created by Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai to show where elevated levels of four elements were detected in residents, resulting from a community health biomonitoring survey. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai.

Bayview Residents Sound Alarm Over Potential Dust From Toxic Site

San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, and residents sheltering in place in the area have for years faced elevated levels of air pollution from a variety of nearby sources. Recently, advocates have raised concerns about potentially toxic dust they fear is being generated by a nearby construction project.