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West Oakland Air Pollution Concerns Prompt Civil Rights Complaint

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A civil rights complaint filed this week on behalf of West Oakland residents alleges air pollution from diesel emissions at the Port of Oakland disproportionately impacts communities of color.

The residents, the complaint alleges, experience more asthma attacks, higher rates of heart failure and strokes, and can expect to live nine years less than other Californians due to reduced air quality near the Port of Oakland.

The complaint, filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleges that the City and Port of Oakland has caused "…West Oakland residents to suffer from diesel emissions that are up to 90 times higher than California's average" and has led to West Oakland having one of the lowest life expectancies of all Oakland communities.

Environmental law firm, Earthjustice, filed the complaint on behalf of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project on Tuesday, stating that the poor air quality surrounding the Port of Oakland and West Oakland, which remains primarily a community of color, is largely due to the City and Port's "failure to require either a comprehensive truck management plan, or a meaningful emission reduction plan..."

This, the complaint alleges, creates an unjustified and disproportionate negative impact on the basis of race.

Title VI of Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits entities receiving federal financial assistance -- such as the Port and City of Oakland -- from engaging in activities that subject individuals to discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Both the City and Port have "refused to mitigate the negative air quality and resulting health impacts...caused by the continued increase in truck traffic to and from the Port," the complaint alleges.

Earthjustice notes that more truck traffic is expected as a result of a redevelopment project at the old Oakland Army Base and Oakland Global Logistics Center.

Port of Oakland communications director Mike Zampa said in a statement to CBS San Francisco Thursday that, "The Port understands the concerns of West Oakland residents…they're our neighbors…we breathe the same air and we want it clean, too."

But Zampa maintains that the Port has "worked with the community, transportation partners, shippers and regulators for years to develop programs that reduce the impact of global trade on the environment."

The Port of Oakland, Zampa said, is one of the cleanest-operating ports, with diesel emissions down 98 percent since 2005 and ship emissions down 76 percent.

But Yana Garcia, an associate attorney with Earthjustice said, "The City and Port of Oakland have consistently ignored federal protections against discrimination, leading to toxic air and unhealthy burdens for West Oakland residents."

Garcia said Oakland's "discriminatory pattern continues to this day and is unacceptable."

The complaint requests the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigate whether the City and Port have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and if so, that the City and Port withdraw its approval of the warehouse construction project at the old Oakland Army Base and analyze the full effects the development project will have on the environment and the health of the community.

A spokesperson for the Oakland City Attorney's Office said they are not able to comment on lawsuits until they are served and have had time to review.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi. fewer

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