On a recent Monday morning, 17-year-old Los Angeles youth organizer Nalleli Cobo stared down California Governor Jerry Brown’s closed office door, surrounded by dozens of supporters.
Food & Water Watch joined Cobo and more than fifty activists at the state capitol to confront Brown over his policies that favor the oil and gas industry. Organizing under the umbrella of the #BrownsLastChance campaign, they staged a sit-in in front of the Governor’s office, and then shut down of both Capitol driveways. Four people were arrested.
“We’re here because we believe everyone has a right to breathe clean air and to have access to clean water,” Cobo said. “We’re here to talk to Governor Brown, for him to tell us why he hasn’t defended us, why he hasn’t defended the people that put him in that seat, and tell us why he hasn’t protected the environment. It’s time he does that.”
The issue is deeply personal for Cobo. She grew up across the street from a dangerous oil drill pad in South Central Los Angeles run by AllenCo. Hidden behind a high wall, neighbors didn’t even know it was there until they started getting sick. From age nine, Cobo suffered headaches, heart palpitations, uncontrollable nose bleeds, and a litany of other health issues — all coinciding with a ramp-up of operations at the AllenCo facility.
When she realized she wasn’t the only one getting sick in her community, she began to organize, with the help of her housing activist mother, Monic Uriarte. Several years later, the AllenCo well pad temporarily closed. But the fight continues to keep it shuttered for good—and, if Cobo has anything say about it, the thousands of other oil wells within a half mile of California homes, schools and hospitals, too. She pointed a finger at Governor Brown, declaring him responsible for expanding drilling in California.
Despite the governor’s green reputation, many of his actions read like an industry wish list.
-Under his watch, the industry has expanded by over 20,000 onshore and offshore wells, three quarters of which are located near low-income communities of color.
-Brown fired two key regulators who scrutinized oil permits at a time when the industry wanted rapid expansion.
-He signed an oversight bill (SB4) which greenlighted the rapid expansion of drilling operations at the same time the state conducted studies on the safety of those operations.
-He favors giving oversight of California’s electric grid to a regional authority that would include coal-producing states and would be answerable to the Trump Administration’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, threatening the state’s renewable energy goals.
“Brown is not a climate leader, he is a cancer causer. Because fossil fuels are fueling cancer,” said Breast Cancer Action Executive Director Karuna Jaggar at the sit-in.
Holding Brown to his Word in California and on the World Stage
The goal of the action was to hold Brown accountable to his rhetoric ahead of his September Global Climate Action Summit, a gathering of world leaders in San Francisco to discuss the climate crisis.
This wasn’t the first such action: On August 7, 35 young leaders staged a sit-in at the governor’s office and six were arrested. Two days later, Greenpeace activists installed several mock oil drilling rigs on the Capitol lawn.
And more actions are coming. A march for Climate, Jobs and Justice is planned in San Francisco to coincide with similar demonstrations around the country on September 8, and more events are planned during the summit on September 13.
The #BrownsLastChance Campaign has three demands of the governor in the remaining five months of his term.
- No new permits for oil and gas wells or related infrastructure.
- Establish a safety buffer of at least a half mile between oil wells and residential homes, schools, and other populated areas.
- Phase out existing fossil fuel infrastructure and implement a transition to renewable energy that considers the needs of affected workers and communities.
As California’s wildfires rage fueled by climate change, Jerry Brown continues to back less-effective, business-friendly climate policies like the state’s cap-and-trade program.
Brown wants to believe that he is bigger than California, that his climate legacy will be global. But those most impacted by his true climate legacy, like Nalleli Cobo, are here to remind him and the world that he is not who he says he is.