On Wednesday, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District ordered a Denver-based cannabis company to shut down the nine unlicensed diesel generators used to power their production facilities in East Oakland, effective immediately.
But the morning following the clean-up order, a diesel truck still pulled into the facility’s parking lot to deliver its daily dose of fuel, complete with a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon and the slogan “Fuel for a Cure.” glued to the side.
This isn’t the first time Green Sage has been asked to shut down their power source, whose exhaust begins to blacken the building’s white walls with soot.
The owners have faced a series of warnings from the city for building and fire code violations, including a strongly worded letter from the city in March threatening fines and criminal charges if they don’t stop. no generators by April. It is now July and the generators have been running 24/7 for about two years.
An air district spokesperson said the facility’s diesel generators were having ‘negative air quality impacts’ due to carcinogenic compounds in their engine exhaust, which is particularly harmful to East Oakland residents. The neighborhood already faces disproportionate levels of air pollution due to its proximity to industrial factories and busy roads.
“If Green Sage continues to operate the generators in violation of the curtailment order, we will go to Superior Court for a court order to shut them down,” Air District spokeswoman Erin DeMerritt said in the statement. an email. “The Air District would take immediate action if the generators continue to operate, but it’s unclear how long it would take to get a court order.”
Also on the property are artists living in one of the city’s first workspaces called The Cannery, licensed since the 1970s. Green Sage acquired the building, alongside another property called The Tinnery, in 2016 and 2017.
Thanks to a 2018 city ordinance, residents who live there and in the other 25 living and working spaces in Oakland’s 10-mile “green zone” — the area designated by the city for industrial cannabis production — are protected against eviction.
But only eight of The Cannery’s 20 second-floor artist lofts are currently in use. Resident Alistair Monroe said occupants began to leave the building as tensions between them and the owners grew and conditions worsened.
“We know our owners won’t do anything. They will turn their backs and roll the dice,” Monroe said.
Monroe thinks nothing will change until there is a cease and desist order, hand-delivered by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
Monroe isn’t backing down, however, as he carries the “weight of an elephant” trying to uphold the legacy of his father – Arthur Monroe, a prominent black abstract expressionist painter who was The Cannery’s first resident artist. He also wants to protect his home and the cannabis industry.
“It’s a once in a lifetime fight, and I won’t pass up this one,” Monroe said. “People in this building, they all wanted to leave, they were fed up, they had been living here for 15, 20 years. And I just said hey, I don’t have that option, my dad and I don’t have the resources to leave.
Most of the lofts in the space now look like an empty gallery, with white walls and golden light streaming from the windows. But in Monroe’s space, it feels like her painter father only strayed from his workspace for a while, despite his passing in 2019.
“Anything on the wall would belong to my father,” Monroe said. “I kept everything preserved, although it has a bit of character from the cats playing on it. But we like that, nothing is perfect, right?”
In the shadow of her two black kittens Chile and Pepper, Monroe walks past streaks, stripes and splashes of color on canvases that are displayed all over the studio walls, alongside acquired photos, books, works of art and wacky artifacts that undoubtedly inspired his father’s work.
“There are a lot of books. I had to go through 3,000 books, just to know which ones I would keep and preserve and which ones I would have to part with if I was to lose this place, you know, you always have to be prepared,” Monroe said.
Cannery residents, backed by nonprofits Environmental Democracy Project and the Center for Environmental Health, filed a lawsuit against the company and cannabis tenants using the space earlier this month. They are seeking a temporary restraining order, an injunction, and criminal penalties for violating the federal clean air law.
Tanya Boyce is the executive director of the Environmental Democracy Project, a former city planner and recent East Oakland Law School graduate who is working on the case.
“I know from experience that my part of town doesn’t get the kind of respect other parts of town get when they know the community is watching,” Boyce said.
But the Green Sage case is just part of the larger problem for Boyce — she’s not anti-capitalist or cannabis-heavy, but she feels the rise of the cannabis industry in Oakland reflects history. of the city with regard to redlining and exclusionary housing. She calls on the city’s planning department not to allow millions of square feet of cultivation if it comes at the expense of people’s homes.
Boyce said she saw how environmental racism slipped through the cracks of city planning when she worked to redo the city’s industrial zoning maps. Much of it has to do with residents’ lack of knowledge about these issues — she said she’s seen her white colleagues allow more commercial buildings in East Oakland simply because they knew it would be pushed back less than from put them in West Oakland.
“It’s the kind of stuff that made my blood boil, when I was sitting at the table, looking at the faces of these people, people I know are liberal, people I know aren’t racist, suggesting these things just because they don’t have the organization there,” Boyce said.
“They can get away with it, they can put more industry into it and they can kind of reshuffle the board in a way that’s been done in the last five, six, seven generations. That’s why blacks and browns are in the state. If successful in court, the team would use the injunction for a “pollution solutions boot camp,” which would educate East Oakland residents on how to identify health and safety risks. pollution, and what to do about them. Boyce said one of the first steps for change is empowering residents to speak out about the everyday effects of pollution that have become the norm in the community – things like respiratory problems or the loss of multiple family members in their 50s due to cancer.
“I’m hopeful because I know myself, other community organizers and other advocates dedicated to this are going to stay in the fight. We’re not going anywhere, we’re going to stay here, we’re staying. out in the field and we’re playing the long game,” Boyce said. “I’m not naive at all that somehow I’m going to come to town and fix Oakland. But before my days are done , we’re going to earn some respect in this community.
Green Sage, the office of District 6 Councilman Loren Taylor and the Oakland Fire Department were not immediately available for comment.