How typical of Huntington Beach politics that, when the working-class, mostly Mexican residents of the city's Oak View barrio finally started organizing about the garbage dump right across the street from its elementary school and just 1,000 feet away from the neighborhood–you know, environmental racism at its finest–people start complaining about the complainers. And that's exactly what's happening this week.
On Thursday, Oak View ComUNIDAD–a group of lifelong Oak View residents, many participating in politics for the first time, all of whom spent their childhood dodging seagull shit from birds circling around for some Rainbow garbage–plan to hold a rally against Rainbow Disposal (which made our Scariest People list this year) at 5:30 p.m. at Oak View Elementary. "Enough is enough!" reads the press release. "All communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, deserve to live in a healthy environment. The Oak View community deserves nothing more and nothing less than the rest of Huntington Beach."
Simple enough, right? Well, that has some HBers upset and asking questions.
On the legendarily bare-knuckle Huntington Beach Community Forum Facebook page, an October 23 posting of the latest notice of violation filed against Rainbow Disposal by the South Coast Air Quality Management District provoked over 130 comments, many skeptical of the Oak Viewers' allegations but especially of crusading Ocean View School District Trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin. Clayton-Tarvin, in particular, has been savaged for months on the forum, accused of everything from being unprofessional to being a liar to being a puppet master manipulating Mexis to achieve her means.
And now she has a prominent critic in Chris Epting, the former Huntington Beach Independent columnist who waged a largely successful campaign against the banning of beach fire pits. Back in September, Epting wrote a columnmostly praising the activism of lifelong Oak View residents Oscar Rodriguez and Victor Valladares against Rainbow, but questioned some of their tactics, especially calling what Rainbow does "environmental racism."
"I'm hoping [Ocean View] school officials will help, to use their phrase, 'put a lid' on the term 'environmental racism' before it unjustly catches fire," Epting concluded. "In the absence of evidence, it's a dangerous spark to ignite."
I jokingly suggested to Epting in the comments of his column that he take a class in Chicano Studies at Golden West College to better understand where Rodriguez and Valladares were coming from. Rodriguez, for his part, wrote a scathing retort to Epting's column–a column, Epting admitted on his Surf City Chronicles blog, he didn't particularly like since it "included a couple of baseless accusations against me." But in that same post, Epting alleged Clayton-Tarvin and other Rainbow critics are waging a war against his skepticism toward the Rainbow issue, one that eventually cost him his Independent column.
"The more this went on," Epting wrote, after disclosing that he heard that Clayton-Tarvin complained to one of his editors about him, "the more I felt like there was a bigger story here that nobody was telling: that of an oppressive school Board President that looked to silence voices that didn't follow her narrative or agenda. That is simply my opinion based on my own experiences."
Removed from pesky editors, Epting is now doubling down, painting the Rainbow/Oak View issue as one largely pushed and concocted by Clayton-Tarvin, using emails and iPhone and Facebook messages as proof. "Is it truly a grassroots effort, or more of a manufactured, 'astroturf' campaign?" Epting wrote. "And is the information being provided to supporters honest and accurate, or juiced up to play on emotions and create a frenzy of attacks and complaints?
Hmm…I get Epting's animus toward Clayton-Tarvin, but to suggest that folks like Rodriguez and Valladares have little agency in this is a bit much. Epting himself admits that the Rainbow stench has gone on for far too long, and that a proposal to enclose the facility is something he thinks is "safe to say, the majority of the community agree with." But then that begs the questions: why did no one else in Huntington Beach do anything about the Rainbow problem until Clayton-Tarvin came along? And since that's the case, doesn't that make her and Oak View ComUNIDAD right?
Really, everyone should talk it out over Tacos El Chavito, ¿qué no?