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Xavier Becerra Brings Environmental Justice to Forefront

Esther Portillo, interim executive director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, one of the groups involved in the San Bernardino fight, said that winning would not mean shutting down development. Instead, she said, it would be to “take a hard look at the environmental impacts that we’ll have, and minimize those impacts as best we can.”

Although jobs tend to be the biggest selling point in new development, a union chapter, Teamsters local 1932, has joined the fight against the airport expansion. Randy Korgan, the secretary-treasurer of the local, said: “Fine, bring the jobs, but make sure you deal with the environmental impact, with the impact on the community — make sure these people have good benefits, that they’ll be able to live in the area and buy homes in the area.”

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear the airport case as early as February.

The attorney general’s involvement in local disputes can anger those who staunchly support development. Steve Brandau, a Fresno county supervisor, was a member of the Fresno City Council during some of the heated conflicts over the warehouse expansion plans. “It’s maddening that the AG’s office, Attorney General Becerra, steps in and comes down even tougher than the local advocates,” he said. Citing a longstanding conservative refrain, he said that in the long run, such activities “end up running business completely out of the state.”

Mr. Mataka acknowledged the friction in Fresno. “They thought we were out of our lane,” he said. “Unfortunately for them, the attorney general is responsible for enforcing the California Environmental Quality Act. We were in our lane.”

Mr. Becerra said his office works carefully with local government before ever filing a brief in a case, and seeks ways to find compromises. Some communities, he said, do not understand that their old ways of doing business leave communities underserved. They say, “we did this 20 years ago, why can’t we do it now?” he said.

He cited his experience as a 12-term congressman in arguing that he sees the role as more a negotiator than a fighter. “You’re always looking for votes,” he said, “even on the other side of the aisle. I don’t want people to be blindsided.”

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