CBE Wins Campaign Against Neptune Societies Crematorium
by Diana Almanza Camarena, Oakland Community Organizer
East Oakland, where CBE has been organizing since 2006, is in the midst of a green and healthy transformation, despite having the worst urban blight, most unemployment, and highest crime rates in Oakland, along with asthma rates two times the county average. But it’s a vibrant cultural mosaic. East Oakland has heart. Thanks to CBE and an organized community, however, this is what East Oakland will NOT have: Neptune Society’s crematorium.
CBE began organizing here by engaging residents in leadership development and community-based research, studying local environmental health hazards. Residents learned that their community was already heavily polluted by diesel truck traffic and a concentration of toxic facilities. When plans surfaced to build a crematorium with the capacity to burn 6,000 bodies per year close to schools, homes, and local businesses, the response was a resounding and collective “NO CREMATORIUM IN EAST OAKLAND! WE ARE NOT A DUMPING GROUND! WE WANT CLEAN AIR AND GREEN JOBS!”
The battle against the crematorium began in May of this year. CBE helped mobilize members and residents throughout East Oakland and collected more than 1,000 letters and signatures opposing Neptune Society’s crematorium. The campaign reached its height on August 29th, when residents, faith-based groups, local businesses and CBE members spoke out against the crematorium in a four hour long hearing before Oakland’s Planning Commission. Residents voiced their concerns about potential mercury and dioxin emissions including their worry that these emissions could exacerbate chronic respiratory problems. East Oakland already has the highest asthma rates in all of Alameda County, especially among children under five. Residents also expressed their anger and frustration at the lack of public notice regarding this project. The final 3-2 decision showed the community’s power: Neptune Society would not be allowed to further pollute East Oakland.
Stopping the crematorium was an amazing effort–the coming together of a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and intergenerational community fighting for a clean environment. Residents in East Oakland are now saying YES to transforming empty, trash-filled lots into green spaces and places for growing healthy food, and to acquiring new skills and fostering a sense of unity. This is what East Oakland represents: resiliency.