LA County CEO dismisses Valley Fever and other concerns in newly released environmental report for controversial jail project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Thursday, September 15, 2016

LA No More Jails Coalition

LOS ANGELES – On Tuesday, the Chief Executive Office of LA County (CEO) released its final version of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the controversial Mira Loma women’s jail proposal, slated for Lancaster in the Antelope Valley area. When the initial draft of the report was published last November, nearly 300 community members and organizations submitted comments challenging the adequacy of the report by citing numerous environmental harms that would be caused by the project. Many of the comments highlighted the dangers of Coccidioidomycosis – commonly known as Valley Fever – in Antelope Valley, which the EIR admits is an area that “has the highest infection rate in Los Angeles County.” Despite this threat, the CEO is still seeking to push the jail proposal forward. The EIR has yet to be voted on by county supervisors.

According to a 2015 report on Valley Fever in LA County authored by three medical experts with the LA County Department of Public Health, “new building construction in Antelope Valley greatly rose in 2003 and displayed a strong correlation with overall LA County [Valley Fever] incidence rates for 1996–2007…Compared to the 57 other California counties during 2001–2011, LA County had the third highest average annual number of cases and Antelope Valley had a higher incidence rate than all but six counties.”

Black people, and especially Black women, have been found to be more susceptible to contracting Valley Fever than other demographic groups, a fact that organizers with the LA No More Jails Coalition (LANMJ) say should raise serious alarm among county officials. “The Sheriff and county supervisors plan to build a women’s jail in one of the highest risk Valley Fever areas in California, and will be imprisoning Black women there, the most at-risk population impacted by the disease,” says Kim McGill of Youth Justice Coalition. “This is a clearly destructive move, as this jail will impact the community already most disproportionately targeted by imprisonment. I have been locked up numerous times in county jail and have seen firsthand the inhumane conditions and lack of medical care that contribute to more serious impacts of infectious disease.” According to the Sheriff’s Department’s custody report from March of 2016, Black women make up around 31% of the people in county jail for women, yet account for only 4.6% of LA County’s overall population.

In addition to Valley Fever, the LANMJ Coalition fighting the jail plan has noted other serious environmental issues, particularly concerns around water and California’s ongoing drought. In a letter circulated to environmental organizations, representatives of the coalition have stated, “we believe that by building in this geographic location, LA County will not be able to satisfactorily mitigate environmental concerns regarding sufficient water supply and potability, air quality, and hazardous waste creation/disposal. California is in the midst of a severe drought – building a jail in near desert-like conditions is an environmental absurdity.”

The LANMJ Coalition is determined to continue pressuring county supervisors to reject this EIR and the jail proposal as a whole. “We know this women’s jail will not only devastate the environment, but will lock up women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people, resulting in our families and communities being torn apart,” says Dayvon Williams of Critical Resistance Los Angeles. “We know what we want instead – housing, education, and healthcare – the resources we know strengthen our communities.”

Organizers will protest and hold a teach-in on Tuesday, September 27, at the supervisors’ supplemental budget hearing to oppose funding for the women’s jail. The LANMJ Coalition is also planning to mobilize large numbers of community members to the supervisors’ hearing once the EIR is scheduled to be heard.