Happy Earth Day and I hope you are healthy, happy, and well!
Ventura is a beautiful place that I’m fortunate to call my hometown. When you picture Ventura, you will probably think of the west side where the beach, pier, and downtown are located. The west side has a small town feel that’s ideal for tourists and locals alike, but I’m from a place just around the corner called Ventura Avenue.
For the most part, the avenue is kind of avoided, but it’s such a unique place, especially because it is located right between downtown and the huge oilfield that’s sitting in Ventura’s backyard. Has anyone else noticed the large oil operation all over the valley or is it just me because I grew up in the neighborhood right next to it? Maybe it’s just me, but I can see this clear juxtaposition between two different scenes as I drive down the avenue.
There’s about a 3 mile stretch between KC’s Market and Vons, and one thing that I’ve noticed on this drive is my community’s access to healthy food. There are 2 grocery stores, 3 if you include Vons at the end, 8 liquor or convenience stores, and 4 smoke shops. Ventura Avenue isn’t a total food dessert, which is a low income area with limited access to healthier food, and on the bright side, the avenue is also home to 11 Mexican restaurants, a solid taco truck, and it now has 3 community gardens.
Good food links to good nutrition, and good nutrition to good health. Sure, there are more food options once you turn onto Main Street or drive into town, but in the age of covid, there is this greater social distance and food is just one way to try to communicate this.
Downtown is around the corner and the city has been pushing for tourism in our picture perfect town, promoting the downtown business club, and constructing all these luxury apartment complexes on the west side. I can’t help but feel that this social distance is also woven into our city’s blueprint because the avenue and the oilfield are still right there and it appears that this area has been masked and developed around.
Investing more into the luxe side of things is not flattening any curve, it is creating a greater social distance between downtown and the avenue, and masking the oil field with a low income neighborhood puts those who live there at risk to potential environmental health hazards.
Structural racism and environmental health have been ongoing conversations on the internet and I reflect on that with examples I see in my own community. First, is the oil field an environmental health problem? It is causing pollution or harm to the environment and others? Next, is the avenue an example of structural racism? It’s a low income neighborhood located right next to the oil field and the avenue would be the most severely impacted area if an environmentally related health crisis emerged.
Just to be clear, those are candid thoughts and not accusations, but that’s the sort of thing that I wonder about. Things like food, nutrition, health, wellness, sustainability, environment, and race are all connected in the bigger picture. I am not going to call this structural racism, but it appears to be laid out in the blueprint and I am writing this because I hope that my city will have a good conscience to do something about it.
Now, this is also not breaking news or an immediate call to action because things have been like this for decades. This is nothing new and no one’s going to riot over it, but after 2020, we should really consider the environmental health and wellness of the people who live in our city, especially the residents on the avenue who live right next to the oil operation. With all of the city’s recent development plans for the west side and all these luxury apartments being built, I just ask that the unique nature of the avenue will be taken into serious consideration in moving forward with the city’s overall sustainability goals.
We can start by making an effort to increase this community’s access to healthy and affordable food options, address the potential environmental hazards that could harm the land and the people who live there, and bring the city’s sustainability programs like fire safe landscaping and drought resistant gardening to this neighborhood. The city can include Ventura Avenue in its sustainability efforts in other ways besides dumping the recyclables there.
We don’t necessarily have to abolish oil or start a food forest or do anything too extravagant, but a little effort goes a long way and I just wanted to start the conversation because we can act locally about a broader global problem.