Arenas: Reid-Hillview Airport must close
Reid-Hillview Airport. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

Reid-Hillview Airport is poisoning the children of East San Jose and Evergreen—the children I represent on the San Jose City Council. It’s imperative that the county Board of Supervisors act now to stop this harm.

For generations, the leaded fuel—still used by small planes—has sprayed down lead into the air my community breathes. The particles settle everywhere, and they end up in toddlers’ mouths. The wind blows this lead directly into Evergreen neighborhoods such as Hidden Glen and Ocala. It harms children at 21 nearby schools—not to mention preschools, daycares, and afterschool programs such as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club.

For families that live in those neighborhoods, their children—toddlers in particular—are a very real risk of lead poisoning. And every child in these neighborhoods is exposed to the damage that even small amounts of lead does to a developing brain. Even small amounts of lead exposure have an effect on achievement later in life.

At Reid-Hillview Airport, literal tons of lead have been released into our air over the last decade. This most recent study documents the direct connection between that lead and the elevated levels of lead in children nearby. Children adjacent to the airport or directly downwind are the worst affected with levels of lead in their blood elevated as much as the children of Flint, Michigan.

In Silicon Valley—you can’t just move because you want to. Many families in these neighborhoods have gone to great lengths to find a home they can just barely afford. Somewhere they believe they can provide a safe place for their kids to thrive.

Our families are often pushed to the absolute limit, fighting to keep from being displaced to the Central Valley or out of state. They work two jobs to pay the mortgage or the rent. They double up. Many rent a single room for their entire family to live in. Some have even less.

I want to be patient to the needs of the pilots and flight students. I understand that closing Reid-Hillview will make their lives harder. It will harm their businesses and it will make their careers more difficult.

But it won’t poison their children.

At long last, it is time to stop the harm being done to East Side and Evergreen families. Reid-Hillview must be closed. It must be closed now. It should have been closed when Blanca Alvarado fought for it. It should have been closed when the first lead studies started coming out, and until it is closed it needs to reduce its air traffic. It should never have been expanded by the county in the first place.

The families affected are hard-working families. Many of these families are Latino, Vietnamese and Filipino. Many of them are immigrants. They try to do whatever it takes to give their kids the opportunity to succeed. They’re counting on us.

There’s only one equitable and morally justifiable action—we must fight for these families as we fight for our own.

Sylvia Arenas is the District 8 councilmember for San Jose.

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