Safeway Gas Station

Safeway recently announced that a new gas station will be opening; however, the gas station could threaten the health and safety of a nearby Hispanic neighborhood.

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Safeway Gas Station

Protestors of the new Safeway gas station stand near the proposed location.

Protestors of the new Safeway gas station stand near the proposed location.

Protestors of the new Safeway gas station stand near the proposed location.

Protestors of the new Safeway gas station stand near the proposed location.

Celeste Chavez and Lucia Garay

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Safeway, Inc. recently announced that it would open a new gas station at 335 South McDowell Blvd. The announcement was met with community outrage and sparked intense controversy because of its environmental implications: the gas station, which will house 16 pumps, could threaten the health and safety of a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and, in particular, several low-income schools and playgrounds. On April 1 the Petaluma City Council voted to move ahead with the gas station. The councilmembers are restricted from voting on the basis of personal beliefs and only the ordinances, which do not restrict from the station being built in close proximity to schools. Mayor Teresa Barrett voted against the construction while the rest of the members voted “not present” or for it.

The planned location for the gas station is about 50 feet from 4Cs Petaluma Child Development Center and 80 feet from McDowell Elementary school and McDowell Park. Groups such as Indivisible Petaluma, No Gas Here, Petaluma City Council, and concerned private citizens have started to protest against the gas station and its proximity to the schools.

Parents and community members have expressed concern over health problems made possible by the gas station. Heavy traffic created by the presence of the gas station could endanger students and make it difficult for emergency services to reach the school. Scientific American reports on the health risks which correlate to living near a gas station, especially for children. Gas stations can cause groundwater hazards from petroleum products leaking into the ground, and higher ozone levels can lead to respiratory problems and asthma; other gases found in or near gas stations are known to cause cancer, and other chemicals used in or on vehicles can be hazardous.

Senior and member of the Environmental Club, Olivia Rosso expresses her initial thoughts on the proposal of the new Safeway gas station.

“I am in the middle of the whole argument because I understand people want cheaper gas. I always drive to Costco to get my gas because it’s so much cheaper,” said Rosso.

Concerned parties claim that the construction of a gas station in this particular location is an act of environmental racism, the systematic placement of racial minorities and marginalized communities in hazardous environments and a subsequent lack of investment in these communities when they need help.

Rosso explains her concerns regarding the targeted group.

Having kids so close to the gas station makes it such a health problem to them, in addition to an environmental problem. We need to be focusing on the health of kids and I think the corporation is taking the protests as people fighting against solely the environmental impact. ”

— Olivia Rosso

“Having kids so close to the gas station makes it such a health problem to them, in addition to an environmental problem. We need to be focusing on the health of kids and I think the corporation is taking the protests as people fighting against solely the environmental impact. I think it’s a bigger problem than that,” said Rosso.

Survey and local census reports show that the school district and direct area that would be affected by the gas station has a clear Hispanic majority. Other reports say that nine out 10 students at Mcdowell Elementary are Latinx and eight out of 10 are eligible for a free and reduced lunch at school.

JoAnn McEachin, the co-founder of No Gas Here, has been fighting to prevent the construction of the gas station.

“The construction and operation of the gas station would disproportionately, negatively, affect the significant population of non-white children in the schools,” said McEachin. “The city could be at risk of losing federal and state funding if they let the gas station go through.”

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