Plastic Free July – Week 1

Plastic Free July has crept up on us! Haven’t heard about Plastic Free July? Find out more, here. Why live plastic-free? To improve human health and the health of the Planet. Plastic is made from petroleum extractions and does not biodegrade; it pollutes land, water, and air. Mirobits of plastic can be found in deep ocean canyons and in icebergs. It’s in every plastic beverage bottle you drink.

Once a week this month we will cover the 4 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, ReUse, and Recycle, and include tips for avoiding plastic packaging during the pandemic, which has likely impacted almost everyone’s purchasing habits.

To help us decide what to Refuse, we kept a log of our household’s plastic usage for a month. It’s pretty easy to do: just note the date, the quantity, and type of plastic item(s) that comes into your home. We did ours on a spreadsheet that tallied up the daily totals between 2 people. The first screen shot shows one person’s log for a week.The next screen shot shows the sum of two people’s log by the day and a graph of the numbers.

Another way to keep track is to keep a bucket or basket where you collect all the plastic items that you discard/recycle throughout the month. This gives a good visual representation. At the end of the month, you’ll know a lot more about where you need to focus to change your habits and reduce your plastic consumption.

So what does refusing plastic mean? Ideally this would mean refusing to purchase anything that is packaged in plastic, or made from plastic. Since plastic packaging is generally single-use, and much of it is not recyclable, it is considered one of the worst environmental offenders when it comes to plastic. With Shelter in Place and more home deliveries, more plastic has come into some people’s homes than usual.

Food shopping is an area in which it’s hard to refuse/avoid single-use plastic packaging. When shopping at farmer’s markets, you can bring your own reusable bags or baskets and ask vendors to explore non-plastic packaging options. For example, berries can be packaged in cardboard containers vs. the typical green plastic cartons. Sambrailo Packaging in Watsonville makes cardboard packaging for fruit.

Because grocery stores are currently not allowing shoppers to bring their own bags into the store due to the pandemic, you can put your groceries, unbagged, in your shopping cart and transfer them from the cart to bags at your car or bike, instead of having them bagged in plastic bags at the checkout counter.

If you’re shopping for food online, as many of us are doing during Shelter in Place, you know that this poses its own set of problems with plastic packaging. Look for vendors that use recyclable packaging materials. Fragile items are often packaged with styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap, but what did people do before these items existed? An “old fashioned” and much more sustainable approach was to wrap the fragile item in paper, padded with crumpled or shredded paper, place it within a cardboard box, and then place the box within a larger cardboard box with additional crumpled or shredded paper stuffed in between the two boxes.

It will take time to change your habits and find alternative sources for items that are not packaged in plastic. It may seem overwhelming at times. One approach is to focus on one area of your life at a time, such as “food” or “toiletries” or even “clothing.” It took one member of our group 1.5 years to reduce her household’s plastic consumption by 70%. Just do your best and keep trying!

Here are some great resources for reducing plastic in your life:

Beth Terry, formerly from the Bay Area, has an informative blog and comprehensive book dedicated to living plastic free. The recent film, The Story of Plastic, “takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it.” Berkeley’s Ecology Center is a wonderful local resource.

Rebecca Anaya for the Environmental Justice Committee



CALL TO ACTION: Police and Human Relations Commission Convene virtual public meetings on July 1st

For the first time since March 16th COVID shutdown, the City of El Cerrito found the technology to hold a virtual meeting where the public can actually speak. All previous City Council meetings required public comment to be in email form, with a silent audience. Thanks to many who have emailed the City Manager and Mayor as well as the Police Chief, two virtual meetings will take place on Wednesday July 1st. Below is a brief summary and link. Please participate.

Photo Credit: Nancy J. Rubin

Human Relations Commission (HRC) and Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) meet at 1:00pm on July 1st. They will be discussing a joint statement on the killing of George Floyd as well as future actions. Public comment is an opportunity for you to make a statement and/or request. ECP is asking for a Listening Session on Racism in El Cerrito. Modeled much like the town hall held by the City of Albany, CA, the town hall format makes space for community voices to speak to issues of race with a degree of confidentiality and without judgement. To attend the meeting at one, please use this link:

The El Cerrito Police Department will hold a virtual town hall on Wednesday July 1 from 4-6 pm. Unlike the HRC/EQC meeting, this format will be open for more than public comment. We encourage participants to come with questions or stories about their own interactions with police, thoughts on the police budget during a $5.5 million dollars budget shortfall, alternatives to policing and or general questions about current operations. We are attaching the following links to help prepare participants.

Annual ECPD Report- good overview of stats, budget, etc..but clearly areas of information missing.

Link to the petition for El Cerrito Police Oversight- please sign

Link to access the meeting of ECPD Town hall:

CALL TO ACTION- THURSDAY, July 2nd, 5:30pm CARAVAN TO AFFIRM BLM- No Justice No Peace – Silence is Violence

Join neighbors and friends in a safe and socially distanced caravan through El Cerrito. A new route is planned and we think you will find this one to be extremely robust! Bring signs, pots and pans and make some noise. This is a family event! Bikers are also welcome. We cannot celebrate freedom if we are not all free…so as we approach the 4th of July resolve to continue to uplift the voices from around the nation, and around the world. We will also have information about Town Hall outcomes and want to hear from you about next steps.

Photo Credit: Nancy J. Rubin

What can our City do with $5 million dollars? Part II-Defund the Police

Last week the El Cerrito Council met to discuss budget cuts that would result in the lay-off of employees (non-management) and slashing of services. The city is trying to stay afloat financial quicksand, now looking at 5.5 million dollars in reductions. How do they plan to reduce: cut library hours, cut pool hours, remove subsidies for day care and senior meals, lay-off longtime custodial workers and outsource for cheaper labor. What if a 12 million dollar police department was only 6 million dollars? Shocking you might say? Let’s look at some facts. Can we defund our police and move 5 million dollars out of a 12 million dollar budget?

  1. The Police Chief is already downsizing job descriptions. He has agreed that officers are no longer responding to calls that are simply not crimes. In a recent presentation to City Council and the community he explained that the type of mediation that police do, should in actuality not be police driven.
  2. Arrests in our community are down, as police are doing less calls, but crime isn’t going up. It remains the same. So perhaps its not policing that reduces crime, maybe it has something to do with where and how people use public space or don’t use public space. Maybe crime is driven by economics and if so, maybe we should be considering local job creation.
  3. Chief Keith doesn’t necessarily believe that police can actually prevent crime, but he does believe that the role of the police is to identify the perpetrator and bring this person to justice. As he stated verbatim “If we can’t stop a crime from happening our job is to determine who is doing the crime and bring them to justice.”

We think it is worthwhile for you to listen to the early part of the meeting and hear some of Chief Keith’s comments.

And finally, why does El Cerrito have a 12 million dollar budget for a population of 25,000? Some city council members conclude that the large police budget is a result of our proximity in the Bay Area. True, our crime per 1,000 residents is higher than the city of Hercules, which has half the budget for policing. But are the police actually preventing crime, or simply responding to crime. And if that is the case, what other mechanisms as a community can we develop to prevent crime. Can we use public space more aggressively, have well lit streets, build more community? According to Chief Keith’s Annual report of last year, much of the violent crime centered on homelessness. Police can’t solve homelessness, but housing can and so can jobs and so can services.

I want to end with the following questions: Has anyone not had a car stolen because of the police? Has anyone not had your house robbed because of the police? Has anyone not been assaulted because of the police? If the answer is no, let’s defund the police-reimagine a different force in our community that works with us to ensure that public space is well used. Spend more money on streets that are well lit, and provide more services to help keep people in their homes.

Policing has served the “well to-do” for so many years. Policing has protected the haves from the have nots. More recently, policing expanded into social work. But when it comes down to the final analysis, policing really isn’t about building community. Why are we willing to sacrifice services that bring a community together in order to maintain a historically racist and violent system used to decimate poor communities and communities of color. The system of policing is severely broken-can we not ask to transform it?

Let’s Reimagine Policing in El Cerrito

The police system defaults in our country are broken, and now is an opportunity for us to address those issues through policy, budget, and behavior changes. El Cerrito PD is allocated 30% of the El Cerrito budget, and is our largest line item, almost 5x more than Community Development. A report from Contra Costa County found that in El Cerrito, Black people were 13% more likely to be stopped  than whites, although they make up 8% of our population. 

There is a clear lack of civilian oversight and transparency of the police department, and because of the lack of accountability and transparency we actually do not know the breakdown of arrests or use of force by race.

Two actions the petition calls for, joining the California Police Scorecard (like our neighbors Berkeley and Richmond), and creating a Civilian Oversight Board would help to clarify and track racial profiling and excessive use of force.

Although El Cerrito shares the Bay Area’s housing and mental health crisis, we have virtually no resources or services to address this issue. Most of the violent crime in El Cerrito this last year was the result of crime upon homeless individuals.

This is a moment to rethink how we can use our resources wisely by reallocating funds away from policing and investing in social workers who can help address housing and mental health care issues with more efficiency and expertise than the police. Join us in demanding a safer El Cerrito for us all. Sign the petition here.

Contributed by Sarah Klauer

URGENT ACTION REQUESTED for June 16 City Council Meeting




Item 7B on the June 16 El Cerrito City Council Agenda is about revenue, expenditures and costs.

COVID-19 and Climate Change

The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally revealed the connection between individual and public health, the economy, and the health of our environment. People of color are most impacted by the coronavirus, polluted water, dirty air, and contaminated soil. Around the world, people demonstrated that they could change their behavior instantly when their health was threatened by an invisible force of microscopic size.

Unlike the coronavirus, the Climate Emergency is a visible, palpable threat: rising seas are already affecting coastal communities that in turn will impact the salinity of bays, estuaries, rivers and creeks. Temperatures are the hottest this year since they have been recorded. Deforestation is causing widespread damage to air, water, and soil quality.

The  Climate Emergency has already started—higher temperatures and another drought year spell trouble for everyone, especially unhoused people and people without access to AC or who are living in places with few windows and cross-breezes. In El Cerrito, our  library and community center have been our cooling centers. Their closure means no place for people to cool down on super hot days.

One benefit of the shelter in place health order has been clearer skies which means easier breathability for people with respiratory ailments and allergies. More wildlife has come out to delight us—birds, bees, butterflies, and more.

UNFORTUNATELY, IT TOOK DESTROYING OUR ECONOMY TO GET PEOPLE TO CHANGE BECAUSE WE WERE NOT PREPARED. El Cerrito did not plan for such an emergency.  We have no alternative power system for the City; we haven’t invested in green business initiatives that could save our small businesses and do good by the environment; we have no alternatives for cooling centers, and clean drinking water; we have no plan for how to feed people should food scarcity occur throughout the community; and we have no local health center.

Despite all this, the City Manager in her June 9 City Council Budget Study Session directive wrote, “ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS This section is not applicable to this agenda item.”  The Consultant hired by the City Manager further put in his PowerPoint presentation, “Foster environmental sustainability citywide” at LOW priority in the short term (6 months).”  In the mid-term he put it at MID priority, and only in 5 YEARS did he assign HIGH priority.

El Cerrito and the world do not have 5 years to start thinking about environmental sustainability. The progress we have made in recent years can easily backslide for lack of attention.

The City has a Climate Action Plan that was supposed to be reviewed this year. With the fiscal cliff our city is working to alleviate, this is the best time to re-imagine our city—not just slash expenses, but how we treat our environment for improved public health, social equity, healthier jobs and a healthier economy.  Here are 4 things that can move us quicker into integrating

-the integration of climate action in all operations by including it in every city government job description

-the City Council Sub-committee on Climate Action report to be released immediately for public discussion and action

-the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50% by the year 2030

-the city to allow El Cerrito resident volunteers to work with city staff to activate GHG reductions, greening of local businesses, and educating the community

If you believe the City should include climate change actions in its 2020-21 budget as a priority, please email comments by Monday, June 15 to the City Clerk at

Subject heading must state “Public Comments – Agenda Item #7B” in order to be included in the City Council members’ packets.

Let’s advocate for Community Emergency Responsiveness Training (CERT) for Society!