Crude Journalism: Chevron Bought a Newspaper to Mask Its Bad Record on Safety Abuses
Richmond is tucked into California’s western tricep, a former wine town with a population just over 100,000. Under the administration of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the town is thelargest city in the United States with a Green Party mayor. It’s also an oil town—in 1901, Standard Oil set up a tank farm, choosing the location for its easy access to San Francisco Bay. Soon after, a western terminus of the Santa Fe Railroad was built in Richmond to handle the outflux of crude. Over the course of the 20th century, Standard Oil became the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL), and later, Chevron.
Throughout the 90s, the Richmond refinery was fined thousands of dollars for unsafe conditions, explosions, major fires, and chemical leaks, as the plant oozed chlorine and sulfur trioxide into Richmond’s atmosphere. In August of 2012, the Richmond refinery exploded after Chevron ignored the warning of corroding pipes from the local safety board. The disaster was linked to aging pipes, which were simply clamped instead of replaced altogether. Some 15,000 residents in the surrounding area were forced to seek medical treatment, and Chevron’s CEO, John Watson, got a $7.5 million dollar raise.
After a long day at work, Amilcar, 16, is greeted by one of the random portraits that decorate his living room.
Read our new story about California’s agriculture industry, The Lost Boys of California Are Literally Dying to Pick Your Fruit
The Lost Boys of California Are Literally Dying to Pick Your Fruit
t the age when most American teenagers are trying to decide whom to ask to prom, Ernesto Valenzuela was instead weighing whether it was worse to die of thirst in the desert or have his throat slit by gangsters.
That’s the choice the 16-year-old faced in his hometown of Mapulaca, Honduras, a drowsy village where MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangsters are known for recruiting youth—sometimes as young as kindergartners—into their cartels. If the kids refuse, they are often killed. Now Ernesto was being recruited, and he didn’t want to end up one of the 6,000 people murdered each year in Honduras. With a total population just shy of 8 million, that means nearly one of every 1,000 Hondurans is a victim of homicide, making it the most dangerous place—after the war zones of Iraq, Somalia, and Syria—in the world.1
After mulling it over for months—and trying to dodge the tattooed gang members who wanted to sign him up—Ernesto decided his potential fate at home presented far more danger than what he might face at any distant desert crossing. So, early one morning in June 2013, after his mother sobbed and begged him to stay safe, he set out for a place he’d only seen in movies, a place where he’d heard a kid like himself—with just a fifth-grade education—could earn $60 a day working in the fields: America.
Mossless in America
Kathya Landeros is a young American artist who photographs her family and Latino populations around the country. Her series Verdant Land alludes to the long history of agricultural work that has led Mexicans to the United States in search of a better life.
Mossless: Where did you grow up?
Kathya Landeros: I grew up in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, surrounded by farmland. There was a period where I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother in central Mexico. My parents sent my older sister and I to a parochial school that sat on top of a very steep hill in the central highlands of Mexico.
Does your family appear in your photos?
There is a portrait of my grandmother in my series Verdant Land. She worked as a farm laborer when she was younger and first came to this country.I am also photographing my family for a separate, ongoing body of work in California.
You mention in your artist statement that a lot of the settlements you photograph would be ghost towns if it weren’t for their Latino populations. What are these towns like?
The part of California where I am from is some of the most fertile land in our country, making the people who tend to it (a majority being Latino) quite productive. The land is very flat, and yet there is always evidence of rolling foothills and mountains never too far away. The sun also seems to produce the most intense heat and light here—really beautiful California light. This is especially true in the summer when the sun is high and its light is drawn out late into the evening. The land is usually laid out in a similar rectilinear fashion: a main business drag with homes surrounding it. The homes are enveloped by expansive farmland, which is the most defining feature that can be seen from the highway. When I think of these towns the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn and some of the other Bay Area Figurative Movement painters come to mind. Although their work is not specific to the towns I am photographing in, their rendition of light and geometry very much describes the West I know. Such a quiet view of the land also offers an interesting foil to the mythos of the rugged American West of cowboys.
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Los Angeles Is Miserable: An Introduction
The second decade of the 21st century might be remembered as a golden age for the city of Los Angeles. In the past five years, America’s second largest metropolis has seenrecord-low crime rates, a slow-and-steady expansion of mass transit options, a rapidly gentrifying urban center that some are calling the “next great American city,” and two NBA championships for our beloved Lakers. Yet a large portion of the city is still totally depressed like it’s 1992 all over again. All those pretty winter landscapes you see on Instagram are actually a sign that 2013 was California’s driest year in recorded history, and that we’ll all be brushing our teeth with toilet water if it doesn’t rain soon. Sure, crime is down and downtown has a bunch of fancy new hotels, but a few blocks from those hotels is the biggest homeless encampment in the nation—Skid Row.
A private, independent commission endorsed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calledLA2020 recently released a controversial report claiming that almost 40 percent of citizens in Los Angeles currently live in “misery.” What qualifies as misery? The report says that poverty and lack of access to necessary services does the trick. It takes only a cursory glance around in any direction, on any street in this city to see the truth of that statistic. Forty percent is a major chunk of a city that boasts a population of over 4 million people—plus neverending suburban sprawl—but the number of people who live in misery in LA is probably even greater than that.
Can a Motley Crew of Felons Save California from Burning?
You always plead. Statistically speaking. There’s literally no end—today in the paper, they’ve got a quote from a guy doing life for armed robbery—to what they can do to you if you fight, and anyway most of the time they have the documents, the surveillance videos, the gun under the passenger seat, and you take what they give you. Because the number they come to you with—ten years with half, eight years at 80 percent, it’s all very baroque—is only the beginning. The higher the number, the rougher the yard, and in California, this second set of numbers—level-three yards, level-four yards—can denote their own kind of punishment.
Justin pled, and he had never heard of the Conservation Camp program when he and his wife, Kelly, were sentenced in Fresno County, California, for running a massive mortgage-fraud operation.
“They came into court wearing street clothes,” read the local ABC affiliate’s story on the hearing in which Justin was sentenced to almost ten years in prison, “but they left in handcuffs.” The article ran with a photo of the pair in court: Kelly looks straight at the judge, grim and defiant. Justin, turning abjectly toward his wife, slouching in a green polo under which protrudes a hint of potbelly, looks broken.
When I met him in August, Justin—who asked that I not use his last name—was wearing an inmate’s orange jumpsuit, though we were 20 miles from the nearest prison. He was sitting at one of the long plastic dining tables in the center of the Tuolumne City Incident Command Post, an impossibly busy firefighting base built in a park in the center of tiny Tuolumne City, on the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest in California’s Western Sierra.