VIP Presents the Stanislaus County Social & Environmental Justice Forum – June 22nd!

SJ-EJ Forum-Flyer

Valley Improvement Projects is proud to present the 1st Annual Stanislaus County Social and Environmental Justice Forum


9-9:30am – Check-in, light breakfast provided

9:30-10am – Welcome and Ice-Breaker

10-10:45am – Panel 1: Environmental Justice in Air, Water, and Land Use

Summary: Substantial portions of Stanislaus County are in the highest percentile for drinking water, pesticides, PM2.5, as well as rates of asthma. The county was given an F rating for air quality from the American Lung Association and we were recently paid a visit by the Governor to highlight the need for cleaning up drinking water, especially in disadvantaged communities in Stanislaus County. In fact 1 million Californians don’t have access to clean drinking water, 350,000 in the San Joaquin Valley. This panel will explore how these issues affect public health especially in disadvantaged communities.

Panelist 1: Cesar Aguirre, Community Organizer, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN)
Panelist 2: Veronica Tovar, Environmental Justice Program Manager, Catholic Charities in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties
Panelist 3: Edgar Garibay, Community Relations Manager, Tuolumne River Trust
Moderator: Thomas Helme, Project Director, Valley Improvement Projects

10:45-11:15am – Q&A

11:15-11:20am – Break

11:20am-12:05pm – Panel 2: Affordable Housing and Homelessness

Summary: Rent in Stanislaus County has gone up 66% since 2011 and has risen an average of $371 since 2014. We lack sufficient affordable housing to meet market demand, either for middle income or low-income individuals, both locally and across the state. Moreover, many units are below habitability standards, and homelessness only seems to be growing. This panel will discuss the state of housing and homelessness locally, opportunities for progress as well as impediments.

Panelist 1: Christina Kenney, Program Director, Turning Point Community Programs
Panelist 2: Tom Collishaw, President/CEO, Self Help Enterprises
Panelist 3: Aurora Thome, Attorney, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA)
Moderator: Joseph Homer, Social Worker

12:05-12:35pm – Q&A

12:35-1:35pm – Lunch/Guest Speaker: Arsenio Mataka, Stanislaus County native, former Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at the California Environmental Protection Agency, currently Environmental Advisor to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

1:35-2:30pm – Panel 3: Immigration, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice

Summary: Obviously, the issues of mass incarceration, police conduct, and immigration, including ICE-police collaboration, have been in the headlines all across the country in recent years. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the federal “First Step Act” which looks to decrease the country’s prison population, from CA’s recent movement towards abolishing cash bail to reforming police use of force standards, issues involving police and prisons have gained mainstream attention in the last 5 years. At the same time, California is also currently home to 11 million immigrants (more than any other state), the SJ Valley’s abundant agricultural industry and other factors has meant migrants have historically made the region their home. This panel will discuss the current and evolving relationship between these communities and immigration and law enforcement officials as well as explore alternatives to our trend of mass incarceration.

Panelist 1: Honorable Richard Vlavianos, Judge, Superior Court of San Joaquin County
Panelist 2: Luis Magaña, Immigrant/Farmworker Rights Advocate, Organizacion de Trabajadores Agricolas de California
Panelist 3: Raquel Ortega, Organizer, ACLU-NorCal
Moderator: John X. Mataka, Community Advocate, Grayson Neighborhood Council and Valley Improvement Projects

2:30-3:10pm – Q&A

3:10-3:30pm – Next Steps/Closing Activity

6pm – After Party Networking and Socializing: location TBA

Spanish interpretation will be available.

Link to facebook event:



VIP Hosts Awards Dinner, Attends Earth Day Events, and Meets Presidential Candidate

VIP had a very busy Spring!

2nd Annual Community Empowerment Dinner

On April 6th we held our 2nd Annual Emiliano Mataka Community Empowerment Awards Dinner. The event is named for, and held in honor of, our founder Emilano Mataka in his hometown of Grayson in West Stanislaus County. In keeping with the same spirit as last year’s Awards Dinner VIP sought recognize local unsung heroes that make a daily impact in the lives of the area’s disadvantaged residents, not for the money, but for the desire to help and the passion to take action.

Recipients of VIP’s Emiliano Mataka Community Empowerment Award

This year’s Awardees were:

  • Jolynn DiGarza: With Westside Minitries Jolynn helps to serve 200 meals a night to families on Turlock’s Westside as well as providing camping retreats, coat drives, dance lessons, counseling and other assistance to vulnerable community members.
  • Debbie B. Hernandez: Founder fo We R La Raza Parents Union, Debbie advocates for students’ rights, holding educators accountable, empowering parents, a safe learning environment, and stopping the school-to-prison-pipeline.
  • Susana Borrayo-Ruiz: As leader of the Girl Scout troop in Patterson Susana has made a positive contribution to the personal growth of the, predominately Latina, girls of the area who will make this world a better place.
  • Rosemary & Ernest Dueñez: After their son Ernest Jr. was unjustly killed by Manteca Police officer John Moody, the Dueñez Family has taken on the fight for justice for not only Ernest but all victims of police violence, traveling accross the state in solidarity with families who have lost loved ones to police violence.
  • Dionne Smith: Dionne also suffered the loss of her son to the hands of police, and has also taken up the fight for justice for victims of police abuse in the name of her son James Rivera Jr. who was shot to death by Stockton Police and San Joaquin County Sheriffs.
  • John X. & Rosenda Mataka: As a special surprise VIP gave an award to these longtime advocates for social and environmental justice in Stanislaus County and the San Joaquin Valley who founded the Grayson Neighborhood Council and whose son, Emiliano, co-founded VIP.

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Modesto Earth Day Festival

On April 20th VIP tabled at Modesto’s Annual Earth Day Festival at Graceada Park for our fourth straight year. VIP has been critical of the event in the past, but city staff has made some of our recommended changes, such as not being sponsored by local trash incinerator Covanta and oil company Boyett Petroleum, banning styrofoam food containers, adding more recycling bins throughout the park, and lowering the number of gas generators used at the event. We still hope that eventually there will be zero gas generators used at Earth Day but are overall pleased with he positive changes.


We also appreciate the city’s promotion and encouragement of recycling by introducing their new “Recycling Mascots” Cali (an aluminum can), Ricki (a plastic bottle), and Vinni (a glass bottle), but VIP still advocates for Modesto “Bringing Back the Blue Bin” #BringBacktheBlueBin!

Currently Modesto is one of the largest, most populated cities in California without a basic curbside recycling service and if the city wants to get serious about doing its part to recycle, that would be a good place to start. Stanislaus County is also 1 of only a few counties in the state without carpet recycling, an issue VIP has also advocated for.


Climate Change Round-table Discussion with Beto O’Rourke

Front Page of the Modesto Bee: Thomas Helme of VIP talks to presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College

On April 29th VIP was invited to participate in a small round-table discussion about climate change and sustainable agricultural practices with former Texas congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College. While discussing how unsustainable practices affect already disadvantaged communities VIP co-founder Thomas Helme used an example of how ag waste is often burned at a biomass incinerator like in Stockton or Fresno, adding to the already poor air quality instead of composting it and putting back into the soil, instead synthetic fertilizers are used in soil which over time has polluted the groundwater in many poor communities with nitrates. It should be noted that VIP does not endorse any political candidates but will gladly meet with any who wish to discuss any social or environmental issues that effect our communities. See the report on Beto’s visit in the Modesto Bee.

VIP and other local organizers, educators, ranchers, farmers, and representatives meet with presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at Modesto Junior College


Patterson Earth and Science Festival


On May 4th VIP also tabled at the Earth and Science Festival in Patterson for the second year in a row. Much like Earth Day, VIP hosted a booth at the festival, engaging in conversation with local residents about air quality, recycling, composting, pesticides, and other issues of local importance. We handed out informational literature on these issues, especially information about the trash incinerator which emits harmful dioxin and other pollution while also burning recyclable and compostable material. It is 1 or only 2 trash incinerators in the state of California and many Patterson residents did not know it was nearby. Patterson also sits next to Interstate Highway 5 and is home to a growing number of distribution centers (Amazon, Restoration Hardware) which brings a large amount of diesel trucks, and with them harmful diesel emissions which add the area’s poor air quality.

CEJC Meets with California’s New Secretary of Environmental Protection — California Environmental Justice Coalition

Valley Improvement Projects, founding members of the California Environmental Justice Coalition (CEJC), represented for Stanislaus County and the San Joaquin Valley at this meeting with the newly appointed head of CalEPA, Jared Blumenfeld.

On March 18th about a dozen members of CEJC met with the newly appointed Secretary for Environmental Protection, Jared Blumenfeld, and other CalEPA staff. CEJC members representing the Central California Environmental Justice Network, Comite Civico del Valle, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, El Pueblo Para El Agua Y Aire […]

via CEJC Meets with California’s New Secretary of Environmental Protection — California Environmental Justice Coalition

CEJC Members Gather and Show Solidarity in 2018 — California Environmental Justice Coalition

Although CEJC did not have an official CEJC Conference this year, many members gathered and showed solidarity with each other at various events throughout the state in 2018. On September 8th CEJC members including Greenaction, Comite Civico del Valle, El Pueblo de Kettleman City, Valley Improvement Projects, Bayview Hunters Point Mothers & Fathers Committee, Central […]

via CEJC Members Gather and Show Solidarity in 2018 — California Environmental Justice Coalition

VIP Takes State Environmental Officials on a Tour of West Stanislaus

Members of VIP, Catholic Charities, CVAQ, CalEPA, and CARB meet at Catholic Charities Stockton office to kick-off the North Valley Tour

On September 5th 2018 members of Valley Improvement Projects, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ), and Catholic Charities of Stockton hosted officials from the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Air Resources Board on a bus tour of the Port of Stockton, Patterson/West County area, and the Airport Neighborhood.

The “North Valley Tour” served as a reminder to these officials that the Modesto area ranks #7 in Ozone Pollution, #6 in Year Round Particulate Pollution, and #5 in Short-term Particulate Pollution in the entire country.

VIP speaks to the tour and other community members at the Patterson Library

The tour began at the Port of Stockton neighborhood, went down Interstate 5 to Patterson and Crows Landing in West Stanislaus County, and then through South Modesto, Downtown, and ended in the Airport Neighborhood. All of these communities are over-burdened with multiple sources of harmful air pollution from diesel trucks, pesticides, and industrial sites.

The state of California is making major investments in cleaning its air and VIP, Catholic Charities, and CVAQ all hope that the San Joaquin Valley, the Northern part of the Valley in particular, are made a priority.

Members of VIP, Tuolumne River Trust, and Latino Outdoors speak to the tour and community members at the Airport Community Center

Below are the informational materials provided to state officials about West Stanislaus County:






CalEnviroScreen-WestStanCo-Map and Statistics-1.jpg


More pictures from the tour:

VIP Launches #BringBacktheBlueBin Campaign

Valley Improvement Projects has officially launched our #BringBacktheBlueBin campaign!

Contact us if you want an official #BringBacktheBlueBin Button!

Modesto had one of the first curbside recycling programs in the country in the early 1970s. Today Modesto sends its “waste” to the local incinerator to burn and does not sort all of the recyclable material out. The local incinerator, Covanta, makes profits off of burning 800 tons of “waste” a day, including plastics, metals, and green waste to create energy, while we inhale its pollutants. The least Modesto could do is keep our recyclable materials out of the incinerator!

If you live in Modesto please contact your local city council person and tell them to #BringBacktheBlueBin and enter you name below to show your support for Bringing Back the Blue Bin to the City of Modesto!

Click here to download a PDF of the petition if you would like to print out your own and collect signatures!

Click on the #BringBacktheBlueBin pamphlet below to download a PDF version!

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VIP interviewed by Catholic Charities Environmental Justice Program about #BringBacktheBlueBin

VIP kicked-off our #BringBacktheBlueBin campaign at Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival, collecting over 200 signatures for our petition!

We also had a great time with Faith in the Valley, a fellow nonprofit that would like to see Modesto #BringBacktheBlueBin and do more over-all recycling in Stanislaus County!


Patterson has a “Blue Bin,” why can’t Modesto?


VIP Honors Co-Founder and Local Organizers at First Annual Community Empowerment Dinner


On Friday, March 23rd 2018 Valley Improvement Projects (VIP), a grassroots organization that builds community on social and environmental issues based in Modesto, hosted the first annual Community Empowerment Dinner where they presented the “Emiliano Amor Mataka Award,” named in honor of a VIP co-founder who lost his life in a car accident in 2015. Emiliano, the son of longtime community activists from Grayson – John and Rosenda Mataka, was integral to forming the area’s first “CopWatch” group as well as the fight for environmental justice throughout the Central Valley. To honor Emiliano’s hard work and selfless dedication to the community, VIP recognized five individuals and one organization from the Northern San Joaquin Valley who have greatly impacted its work from 2009, when the group first began, through officially becoming a non-profit in 2013, and up to the present day. The awards were presented to Helena Melo-Flowers, Lilia Lomeli-Gil, Luis Magana, Miguel Donoso, Edgar Garibay and the Modesto Peace/Life Center.

Lilia was instrumental in establishing the non-profit status for the United Community Center in Grayson. She currently works for PAL, an after school program at the Center, has volunteered for ESL, GED and citizenship classes, and coordinates soccer tournaments, National Night Out, and end of the year celebrations.

Helena is a 5 year volunteer and a major part of the United Community Center’s success. She is involved in Young at Heart, literacy programs for toddlers and parents, Bailoterapia classes, and assists with student school registration. She also distributes food for the Salvation Army and “Green Bag” – a food program for seniors.


Miguel is a longtime community organizer fighting to improve the lives of Latinos and the poor involving issues of affordable housing, mental health, youth activities, and drug services for Spanish speakers. He was also instrumental in the closing of the Modesto Tallow Company and continues to fight against police abuse in Patterson.


Luis is a founder of El Centro de la Cultura Campesina in Stockton where he documents the experiences of the migrant workers, helping them locate resources, and staying at the forefront of issues that affect such communities. He has recently started a neighborhood “ICE Watch” project.


Edgar is currently the Director of Tuolumne River Trust, is active in the Stanislaus Sustainable Communities Coalition, and sits as the environmental justice advocate as part of the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG). He keeps himself informed about local issues that affect the social and environmental rights of vulnerable communities.

The Modesto Peace/Life Center was founded in 1970, the Center promotes non-violence in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., peace, justice and a sustainable environment through its activities such as vigils for peace, the Peace Essay Contest, Peace Camp for youth, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration event, Pancake Breakfast, and through its publication, “Stanislaus Connections.” Recently they have begun to develop a local, community-focused radio station.

The dinner was hosted at the United Community Center in Grayson and was attended by over 60 local community members. VIP congratulates these individuals and looks forward to the 2nd Annual Empowerment Dinner where new honorees will receive this special acknowledgement to honor Emiliano.


CCEJN’s “Roots of Resistance” Conference a Success

THANK YOU! As Co-chair of the Unity Council, I Rosenda Mataka would like to thank everyone who attended or contributed to the Roots Of Resistance bi-annual conference. The amount of time dedicated to the conference by our Director Nayamin Martinez and staff was appreciated by all of us who attended. The venue of the Multi-Cultural […]

Click here for full article via — CCEJN


Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Releases New Video and Fact-sheet That Busts the Myths of ‘Waste-to-Energy’

Valley Improvement Projects ally, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), has released a new video and fact-sheet that busts the myths of ‘Waste-to-Energy’ a.k.a Trash Incineration.

Stanislaus County is home to 1 of only 3 trash incinerators in California, located in the town of Crows Landing near Patterson.

GAIA info sheet on incineration-1

GAIA info sheet on incineration-2

GAIA info sheet on incineration

Stanislaus County Needs Carpet Recycling, NOT Incineration!


Valley Improvement Projects is currently working to ensure that old and used carpet in Stanislaus County is recycled instead of being dumped in our local landfill or burned at the Covanta Trash Incinerator in Crows Landing.

Currently, when a California consumer purchases new carpet, he or she pays a 25 cent per square yard fee that funds a state-wide carpet recycling program. Although consumers in Stanislaus County pay this fee just like everyone else, there are no drop-off locations for carpet recycling available in Stanislaus County (despite there being 3 locations listed on the county’s recycling webpage). Not only are Stanislaus residents paying for – and not benefiting from – this program, but because we have 1 of only 3 municipal trash incinerators in the state, some of that carpet may be burned instead of recycled, adding to the Valley’s already poor air quality and impacting public health.

We respectfully request that: (1)  the State ensures that the carpet stewardship program provide recycling services for residents of Stanislaus County, and (2) ensures that carpet is not being burned in the Crow’s Landing incinerator.


Check out our Letter to CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline: Carpet Letter PDF

Feel free to print one out yourself, sign it, print your name, and put your city of residence and mail it to:

Scott Smithline, Director of CalRecycle

1001 I Street

Sacramento, CA 95814


Dear Director Smithline:

Currently, when a California consumer purchases new carpet, he or she pays a 25 cent per square yard fee that funds a state-wide carpet recycling program. Although consumers in Stanislaus County pay this fee just like everyone else, there are no drop-off locations for carpet recycling available in Stanislaus County. Not only are Stanislaus residents paying for – and not benefiting from – this program, but because we have 1 of only 3 municipal trash incinerators in the state, some of that carpet may be burned instead of recycled, adding to the Valley’s already poor air quality and impacting public health.

We respectfully request that:

(1)  the State ensures that the carpet stewardship program provide recycling services for residents of Stanislaus County, and

(2) ensures that carpet is not being burned in the Crow’s Landing incinerator.



NAME: __________________________________________ 

CITY OF RESIDENCE: _______________________________


Check out the Modesto Bee Op-Ed:

Burning carpet at Crows Landing poisons the air; it needs to stop

Check out our Letter to State Senator Ricardo Lara: AB 1158 Approps Support PDF

Microsoft Word - AB 1158 Approps VIP, EYC, CM and GAIA support .Microsoft Word - AB 1158 Approps VIP, EYC, CM and GAIA support .Microsoft Word - AB 1158 Approps VIP, EYC, CM and GAIA support .