VIP’s Earth Day Weekend!

VIP at Modesto’s Earth Day Festival

Valley Improvement Projects had an eventful Earth Day weekend, participating in a meeting with US EPA officials in San Francisco on Friday 4/21 with the California Environmental Justice Coalition (CEJC), followed by a rally and march to the Federal Building and on Saturday 4/22 tabled at Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival at Graceda Park.

Diverse California & Arizona Communities Most Affected by Trump’s Pro-Polluter Policies Unite to Hold Earth Day Action at EPA Region 9 Headquarters

San Francisco, CA – Already suffering from pollution and injustice, and alarmed by the Trump Administration’s attacks on environmental protection, health and justice, residents and grassroots groups from urban, rural and Indigenous communities most harmed and at risk from pollution united in a march and rally Friday, April 21st in front of USEPA Region IX in San Francisco. Bay Area residents from Bayview Hunters Point, Richmond, Oakland, San Leandro and Livermore were joined by Mohave Elders of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, Gila River Indian Community members, youth from East Los Angeles, people from farmworker communities in the San Joaquin and Imperial Valleys for today’s protest, communities impacted by fracking and refineries, and many others.

VIP, CEJC, and others Rally in front of the US EPA Building in SF

The rally was followed by a march to the Federal Building where the community members most at risk from Trump’s extremist pro-polluter policies. We are demanding:

  • Expand, don’t cut, the USEPA and federal and state environmental laws and regulations
  • Fire EPA Administrator Pruitt –Remove polluters and billionaires from Trump’s Cabinet
  • Stop Trump’s attacks on immigrant communities, Indigenous sacred sites, civil rights and justice
  • Support people, health, science and justice, not financial gain for corporate polluters

Trump’s appointing of anti-environmental officials to his Cabinet and environmental agency posts, his dismantling of important regulations that protect public health and the environment, and also his proposed budget cuts would devastate environmental protections for all Americans but especially for the low-income people of color who bear the disproportionate burdens of polluting industries, toxic contamination sites, fossil fuel, climate change, and environmental racism.


On the morning of April 21st , 100 community and environmental justice advocates addressed dozens of USEPA and CalEPA officials and staff about their concerns and demands for health and justice.


The California Environmental Justice Coalition issued the Call to Action, and sixty-five diverse organizations including community, Indigenous, environmental justice, climate, health and environmental groups joined together in today’s Earth Day Action for Environmental and Climate Justice. Founded in 2015 in the farmworker town of Kettleman City in the San Joaquin Valley, the California Environmental Justice Coalition is community-led is the largest environmental justice coalition in the state.

Link to full article:


VIP at Modesto Earth Day

Modesto – For the second time VIP hosted a booth at Modesto’s annual Earth Day Festival in Graceda Park, talking to our fellow community members about recycling, composting, and the various sources of local pollution.


VIP has been critical of the city event in the past but are optimistic about the changes that have been made the last two years. As advocated by VIP, local trash incinerator Covanta and petroleum company Boyett were not sponsors, more recycling receptacles are located throughout the park, and styrofoam food containers were not allowed. While there were still a few gasoline-powered generators being used, there were far less than the dozen or more used at past events. “I Heart Radio” (formerly Clear Channel), which broadcasts climate change deniers on its talk station KFIV 1360am, was also not a sponsor this year, although some of their music stations were tabling at the event.

While VIP feels that there is more that can be done to improve Modesto’s Earth Day and showcase more clean energy technologies, we are encouraged by the positive changes made recently and look forward to participating in the future.



Environmental Justice Leaders Across California Head to Sacramento To Tell Policy Makers ‘Stop Protecting Polluters’ — California Environmental Justice Coalition

For more information: California Environmental Justice Coalition (CEJC) email Tom Helme, CEJC Coordinator, Valley Improvement Projects, (209) 589-9277 For immediate release, August 19, 2016 ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE LEADERS ACROSS CALIFORNIA HEAD TO SACRAMENTO; TELL POLICY MAKERS ‘STOP PROTECTING POLLUTERS’ Statewide Coalition of More Than 50 Organizations Representing Urban, Rural and Indigenous Communities Demand Accountability and Justice […]

via Environmental Justice Leaders Across California Head to Sacramento To Tell Policy Makers ‘Stop Protecting Polluters’ — California Environmental Justice Coalition

VIP Protests Lenient Plea Deal for ex-Sheriff

“Justice for Rita! Jail for Abbey!”

Abbey protest2
Picture courtesy of the Modesto Bee’s Andy Alfaro

On Tuesday, June 28th, VIP members and several other members of the community protested the decisions of Stanislaus Judge Ricardo Cordova and District Attorney Birgit Fladager to NOT send corrupt Sheriff Kari Abbey to jail by dropping her murder charge and giving her a ridiculous plea-deal of probation, community service, and a fine.We demonstrated in front of the Stanislaus County DA’s office and marched around the county courthouse at the corner of 12th & I, letting the DA’s office know we won’t accept our local justice system playing favorites with Stanislaus Sheriffs!

In 2010, Abbey and her family were continuing their spree of harassing, intimidating, assaulting, and attempting to forcibly evict their tenants, when they went to the home of Rita Elias. Abbey punched Elias in the face and began to throw her property out of the residence, all for late rent (no attempt of legal eviction was made). When Elias tried to defend herself by picking up a BB gun and a stick, Abbey (who never identified herself as a Sheriff or called any on-duty officers) got a gun out of her car and shot Rita Elias, killing her.

KariAbbeyAndConspiratorsMugshotWhen the Abbey home was searched, 100 marijuana plants (potentially 25-100 pounds), an illegal sawed-off shotgun within reach of Abbey’s children, illegal steroids, and other items that went missing from the Hayward Police Dept. (where Abbey’s boyfriend worked) were found. Abbey, her father, and boyfriend were charged with conspiracy to enter tenant homes and Abbey was also charged with embezzlement for doing some of these acts while on the clock as a Stanislaus Sheriff, being paid with OUR tax dollars!

In court Judge Ricardo Cordova admitted that he had worked with Abbey, but chose NOT to recuse himself from the case, clearly a conflict of interest. Although Abbey eventually pled to unlawfully entering a home, Judge Cordova claimed that Abbey (who he admitted was the aggressor) killed Elias in self-defense; essentially determining that Rita Elias had no right to defend herself from being assaulted and forcibly removed from her own home.

Eventually the charges of murder, conspiracy, marijuana cultivation, child endangerment, and possession of an illegal firearm were ALL dropped. Abbey plead no-contest to unlawfully entering a home, possession of illegal steroids, and embezzlement; ALL misdemeanors. Abbey received three years of probation, 40 hours of community service, and a pitiful $225 fine for embezzling from the Stanislaus taxpayer. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering reacted by stating, “that’s a joke!”

This is NOT the first time our local Justice system has played favorited with the Sheriff’s Dept. In 2009, Stanislaus Sheriff Alfred “Chip” Huskey admitted to having sex with his teenage step-daughter. The victim said Huskey molested her from ages 3 to 11 and eventually statutorily raped her. Birgit Fladager’s DA office gave him a deal of ONE year in county jail (not even prison) and DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO REGISTER AS A SEX OFFENDER! Sentences that lenient are virtually unheard of, similar cases in the county have resulted in sentences of 6-11 years in prison. Let’s tell the DA to STOP playing favorites with Sheriffs!






Abbey protest1
Picture courtesy of the Modesto Bee’s Andy Alfaro

Download/print-out the flyer in English: Jail for Abbey Flyer

Download/print-out the flyer in Spanish: Jail for Abbey Flyer espanol

Read the Modesto Bee’s article on the protest:

Watch Modesto Bee’s Video of the protest:

Abbey protest3
Picture courtesy of the Modesto Bee’s Andy Alfaro

Join CEJC for Our Statewide Conference for Environmental & Climate Justice! — California Environmental Justice Coalition

The California Environmental Justice Coalition is pleased to announce our statewide environmental justice strategy conference, trainings, and day of action taking place on August 21-22, 2016, in Sacramento, CA. Join grassroots groups from Environmental Justice communities from around California for this statewide strategy conference, trainings, and a day of action for environmental and climate justice. Sunday, August […]

via Join CEJC for Our Statewide Conference for Environmental & Climate Justice! — California Environmental Justice Coalition

VIP Advocates for Waste Diversion, Not Incineration

Valley Improvement Projects has been researching and advocating for more waste diversion by recycling, reusing, and composting and not burning our trash, recyclable and compostable material at the Covanta Incinerator in west Stanislaus County. On October 20th VIP gave the following presentation to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors (see video below) and will also present to the Modesto City Council on October 27th. Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Slide5 Slide6







KCRA News Story Video:

VIP Presents at Stanislaus Board of Supervisors (at 20:22):

VIP Presents at Modesto City Council ( at :):

Download PDF:

Waste Diversion in Stanislaus County-final

Stanislaus Trash Incinerator Company Fined Over $30,000 for Violations in Delano

Source: Community Complaints lead to over $30,000 in violation penalties

October 21, 2015

Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

Ingrid Brostrom

Air Emissions from the Covanta Biomass Facility Result in Fines
Community complaints lead to over $30,000 in violation penalties

DELANO, CA—The San Joaquin Valley Air District recently found the Covanta biomass incinerator in Delano liable for seven air quality infractions, leading to over $30,000 in penalties. The latest in the series of violations was settled on September 10th, resulting in a $20,000 fine for Covanta’s “failure to comply with visible emissions limits.” The air district’s action is responding to a resident-led effort to monitor and report suspected violations from the Covanta facility.

According to reports from residents, the facility consistently fails to control smoke emitted from a pair of smoke stacks just two miles south of Delano. Over the last year, concerned residents living nearby the facility have filed over 20 complaints to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, through the community-based Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) reporting platform. The air district used these complaints to investigate, ultimately finding the company liable for seven separate violations of its air permits.

“For communities in the San Joaquin Valley, this represents a public health victory,” said Cesar Campos, Director of Central California Environmental Justice Network. “In many cases these facilities are plagued with poor compliance, as we see with the facility in Delano, and serve to advance a scenario in which fence-line communities suffer while other areas of the state reap the benefits.”

These violations come at a time when the future of biomass facilities across the state is uncertain, as decreasing costs in renewable sources of energy are driving down profit margins for this industry. This year, the California State Legislature held a bill that would have used greenhouse gas reduction funding to subsidize biomass operations.

Ingrid Brostrom, an attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, suggests that given the poor air quality of the San Joaquin Valley, we should be looking for better alternatives to the burning of agricultural waste products. “This nutrient rich material should be returned to the soil to help the productivity of our agriculture, not burned to increase air pollution. Let’s go for the win-win solution, where we can promote better soil and healthier, cleaner communities.”

Gustavo Aguirre, Jr., Coordinator of the KEEN project said, “This case demonstrates that residents are, in fact, experts in their communities and they should be more closely supported by government agencies that are expected to protect public health and the environment.”

About KEEN
The Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) is a community-based environmental justice project that empowers residents by allowing them to report environmental concerns easily, safely and anonymously. In Kern County, this network has helped bring environmental justice issues to the forefront since its inception in 2012. The project also involves working with regulatory agencies to find solutions to the reports via compliance and enforcement actions. To learn more about KEEN, please visit or to report by phone call: 1-661-379-0411.



CVAQ, Clean Air Action Day 2015


VIP was proud to participate in this year’s Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ) Clear Air Action Day in Sacramento advocating for policies that clean our air and improve the health of our community’s most vulnerable citizens!

Source: CVAQ, Clean Air Action Day 2015

From On Tuesday, August 18, 2015, the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ) celebrated its 12th Annual Clean Air Action Day in Sacramento by organizing over 70 Valley advocates and residents representing all eight Valley counties and more than 20 organizations to meet with over 60 legislator offices in Sacramento. The Coalition’s annual event is aimed at educating legislators on the burden of air pollution in the Valley and asking for their support on clean air policies. The day was filled with clean air policy training and networking opportunities allowing residents to connect with field experts and like-minded advocates. The Day began with a jammed pack bus carrying excited residents who heard from community leaders about the importance of their voice and how to advocate for cleaner air for the San Joaquin Valley. Once in Sacramento attendees heard from technical experts on each of the bills and were broken out into teams to help prepare them for an afternoon of meetings with the legislators. To motivate the group before meeting with legislators, the group heard from Martha Guzman-Aceves, Deputy Legislative Affairs Secretary who spoke about Governor Brown’s dedication to clean air, future policy setting and the importance of Valley residents connecting with their legislators.

CVAQ educated participants and legislators on key bills and issues, including:

● SB 32 (Pavley) – California Global Warming Solutions Act
● SB 350 (De Leon) – Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015
● AB 156 (Perea) – Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Technical Assistance Program
● AB 1071 (Atkins, Garcia) – Supplemental Environmental Projects and opposed AB 590 (Dahle, Salas) – Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds for Biomass

For many Valley residents this was the first time meeting with a legislator. Nonetheless, residents were eager to share personal stories related to the legislation being discussed. For example, many participants felt strongly about opposing AB 590 because of its direct impact to disadvantaged communities that are already overburdened with pollution. Participants shared stories of the impacts of agricultural burning or biomass facilities in their communities. They urged legislators to protect them by opposing this bill, which would create more pollution and divert much needed funding to true clean air programs and instead invest cleaner alternative technology.

The presence of Valley residents opposing legislation authored by their own representatives, such as in the case of AB 590, sent a strong message to the capitol. Almost every year, CVAQ opposes legislation from a Valley representative. It’s clear that many of the problems the Valley faces are a result of poor representation at the state level and lack of understanding of the environmental justice issues Valley residents face. Valley residents opposed this bill because it would subsidize biomass plants that result in increased pollution and would disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. However, advocates supported one of his other bills, AB 1420. Likewise, Henry Perea’s bill AB 156 was highly supported but his leadership on SB 350 lacked significantly and he ultimately led an amendment that weakened the rule altogether which was highly disappointing for the San Joaquin Valley as a whole.

Throughout the course of the day countless personal stories from residents of all different races, social status, ages and communities were shared; it displayed the strength and diversity of our Valley and our coalition. About half of the participants were Spanish-speaking residents, which is truly representative of the San Joaquin Valley. Many participants shared they felt empowered and suggested having more of these types of events because of the numerous environmental issues facing their communities and the lack of opportunity to speak with their representatives about the needs of the Central Valley. This year marked the 12th successful event and although the day was long and everyone was tired in the end, everyone enthusiastically inquired about next steps and asked to be invited to next year’s event.

Michelle Garcia
CVAQ Campaign Coordinator

In Memory: Emiliano Amor Mataka 1980-2015

Emiliano Amor Mataka holds his son Maxemiliano Justice Mataka at the Valley Improvement Projects Community Center for Social and Environmental Justice
Emiliano Amor Mataka holds his son Maxemiliano Justice Mataka at the Valley Improvement Projects Community Center for Social and Environmental Justice

“The greatest philanthropists of all time are not the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Gates or the Buffets, they are the nameless, everyday people who display the best of humanity daily, with the fewest of resources and with extreme grace. The poorest people give the most, don’t think you need monetary wealth to make an impact. Your time and life are the most valuable assets on Earth, besides Earth.” – Emiliano Mataka, 1980 – 2015

As many of you already know we lost a great friend recently, Valley Improvement Projects co-founder Emiliano Amor Mataka. A great friend but also a great father and husband, son and brother, uncle and cousin. Most of all the Central Valley and the world lost a great warrior for justice. He may not have known at the time but in the quote above he is describing himself and the countless others we know and work with. Emi was someone who put others first, his friends and family of course but also any poor and struggling person in his community. He simply wanted Justice. Lots of people want justice, what made Emi special was his fearlessness and his willingness to fight for it, to put his own freedom and comfort on the line for it. They are a rare breed. A person who grew up in the struggle, living it, suffering from it, and still choosing a path of selflessness, to help people up the ladder when you’re only a few steps up yourself. We find comfort in the fact that he inspired so many others during his far too short time on this earth that he loved so much and worked tirelessly to defend from pollution, corruption, and destruction.

Emi speaks about Environmental Racism at the Chicano Unity Festival on Crows Landing in South Modesto

Emi was taken from us far too soon at only 35 years old. As stated is his obituary: Emi was born in Modesto to longtime local activists John and Rosenda Mataka. He was a blessing to all who knew him and cherished by many. He was bright, compassionate, and courageous and was known for his easygoing nature.

Emiliano grew up on the Westside of Stanislaus County in Grayson. He graduated from Patterson High School in 1998. He attended New College in San Francisco and graduated from Cal State University Stanislaus with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology. He married Veronica Mendez in 2012 and they have one child, Maxemiliano. Emiliano most recently worked as a Community Liaison with the Ceres Unified School District.

Emiliano was a beautiful soul that stood in solidarity with poor and oppressed communities. He was a dedicated organizer who helped shape the social, education and environmental justice movements in the San Joaquin Valley. He was a founding member of Valley Improvement Projects and was also active with the California Environmental Justice Coalition, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Central California Environmental Justice Network, California Cleaner Freight Coalition, Grayson Neighborhood Council, Modesto CopWatch, The Revolutionary Hip-Hop Report, and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

Emiliano is survived by his wife Veronica Mendez Mataka, son Maxemiliano, parents John and Rosenda Mataka,

Emi and his wife, Veronica Mendez Mataka
Emi and his wife, Veronica Mendez Mataka

siblings Primavera (Daniel) Chavez of Patterson and Arsenio (Jessie Ryan) Mataka of Sacramento, three nieces, two nephews, and extended family members. He was laid to rest at the Patterson Cemetery just outside of his beloved hometown of Grayson.

Emiliano dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice, even naming his only child Maxemiliano Justice Mataka. He was deeply loved by so many. A true warrior for the earth and people, friends described Emi as, “a beautiful soul that stood in solidarity with marginalized communities.”

Emi at the Justice for Ernest Dueenez March in Manteca, CA
Emi at the Justice for Ernest Dueenez March in Manteca, CA

“With heavy hearts, we regret to inform you that our brother and fellow EJ activist Emiliano Mataka passed away this weekend in a tragic car accident. Emiliano was a charismatic and dedicated organizer who helped to shape the movement for social and environmental justice in the San Joaquin Valley. He was a founding member of Valley Improvement Projects (VIP), working for social and environmental justice in the larger Modesto area. His parents, Rosenda and John Mataka are founding members and active Unity Council members for CCEJN. Please send your prayers and love to the Mataka family during this tough time. We hope to gather strength through our community by continued organizing and prayer. All the love in the world goes out the family.”  – Cesar Campos, Director, Central California Environmental Justice Network

We at VIP know Emi would be the first to tell us to fight on, and we will. Still, at the moment, the sadness is overwhelming. We must be strong for his family that have done so much for VIP as an organization and its menbers over the last 7 years. To the Mataka Family, we love you all so much and are grateful that you shared Emi with us and that we had the privilege of

Emi with members of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition at the VIP Community Center
Emi with members of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition at the VIP Community Center

getting to know him, learn from him, receive his support, struggle along side him, and be able to call him our good friend, and a great man. We are only beginning to understand how much we will miss you. From all of us at VIP and everyone you’ve worked with and inspired over the years, your partners in crime, the struggle will continue, we will carry on with you in our thoughts and our hearts. R.I.P. Emi… Long live the President of Grayson!

If you would like to donate to Emiliano’s family, please visit the website below:

If you would like to donate or send cards of condolence to VIP visit: or mail to:      V.I.P. PO Box 4214 Modesto, CA 95352

“In the future, I see VIP as the catalyst for environmental and social justice action in Modesto and the Central Valley. We will be vocal and unrepentantly aggressive in calling out decision-makers and power brokers on their misguided and damaging policies and practices.” – Emiliano Matakapix of mtg



Tom and Emiliano


VIP joins other local groups & community members to protest NSA spying & against war with Syria



Link to “Making Contact” Radio Show about “Fallen Heroes 2015” featuring interview with John X. Mataka about Emi’s life and work (about 23 minutes in):

Videos of Emiliano Mataka:

Air Monitoring Training Workshop



July 9, 2015

Durham, NC

EPA’s Office of Research & Development hosted community leaders from across the United States at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina for a training/workshop on emerging low-cost air monitoring technology. All of these community representatives came to talk about their own experience using low-cost monitors, or using resident organizing to monitor facilities and industries of concern.

The discussion began with detailed information from experts, showcasing best practices for building a community based monitoring project. Including the development of important criteria for building community agency. The discussion led many to talk about the importance to provide research that is of high quality, and has detailed research methodology in good standing with the objectives. Furthermore, residents from Houston, Virginia, and our representative from the the San Joaquin Valley pressed the agency on their plans to use this data generation efforts in ways that can lead to permitting…

View original post 225 more words

“This American Life” Trash Incineration Segment Misses the Point

I am an avid listener of This American Life and I usually love it, which is why I was so deeply disappointed with their decision to perpetuate the myths and misinformation about ‪#‎incineration‬ in the episode “Not It!” aired on April 10th.

Zoe Chace’s segment “The Big Crapple” is, at best, a one-sided fluff piece. But in a harsher reality, it is a thoroughly ill-researched and biased piece that lazily relies on the PR of incineration companies and looks through rose-colored lenses at ‘what’s going on in Europe’ while completely leaving out the history of incinerators being located in low-income communities of color. There isn’t even a discussion of environmental justice – merely a reference to some people who work on it. It is so sad to me that she upholds this idea that having incineration would not impede our cities’ capacities to focus on true waste reduction, recycling, and composting projects. She asks, “Why can’t we do both?” crowslanding_bannerBecause incineration companies have contracts that require cities to maintain a certain amount of waste to be incinerated, and, thus, to be produced. Because incineration is inherently costly and requires a high carbon footprint to truck in waste in order to maintain a nominal level of efficiency. Because the energy generation from burning trash is the least efficient and most costly way to produce energy and is a secondary outcome. Because the reason that landfills are so methane-producing is because we haven’t developed systemic composting solutions – this would address the build-up of organic material within a landfill’s anaerobic conditions that actually cause methane production. Because when you burn wood, paper, plastics, and other trash that has been treated with chlorine, you are going to create dioxin. Because incineration does not produce as many job as recycling, composting, and waste diversion management. Because incinerators are almost always sited in poor communities of color. Because “they look so pretty” is NOT a defense of an outdated technology that continues to allow our city officials to avoid recycling and composting infrastructure. Because companies like Covanta have repeated workers’ safety violation issues. Because when you have a business model that is centered around burning waste, you lose the incentive to create less of it. In other words, ‪#‎capitalism‬.

This goes beyond some juvenile and prescriptive view of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). This is about communities demanding responsibility – toward our environment, toward the way our money is handled, toward the way we source energy, toward the way we treat our workers, toward the way we treat our health.

We as communities that are affected by these industries deserve not only the truth in reporting but accountability from our cities in making decisions that are good for everyone.

– Alyssa Lee, VIP Volunteer