LOS ANGELES (CN) – A day after fielding critical questions from fellow 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg attended a roundtable in Los Angeles on environmental justice, homelessness and other issues faced by working-class communities.
Speaking at an industrial recycling and reuse company in Los Angeles’ South Gate community, Buttigieg told residents, activists and business leaders he was there to mainly listen to concerns and offer proposals for federal support on local issues.
“There’s a lot of miles between South Gate and South Bend, but there’s also a lot of affinity between our cities,” Buttigieg said, adding that both cities are navigating the aftermath of deindustrialization and economic recessions.
South Gate is a working-class community south of downtown LA. The town sits along an industrial corridor stretching across the LA River and the busy 710 Freeway.
South Gate City Councilwoman Denise Diaz told Buttigieg that industry has cut life expectancy rates, forcing onto the community the negative health effects of poor air quality and a lack of clean drinking water.
“The 710 corridor feeds the nation, but who pays for it? It’s my community,” Diaz said, adding that more than 1 million people in California lack access to safe drinking water.
Poverty in the Golden State is high despite a low unemployment rate and more than $7 billion state budget surplus.
More than 7 million people in the state lack resources to meet their basic needs, and as many live just above the poverty line, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Buttigieg said he first learned about environmental justice in California and noted that people of color and those living in poverty experience the brunt of toxic living conditions.
“You shouldn’t have to think for a second whether you can grab a glass of clean and safe drinking water but that’s the reality for many,” Buttigieg said.
The mayor also said he would back international trade policies that don’t allow domestic producers to be undercut by competitors who produce cheaply in other countries.
When asked how to reconcile the need to act on climate change with the need to protect people’s jobs, Buttigieg said his proposal would eliminate reliance on fossil fuels by 2050 while also creating or transferring jobs in the sustainable energy industry.
The military veteran and first-time presidential candidate also said Washington should look to local leaders for solutions and remember that federal funding can only go so far.
South Gate High School student David Resendiz and resident Luz Ruiz asked the mayor how he would address the cycle of homelessness, poor health and poverty.
Resendiz and Ruiz said their families were homeless this year and that family members live with the trauma from that experience.
Homelessness should be unacceptable in the world’s richest nation, Buttigieg said, adding that the issue hits home because he learned Thursday that a South Bend man who was homeless died.
“These health issues arise out of an exposure to hunger, toxicity, to violence,” Buttigieg said. “It almost sentences people to a lifetime of mental health challenges.”
Buttigieg echoed statements he made during Thursday’s debate, saying that one root of poverty is low wages and erosion of worker protections, including the right to collectively bargain with employers. He has also proposed boosting low-income tax credits for poor Americans, expanding the supply of affordable homes and making college education free for working class people.
Ruiz challenged Buttigieg to remember the struggles in small cities he visits on the campaign.
“This world is rich, not just economically,” Ruiz said. “But what we’re lacking is compassion. That will get you closer to community, so don’t forget about us.”