Gas Explosions and Social Justice

The press has done a decent job of reporting that a gas explosion did, in fact, happen.  And that it did, in fact, cause damage.   According to someone I know who lives in the area [emphasis mine]:

This is about 3 miles from where I worked in San Fran, and about 8 miles from where we lived.  Scary is right.  People were reportedly “smelling natural gas for days” prior to the explosion, so it’s undeniable that the gas was perfumed.  Whether they were reporting the natural gas smells through the appropriate avenues is unclear to me at this point in time.  San Bruno is predominantly a poorer neighborhood, with more dilapidated building infrastructure (and utilities to match I presume), than the surrounding neighborhoods (San Mateo, Daly City, San Fran).  I’m curious as well how much “traction” complaints from more “gentrified” neighborhoods have had amongst utility providers, in comparison to areas such as the predominantly hispanic (and economically denuded) San Bruno.

At this point, these are my assumptions, until proven otherwise:

1. The San Bruno infrastructure was in disrepair, especially in relation to wealthier and whiter surrounding areas
2. The neighborhood population did report the smell of gas/rotten eggs to authorities/the utility company
3. The utility company’s initial response was “we’ll look into it” (in a little bit…maybe…)

People are asking “How did this happen (at all)?”  which is an important, technical question.  However, is anyone asking the important ethical question,  “Why did this happen in San Bruno, and not somewhere else (San Mateo, Daly City, San Fran)?”

It sounds like a social justice issue to me:  racism and classism.  1. The San Bruno infrastructure is less important because of who lives there, either because they don’t have as deep pockets (classism) or in spite of how deep their pockets are (racism) 2. The voices of the people in San Bruno have less weight and credibility because of their skin color, language or ethnic identity.

A look at the complaint/responsivity/repair history with predominantly white/wealthy areas in comparison to San Bruno would help determine that PG&E was in fact considering the infrastructure and people of San Bruno less important.

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