Oral Histories

Interview of Penny Newman

Executive director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. Plaintiff in Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors in Action, an environmental case related to the Stringfellow Acid Pits in Jurupa Valley, California.
Environmental Activism in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Environmental Movement
Biographical Note:
Executive director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. Plaintiff in Stringfellow v. Concerned Neighbors in Action, an environmental case related to the Stringfellow Acid Pits in Jurupa Valley, California.
Collings, Jane
Newman, Penny
Persons Present:
Newman and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice in Glen Avon, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interviews are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reading published material on problem of toxic dumping in the United States, the NIMBY movement (Not in My Backyard), the designation of Superfund sites and material supplied by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice on the community's struggle to mitigate and clean up the Stringfellow Acid Pits.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Newman was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The series documents environmental activism in the Los Angeles area from the 1970s through to the present day. The majority of interviews are with either founders or knowledgeable participants in major regional environmental organizations. Represented groups embody a wide range of issues, including conservation, restoration, environmental justice and toxic waste disposal.Additional partially processed interviews are available through Library Special Collections.
Family background—Early career—Family values—Religious upbringing—Parents’ background—Newman’s brother’s position with the water district—Moves to Glen Avon—High school—Musical background—Newman’s marriage—Family’s positions on the Vietnam war—Father’s death—Newman’s beginning distrust of government based on family’s experience with the Vietnam war—Begins a family—Children’s health problems—Newman’s tendency to defer to authority—Asserts herself on behalf of her children—Participation at children’s school—Beginning participation in Jurupa community—Understands the challenges mothers face in scheduling their activities outside the family—Begins to learn about the Stringfellow Acid Pits—Ruth Kirkby—The formation of Concerned Neighbors in Action—Newman’s awakening to her own political values—The community’s painful process of deciding how to approach the problem of the Stringfellow site—Asked by congregants not to come to church—Criticism from the community—Husband’s response to the Stringfellow controversy—Attempts to sell property in Jurupa—A community meeting where members begin to identify common health problems with local population—Sensitivity to a wide range of chemicals.
Mothers of Glen Avon—Parents of Jurupa—The Stringfellow ponds overflow—The school district’s information about the released toxins—Community’s tendency to disbelieve Ruth Kirkby—The Concerned Neighbors in Action (CNA) management style—Clashes between CNA and Kirkby—The CNA philosophy that the issues should be framed at non-expert level—The Jurupa community—Interface between Jurupa community and larger social movements of the period—How the threat from Stringfellow was affecting families—Realization that the exposure to toxins had been longterm—Community meeting to air the community’s grievances—Community’s realization at the meeting that the Stringfellow site was one of the worst in the nation—Media interest in Stringlellow in the local press following the meeting—Prompt agency action follows the meeting—Laurel Institute—Community response to working with Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda—Benefit to CNA of working with Hayden and Fonda—Local women’s expertise in event organizing is directed toward activism—Lobbies water board in Sacramento for cleanup dollars—Community members’ testimony—Conversation about strategy with Lois Gibbs—Community rejects NIMBY philosophy—Formation of California Communities Against Toxics—Passage of liquid hazardous waste bill—Passage of the Superfund bill—The struggle with Governor Brown over the naming of Stringfellow as a priority Superfund site—Preserving the Stringfellow story in the community—Newman’s image in the community—Newman’s activist philosophy.
Hired as field organizer for Citizens Clearing House for Hazardous Waste—Conducts community workshops on environmental organizing—Organizes CCAEJ to serve Inland Valley area—The response of Montrose Chemical Workers to a CNA picket action—The growing awareness among Stringfellow employees that their health was at risk due to toxins—CCAEJ’s position that it was important to involve all affected parties, including company employees—An instance of tension between environmental and economic concerns—The lack of questions raised about the implications and impact of the good movement industry—Conflict within the Glen Avon community about whether to sell their property without disclosing the reasons—The diversity of attitudes toward CCAEJ campaigns within the community—Communities served by CCAEJ—CCAEJ’s Salud Ambiental, Latinas Tomando Acción program (SALTA) —CCAEJ’s success in mobilizing voters on key issues—The challenges in outreach to youth—Impact of immigration enforcement on local area youth—CCAEJ engagement in issues that are crucial to the community goes beyond environmental issues—Raising awareness about toxins among agricultural workers—The reputation of CCAEJ and Newman within the local area—Balancing the responsibility to perform executive functions at CCAEJ and working directly with communities—The process of deciding which issues to take on--Activist tactics employed by Newman—The impact of picketing the homes of elected officials—Reprisals from government entities for environmental activism—CCAEJ’s involvement in the goods movement issue—Connections with other community groups on the goods movement issue—THE [Trade, Health, Environment] Impact project—The CCAEJ position on port growth—Working with other environmental justice groups on port growth—The need for a region-wide discussion of the port and its impacts—The future of CCAEJ—The impact of class differences among CCAEJ board members.