The California Secretary of State announced this week the Healthy Homes and Schools Bond Act entered the random sample phase, getting closer to qualify for the November ballot. The proposition would create a $2 billion bond to fund a clean up of hazardous materials in homes and schools across California.
The ballot initiative would also eliminate the liability of lead paint clean up for paint manufacturers, found liable for creating a public nuisance, by marketing and selling lead-based paint in California until its use became banned in 1978. According to the ruling by the California Supreme Court, Sherwin Williams, ConAgra and NL Industries would have to pay around $700 million to inspect and either clean up or contain lead paint from homes built before 1951, within the 10 jurisdictions that were part of the lawsuit.
“They have hired the best lobbyists here in Sacramento, as well as the best political consultants in California, and are proposing a ballot measure so that California homeowners and California taxpayers will pay $2 billion for lead paint clean up,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco. “The ballot measure also says that these three companies will be completely absolved of their liability, so that they will not have to pay for what they did.”
Chiu authored one of three bills that are still making their way through the legislature, seeking accountability from the companies.
“I think that’s pretty ridiculous. As taxpayers we are responsible for enough. Now we’re paying for something they knew was bad,” said Joey Glazier, whose 4-year-old tested positive for lead paint.
Solano County, where the Glaziers live, sent an expert to test their home when Andrew’s tests returned with higher levels with each test.
“Every room in the house tested positive for lead. Come to find out he was getting it from the dust on the window sills from when he would play,” Glazier said.
Doctors told Joey and his wife Brandy that the potential damages of lead paint could appear later in life, so they are not sure just how much harm the exposure caused.
“They were saying it can cause developmental problems. It can cause speech delays. It can cause seizures,” worried Glazier.
They also can’t afford to remove the lead paint, so they continue to add layers of paint to their home, in order to trap the lead residue. They have also arranged their furniture in a way that prevents Andrew from reaching the windows.
“We ate ramen for the last week that we had to paint the house, because we had to buy five gallons worth of paint and it was as much as we could afford. We couldn’t afford [to paint] upstairs. We had to get a donation from a friend of ours,” Glazier said.
The attorney representing Sherwin Williams has stated that the company was not aware of the risks lead-based paint posed when it was marketing it for indoor use in the 1940’s. But Chiu said the whole industry knew since the beginning of the 20th century.
“There were internal industry documents where the corporate management of these giant paint companies knew that their product was causing tremendous harm to Californians, including brain damage, developmental disability, and even death. And in particular, this impact was very harmful to children. There were memos in the 1950's, internal documents where these paint companies shared that they knew what the health impact was. But they viewed it mostly as a publicity problem,” Chiu said.
Initially, the defendants were ordered to pay $1.2 billion to the ten cities and counties involved in the lawsuit to clean up or abate lead paint from homes built before 1981. However, a state appeals court decided last November that they were only responsible for homes built before 1951, reducing the amount to about $700 million.
Since the ruling, the companies funded the Not a Nuisance initiative, claiming homes built before 1978 are being red-tagged by the ruling.
Julian Canete, President of the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who supports the initiative, told ABC 10 he supports the measure because of the costs that California homeowners will incur to clean up lead paint in homes built between 1951 and 1980 within the 10 jurisdictions of the lawsuit.
Since their homes were labeled as a “public nuisance”, but they do not qualify for the abatement plan, he warns their owners will have to pay out-of-pocket for the cleanup or else see their property values drop.
“Our concern is about our business owners, the residents of California, and making sure that they're not forced to pay those fees,” said Canete.
This idea is part of the messaging of the campaign, however, that gap of homes that don’t qualify for the abatement plan is a result of the companies’ appeal. After they fought the initial ruling by the Santa Clara court, the 6th Court of Appeals handed them a lower bill, in which they are not responsible for homes built between 1951 and 1980.
Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Network, said the campaign is dishonest, and that homes were not declared a nuisance by the ruling.
“That is a lie and you don't have to take my word for it. The court said it was a lie,” said Howard.
The ruling reads, “(A plaintiff) insists that the court’s abatement order has 'declared a nuisance' on individual properties without notice to the property owners. Not so. The trial court ordered defendants to abate the public nuisance they had created, but it did not identify any specific properties. The abatement plan itself is designed to identify and remediate the individual properties upon which defendants’ public nuisance exists.”
NL Industries has since settled with the plaintiffs and agreed to remove its support from the campaign. Counties have until June 26 to conduct the random sample verification process for the Healthy Homes and Schools Bond Act. They are required to verify at least 500 signatures or 3 percent of the number of signatures filed in their county, whichever is greater.
Since Sacramento is not among the jurisdictions involved in the lawsuit, homeowners here would not qualify for funding from the abatement plan ordered by the court’s ruling. They would have access to the funds created by the bond if the ballot measure passes. Solano County is part of the suit and their home, built in 1927, would qualify.
Click here to learn how to test your home for lead.