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Hunger Strike Aims to Halt Power Plant

Protest: Two South Gate officials say they'll give up food until plans for a facility are abandoned. Some call it a political ploy. Voters will weigh in on the issue Tuesday.


The mayor and vice mayor of South Gate and several supporters entered their second day of a hunger strike Friday to protest the proposed construction of a 550-megawatt power plant in that blue-collar community.

But the strike may not last very long.

On Tuesday, South Gate voters will get to express their support for or opposition to the plant by voting on Measure A, a nonbinding ballot referendum.

Sunlaw Energy Inc., the Vernon-based power company that plans to build the $256-million plant, has promised to relocate the project if voters reject Measure A.

Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba and her sister Flor Ruvalcaba-Real, a candidate for city clerk, vowed to abstain from food and to drink only water until the developers of the Nueva Azalea power plant agree to move it to another community.

Ruvalcaba and Moriel say the plant's emissions would threaten the health of millions of nearby residents who live in a community that already has some of the worst air pollution in the region.

"We are willing to risk our lives to save millions of others," Ruvalcaba told reporters Thursday before she slipped into one of two adjoining tents pitched in front of City Hall, where she, her sister and the mayor and a small group of supporters promised to remain during their hunger strike.

On Friday morning, the trio and their supporters looked haggard and tired after spending the first night in the tents. While South Gate residents filed past to enter City Hall, the strikers sat on sleeping bags, read books, drank from bottles of water and made signs protesting the power plant.

But not everyone agreed with their campaign.

Leo Briones, a spokesman for Sunlaw, accused the strikers of launching "a political ploy to make themselves out as something they are not: champions of the people."

Briones, who is married to plant supporter state Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier), said that by using a hunger strike to bring attention to their cause, the protesters are "dishonoring something that should only be used in very severe circumstances of political oppression."

Rory Perrotta, a South Gate city worker and member of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, called the hunger strike a "cheap political ploy to gain attention for their candidacy." Perrotta noted that Moriel and Ruvalcaba-Real are both on the ballot in Tuesday's election.

The power plant has been endorsed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for local labor unions.

If the plant is built in South Gate, Sunlaw promises to pay as much as $6 million in annual tax revenues, $1 million for neighborhood improvements and $150,000 each year in scholarship funds.

The California Energy Commission said the plant would emit as much as 384 tons of air pollution annually. Still, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has given the power plant preliminary approval and predicted that it would be one of the cleanest plants in the country.

The final decision on the plant is expected to be made by the commission in August.

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