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Some 30 protestors showed up outside state Senator Bob Hertzberg’s home in Van Nuys demanding he publicly apologizes for comments he made last week about an activist during a hearing over AB 345, which would require the state to establish a protective distance between oil drilling sites and homes, schools, and  childcare centers.

With chants of “Do your homework,” and “Yes on AB 345,” about 30 demonstrators held an early morning protest outside state Sen. Bob Hertzberg’s home in Van Nuys on Monday, Aug. 10,

For nearly an hour, the group chanted, sang songs, delivered leaflets to his neighbors, and boldly pasted signs on the senator’s front door.

The demonstration was in response to Hertzberg’s treatment of Katie Valenzuela, the policy and political director for California Environmental Justice Alliance, during the Aug. 5 Senate committee meeting on Assembly Bill 345 on the State Senate floor. The demonstrators were also upset that Hertzberg had voted against the bill in the meeting.

The measure would consider requiring all new oil and gas development, on or before July 1, 2022, to be located at least 2,500-feet from homes, hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and other public facilities where children congregate. The legislation would not apply to federal land.

Supporters of the measure claim five million Californians currently live less than a mile from an active oil well — this is the case for over 1.5 million Los Angeles county residents. Low-income communities and communities of color have been historically targeted for negative environmental projects, which have caused higher levels of health and safety risks compared to other communities.

AB 345 was voted down 5-4 in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing. It was supposed to return to the floor this week for reconsideration.

Activist Shocked by “Verbal” Attack

Valenzuela — who testified in person at that hearing — said that following her testimony, Hertzberg “verbally attacked” her on the Senate floor.

“As is well known in the Capitol building, the Senate floor is regarded as a hallowed place where members refrain from referring to one another by name in accordance with decorum and out of respect for each other,” Valenzuela said.

“It was therefore shocking when, during the committee discussion, Sen. Hertzberg aimed his comments in opposition personally at me,” she said.

“After I testified and resumed my seat in the gallery, Sen. Hertzberg looked up at me from the Senate floor as he prepared to speak. He then proceeded to address his adversarial comments to me by name, repeating ‘Katie Valenzuela’ angrily and pointedly as the focus of his comments several times as he spoke. He accused me of misleading community groups about the bill, and of failing to ‘do the homework’ or ‘read the bill,” Valenzuela wrote on her Facebook account.

She went on to say that the Senate majority leader’s energy and language directed at her in speaking against the bill “were patronizing, belittling, and intimidating. He insulted my intelligence, my intentions and my integrity,” describing Hertzberg’s actions as “condescension” and “bullying.”

“I am calling on Sen. Hertzberg to publicly apologize for his behavior,” Valenzuela wrote. “Further, since the Senator called on all of us to ‘do the homework,’ I invite the Majority Leader to join me on a tour of oil fields in Kern County — where I grew up — at his earliest convenience.”

A video of the hearing confirmed Hertzberg calling out Valenzuela and another activist, Ruben Rodriguez, by name.

Hertzberg emphasized that AB 345 was not necessary because Gov. Gavin Newsom had already signed another bill in 2019 with the same intention, and with an earlier starting date than AB 345.

Hertzberg said he was “tired of bills that just push people’s buttons” and added, “what this bill does is nothing, absolutely nothing.”

“There’s no need to spend taxpayer dollars” when the Administration is already moving on the issue, the senator expressed.

“I say to Katie Valenzuela and Ruben Rodriguez, we’re on the game, we’re doing this,” Hertzberg said. “Do the homework, read the bill, double-check everything and make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

“Appalling Behavior” by Hertzberg

Food and Water Watch was one of the advocacy groups participating in the protest outside of Hertzberg’s home. The national organization is concerned with environmental issues and is well known in the San Fernando Valley as among those seeking to permanently shut down the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility in Porter Ranch following a months-long methane gas leak that began in October of 2015, displacing scores of residents. 

Alexandra Nagy, an organizer for Food and Water Watch, said that — contrary to Hertzberg’s claim — the bill previous to AB 345 merely changed the mission and name of the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) to Geological Energy Management Division (Cal-GEM), and that “no bill has ever passed that mandates” the buffer zone that supporters are now demanding.

She added it wasn’t just the way Hertzberg voted in opposition to the bill at the committee hearing but that he had “talked down and called out” Valenzuela by name, something that is “disrespectful and never happens.”

“His behavior was appalling and inexcusable,” Nagy concluded.

RL Miller — a founder and political director of Climate Hawks Vote, a  grassroots political group seeking to halt climate change — also accused Hertzberg of reneging on the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge he signed in 2018.

“He has broken his pledge,” Miller said, adding that Hertzberg has taken thousands of dollars in contributions from the oil and gas, automotive and transport industry.

Fatima Iqbal-Zubair, another protestor and who is currently running for the District 64 Assembly seat in Wilmington — one of the areas in Los Angeles with the highest concentration of oil companies — said Hertzberg belittles “the voices of people on the frontlines of the community,” and shows how politicians are doing the “bidding of big business.”

She said AB 345 is necessary because it stops the “environmental racism” that has plagued black and brown areas of the state for too long.

Hertzberg did not respond to requests from the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol for comment.