The SQF Complex Fire from 2020. U.S. Forest Service image

published on May 17, 2022 - 1:34 PM
Written by Gabriel Dillard

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District will soon be launching a new pilot program to fund the creation of clean air centers in the Central Valley.  

Funding for the grant program comes from 2019’s AB 836, which provides $5 million in statewide funding to create the Wildfire Smoke Clean Air Centers for Vulnerable Populations Incentive Pilot program for upgrades to ventilation systems and to provide portable air cleaners for residents during fires and smoke events.   

AB 836 provides the Valley Air District $750,000 in funding for the program to provide portable air cleaners for both public and private entities, including schools, libraries, cooling centers, community centers, senior centers and sport centers.  

The $750,000 will distributed based on population between the counties of Fresno, Madera, Kings, Tulare, Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Kern.  

Fresno County will receive $167,695 in clean air centers funding, with Tulare County receiving $78,685, Madera County receiving $25,885 and Kings County receiving $24,916. 

The applications for the grant funding will be available to both private and public entities and became available on May 1.  

Jocelyne Mejia, senior air quality specialists at the Fresno-based Valley Air District, said that the goal of the program is to provide vulnerable communities with temporary clean air shelters during a wildfire or other smoke events. 

“Given that it’s a pilot program, the goal is to understand what the demand is, what is the frequency of facilities being utilized, how the equipment is holding up and getting data on the program as a whole,” Mejia said. 

The Valley Air district is currently working with other air districts, cities, counties and various stakeholders to implement the program. The program provides flexibility to select projects that will most effectively protect the vulnerable Central Valley population during wildfire events, Mejia said.  

She added that funds may be shifted from counties with insufficient demand and redistributed accordingly.  

To be eligible for the program, an applying entity must be located in an area that has documented multiple days at or above the “unhealthy” category of the air quality index due to wildfire smoke in the past five years.  

In 2018, AB 617, which required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and air districts to implement plans to monitor and reduce exposure in disadvantaged communities, selected areas for study including South Central Fresno, the City of Shafter, Stockton and Arvin/Lamont.  

This also includes communities served by a low-income school, low-income communities and facilities located on federally recognized tribal land. 

Grant funding will cover up to 100% of the costs for the portable air cleaners, but applicants awarded will have to cover their own administrative and operations costs, costs for air quality monitoring devices, facility approvals, coordination costs and costs for improvement to the facility.  

Entities awarded will also have to submit annual operation reports.  

Applications go online May 1, with the evaluation and scoring of applications taking place in June and contracts being offered in July. 

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