Red Star Falls

Following pressure from community and environmental activists, West Oakland’s LeSaffre Yeast (formerly Red Star Yeast) closed its doors in April after nearly a century in operation.
The company blamed “market economics” and “challenging California environmental conditions” for its closing, but the plant and its noxious emissions had been the target of intense community protest for 12 years, according to the Coalition for West Oakland Revitalization (CWOR), a community group.
Focus is now turning toward the Red Star property. “One of our immediate concerns will be to make sure there’s a comprehensive and safe clean-up of any contamination at the [LeSaffre] plant,” said Bradley Angel of Greenaction, an activist group. Negotiations are underway to create a transit village on and adjacent to the site.
Angel added that community coalitions and elected officials will be working with LeSaffre to provide job retraining and other compensation for laid-off workers.
Yeast once manufactured at the Oakland plant will now be made at LeSaffre’s other US locations, including its headquarters in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee LeSaffre factory was responsible for 63% of the county’s total release of carcinogens in 2000. Milwaukee ranks within the five worst Wisconsin counties for carcinogens, according to a report by a local nonprofit advocacy group.
Local activists said that the Oakland factory’s closing represents a great victory for the coalition of community groups that fought to close the plant. “It’s our issue; it’s our community,” said CWOR chair Monsa Nitoto. “We don’t have any money, but we did it by getting the community involved.”

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