OCEANSIDE — Ever since Suzanne Hume and John Bottorff were forced to leave their beloved home and neighborhood, the couple has been on a mission to ensure a future with clean air and water for everyone, especially children.
It all started one day in 2017 when Hume was on the patio of their condo on Codorniz Way in Oceanside.
According to Hume, she couldn’t speak after a helicopter flew over the tomato field next to her home.
She went to the hospital to figure out what wrong, and said after she had tubes put down her nose and tried explaining to doctors what happened, she was told she had pesticide poisoning.
“It burned my lungs,” Hume said.
Now, Hume is extremely sensitive to any kind of smoke or exhaust.
Hume and Bottorff started a petition to prevent helicopters from spraying pesticides in their former neighborhood and were successful, but they still had to leave their home.
“We had planned to live there forever,” Hume said, adding that talking about what happened still makes her emotional.
They were tired of waiting for change to happen, so they decided to make matters into their own hands by starting their new organization, CleanEarth4Kids.org.
With CleanEarth4Kids.org, Hume and Bottorff promote implementing clean energy and environmentally protective legislation in local cities. They also work with children, going to Oceanside and other nearby city council meetings with them to highlight the importance of addressing climate change, preventing pesticide usage in public parks and other environmental concerns.
Education is a major component of everything that the organization promotes or does. Hume is a certified teacher and reading and ESL (English as a Second Language) specialist who previously worked for Escondido Union School District. In addition to being the founder of CleanEarth4Kids.org, she also serves as its education director.
Bottorff is co-founder and chief information officer for the organization, and Jay Klopfenstein, vice president for the California Retired Teachers Association Educational Foundation, works on online education and grant writing.
According to Hume, CleanEarth4Kids.org is currently waiting to hear if it has received a California “Green Teams” grant and is pursuing a grant from Patagonia to bring more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (adding ‘art’ to the acronym) educational opportunities to students.
The organization is working on acquiring its official nonprofit designation.
Hume wants Oceanside to stop using pesticides on its public lands. She said the organization is currently working with a Parks and Recreation subcommittee to investigate the feasibility of transitioning away from pesticide usage and instead using more natural methods to kill weeds, such as hot water and steam, or organic pesticides as a last resort. Other cities like Carlsbad, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano and Costa Mesa also have their own “nontoxic” campaigns.
The organization also wants to reduce the amount that cars idle, which means leaving the engine running while it is parked or not in use.
CleanEarth4Kids.org is working with Surfrider Foundation’s Idling Hurts Oceans campaign to promote city ordinances preventing idling and reminding people to turn off their engines if they aren’t driving.
CleanEarth4Kids.org is also collecting signatures on Idle-Free California petitions to stop idling at schools.
According to the United States Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty trucks and heavy-duty vehicles consume more than 6 billion each year gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline without even moving. Passenger vehicles waste roughly half of that fuel.
Hume said her organization would like to see idle-free ordinances and education throughout California. Her students have presented information and reasons for “no idling” at an Oceanside City Council meeting and plan to go to Encinitas, Carlsbad, Vista, San Clemente, Dana Point, Escondido, San Marcos, San Diego, National City and Lemon Grove council meetings as well.
“We would like volunteers from different cities to contact us and arrange times to speak at their city council meetings and with their school boards,” Hume said.
CleanEarth4Kids.org is also working with Surfrider, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations to endorse Community Choice Energy (CCE), which establishes a community nonprofit electricity provider that will purchase renewable energy power on behalf of its residents.
Utility companies like San Diego Gas & Electric would still continue to operate and maintain the electrical grid, poles and wires, and send a monthly bill to customers, but a portion of that bill would be transferred to the choice provider to pay for the consumed power.
Hume said customers “will only notice a savings but not a change in service” with a CCE program.
Much of the CleanEarth4Kids.org’s current work is focusing on Oceanside’s draft climate action plan. The organization has created a 25-item action plan for the city to consider for its own climate action plan.
The organization’s action plan would set a 100 percent renewable energy goal and establish a CCE program for the city, and would include the passage of no idling ordinances, stopping the use of pesticides, improvements to public transportation, installation of more electric vehicle charging stations and planting 400 new trees each year in the city until 2050.
A workshop to discuss Oceanside’s climate action plan will be held on Monday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers. Hume is encouraging residents to attend the workshop.
Hume wants the best possible future for her students and neighbors, which is part of the reason why she is so passionate about the work her organization does. She also wants to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else.
“I need to make sure the air is clean and safe for kids and everyone else,” she said.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son