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Leading Fresno Environmental Justice Attorney Joins State AG’s Office

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Ashley Werner, former directing attorney for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, is joining the state Attorney General's Office. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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The directing attorney for one of Fresno’s most visible climate and social justice groups has taken a job with the California Attorney General’s Office.

Former directing attorney for Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability Ashley Werner will begin working for state AG Rob Bonta, Werner told GV Wire.

Requests for comment from Leadership Counsel and from the attorney general’s office about Werner’s hiring were not returned.

Werner has had a large presence in Fresno’s development scene, working on behalf of underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.

Werner Has Been Prolific in Advocacy Work

Werner graduated from the Boston College Law School with a certificate in human rights and international justice. Her work took her to Peru, where she served as an investigator before coming to Fresno.

In Fresno, with Leadership Counsel, her work focused on advocating for pollution-burdened communities throughout the San Joaquin and Coachella valleys.

“We (are) working alongside residents of disadvantaged communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley and East Coachella Valleys with the mission of advocating for sound policy and eradicating injustice to secure equal access to opportunity, regardless of wealth, race, income, or place,” Werner said in a 2018 interview with California Green Zones.

Werner said the rural communities that she and Leadership Counsel work with often lack basic infrastructure and services.

In 2018, the group organized to oppose the development of what would have been a 2-million-square-foot industrial project in southwest Fresno developed by Caglia Environmental. The project caught the attention of then-state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Leadership Counsel and community members argued environmental review was “fast-tracked,” having a “significant impact” on the health of residents, according to Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias.

Helping to Protect Residents From Air Pollution

When Amazon built its second facility in south central Fresno, Leadership Counsel helped to secure a settlement from developer G4 Enterprises that would help nearby residents replace air filters and windows, better protecting them from truck pollution.

Leadership Counsel, in association with community group Friends of Calwa and the Stanford Law Clinic, is currently pursuing legal action against CalTrans and the Federal Highway Administration for two interchange improvements along Highway 99.

Advocates say the two interchanges would bring more truck pollution to the area.

The group was also integral in developing the Southwest Fresno Specific Plan, which limited industrial zoning in the area, priming it for residential and community retail uses.

“Zoning ordinances are really, like, the meat and potatoes of environmental justice because they control what are the permanent requirements for different types of land uses and different zones, so in a heavy industrial district, what types of land uses can go forward with absolutely no sort of discretionary review process, and what actually require a closer look and standards and requirements to ensure that there won’t be negative impact on neighbors,” Werner said in the Green Zones presentation.

Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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