Name: Lori Kobza
Title: Associate Communications & Marketing Specialist
Affiliation: Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, Spare the Air program
Website: airquality.org, sparetheair.com
With temperatures topping 105 degrees in our region, Thursday, June 30th is the Sacramento region’s second “Spare the Air Day” in 2015. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (AQMD) helped put out the alert, asking the community to reduce driving and advising those with sensitive health to limit their outdoor activities.
Lori Kobza, associate communications and marketing specialist for the AQMD, is one of the creators of Spare the Air and is the program’s regional coordinator for the AQMD and the equivalent air districts in Placer and El Dorado Counties, and the combined district of Yolo and Solano Counties.
“My job is to coordinate that very huge public outreach campaign,” Kobza says. “We do that in a variety of ways. We have television commercials, radio commercials, print ads, social media, community event outreach. We have a mascot, we have two different websites, we maintain a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and print materials.”
Kobza manages the delivery of the Spare the Air Alerts, which occur when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches or exceeds 127. People with upper respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart conditions, and pregnant women, the elderly and outdoor athletes should reduce strenuous activity in the afternoon, Kobza says.
“We work very hard to improve air quality for the residents of our communities, and we have,” Kobza says. “We have seen incredible improvement in air quality over the last twenty years.”
The Spare the Air program keeps historical records of the air quality index on their website under the “Historical Data” tab—“a good snapshot for people to have an understanding of how air quality has improved,” Kobza says. A tally of Spare the Air Days since 2001, a monthly air quality archive and the monthly forecast are among the resources there.
In addition to overseeing the air quality forecast, Kobza has been on the interview circuit for the program for a few weeks, she says. She is also media spokesperson for the AQMD, conducting interviews both on and off camera.
“My responsibilities are many,” Kobza says. “As with anyone in a communications office, we wear many different hats, coats, ties and jackets.”
Kobza also maintains a group roster of public information officers in the Sacramento region, connecting communicators and public relations experts in the community.
“Getting involved in science allows communicators to really have an impact on the health and well-being of their fellow human beings,” she adds. “We all share the same air, so air quality is something you kind of can’t live without.”
Despite her proximity to science and its effects, Kobza says she “learned about it by being in it” rather than getting any official training on the topic. She originally worked for two years at a private public relations firm after graduating from Sacramento State with a degree in communications in 1986.
“While I enjoyed it, I didn’t like being a mini-expert in a lot of different places,” she says, explaining the necessity at a PR firm. “So I left there, and I went to work for a non-profit trade association here in Sacramento, the Sacramento Association of Realtors.”
Kobza says that while there, she gained expertise in both commercial and residential real-estate, writing for and editing the association’s magazine and planning public outreach campaigns. After five years of doing that, however, she says she wanted a change, and luckily she had a friend who knew there was an opening at the AQMD.
“At the time, it was in what was called the Clean Fuels program,” she explains. The division was created in the early 1990’s when alternative fuels were just beginning to see service. “That doesn’t exist anymore; now we have a Mobile Source Section.”
Kobza was hired as the marketing director for the Clean Fuels program, and worked at that for about a year and half. When she got back from maternity leave after having her second child, she was asked to join the communications section—and she’s been there ever since, she says.
“And after doing air quality work for all of these years, I can’t think of a better industry for me personally,” Kobza says. “It’s exciting, it is never dull, it’s constantly changing.”
Kobza says the state of California is a leader in the efforts to increase air quality as it works alongside other states, the federal government, and even international partners.
“For us in air quality, climate change is big,” Kobza says. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is huge.”
“If the air was clogged with pollutants, we would all be sicker than people already are,” she adds. “And asthma is a really big problem here in the Sacramento region and throughout the state—more heavily in San Joaquin.”
Vehicle and industrial emissions aren’t the only sources of pollution, though, Kobza says. Relatively new pollutants are causing other problems year-round.
“One other thing that we’ve had to deal with a lot more over the years here in the state of California and here in the Sacramento region is wildfire smoke,” Kobza says, explaining that fine particle matter has been an issue since the early 2000s. “So we have a bigger focus on particulate matter during the summer months because of wildfire smoke, but we also have a much bigger focus in the fall and winter months related to particulate matter from residential fireplaces and wood stoves.”
To that end, Kobza coordinates the Check Before You Burn program November to February. Sacramento County law states that anyone using wood stove or fireplace must check the fine particle pollution forecast before lighting a fire.
Knowing what you’re breathing is important, Kobza says. The work she and her colleagues do “has been helpful for people to be aware of what they’re breathing to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
“Science and technology are important for any community moving forward,” Kobza says. “It’s where our world is going, it’s where our world has always been—it was always happening a little more in the shadows, people didn’t pay as much attention. Now they are.”
Contact Lori Kobza at (916) 874-4811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
— James Eldred