California opens its first Clear Air Middle, in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Level neighborhood

The first of what will soon be hundreds of places in the Bay Area to provide a guarantee of fresh air on smoky days opened in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The new Clean Air Center, located at the Bayview Linda Brooks-Burton Branch Library in the city’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, has been outfitted with special filtration equipment and allotted space in a 1,000 square-foot meeting room to accommodate those wanting respite during periods of heavy wildfire smoke.

The facility marks the debut of a network of Clean Air Centers planned across California, and it shows the extent to which the state is going to prepare for increasing wildfires — and climate change.

In recent years, millions of Californians have been exposed to unhealthy levels of smoke as a result of bouts of wildfires that scientists attribute, in part, to drought and rising temperatures.

“Having a place where people can go to breathe clean air is something that is extremely vital and important,” said San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton during a kick-off celebration of the new Clean Air Center on Tuesday morning. Walton also sits on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is overseeing the rollout of the facilities.

The first center was launched in San Francisco’s southeastern corner to underscore the project’s aim of prioritizing underserved areas, where air pollution is typically greatest and fewer people may have air purifiers in their homes.

Air district officials say that more than 300 facilities will open in the Bay Area in a matter of weeks, including one at a YMCA just a few blocks from the first site. The centers will generally be located in libraries, schools and other community hubs where portable air cleaners will be brought in and HVAC upgrades made.

The sites will be identified with signs sporting the program’s new, blue and orange Clean Air Center logo.

The initiative is the product of Assembly Bill 836, the Wildfire Smoke Clean Air Center Incentive Program for Vulnerable Populations. The legislation, authored by Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, provided funds for the creation of the network of clean air facilities.

The Bay Area Quality Management District, serving the region’s nine counties, was allocated $3 million to help pilot the program. The California Air Resources Board and the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management helped with Tuesday’s launch.

“We get more calls on this than anything during wildfire season,” said Kristine Roselius, spokeswoman for the air district. “People want to know where they can go to get out of the smoke.”

Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kalexander@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kurtisalexander

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