See below for transcriptions of the outstanding presentations made by Carolina Martinez (Environmental Health Coalition—San Diego), Chelsea Tu (Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment—Southern San Joaquin Valley) and Ashley Werner (Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability—Fresno). You can also watch the video and download the slides.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to Webinar
Ericka Flores, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (0:00)
- Introduction to Green Zones
Tiffany Eng, California Environmental Health Alliance (4:13)
- San Diego and National City
Carolina Martinez, Environmental Health Coalition (9:00)
- Southern San Joaquin Valley
Chelsea Tu, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (24:35)
Ashley Werner, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability (40:00)
- Questions and Answers (1:06:25)
Introduction to Webinar:
Ericka Flores, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice
Ericka Flores: Hello, everybody, and welcome to our Green Zones Webinar and Press Briefing, hosted by the California Environmental Justice Alliance, also known as CEJA. We are so very excited to host our panel of amazing speakers for you today who will be talking about the power of the Green Zones Initiative and how they implement green zones on the ground in California Central Valley, Inland Valley, and San Diego regions, which is various of the places where CEJA puts their work forward.
We’re also very excited to release CEJA’s updated Green Zones Report and new website, which we will be introducing and talking about shortly, so make sure to go check that out after this webinar today. As we continue with this wonderful webinar and we begin, I want to share a little bit about who your moderators will be today. One of them is me. My name is Ericka Flores. I am a Senior Organizer with the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, also known as CCAEJ. We are, of course, proud members of our CEJA family. And we also have here with you today Tiffany Eng. She is with the California Environmental Justice Alliance as well, and together today we will be moderating this webinar for you today where I am certain that you will learn a ton about the work that we are doing within our Green Zones Initiative. As we continue, I do want to review a few housekeeping items with all attendees today.
This webinar will go for about 90 minutes with about a 20 to 30-minute at the end section for a Q&A with all three speakers. So, again, we will be setting aside 20 to 30 minutes for a Q&A at the end of our speakers and our panelists. Since all attendees are muted and are in listen-only mode, if anyone has a question or would like to share comments, you can type those into the chat box at the bottom of your GoToWebinar control panel. This is also how people will be able to ask questions during the Q&A session, so this is a very important part because it’s very important for us to hear from you, to hear your questions, your comments, your feedback. And so make sure that you go to the GoToWebinar control panel, and insert your questions there for us. We will make sure to see them and read them out loud for our wonderful panelists to answer those questions for you.
Now, if you’re joining us by phone today, that’s not to worry because you can send an email to email@example.com, and we can make sure to respond to your questions. So, again, if you’re phoning in, just send an email, and we will get your question and we will make sure to share that with our panelists so that they can answer it for you. If you are a reporter, you can email Jess at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an interview with any of our wonderful panelists, and we will also be sharing contact information and presentation slides for all attendees after the webinar. So I know the information that’s going to be provided today is going to be really rich, and we want all of you to have access to those slides today, so you will get that after the webinar today.
We can also share a recording of the webinar afterwards for those who would like the hear the presentations again, and I highly encourage all of you to do that in case that you miss anything or if you needed a reminder of what we talked about. You will access to those presentations as well, that recording as well, for you. With that said, I would like to now pass it along to our wonderful moderator, Tiffany Eng, to share a little bit more about who CEJA is and what we do.
Introduction to Green Zones
Tiffany Eng, California Environmental Health Alliance
Tiffany Eng: Sure. Thanks, Ericka. So, again, my name is Tiffany Eng. I’m the Green Zones Program Manager here at the California Environmental Justice Alliance, or CEJA. And for those of you who are not familiar with CEJA, we are an alliance made up 10 different grassroots community organizations located in different areas of state, from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, the San Diego region, and from the Central Coast to the Central Valley and Inland Empire. Some of our members, as you can see, include Asian Pacific Environmental Network or APEN; PODER in San Francisco; Communities for a Better Environment in Northern California and in the LA region; Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability; the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, or CRPE; the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, located on the Central Coast; Physicians for Social Responsibility, PSR-LA; SCOPE based in LA; the Center for Community Action & Environmental Justice, CCAEJ; and Environmental Health Coalition in National City.
So, as an alliance, one thing that we really focus on is uniting the powerful local organizing of our members and the communities most impacted by environmental hazards, those tending to be low-income communities and communities of color, to create comprehensive opportunities for change and policy-making at the statewide level. So to give a little bit more background on the Green Zone Initiative, we define green zones as comprehensive place-based strategies that use community-led solutions to transform areas overburdened by pollution into healthy and thriving neighborhoods.
And we do this through three basic goals. First, we really prioritize community-led planning. Second, we promote policies that reduce pollutants. And, third, we focus on investing in EJ communities that have often experienced historic disinvestment. This model really highlights the fact that, again, many of these communities have suffered from a long legacy of inappropriate and often discriminatory land use policies that have put more polluting sources in their backyards, and we want to really address this historic disempowerment and neglect to our communities and unequal distribution of resources that have put our neighborhoods at certain disadvantages.
At the same time, we recognize that despite having disproportionate pollution burdens, a lot of our communities are thriving. They’re doing great projects. They have rich cultural heritage, and they’re doing a lot to actually take the lead on the solutions that really transform their neighborhoods. So to begin addressing the needs of EJ communities, one of the things that we do is focus on tools that can really measure and pinpoint where EJ communities are located. The tool that the state of California has is the CalEnviroScreen, or CES 3.0, tool, which is the first tool in the nation to really measure cumulative or combined burdens that EJ communities face. So using this tool, we’ve been able to really heighten our advocacy by saying, look, these are the communities that have the most burdens that are really the ones that need more intention, protections, improvements.
And looking at the maps you can see here on the screen, the warmer colors and the dark red colors are the areas of the community that have some of those highest cumulative or combined burdens. So we’re really excited to be here today because we’re announcing the release of our updated Green Zones Across California Report for 2018. This report really showcases a lot of the groundbreaking work that’s being done across California to transform toxic hotspots and to help the neighborhoods. There’s tons of great stories, interviews, and tools to document how the work is being done across the state, led by residents, community-based organizations, and other allies and advocates. So we really hope that this report can serve as inspiration, as a resource to other communities across California and beyond so that people can feel like they have the tools and resources to begin adopting certain kinds of green zone solutions in their own homes, in their own communities where they live, too.
The other thing we want to do is really celebrate the release of our newest Green Zones website. You can go after the webinar to CalGreenZones.org to see, not only news and updates that’s happening around California that we’ve been tracking on green zones, but also for those who don’t have access to the hard copy report, you can actually go under “Place” to see those case studies from Oakland, Fresno, and National City and beyond and can share that resource with everyone else that you know. So please go check it out today after the webinar. We’re really excited to really have this resource and have all these tools in one place.
Ericka: Thank you, Tiffany, for that wonderful information, and just like Tiffany just said, I want to reiterate to make sure to go check out our brand new website and access all of these wonderful resources that are available to you all where you can read up on the work that we’re doing and get a little bit of an in-depth idea and understanding of what the Green Zones Initiative is and other work and goals that we are, at CEJA, working on.
San Diego and National City
Carolina Martinez, Environmental Health Coalition
Ericka: I would like to now introduce our first panelist here for our presentation today. I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce Carolina Martinez. She’s a Policy Director at the Environmental Health Coalition, also known as EHC, based in National City in the San Diego region. In 2010, Carolina joined EHC as a policy advocate for National City’s Toxic-free Neighborhood campaign. In addition to earning her MA in urban planning and Latin American studies, her experience includes environmental justice policy advocacy, collaborating with community groups on cultural and social justice campaigns, and international labor rights. So please help me welcome Carolina. Carolina, we’re so happy to have you, so please feel free to take it away.
Carolina Martinez: Thank you, Ericka, for the introduction. So I hope you all can hear me and see my slides. My name is Carolina, and I’m the Policy Director at EHC. We are located in the San Diego region, more specifically, in the city of National City. We are an environmental justice organization that was founded back in 1980, and we are very fortunate to have the capacity to organize with our communities to advance environmental justice. And so we rely heavily on CalEnviroScreen to inform a lot of our policy work now that we’re lucky to have that tool.
And the slide that you see in front of you highlights the communities most impacted in the San Diego region. That includes Barrio Logan, which is at the top 5%, and that also includes National City. That’s also at the top 11% of most impacted communities in the state of California. We also work in City Heights and across the border in Colonia Chilpancingo, and today I’m going to be sharing our experience in National City. At this time, I had been working in the National City campaign, and now I am directing the kind of justice work. We have our Policy Advocate, Sandy Naranjo. You could find her information online and you could definitely contact her if you have more questions related to the National City work, or feel free to contact me as well, but Sandy would be your contact person.
And so National City, it’s a city south of the city of San Diego. It’s about 50,000 people, mostly people of color, and here you could see the land use pattern. On the left, you’ll see a pattern that shows a lot of red uses, or industrial uses, surrounding a residential area. And then on the western side, or by the ocean, you’ll see a heavy industrial area. And so what we see right here is a lot of industrial uses surrounding the school and the homes, and that has resulted in a lot of impacts to the community, one of them being health. And so because of that, we have a lot of kids going to the hospital due to asthma complications, and we also have other impacts.
So, for example, we have a lot of cars parking on the public way, and so kids have to walk on the street to be able to walk to school. And then, on the right side, you’re going to see that we had an explosion back in 2014. One of the businesses exploded. So, unlike industrial uses in the LA area or Long Beach where you see the smoking stacks, in Old Town National City, what you’ll see is small auto body shops. And while we don’t think that those are harmful, they have a lot of impacts to the community. And so back in 2014, we had an explosion. It was a Sunday. Luckily, the business was closed, and so it exploded on its own. So that tells you the type of hazardous materials that are housed in those industrial uses.
Back in 2005, when EHC started working with the community, we conducted a community survey, and we asked the community what they wanted to see. And one of the things that we do at EHC is we work with the community to build our capacity to speak for ourselves to be able to understand policy making and how your regular residents can influence the policies that impact your quality of life. And so here’s a tool that we’ve been using for some time now. So land use tends to be a language that’s foreign to many of us. It’s complicated because it’s not something that’s taught in everyday school.
And so if you look at this photo, you’ll see the distribution of the house. So why don’t we think of zoning or land use as a way to choose the way you have uses within the house? So, for example, you sleep in the room, so that’s the area to rest, and then you think think of the living room as kind of like the entertainment area, and then the kitchen for cooking. And so if you use that little map to expand it to the public, and so think of areas for open space as kind of like the living room, and then residential areas where the room is, and so this is a concept that helps us support our community members and understanding land use and zoning and all the decisions that are being made that actually impact our everyday life.
And so we work a lot on identifying mechanisms to make the decision process a lot more accessible to the general public. And so back in 2005 when we conducted a survey, the community said we want to ensure that we don’t have industrial uses surrounding the schools, specifically, and next to the homes. And so that was one of the priorities that came out in the community back in 2005. The community also said that they needed affordable housing, that the height of the building needed to be limited to three floors to preserve the character of the community. And we also said that no new housing needed to be built next to the freeway because we know the impact that it has to the community. And so these were priorities that were identified back in ’05, and the community fought really hard to move them forward, and it passed as part of the Westside Specific Plan in 2010.
And so we feel really proud of the community, and we feel excited about all these policies that were able to pass through the Westside Specific Plan. And if we move forward to 2018, this is the area where the affordable housing project is now being built, 201 brand new affordable homes that are also protecting the creek that you see in the photo and are providing housing to National City residents because we were also able to put in place a policy that gave priority to National City residents in the application for the housing. So 100% of the residents that moved in were from National City, which is a really important component.
And then, on the left, there’s going to open space that is actually being worked on right now as well as the community garden. So that’s a very exciting site. Also, you can’t see it in the photo, but just on the corner, there’s a trolley station. So this site is considered a transit-oriented development and has received a lot of awards at the state and national level because it is a brownfield site that was remediated. And because a lot of stakeholders had a say in this project, so it was totally community-driven, and it’s almost like a dream come true. It’s fully built out right now.
And then as part of the Westside Specific Plan, the other policy that was able to advance was the amortization. And so what the amortization does, it phases out industrial uses that are causing impacts to the community. And so back in 2013, we were able to phase out those two businesses. It’s a type of policy that has been used before to phase out liquor stores or other undesirable uses, but it’s never been used to phase out industrial uses. And the community was able to advance this type of policy or solution to address land use incompatibility.
So through the experience we’ve had with the Environmental Health Coalition and the community members, we’ve identified some key elements to ensure that we actually create a space for meaningful engagement. And so, for example, we strongly believe that we need to have interpretation, and not just interpretation, but professional interpretation, to ensure that our members are able to engage in the planning process, that childcare is really important, that we need to have food, that the planning process needs to be culturally relevant. It has to feel like a safe space. It has to be fun. It builds awareness and also confidence, that we all have a say in the decision making process. It builds genuine relationships and community.
And so in order to really facilitate a meaningful engagement process, we think that all these elements need to be in place so that we could create real solutions. And so, as part of all this work, the Westside Specific Plan passed in 2010, and in 2011 the city was updating the General Plan. So we had already been working on environmental justice policy. A community member said, “Well, why don’t we have an environmental justice element in the General Plan update?” Interestingly enough, even though community members had been working on the environmental justice policy for five years already, the community still had to advocate for it. But we were able to advance the first environmental justice element in the state of California.
As a result of that, even though it wasn’t the strongest element, it was the first one. It informed the process that later on, together with CEJA, we were able to bring the environmental justice element at the state level. And so while this was as victory for the community, it is important to highlight the General Plan still are guiding documents and not a lot of it has teeth, and so we’re finding that the community plans and specific policy are the areas where we’re able too see direct implementation and improvements to the community. So we’re trying to figure out how to see that reflected in the implementation of a General Plan.
And then moving forward to some challenges, is that all our communities, not just National City, are dealing with displacement. And so we recently supported a measure that ACCE was leading in the city of National City to bring rent control. Unfortunately, it did not pass. It was taken to the voters last November, and it was close, I believe by less than 100 votes, but we weren’t able to pass it. And a lot of it has to do with all the messaging against Prop 10, but we know that the community is experiencing gentrification. So we definitely have to be mindful of that. Environmental justice policies are not displacing our communities.
And then we also are working, now, in looking at the Climate Action Plan and making sure its implementation is equitable in the city of San Diego. We recently republished a document that assesses its implementation and how it is not including environmental justice communities. And so that’s something that Tiff mentioned. It’s in the website, at the Green Zones website, and you could see the full report. Ultimately, these are all mechanisms that are helping them, both from the red we see in [inaudible 00:24:17] to green, or to healthy communities that have innovative solutions that are community-driven. And that concludes my presentation.
Ericka: Wonderful. Thank you so much for that, Caro. I hope that you all learned as much as I did throughout Caro’s presentation right now. And like I mentioned, at the end of this webinar we will be sharing this presentation and slides with everyone, so if you wall want to follow up with questions with them directly, you can also do so. That brings us to our next presenter.
Southern San Joaquin Valley
Chelsea Tu, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
Ericka: We would like to now introduce Chelsea Tu. She’s the Senior Attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. Chelsea collaborates with residents and community groups to bring land use decisions and infrastructure investments that benefit low-income communities of color in the Southern San Joaquin Valley. She also coordinates the policy team at CRPE. Chelsea received her law degree from the American University Washington College of Law with a focus on environmental law and completed her undergraduate work in environmental sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. With that said, we’re so happy to have you, Chelsea. Thank you for partaking in this webinar with us, and we can’t wait to hear about what you have to say today about green zones.
Chelsea Tu: Great. Thank you so much, Ericka. Thank you. And can everyone see my slides okay?
Ericka: Yes, we can.
Chelsea: Okay. Great. Thank you for bearing with me on these technical issues. Okay. Great. Hi, everyone. I’m Chelsea Tu. I’m the Senior Attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty & Environment, and today I’m so excited to share some of CRPE’s work. It seeks to invert the traditional top-down approach in land use planning by advancing community power to advocate for the healthy lives they want and deserve. I’m trying to share my screen again because, for some reason, I’m getting kicked out. So hopefully that works. Great. I’ll continue.
Okay. As I said, I work for the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. We are an organizing and legal advocacy organization that is working at the state level, as well as deeply in Kern County and the broader Southern San Joaquin Valley region of California. This region contains some of the most polluted and poorest areas in the state. For those of you who may not be as familiar, if you drive up and down the 5 near Bakersfield, that is the area that I’m talking about. Even though you’re right next to the Sierra Nevada mountains, you’re barely able to see the mountains because of the massive pollution that’s in the air in the Southern San Joaquin Valley.
In 2017, just to put more context around the environment in which we’re working, Kern County, where Bakersfield is located in, ranked as both the top oil and ag producing county in the state of California. A lot of the residents we work with are farm workers and live next to oil wells. Many of the residents in this area suffer significant health impacts from both industries. So I’d like to first start with big picture about CRPE’s Forgotten Voices program for our land use and infrastructure work is housed and then share a couple of stories.
So under the broad vision of building strong and healthy communities with communities, we use three primary strategies to advance our land use and green zones work, similar to the strategies that Tiffany shared at the beginning. Number one is advancing environmental justice communities’ priorities through local, regional, and state land use planning processes. Number two is connecting community-identified infrastructure projects to funding opportunities at the state and national levels. Number three is building community leadership, self-governance, and resilience.
In essence, I think of our work in Forgotten Voices as getting the bad stuff out, putting the good stuff in, and building community power. So how has CRPE specifically helped build community power? In the last three decades, we’ve helped form two regional networks and over 17 community groups, three of which are incorporated. I think this work is quite unique, and it’s very key to our model from the ground up. We don’t want to just represent communities. Our organizers actually spend a lot of time collaborating with residents in different communities throughout different counties in the Southern San Joaquin Valley to build their own infrastructure in order to represent themselves.
And what this work looks like is ranging from strategizing solutions to environmental health issues facing specific communities with community members to creating bylaws for local communities as well as grant writing. The bottom line is we believe that strengthening communities also helps strengthen the advocacy infrastructure and power to environmental justice communities in the Southern San Joaquin. So that all sounds good, but how do these strategies work on the ground? And now I want to tell you the story of the community of Arvin, a small 20,000-people town just 20 miles outside of Bakersfield in rural Kern County.
Folks may know about our recent win in Arvin of where we worked with the community for a better Arvin to convince the city council to pass a health protective oil and gas ordinance that increased setbacks between oil and homes and required companies to have community emergency response plans, among many other requirements. The last update previous to this recent one, July 2018, was in 1965, so it was about time that the ordinance was updated and the restrictions heightened to be protective of the community. However, I want to highlight that this victory, is the culmination and building power and working with residents in Arvin to clean up their community for the past 12 years.
So back in 2007, CRPE supported residents’ efforts to form and incorporate the Committee for a Better Arvin. One of the first projects that we worked on was cleaning up a nearby recycling facility, and I’ll save that story for the end of my presentation. Now, in 2009, CBA participated in CRPE’s Power to the People campaign where CBA designed a community-led vision for green jobs and climate justice. This is the process that helped shape the first oil and gas ordinance. Moving up the timeline, in March 2014, a terrible gas pipe leak evacuated eight families from their homes for almost nine months in Arvin. And after the Nelson Court incident, we tried to pass the oil and gas ordinance update for the first time, but unfortunately the ordinance was defeated by a 3-2 vote.
However, the community wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so they decided to up their political game. In 2016, with the help of CRPE’s C4 organization, Arvin elected several candidates that ran on a climate justice platform. This was incredible for Kern County, the heart of oil in California. So finally after two more years of advocacy, the city then passed an updated ordinance in July of 2018. However, unfortunately, the city then turned around and approved four new wells right in the heart of town, next to hundreds of existing homes. And so we are now currently representing the Committee for a Better Arvin in challenging this approval.
Of course, as you might guess, the story of Arvin continues, and it’s not complete without mentioning the hundreds of people who’ve worked to improve Arvin, not only in the oil and gas ordinance update, but so many of the projects that we’ve been collaborating on together. So I want to show you a picture of the group of us, including CBA members, staff, and volunteers. On a blistering day in early July, after we knocked on hundreds of doors in Arvin to urge the community to come support the new oil and gas ordinance, and they showed up. Over 100 people came to both of the key hearings that led to the passage of this groundbreaking ordinance.
On the bottom right, you’ll see the proposed well site that’s next to an apartment complex and other existing homes right here in Arvin. So moving on to the next story, Arvin isn’t just taking on the oil industry. Since 2007, as I mentioned before, CBA has been working with us and with nearby Lamont to stand up against community recycling, which was also polluting local air and water. And it wasn’t until the death of two teenagers breathing toxic waste fumes in the facility that community recycling finally sold the facility to Recology in 2015.
In 2017, CRPE worked with CBA and the Comite Progreso de Lamont to successfully negotiate a good neighbor agreement with Recology. Now I just want to touch on three key elements that this voluntary agreement has. First, the good neighbor agreement included accountability mechanisms. For example, requiring Recology to report on how it’s reducing pollution to a stakeholder committee made of local residents and also required the company to establish a complaint hotline. Second, the good neighbor agreement included litter and odor reduction measures. And as a result of community advocacy over all the years, Recology also installed pollution control technology that would reduce emissions by 80% over time.
Finally, I want to highlight that the good neighbor agreement also committed Recology to funding significant community investments through ongoing [inaudible 00:37:37] production per ton of the waste that Recology accepted. Last year, for example, the residents decided to use some of this money to install street lights next to a previously unlit and dangerous park. Like many low-income communities and communities of color that we’ve been describing, Arvin faces multiple sources of pollution that require solutions not just at the local level, but also at the regional and state levels. At the county level, Committee for a Better Arvin is supporting their unincorporated neighbors on advancing a better Kern County General Plan and budget advocacy that prioritize environmental justice communities’ priorities.
And the community is in turn supported to access county funding for parks and infrastructure improvements. In 2018, because of our collective advocacy, Kern County allocated over $2.6 million for parks. In 2019, we’re continuing to work with CBA and other groups and allies to bring comprehensive planning and budgeting reform in Kern County. We hope that this project and talking about using strategic collaboration as well as legal enforcement, all in partnership with community groups, will help bring a toxic-free future for Southern San Joaquin communities. And so, with that, I’d like to stop my presentation here. Thank you very much.
Ericka: Thank you, Chelsea. I hope that everybody learned a ton about the work that Chelsea is doing within CRPE or learned about Arvin. I didn’t know those issues were taking place, so thank you for sharing.
Ashley Werner, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
Ericka: And I would like to now introduce our final panelist. This is Ashley Werner. She’s a Senior Attorney at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, where she is based in Fresno. At Leadership Counsel, Ashley partners with communities in the San Joaquin and East Coachella Valley to develop and lead legal and policy strategies that eradicate barriers to opportunity. She received her JD from Boston College Law School with a certificate in human rights and international justice and her BA from Swarthmore College. So thank you, Ashley, for being here with us today and being part of our webinar. So, please, feel free to take it away.
Ashley Werner: Hi. Thank you so much, and thank you so much to everybody taking the time out of your day to learn about green zones and our collective work to advance environmental justice throughout California. So today, I’m want to share some information about Leadership Counsel’s work that’s highlighted in the Green Zones Report to advance community-driven planning in the city of Fresno, in particular, to advance resident’s goals there for healthy neighborhoods, access to opportunity and resources, and fundamentally a say in decision making processes that impact people’s lives. I’m going to focus our efforts to impact the development of the 20-35 General Plan, the zoning ordinance update, and the subsequent Southwest Specific Plan, as well as some related specific and community plans, and try to highlight a little bit about some of the challenges and opportunities that arose out of those efforts.
So each of these topics could have its own independent webinar, so I will do my best to be brief and on time. A little bit of information about Leadership Counsel. We were founded in 2013. We 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. These regions are predominantly agricultural economies and have hundreds of disadvantaged communities, both in urban and rural settings, that lack an access to basic infrastructure and services and amenities I think we all have come to expect living in modern-day United States.
And so we work both in rural communities as well as urban communities and urban fringe, unincorporated communities. All of our work we strive to ensure is rooted in partnerships, longterm partnerships, with community residents from impacted communities themselves, and we’re striving to ensure that all of our advocacy is shaped by their priorities and that, really, it’s the residents who are taking the leaderships and advancing strategies, and we’re doing what we can to facilitate their priorities and their strategies. Some of the big issues that we work on, the bucket areas, are access to basic infrastructure and services, so addressing critical deficits in access to safe and affordable drinking water, which amazingly impacts more than a million people in the state of California still, deficits in access to functioning community wastewater systems, street lights, sidewalks, stormwater drainage, basics of active and public transportation resources so people can get to where they need to go, especially in communities that are separated from other critical resources, safe and affordable housing and fair housing choice, a healthy environment, and energy access as well as just ensuring a basic fair share of investments.
And to advance these different goals, we use all of the different tools that we have in our toolbox. So we root all of our work in longterm organizing. We do local, regional, and statewide policy advocacy, and we use legal advocacy and impact litigation as necessary, and also work in coalitions like CEJA because we understand that if we’re really going to advance these levels, both locally and across the state, we need to have partners and we need to work across silos and ensure that we’re really advancing these issues collectively.
So to talk about the General Plan and zoning ordinance update in the city of Fresno, just as with all of our work, we approach these processes from the base of community engagement. As we these processes began and as we began to engage in these processes, we held regular meetings with community leaders, at least on a monthly basis, from all of the impacted neighborhoods that we worked in in the city of Fresno and also on the fringe of the community. So this includes unincorporated neighborhoods that were not in the city of Fresno itself but were impacted by the policies in the General Plan. And so that includes the Jane Adams neighborhood. If you look at the map that’s on the webinar right here, that neighborhood is kind of at the top left corner just north of a significant area of industrial development, which is represented by gray on the map.
We worked a lot in West Fresno, which is to the southwest as well as southeast and in the downtown areas. And so all of these areas except for the downtown have communities both within city limits as well as on the fringes and just outside of the city itself. So you have a mix of communities that have access to the full range of city services, as well as neighborhoods which partially lack access to safe and affordable drinking water and wastewater services, neighborhoods that may have been annexed but still lack basics of sidewalks and street lights. And all of these neighborhoods are heavily impacted by industrial land uses and zoning. So as I mentioned, on the map in front of you, gray represents industrial zoning, and so, as you can see, that encircles the community of West Fresno and actually have industrial zoning in the heart of the community, heavy industrial zoning, and partially encircles neighborhoods in Southeast Fresno, and actually has industrial zoning over where people live in residential areas.
So you can’t see in detail on the map where there’s actual residences, but there’s actually planning for industrial land uses over where there are existing communities. So during this process, we engaged people to continue what we had already been doing before the General Plan update of identifying what people’s key priorities were for their neighborhoods and linking that to the General Plan process, linking it to processes for community engagement and input and connecting with decision makers, including city staff and elected officials. So as this process went forward, some of the key issues that came up that people really wanted to see changed was, one, the issue of industrial development, so nowhere else in the city were neighborhoods zoned for industrial use and surrounded by industrial uses.
And like many of the other people on this presentation today or all of the other organizations represented here today, many of these communities rank among the most impacted by multiple sources of pollution in the state of California. So the city of Fresno actually has about 15 of the top 20 most impacted communities by various sources of pollution and also vulnerability to pollution. So for residents, addressing this conflict of where industry was zoned next to residences arose as a really top priority, people wanting to see both prohibitions on new industrial zoning in their neighborhoods, as well as mitigation measures to address existing conflicts.
Other issues that rose to the top were addressing this issue of lack of basic infrastructure to support walking and biking in communities. This is especially an issue for neighborhoods in urban fringe areas, which either had not yet been annexed to the neighborhood—it might be annexed in coming years—or had developed when they were in the county and had subsequently been annexed but still lacked sidewalks. And so, as you can see, there’s a photo here of two kids and one of our former staff members at Leadership Counsel, and they’re in the Jane Adams neighborhood. And they did a community tour to really get into detail about the specifics that they wanted to see addressed through the General Plan update. And you can’t see it in the photo, but right next to them across the street from them there is a rock crushing facility which creates dust throughout the air.
If you can see in the photo, it looks a little bit hazy, and that is because the air quality is very, very poor in the neighborhood partially because of the location of the rock crushing facility, which is also across the street from the Jane Adams Elementary School, as well as its proximity to Highway 99 and a number of other industrial centers, including a chemical manufacturing plant and a towing company. And so, right here, there happens to be a partial sidewalk in front of the house, but a lot of that neighborhood actually has no sidewalks even though it’s been annexed to the city for several decades at this point. And so you have kids walking to and from school without sidewalks next to pretty heavy trucking, car traffic, and then also impacted by fog in the winter and a lack of street lights. So the combination of conflicting land uses and lack of adequate resources in the neighborhood became a really high priority of how to address both of those.
Another key issue that arose was addressing the lack of green space in neighborhoods in South Fresno. And so as the General Plan update went forward, we looked at data that showed that the city of Fresno ranks among the worst metropolitan areas in the entire country for access to park space. But for people in South Fresno and a whole range of neighborhoods, they frequently have less than half the amount of park space as residents in northern areas of the city. And so, for instance, in the Jane Adams neighborhood, there’s a high concentration of mobile home parks compared to the city as a whole, and so people are living in very small units. But in those mobile home parks and in the areas surrounding it, there’s no green space for people to play, and then the roads are not safe for kids to be walking on or riding bikes on.
In some neighborhoods like West Fresno, another issue was that, to the extent there was park space, those parks were on sites that families didn’t even feel comfortable having their kids play on. The two regional parks in the area were former landfills that were capped over with grass and had no facilities on them or very limited facilities. So they didn’t really provide a great space for kids to recreate and play and have fun, and so that became a very big issue. So to advance resident’s goals during this process, we continued to have ongoing meetings on a regular basis, ad hoc meetings as necessary, and used all of those different tools I talked about in the beginning. So it is a ton of work to effectively engage in these processes, both for residents as well as for organizations and for jurisdictions if they really want to do it right. So it involved constant outreach and ongoing communication with residents as developments came up in these neighborhoods across the city, coalition building to make sure that we were communicating with different partners who themselves had priorities in making sure we we were working together.
We worked very closely with the Fresno Building Healthy Communities initiative, the League of Women Voters, Boys and Men of Color, and a number of other communities. And that was really, really important because it helped us elevate collective issues and really identify what were the key priorities and maximize our impact. And then other components of the work involved policy research. We actually really drew a lot from National City’s work and the work of Environmental Health Coalition and how they dealt with the impact of industrial uses in their neighborhood and were able to provide concrete examples to the city of Fresno that these issues have been looked at in the past and solutions do exist. So that was extremely helpful, and then also using our legal tools and resources, so helping to educate the city about the legal requirements under the General Plan, the different issues that need to be addressed, and also engaging in the Environmental Impact Report process to ensure that, to the extent the policies did exist, that could have negative environmental impacts on communities, including industrial land uses next door to sensitive land uses, that there were policies in place and mitigation measures in place to protect people.
So through that process, we achieved several important advancements, but it left a lot, still, to be desired. So a couple of the big steps coming out of the General Plan were policies to prioritize and target resources for park development and park facility development and the resources in the neighborhoods that were the most under-resourced, policies to target capital improvement funds to address safe routes to school needs in disadvantaged communities and in areas that had the greatest need for access to sidewalks, street lights, stormwater drainage. For industrial development, the city was very intent on retaining much of the industrial zoning in place that was next door to homes and schools and other sensitive uses.
They did reduce the intensity of the zoning in certain neighborhoods next door to sensitive uses, but not in all. As part of the compromise, they adopted a policy to conduct a comprehensive industrial compatibility assessment. And, again, this was inspired by our partners in National City and Environmental Health Coalition and had a goal, for the first time, ensuring that the city comprehensively assess this issue of incompatibility of where industrial and other toxic or polluting land uses were located next to neighborhoods and what solutions might exist to minimize and eliminate those impacts.
And, finally, we achieved a commitment largely through the efforts of a really amazing youth coalition with Boys and Men of Color for the city to do a Parks Master Plan update and do a deep dive into exactly where parks should be prioritized, what types of parks and what types of facilities they needed. So the General Plan update served as a really great foundation to engage the community, educate ourselves and educate one another and educate city decision makers about the priorities as well as the legal requirements and policy possibilities to advance those priorities. But it also left us with a lot of policies that had to be implemented and a number of different planning efforts that then we would have to see through to the next phase.
I’ll just talk in brief about the zoning ordinance update, but I will flag it as a really important issue because I think that 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 impacts on neighbors, for example. And zoning ordinance also established performance standards for what levels of impacts are acceptable on nearby communities, residences, and properties.
For instance, what levels of sound where trucks can travel, what level of light and glare and dust can impact, and what uses must do to control those impacts. So zoning ordinance often sounds arcane and maybe very boring, but I actually think they’re one of the most exciting parts of land use law and an opportunity to really make an impact to protect communities from uses that might have harmful impacts on residences. So we made sure that, like the General Plan update, we were part of that process. We were engaged. And through being engaged in it, we were able to ensure that some uses that were really flagged as priorities by residents did continue to have conditional use permit requirements and that there was very basic requirements to notify the community of those uses.
And I would say that that was a big challenge because the city of Fresno, like many cities and counties across California, is really prioritizing streamlining development, that that jurisdiction has a priority to move forward. So in this case, one of those types of developments that was a priority for streamlining for the city of Fresno is industrial development. So the direction for staff and the theme was to reduce permit requirements on industry and reduce any sort of regulatory process or minimize those burdens of regulatory process. While, for environmental justice advocates, we really want to ensure that there is an appropriate process in place so that residents are aware of uses coming to their neighborhoods and have the opportunity to engage in land use decisions.
So all of this work on the zoning ordinance and the General Plan set the stage to do more deep community engagement and refine policies through the Southwest Specific Plan and the community plans. The Southwest Specific Plan was about a two-year process. We were very fortunate that the council member for the district decided to prioritize community engagement in the process and dedicate pretty significant resources to ensuring that the city was able to engage residents and hold a variety of community meetings and different settings in the community after work hours with translation so that people would have the opportunity to provide input and weigh in on successive drafts.
And this is really critical in the community of West Fresno. Like many other areas of the city of Fresno, which is a very diverse community, it is about 98.5% people of color. It has a historical African American population, a Latino population, and Southeast Asian immigrant population, among others, and a whole host of different languages spoken and very different levels of comfort with engaging in city bureaucratic processes and different forms of engagement that were appropriate for those populations. So having resources dedicated to that was really essential. Some of the issues that arose in that process were the very same issues that arose in the General Plan process, but we had the opportunity to dig in more detail.
Through that process, because of the robust community engagement process, I think that allowed us to achieve really great victories that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. That was also in conjunction with a steering committee that was composed of 21 different residents and community stakeholders that had many, many meetings and long meetings to debate and discuss issues. And they had decided on a voting standard of two-thirds vote to approve any policy, so having that 21-person steering committee that really had to achieve a high standard for adopting policies went a long way towards getting council buy-in for the plan and paving the way for it to actually be accepted by a city council who may otherwise have been pretty resistant to some of the policy changes that were adopted in that plan.
And so just to summarize the big items that came out of that plan, the biggest item was that there was a policy for no new industrial development in the community through a change in zoning. That was really huge. Policies for new educational centers, bus rapid transit, housing to meet the various needs of different populations within the community, among others. I will just note, without getting into detail, at the same time, there was a whole series of other planning processes happening, the housing element, the active transportation plan, and it was critical that we engage in those processes at the same time to make sure that, collectively, the plans were helping move forward the goals of the community and not at odds with one another or leading us to regress.
Another point to bring up is that displacement avoidance was key. People were very concerned that having a new plan would trigger gentrification and displacement, and so we had to really ensure that at every step we were pushing for a greater awareness that this is a risk given the high rates of rent burden in the area. We did succeed in getting some policies to look at displacement but are going to have to continue to work on that since there were not actual policies to take preventative steps at that time. And then, finally, I think one of the biggest things the plan did was it made the community ready to receive funding because often having a specific plan is a basic eligibility requirement to receive different state grants, and so it happened to align with the Transformative Climate Communities’ process where Fresno was selected to receive $70 million of funding to target disadvantaged communities to transform them, reducing house gas emissions, and target the resources that they need.
So having that plan allowed West Fresno to be an eligible neighborhood to receive that funding. Through a very long community process, they were actually able to secure about half of those funds. So that last slide deserved a lot more time. It’s very important, a lot of the work that went on in those different processes, and I encourage you all to dig into it. There’s a lot of information out there about those different processes I just mentioned. But, finally, in brief, I’ll just mention a couple of the key challenges and opportunities that came up in these different processes. One is follow through with implementation. So I think a lot of times we do huge campaigns to work to pass really important policies the community prioritizes, and then as soon as we finish that, the next campaign is implementation because without implementation it’s just a policy and a piece of paper and doesn’t actually lead to real change or mean anything for people on the ground.
And so for each of the policy wins that were achieved, more work and more campaigns are necessary and ongoing community engagement to ensure that implementation happens and happens in the way that it was really intended by residents. Second, there was a constant tension that became apparent between these statewide goals that are being advanced around equity and climate change more and more. Our state is acknowledging and identifying a priority to ensure equity, to ensure that we’re prioritizing infill development, good air quality, reducing our environmental impacts, but, at the same time, we still really hold strong to a local control mantra. And so the state has been very hesitant to adopt any restrictions on where we can actually put these land uses that are having really negative consequences for disadvantaged communities. So that was a tension which is very challenging, and I think environmental justice advocates have a lot of work to continue to do around that.
And, finally, just a note that all of this is slightly different and maybe more challenging for disadvantaged unincorporated communities, urban fringe communities, and in rural and under-resourced jurisdictions. For unincorporated communities, like Jane Adams, that are just outside city limits, they’re often not informed of planning processes or invited to the table or even that they’re being impacted. So it really requires special attention to ensure that they are engaged to the extent that they really should be. And with respect to rural communities and under-resourced jurisdictions, many of the state funding opportunities that exist to help realize green zones and target investments in disadvantaged communities are often using standards that make it really hard for these rural areas to be competitive. So that’s something that, collectively, we should be looking at and working to change. So I’ve probably exceeded my time limit, and thank you all for your attention and patience, and I will conclude now.
Ericka: Thank you, Ashley, for that information. I really appreciate your slides and all the information that you shared with us. I hope by now everyone who is listening to us throughout this webinar has been able to gather a richer understanding of what green zones is and the Green Zones Initiative.
Questions and Answers
With that said, I would love to now open it up for questions. We have approximately 20 minutes for Q&A, and I think this is a very important opportunity for everyone now who listened to get to hear, perhaps, more specific details to how you think maybe we can move forward with the green zones or some ideas to how to prevent some challenges or go about challenges. So I’ll pick a question, and then we’ll go into some of the questions that are being shared here in the GoToWebinar platform. So let’s explain to everyone what to do. You need to submit your comments through the GoToWebinar chatbox feature, and if you called in to listen to this webinar, you can email your questions to Tiffany at email@example.com. The speakers will respond after the webinar to those questions. So Tiffany’s email, you are able to see it right here on the screen now. So our first question to the panelists is, in terms of solutions and how to go about addressing them, we’ve seen how different communities have been able to change zoning and land use to protect EJ communities, environmental justice communities. But, with that said, what has been working about these policies and strategies, and what are some of the challenges that need to be addressed? Caro, would you like to chime in and share a little bit about what you think strategies are in terms of what’s worked and what are some challenges experienced?
Ericka: So what’s worked and what are the challenges?
Carolina: Okay. I think what’s worked is that we find that the best solutions come from the communities, from the residents, from the ones that are being most impacted by land use incompatibility, by the lack of affordable housing. They are the ones that are feeling the urgency to change things, and so I think it’s really important to recognize that for a planner who doesn’t live in the community, who doesn’t have a kid who has asthma, this is not an urgency. And so for the planner, it’s going to be really hard to think of, all right, if you have the grandfather in in the nonconforming laws, then you’re not going to find a new way of resolving those issues.
But, for the mother, it is urgent that the issues be resolved. For the mother, it’s like, well, why can’t we phase out industrial uses that are causing more harm than they’re actually doing good? So I think that what’s most effective engaging frontline communities in the solution process because they’re the ones that are going to come up with the real solutions, innovative solutions and effective solutions. And so I think that’s what’s worked, and it has also worked because once decision makers see that you have community members at the front fighting for their quality of life, it’s pretty straightforward. So that has worked, and it also creates this ability for decision makers that are not representing the community, and so it’s also an investment because it also changes a whole [inaudible 01:10:42] perception of the political process.
So it changes to the next generation, and so when we talk about building for the next generations, that’s what it’s about. What are the challenges? I think right now what we’re seeing is that climate investments are not necessarily all reaching environmental justice communities, so I think we need to focus and kind of organize our thinking and ensuring that EJ communities are receiving all those kind of investments. And, also, political will. Often, the decision makers are the ones that are advancing policy that has historically based on values of racism, so we have to discontinue that. And so we have to change the political will. Even though it will take time, it’s definitely something that needs to change.
Ericka: Thank you for that answer, Carolina. Chelsea, are you on? We have a question for you, Chelsea.
Chelsea Tu: Yes.
Ericka: Did your coalition, CRPE, engage with the local public health department regarding the oil and gas ordinances in Arvin, particularly around community emergency response plans?
Chelsea: I believe we’ve talked to various parts of the city council. I don’t know if we specifically engaged with the public health department in Arvin for that. But, really, in building this coalition, my colleague, Juan Flores, has the most information. He’s the one who led the whole arc of the campaign on the updated oil and gas ordinance. But I will say that, just from observing his work and participating a little bit in supporting the community outreach aspects, that we really used every tool in the toolbox, like what Ashley was mentioning, and forming as many collaborative relationships as possible and getting buy-in from local agency.
We also worked pretty closely with the Attorney General’s office of California who actually submitted a letter in support of the ordinance and documenting and confirming that Arvin is one of the most polluted and underserved communities that are facing massive pollution from oil. And I think that a broad approach to building coalition, from local to state and also laterally really helped us win that ultimate victory.
Ericka: Thank you, Chelsea. So we have another question. This is for all panelists, so whoever would like to chime in and answer this one. How do these EJ communities engagement processes intersect with just transitions of rural economies away from polluting big agribusiness and agrochemical industries and toward more small scale decentralized ecologically sound and sustainable farming systems? Anybody want to answer that?
Chelsea: Yeah. Ericka, could you summarize? Am I getting this right that the question was about how are we seeing communities coming together to promote just transition in an agricultural context?
Ericka: Yes, the intersection of the EJ community, the work that we’re doing, in terms of how do we achieve a just transition away from interacting, perhaps, with agribusiness and agrochemical industries?
Chelsea: Yeah. I can take a starting answer to that. CRPE has been working in the South San Joaquin Valley for the last 30 years, and we have a program that addresses pesticides and other pollution impacts coming from large intensive agricultural businesses. My other colleagues can speak further on this, but what we’re seeing building a broad coalition is important. Specific to our pesticides campaigns, we work a lot with parents and students, actually, in addition to residents who are farmworkers themselves, who understand and who live or work or go to school right next to the farms. And one of the biggest strategies is not only working with the local ag commissioner to promote advance warning systems and comprehensive education on pesticides being sprayed and impacts in both Spanish and other languages than English, but really moving from that kind of groundwork to discussing collectively and taking measures on how to make sure that agriculture can continue to exist alongside communities but in a health protective way.
Ericka: Thank you for that answer. There’s a question on gentrification that I think was discussed throughout the webinar and perhaps we could take a deeper dive on this. The question is: In San Francisco in the early 2000s, about 13% of residents were African American, and now it’s 7%. The question is what are some realistic policies or tools that could be used in planning to prevent some of this gentrification that’s taking place?
Ashley Werner: I can provide some perspective on that. So I think, first, having robust community engagement requirements and robust community engagement as the first prerequisite to ensuring that we put policies in place to protect communities from gentrification and displacement and identifying the appropriate policies…because this is something that always comes up in community meetings with us, and it’s a concern that is constantly being raised by residents because low-income residents throughout the state, no matter where you are, whether you’re in an urban or rural context in inland California or in San Francisco, are all facing unaffordable rent burdens, and so they’re all vulnerable to these pressures. And they’re feeling it on a daily basis.
So if we do have meaningful and strong community engagement requirements and assurances that jurisdictions really are responding to the input that’s provided by residents, then we should be arriving at the policies that residents want to see. I think one thing that we’ve been really pushing for is that programs like the transformative climate communities program have strong anti-displacement requirements in place that jurisdictions have to adhere to in order to receive the funds. And that has been a challenge to overcome, again, the desire to give jurisdictions the flexibility to choose the appropriate policies for them, but make sure that’s done in a way where the policies that come out of it are actually meaningful and responsive to what residents want to see. So we could talk about the specific policies that residents have raised, but I think, overall, it really comes down to ensuring meaningful community engagement because the answers are there in the community if we’re listening.
Ericka: Thank you, Ashley. Our next question is from Erica Jaramillo. Erica would like to know: How might an EJ community address or work with a group who plans to expand their mental health facility?
Now, the example that she’s using is what would happen, for instance, if this work is trying to take place in a community or neighborhood that’s already saturated with public services, such as a treatment program, housing, and shelters. So what recommendations do you have for someone who wants to work with a group? Caro? I don’t think we can hear you, Caro.
CM: Hi. I forgot to unmute myself. So it’s a really question. I can’t speak directly from experience because I haven’t worked in an area where you have a lot of facilities like the ones you described. But I think what I do want to say is that you start with the community. The community should be the ones that identify the solutions. What’s coming up for them? And definitely not relying on policing. I think that if you work from a community planning process that is based in community interest, then you’ll be likely to identify mechanisms that will work for most community members.
Ericka: I hope that answered the question. We have six more minutes left. This is a very critical question, I think, for a lot of us in our work sometimes I think, as community members or organizers, we face. The question is:
How can our planning department begin the process of community engagement when deep trust issues exist regarding land use policy? And I think the trust issues are coming from the residents, right, and the organizers and the organization. So how can the planning department begin to partake in the process of community engagement, given the trust issues that are present?
Ashley Werner: I guess I’ll start by taking a shot. I think that’s a really critical question, and I think it’s great that it was asked, and I’m hoping it’s someone in the planning department. I think the first step is just recognizing the validity of those trust issues and the reality that they do exist. I think often we see residents really expressing the trust issues from real, lived experiences that have, like, literally decimated their community quality over decades. Often, those concerns are kind of brushed aside or answered maybe, like, in a superficial way, pointing to very specific practices that the jurisdiction at that moment is willing to undertake without maybe recognizing the longer historical significance of the impacts that have been had on this community from not ensuring that they’re at the table for critical decisions and not respecting community wishes.
So I think the first is just being upfront and acknowledging the validity of those concerns, listening and having a real commitment to not being there to tell residents what it is that they need or what the city’s plans are, the county’s plans are at the time, but informing them about the laws, about the policy options, and taking feedback. I think it also requires a sustained commitment. Cities and counties really need to do internal planning about how they make sure that there’s not just a temporary effort to gain community trust, but knowing that it has to happen over time for a long time, and it has to be a comprehensive effort that’s going to understand the diversity and the different experiences within the community and the the different needs as it relates to being able to engage. And so that means having that understanding and sensitivity within planning departments but also across it to all the different departments that impact the work, as well as with elected decision makers and how that translates to community processes like public hearings and how those spaces aren’t safe places for residents and making sure that they are. Yes, I’ll leave it at that for now.
Ericka: Thank you, Ashley. We have three minutes left, but I do want to touch on this question. How is climate resilience tied into green zone’s common roots and core principles?
Carolina Martinez: I want to make sure we answer that question because this is what I’m thinking. We call it climate resiliency, but that’s what we’ve been doing. Interestingly enough, when you have the community engage in the planning process and what we’ve seen in National City is that the brand new, affordable homes are climate resilient. The fact that we were able to protect the creek is climate resilience. The fact that we’re building a new open space is climate resiliency. And so in the nature of community-driven solutions is climate resiliency, and not just because of the infrastructure that you’re building, but also because of the network you’re building.
And so you’re building community in a way that, if we have a heat wave, or if we have a fire, or some form of emergency, they’ll be able to respond to each other in that situation. And so I think that community comprehensive solutions to our green zones are climate resilient in nature.
Ericka: Thank you, Caro. We have two minutes left. I’m torn if we should ask one more question or wrap it up. Let’s go for one more question really quick. Let’s take less than a minute to answer this. Wayne wants to know to what extent does rising utility cost a concern for residents in our green zone communities?
Chelsea Tu: In the South San Joaquin Valley communities that we work with, Ashley mentioned, most of the residents are drinking polluted water coming from the ground. A lot of the water districts are also setup in a way that are very localized and under-resourced. So in Kern County there are tens of water districts just in the county, both in incorporated and unincorporated areas. Understandably, water districts, especially those facing pollution issues, need to raise funds in order to address the pollution that is in the water systems for the residents. And what we’ve seen work really as part of the solution is the water district turning to residents—again, I think there’s a running theme here—for help.
We’ve helped set up committees that are made from local residents who understand and they’re actually being billed and are drinking the water that the water district is serving. And so they’re able to find that good balance between raising the quality of the water but not raising water rates exorbitantly so that people can no longer afford them. I think working in coalition, too. There’s different [inaudible 01:27:47] to support improving water wells. We actually helped the community of Arvin recently get EPA funding in the millions of dollars to clean up their groundwater. That’s just an example on water utility.
Ericka: Thank you so much for that answer. With that said, we are at the end of our webinar, and I just wanted to thank everybody who took the time to chime in, to check in to listen. I hope that you all learned something new about our Green Zones Initiative and much more in terms of challenges, next steps, some obstacles. So I want to thank everybody, especially our panelists, for taking the time to give us such an in-depth understanding of the work that’s taking place. For any additional questions and comments, you can send those over to firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure that we’re going to do our best to answer all of your questions via email as well. And we will post the answers to those questions as well on our website, so make sure to check out our new website. The answers will be posted there as well. All the answers will be posted there. Again, we will share the presentation slides for everything that we covered here today. I want to thank all of you who participated today. I hope you learned something new about green zones and CEJA and who we are. Have a great rest of your day, everyone.
BONUS QUESTION (answered offline after webinar ended.)
Could the organizers highlight some strategies for engaging unincorporated disadvantaged communities in planning processes that affect them but where their voice is drowned out by other residents and land owners in the jurisdiction?
Chelsea Tu (with Gustavo Aguirre):Drawing from CRPE’s experience engaging rural communities in the Kern County General Plan update and other planning processes, we think an agency should identify and request that local advocacy groups that are trusted by residents connect agency decision-makers and key staff directly with residents. This way, residents can directly communicate with and share their experiences, priorities, and recommendations to key staff and decision-makers. In particular:
- Forums we think would be helpful include workshops convened and facilitated by a local advocacy group that brings agency folks and low-income/underserved residents together.
- If the agency wants to convene the workshops, they should at least partner with and hire the local advocacy groups to facilitate and/or get residents to participate, instead of spending a lot more money hiring non-local consultants.
- These workshops should be located WITHIN or very close to low-income/underserved communities, which require agency staff to travel to and get a taste of the issues facing these communities.
- Of course, the workshops should be done in the evenings, provide food, translation, and perhaps even childcare.
- Lastly, agency representatives should plan for and communicate to residents a clear desire and process for prioritizing addressing the needs of underserved communities, so that residents know that their recommendations are valued and also that they can hold the agency accountable.