Case Study – San Diego and National City: Carolina Martinez, Environmental Health Coalition

On December 4, 2018, CEJA hosted a webinar featuring three environmental justice experts to celebrate the release of our updated Green Zones Across California report, as well as our new website.

Below please find an excerpt from the December 2018 Green Zones Webinar.

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.