East Oakland is a vibrant community with a largely African American and Latinx population. It is also a highly industrialized area. The 880 freeway crosses through the heart of the neighborhood, where diesel trucks filled with goods drive to and from the Port of Oakland. As the fifth busiest container port in the nation, the Port of Oakland spews high amounts of toxic air contaminants on a daily basis. Other pollution-producing industrial facilities, such as the AB&I Foundry, sit right next to homes. As a result, East Oakland has one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in Alameda County, with children under 5 especially hard-hit.
In the Elmhurst neighborhood of East Oakland, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) is working with residents to change the long-standing patterns of poor land use. CBE works with community leaders to make the connections between land use, pollution, and health impacts that inform their Green Zones work. Using a wide range of strategies (such as community-based participatory air monitoring, alliance-building, and organizing), CBE is working with residents to develop initiatives that will implement community-led visions for an equitable, healthy, and resilient community.
Transforming Local Land Use
To revitalize East Oakland, CBE is working on changing local zoning to promote healthier land use solutions that ensure that public land is used for public good. For years, CBE has worked with residents to document the impacts of diesel trucks on local health and air quality using community-led data collection and research. Influenced by CBE’s work, the city of Oakland passed an ordinance in July 2015 that established new truck routes to limit the areas that diesel trucks pass through in residential East Oakland. CBE has also been working to prevent new toxic facilities from coming into the neighborhood, such as a proposed mega-crematorium.
CBE will also be advancing its Green Zones vision through its work to implement SB 1000 with the city of Oakland and the Planning Department. SB 1000 requires cities and counties that contain disadvantaged communities to include environmental justice in their General Plans. (More information on SB 1000) This effort is timely since the city’s General Plan is in need of an update and Oakland’s Energy and Climate Action Plan sunsets in 2020.
Forging Strong Partnerships
CBE also works in diverse coalition spaces such as the East Oakland Building Healthy Communities (EOBHC) initiative, East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, Oakland United Coalition, and Oakland Citywide Anti-Displacement Network. EOBHC stakeholders, CBE, the Alameda County Public Health Department, the Oakland Planning Department, and other members from a technical advisory group developed the Healthy Development Guidelines (HDG), informed and adopted by community residents. CBE, in partnership with members of the implementation committee, is actively meeting with city staff and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan to champion and introduce the HDG resolution at City Council for adoption. The guidelines provide a planning framework and tools to guide new development in Oakland that can advance health equity and community engagement in the city’s planning and development review process.
As a key member of the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, CBE is working to develop a strong grassroots-based organizing platform throughout East Oakland to build political power around community interests. CBE’s Green Zones work is also addressing the scarcity of community benefits from public lands. There are hundreds of acres of public land that are in the queue for development that could benefit Oakland residents. CBE is currently engaged in drafting a Public Land Use Policy in collaboration with members of the Oakland Citywide Anti-Displacement Network to push the city of Oakland to establish an equitable process for property development that could benefit longtime residents. In addition, the Coliseum Area Specific Plan, a massive development project that is situated on acres of public land in East Oakland, has emerged as a major focus of land use struggles in the area. CBE and the Oakland United Coalition are working to ensure that the development project includes community benefits to East Oakland residents. CBE is also facilitating partnerships among residents and regional and state regulatory agencies with the goal of addressing the impacts of local emissions on residents.
CBE’s work, combined with possibilities at the Oakland city level, are great opportunities to lift up residents’ voices in planning decisions in order to create a healthy, thriving, and resilient East Oakland for longtime residents.
Communities for a Better Environment works in working-class Latino and African American communities of Oakland, Richmond, Wilmington, and cities of Southeast Los Angeles County. CBE combines community grassroots organizing, science-based advocacy, and legal intervention into a uniquely effective strategy to successfully impact change and improve the quality of lives for the residents. www.cbecal.org