A history of poor planning decisions, under-investment, and discrimination against low-income neighborhoods and communities of color has unjustly resulted in a higher concentration of toxic and polluting land uses in these neighborhoods—also known as “environmental justice (EJ) communities.”
While overcoming systemic issues often requires both stronger state- or regional-level protections as well as more opportunities for EJ community residents to participate in decision-making, local governments may tend to push back against such efforts, citing the need to preserve “local control.” Local control advances the belief that cities and counties have the right to make environmental and land use decisions without state government entities intervening in their affairs and regulating how they make decisions.
While local control justifies giving cities and counties more freedom and fewer restrictions when it comes to decision-making, this process often comes at a cost for EJ communities that are more likely to be exposed to toxins and pollution as a result.
In our newest report, “Rethinking Local Control: Placing Environmental Justice and Civil Rights at the Heart of Land Use Decision-Making,” we lift up a more effective framework for advancing not only California’s environmental and climate goals, but all policies that impact public health and neighborhood well-being: “Community-led decision-making” is a meaningful process by which governmental entities proactively work with EJ community residents to directly address their needs and priorities when making decisions.
Frontline EJ communities have an intimate understanding of the trade-offs of environmental, health, and economic prosperity. Yet these residents are largely excluded from making environmental and land use decisions that affect their welfare and future. By promoting the goals of equity and self-determination, community-led decision-making offers an improved approach to environmental and land use planning that prioritizes the voices of those who experience disproportionate pollution burdens in order to make more informed decisions that can serve all members of a community.
Our report highlights eight case studies to show how community-led decision-making can lead to more effective policies, programs, and planning decisions that can create healthy and thriving neighborhoods. Building upon the lessons from these stories, this report also offers recommendations for advancing community-led decision-making in order to achieve healthy and thriving communities—while also upholding the goals of a fair public process, procedural justice, and civil rights.
We hope that the recommendations and lessons from this report will be used to inform policies and programs that can advance the visions, priorities, and needs of different communities throughout California and beyond.