Low-income communities and communities of color in the Southern San Joaquin Valley (Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties) are exposed to severe environmental hazards, including toxic pesticides and some of the worst air quality in the nation. More than 90 percent of California’s fracking operations takes place in Kern County alone. The city of Bakersfield in Kern County ranks as one of the worst in the nation when it comes to particulate matter and ozone pollution. Many of these communities also lack access to basic infrastructure such as roads, clean drinking water, and sewer systems. Despite serving as the agricultural center of the United States, the San Joaquin Valley also faces deep poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment. Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties have significantly greater percentages of people in poverty and people of color compared to the rest of the state.
The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment’s (CRPE’s) Forgotten Voices Campaign builds the power of underrepresented communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley to reverse decades of pollution and lack of investment in these communities. CRPE collaborates directly with residents to achieve community-led solutions that create healthy places to live, work, play, and learn.
The Forgotten Voices Campaign, which uses the core principles of the overall Green Zones Initiative, has three areas of work: 1) Advancing underserved community priorities through local and regional land use planning processes; 2) Connecting community-identified basic infrastructure projects to local, state, and federal funding opportunities to build healthy communities; and 3) Building community leadership, self-governance, and resilience.
Advancing Community Priorities through Land Use Planning
In order to achieve the long-term vision and needs of underserved communities, CRPE works directly with residents to improve local land use planning. For instance, CRPE is currently collaborating with community-based organizations and other partners to advocate for their vision to be at the core of a comprehensive update to the Kern County General Plan, which will form the basis of the county’s land use decision-making for the next two decades. This vision includes better air and water quality, and siting toxic oil wells and refineries, as well as industrial agricultural operations, away from homes and schools. It also couples pollution-reduction solutions with increased investments, both of which are key to transitioning the valley to a healthier, more prosperous place to live. For more information on community vision and priorities, see CRPE’s Our Valley, Our Voices, a policy platform created by underserved community residents that includes a set of concrete, achievable policy priorities that will bring clean air, water, land, and quality local jobs.
Funding Community-Identified Infrastructure Projects
The San Joaquin Valley as a region has been historically underinvested for a host of reasons. As a result, underserved community residents continue to live in highly polluted environments without the basic infrastructure or services that are necessary to improve their health and quality of life.
CRPE works with communities, local governments, and state agencies to break through these barriers and increase the competitiveness of community-led projects in the valley. For instance, through a collaboration with the Greenfield Walking Group, Leadership Counsel, and residents from Southern Kern County, CRPE successfully convinced Kern County to make an additional $2 million investment in community parks within its 2017 budget. CRPE has also been successful in using innovative funding mechanisms that focus on getting polluters to pay for community-led solutions.
CRPE also negotiated a Good Neighbor Agreement with Recology, a composting facility in Lamont that contributes a significant amount of localized pollution. Based on the amount of composting accepted at its facility, Recology is now depositing money into a fund that is being administered by a community-led funding board. It has already invested in youth track and field programs, as well as lights in a local playground. These projects provide youth and families with more recreation opportunities while also making their community safer. Coupling community-led pollution-reduction solutions with increased investments is key to transitioning the valley to a healthier, more prosperous place to live.
Building Community Leadership, Self-governance, and Resilience
CRPE also actively builds underserved residents’ capacity to lead and sustain community-based organizations and community-owned assets. For instance, CRPE works with residents to form and sustain their own community-led organizations in Tulare and Kern counties, including the Committee for a Better Arvin and Comite Progreso de Lamont. In order to shift the Central Valley’s overall structure to create built environments that are good for people and the planet, CRPE is also building projects that support community resiliency. Since 2012, the organization has supported several community gardens in Shafter, Greenfield, and Arvin, with the goal of achieving community food independence.
About the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
From cultivating individual leadership to building community ownership, to finding creative, community-led solutions, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment amplifies the needs of low-income communities of color, and supports communities in claiming their right to a clean and healthy environment. www.crpe-ej.org