San Francisco Bay Chapter Sierra Club

LEJ volunteers doing water quality testing and wildlife census at Yosemite Slough. Courtesy of Literacy for Environmental Justice, Golden Gate Park. Photo Credit: Lori Spears.

LEJ volunteers doing water quality testing and wildlife census at Yosemite Slough. Courtesy of Literacy for Environmental Justice, Golden Gate Park. Photo Credit: Lori Spears.

Advancing environmental justice in the Bay Area

In the Bay Area, across the country, and throughout the world, low-income and minority communities tend to have worse environments.

They suffer more illness due to pollution, and they live in more dilapidated housing in noisier, smellier neighborhoods. They have inferior transportation options and less access to parks and other forms of nature.

The environmental-justice movement is dedicated to bringing attention to these inequities - and to changing them. Environmental justice pervades every area of environmental concern. The key to environmental justice is for all environmentalists to include these concerns in our regular work. For the Sierra Club an important part of our environmental-justice effort is to work with environmental-justice communities and use our clout as a national organization to support them in mobilizing and speaking for themselves.

Below is a small selection of our work towards environmental justice. You may find environmental-justice resonance in many other areas of the Bay Chapter's work. Also, see below for more about What is Environmental Justice?


The Bay Chapter works to create affordable housing throughout the Bay Area. This allows workers of all income-levels to find housing near where they work, rather than having to face long commutes, with their attendant emissions of greenhouse gases. Multi-unit housing sited compactly within urban areas requires fewer resources for construction than do suburban single-family houses.

In July 2012 our Northern Alameda County Group had a huge victory in a decades-long effort when the Alameda City Council voted to permit 2,400 multi-unit homes in parts of the city. Read about this success and our ongoing efforts in Alameda at

The Northern Alameda County Group is also working to make sure that revisions to the city's Demolition Ordinance help preserve affordable housing; see "Will Berkeley’s Demolition Ordinance preserve affordable housing?"

Our San Francisco Group has worked to make sure that condominium conversions don't reduce affordable housing in San Francisco; see "Amended SF condominium-conversion ordinance passes!".

An on-going effort is making sure that new housing is distributed equitably in all parts of the Bay Area and not just concentrated in areas of high minority population, leading to increased segregation of housing and transportation. See

Keeping fossil-fuel facilities out of our neighborhoods

There are nine potential proposals in the Bay Area to retrofit refineries and to expand transport and storage facilities for various forms of fossil fuels, especially the dirtier ones - and these are mostly in areas already suffering from bad air quality. As we work to cut Bay Area emissions of greenhouse gases, we also work to protect the air that people breathe. We call this campaign Bay Area Communities Overcoming Fossil Fuels--BAC OFF. Read the latest news at "A Sierra Club intern joins the fight for refinery regulations", "Dangerous and dirty coal exports threaten Bay Area", "Explosive crude oil may be coming to a train track or a refinery near you", and "Bay Area cities oppose dangerous fuels by rail", and "Bay Area refinery updates".

Clean air for west Oakland

Poor people typically breathe worse air - and suffer severe health effects (see Yodeler article, "The breathes and the breathe-nots - air quality and environmental justice".

In 2005 the Alameda County Public Health Department compiled state data showing that west Oakland children ages five and under visit the emergency room for asthma nearly three times more often than children in the county as a whole. An examination of death certificates dating back to the 1960s found that residents of west Oakland live 10 years less than people living in the Oakland hills. Poor air quality, due to emissions from ships and trucks passing through west Oakland and other “flatlands” communities, must be one important factor.

Since 2006 the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club has worked to move the Port of Oakland towards cleaner air. Much of our work has been in collaboration with the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, a mix of labor and environmental groups focusing on a cleaner environment and environmental justice. We have been urging the Port to enforce clean-air standards for shipping companies, in addition to better, more just working conditions for truck drivers, and to implement pollution-reducing technologies such as electrification of ships and trains as they idle or pass through Oakland neighborhoods.

» Learn more about our Port of Oakland campaign.

Access to nature

Access to nature is an environmental-justice concern, not only for equity, but also to broaden the base and leadership of the environmental movement. The Bay Chapter's Inner City Outings program, the first in the nation and a model for about 50 others in Sierra Club chapters across the nation, is an all-volunteer outreach program that provides wilderness experiences for at-risk individuals who might not otherwise have them. There is a growing trend in ICO nationwide to take the conservation efforts within our work to a new level, at the same time that conservation-minded folks bring renewed recognition of outings as a key way to inspire people to become environmentalists and activists.

» For more about ICO and how to get involved, see

Equitable transportation for everyone

Poor people and minorities, who may be exposed to the highest concentrations of vehicular pollution, and who can least afford to own cars, are also underserved by public transit. Some recent articles about how to solve these problems include:

» San Francisco low-income youth will soon get free passes to ride Muni; see
» Getting Alameda County students on board with bus passes; see
» Chinatown transit solution is long overdue; see


Richmond is another community where poverty and environmental problems have gone together. Here efforts for clean-up of toxics and expanded parks have gone hand-in-hand with stopping inappropriate development. In 2012 we focused on revisions to the Richmond General Plan to make sure that development of shoreline areas would continue to be limited, so that toxics can be cleaned up, and the rich wetlands and associated habitats can be restored. Currently we are monitoring development plans for south Richmond, and the proposed "second campus" being planned by the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the UC Richmond Field Station.

» Learn more at "Save coastal prairie at Richmond 'campus'", "Protecting prairie, cleaning up toxics in South Richmond", "Putting clean-up, transit first in South Richmond", and "Lab and UC need to remember Bay shoreline in lab planning".

Oakland Climate Action Coalition

From March to August 2012, the Sierra Club Bay Chapter had a special relationship with the Oakland Climate Action Coalition.

The OCAC played a key role in getting the Oakland City Council to set the aggressive target of lowering Oakland's production of greenhouse gases to 36% below 2005 levels by 2020. Other goals the Council included in the city’s Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP) are increasing the capacity of communities to adapt to the effects of climate change and building a robust sustainable economy with good green-job opportunities.

The Coalition now focuses on the implementation of the ECAP--to promote climate justice for low-income and working-class communities in Oakland and to build an equitable, thriving, local green economy. 

» Learn more at