Advancing environmental justice in the Bay Area
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.
The Sierra Club, both locally in the Bay Chapter and nationally, has Environmental Justice Committees, and the federal government has a National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, but the key to environmental justice is for all committees and agencies to include these concerns in thier regular work. The Sierra Club tries to work with environmental-justice communities and to use our clout as a national organization to support them in mobilizing and speaking for themselves.
Environmental justice permeates issues in every area of environmental concern.
If we care about air quality, we must recognize that poor people typically breathe worse air - and suffer severe health effects from it. That is one reason that activists have been focusing special attention on reducing pollution at the Port of Oakland.
If we care about transportation, we find that poor people, 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. Activists have sued the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for its inequitable distribution of transit funds, and in San Francisco, bus-riders are paying more than motorists to make up for the city's budget shortfall - at the same time as transit service is cut.
Bayview-Hunters Point is one neighborhood in San Francisco that has suffered from a wide range of environmental insults. A pair of articles tells how proposed development in that area would make inequities worse for existing communities, even though the plans could easily be changed to bring great benefits.
Richmond is another community where poverty and environmental problems have gone together. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Planning Commissioner Jovanka Beckles tell of the problems but also of progress in addressing them.
Still another environmental-justice community is East Oakland. A program of the state Department of Toxic Substance Control is reaching out to such communities and is helping to address the most severe toxic concerns in east Oakland.
Two of our articles deal with very broad concerns. Mary Grisco, co-chair of the Sierra Club national Environmental Justice Committee, writes about potential federal legislation to strengthen the government's commitment to environmental justice. Richmond Councilmember Jeff Ritterman writes of research showing that all sorts of social problems are linked not just to poverty but independently to income inequality - and proposing that economic policies to reduce income inequality may concomitantly aid in solving a wide range of concerns.
Access to nature is another environmental-justice concern, not only for equity, but also to broaden the base and leadership of the environmental movement. The Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors works with government and youth agencies to increase opportunities for underserved and minority youth to explore and understand the natural world. The Marin Group's coming Annual Dinner program includes presentation of the Hannah Creighton Environmental Justice Award to the Next Generation, an organization that does environmental-education outreach.
With elections coming up for Executive Committees in the Bay Chapter and its Groups, we especially hope that members of diverse backgrounds will become candidates.
In addition to the articles specially written for this environmental-justice section, this issue contains several articles that include environmental-justice concerns that arose in the ordinary course of other ongoing work.
- The proposal for the East Bay Municipal Utility District to enlarge Pardee Reservoir in the Sierra foothills would have special impacts on adjacent low-income and Native-American communities.
- Development plans at Alameda Point may or may not focus on affordable and transit-accessible housing.
- The decision by San Francisco not to charge for admission to the Strybing Arboretum means that low-income people can continue to enjoy this beautiful public spot.
- One of the foci of our efforts for open space in San Francisco is improved treatment of the southeast shoreline, to give better, more-equitable access to the minority and low-income communities in the area.
An attentive reader may find environmental-justice resonances in several of the other conservation-news articles in this issue - and indeed in much of the Chapter's and the Sierra Club's work.
For more information and to get involved in the Chapter's efforts for environmental justice, contact Chapter legislative coordinator or call (510) 848-0800, ext. 316 or the co-chairs of the Chapter's Environmental Justice Committee: Pat Piras at (510) 278-1631 or by email to piras -at- ix.netcom.com or Joe Wallace at (510) 381-4476 or by email to transithopeful -at- yahoo.com