Oakland City Council recently approved the city’s first environmental justice element to address pollution, access to healthy food, and other health risks over the next 20 years. But many of the recommendations put forward by Oakland residents were ignored, some community leaders say.
The City Council last month approved a 222-page environmental justice element as part of the city’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan. The city solicited input from residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color most affected by pollution, but many of their recommendations were not implemented.
“The community is excited about this, but they’re also very skeptical. They don’t have a lot of trust in the process,” said David De La Gran, program manager at Deeply Rooted Collaborative. told the council.
In 2021, the city selected Deeply Rooted Collaborative, a consortium of 13 Oakland organizations, to gather input from residents on the comprehensive plan. Since his November 2021, Deeply Rooted has engaged with more than 9,000 residents, both living and unhoused, through live events and online outreach, according to a public memo.
Of the 75 recommendations Deeply Rooted submitted to the city, only 39 were adopted, De La Grand said.
Recommendations that have not been incorporated include providing culturally relevant nutrition classes, providing funding for residents to purchase solar panels, conducting surveys on grocery store closures, and providing clean and safe access to unhoused residents. This includes providing access to water.
“It’s tokenism when you invite us to the table and you don’t listen to us,” said Davidson, a member of Deeply Rooted, an Oakland nonprofit that advocates for the unhoused. said Needa Bee, the Village’s interim executive director. She said environmental justice and safety recommendations from unhoused residents are not included in the general plan.
The City of Oakland’s commitment to environmental justice is mandatory. Former Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1000 in 2016, giving all California municipalities with “disadvantaged communities” environmental justice policies when updating two or more elements of their general plan. enacted a law requiring the formulation of Oakland updated the housing element earlier this year, followed by his environmental justice and safety elements in September.
Despite community backlash, State Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office cited Oakland’s draft environmental justice component 14 times in its recently released summary of best practices for Senate Bill 1000. As an example, Oakland’s latest zoning code allows for increased housing density in less polluted areas.
Calila Haynes, a planner with the Oakland Department of Planning and Buildings, told the council that some of the recommendations received through the Deeply Rooted Collaborative were outside the city’s responsibility.
Amina Luqman, capacity development program manager at the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based statewide racial justice and policy nonprofit, said the city plans to intentionally engage communities after the planning process. criticized for lacking.
“Without meaningful engagement, we cannot develop meaningful policies that actually directly benefit the communities we plan for through this process,” Lukman said. “It’s not environmental justice work if the community isn’t involved.”
Sharifah Taylor, a researcher with Communities for a Better Environment and a member of Deeply Rooted, worries that residents who want to participate lack the information they need. She is asking the city to provide Spanish, Mandarin and Persian translations of the environmental justice elements, as well as file formats that are accessible to people who are visually impaired.
Haynes said in an email that the city is working to translate the comprehensive plan “starting with the goals, policies and actions of each component.”
power of people
Implementation of environmental justice elements is already underway. Following Deeply Rooted’s recommendations, the city plans to create an “online reporting framework that will be accessible to the public and updated regularly,” Haynes said. “We will also provide a biennial progress report on the EJ elements and climate action identified in the 2030 Equitable Climate Action Plan.”
Before the City Council approved the environmental justice component, Councilman Dan Kalb asked the city administration to create a “cross-agency working group of people from inside and outside of the City of Oakland, including the Port of Oakland,” to address air pollution. He called for the establishment of a new government and further strengthened accountability. The city administrator requires him to make a report within six months.
Some community leaders remain skeptical about who will have a seat at the table and whose voices will be heard as plans move forward.
Taylor and her colleague Adele Watts, a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, said all Oaklanders should read the Environmental Justice Element Improvements and Programs section and the maps and tables. He said there is a need to understand how policies shape different regions.
“A lot of times, people of color aren’t taught and raised to believe that our voices matter, so we don’t participate in these processes,” Watts said. “But if we do it, we can definitely make an impact. People power changes things.”
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