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LA Business Council LA River Report: Environmental Justice and Community Leaders on Health, Residential Segregation, and Displacement

The Los Angeles Business Council Institute (LABC) recently released its report on the Los Angeles River, LA’s Next Frontier: Capturing Opportunities for New Housing, Economic Growth, and Sustainable Development in LA River Communities.[1] The support of the business community is vital to ensure that the benefits and burdens of revitalization are distributed fairly to the people along the river. LABC recognizes that businesses will not stay in or move to L.A. if workers do not have affordable housing, earn decent wages, and live in healthy communities. Inner-city residents, people of color, and low-income residents have significantly less access to green space, and disproportionately bear the health costs of physical inactivity, according to LABC. The report recommends a strategic framework to address these concerns.

The risk of displacement and gentrification is that the people who fought the epic struggles to green the L.A. River and the region will not be able to live or even work nearby as neighborhoods become greener, more desirable, and more expensive.

We look forward to working with LABC to dive deeper into structural inequalities based on race, income, and wealth along the river. The report does not adequately analyze residential segregation and civil rights tools to address these concerns. According to the report, it is shocking that 37% of communities within a half mile of the L.A. River are in the worst 10% of polluted and vulnerable census tracts in California, based on CalEnviroScreen. We agree. It is even more shocking that 93% of the people are of color in those communities. This is illustrated in the following map and analysis of pollution, vulnerability, and people of color along the river.

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Click on the map for a larger image

Why do race and ethnicity matter?

People of color and low-income people disproportionately live in environmentally degraded communities burdened by toxics and pollution, are the most vulnerable to health problems, and lack access to parks and green space. These structural inequalities are not an accident of unplanned growth, or an efficient market allocating housing based on personal utilities. Residential segregation along the river and throughout the region reflects the continuing pattern and legacy of decades of racially restrictive housing covenants enforced by state courts, federal housing subsidies and mortgages restricted to racially homogenous neighborhoods, and economic policies for jobs and wealth creation that have shortchanged people of color.[2]

Displacement and gentrification is not just about culture clashes between old time residents and hipsters, cafes, and condos. The risk is that people of color and low-income people who have long lived in environmentally degraded neighborhoods will be displaced by disproportionately white and wealthy residents, and corporations. Without addressing the root causes of structural inequalities, the problems cannot be solved. It is necessary to democratize wealth and income, converting renters and workers into owners, and to democratize planning and implementation.

President Barack Obama, federal agencies, and Attorney General Kamala Harris provide leadership to address green access, health, and economic vitality within an environmental justice and civil rights framework. LABC should too.

The LABC report recognizes that private developers need to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in river revitalization projects. We agree. Government agencies and recipients of taxpayer dollars must also comply with protections for civil rights, environmental justice, and health under federal and state laws.

President Obama has recognized that there is not enough park space, especially for children of color, and that this is a social justice, health, and economic issue. Access for all includes young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, and Native American.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draft study for the L.A. River,[3] the National Park Service draft study to expand the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area,[4] and the NPS final study for the San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area:[5]

  1. there are disparities in green access along the river and in the region based on race, color, or national origin;
  2. this contributes to health disparities based on those factors; and
  3. environmental justice laws and principles require agencies to address these disparities.

Andrew Cuomo, then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, withheld federal subsidies for proposed warehouses at what is now Los Angeles State Historic Park unless there was full environmental review that considered the park alternative and the impact on people of color and low-income people. Secretary Cuomo acted in response to an administrative complaint, citing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health. This community victory led to the creation of what is now L.A. State Historic Park and the greening of the river.[6]

Title VI and its regulations prohibit intentional discrimination and unjustified discriminatory impacts based on race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal funding, including park agencies and private developers along the river. Executive Order 12898 requires federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.

Attorney General Kamala Harris has published a fact sheet on civil rights and environmental justice protections under California law for projects that are funded or administered by the state, including river revitalization projects.[7]

We are eager to continue to work with LABC, government agencies, and diverse allies to ensure the benefit and burdens of river revitalization are distributed fairly for all.

Submitted by a diverse and growing alliance, including Raúl Macias, Anahuak Youth Sports Association; Marce Graudins, Azul and La Madre Tierra; Mark Williams, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles; Genoveva Islas, Cultiva La Salud; Jennifer Deines, East Sunset Hillside Association; Tomas O’Grady; Mark Magaña, GreenLatinos; Jose T. Bravo, Just Transition Alliance; Xavier Morales, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC); Richard Moore, Los Jardines Institute (LJI); Marc Brenman, Social Justice Consultancy; and The City Project. See the full statement here.


Resources

[1] The City Project serves on the LABC Advisory Committee for the report.

[2] Robert García and Seth Strongin, Healthy Parks, Schools and Communities: Mapping Green Access and Equity for Southern California Policy Report at pages 17, 25, 112-21, (The City Project 2011), available here.

[3] USACE, Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Integrated Feasibility Report. Relevant excerpts of the study are available here. The complete draft study is available at www.spl.usace.army.mil/Portals/17/docs/publicnotices/DraftIntegratedReport.pdf. See The City Project’s blog post, US Army Corps of Engineers Study Best Practice Framework for Revitalizing L.A. River, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/33093.

[4] NPS, Rim of the Valley Corridor: Draft Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment, April 2015, (ROTV Study). Relevant excerpts of the study are available here. The full report is available at: parkplanning.nps.gov/rimofthevalley_draftreport. See The City Project’s blog post, NPS Rim of the Valley Draft Study Best Practice for Expanding Green Access, Health, and Environmental Justice for All, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/36966.

[5] NPS, San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study & Environmental Assessment, p. 231 (Newsletter #5, Nov. 2011) (San Gabriel Study). Relevant excerpts of the study are available here. See The City Project’s blog post, San Gabriel Mountains Best Practice Environmental Justice Framework for Parks, Health, and Conservation Values, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/32899. See also NPS, Healthy Parks, Healthy People Community Engagement eGuide, available at www.nps.gov/public_health/hp/hphp/press/HealthyParksHealthyPeople_eGuide.pdf.

[6] See The City Project’s blog post, Best Practice HUD Los Angeles State Historic Park Healthy Green Land Use for All, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/32984.

[7] The fact statement is available at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/environment/ej_fact_sheet.pdf.