Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles: Environmental (In)Justice in Black Los Angeles – Prof. Sonya Winton

Posted: August 6th, 2010

UCLA Professor Sonya Winton analyzes how community activists started Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles (CCSCLA), one of the first African American environmental organizations in the country, in 1985 to address hazardous environmental afflictions that disproportionately plagued minority communities.  CCSCLA “became a model to emulate by other community groups committed to social justice. . . . By the early twenty-first century, decades after its embroiled battle with the city, CCSCLA had evolved into a key social justice organization in the Greater Los Angeles area.”  Currently, for example, CCSCLA, represented by The City Project, is seeking access to justice through the courts to challenge the environmental impact report and oil drilling regulations covering the oil field adjoining the Baldwin Hills Park in order to provide adequate health and environmental safeguards in a dense and diverse community that has long suffered from environmental degradation and discrimination.

The CIty Project is proud and honored to have worked with Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles for the past ten years to seek equal justice, democracy and livability for all — through the struggles to create the Baldwin Hills Park, the Los Angeles State Historic Park, Rio de Los Angeles State Park; to enforce physical education in public schools; and to ensure the benefits and burdens of state parks are distributed fairly for all.

Prof. Winton’s chapter, called “Concerned Citizens: Environmental (In)Justice in Black Los Angeles,” appears in the book Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities (2010), edited by Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christian Ramon.  Prof. Winton analyzes how Robin Cannon, Charlotte Bullock and other community activists started CCSCLA in order to stop the LANCER incinerator project, a thirteen acre municipal solid waste incinerator plant in 1985.  Prof. Winton writes about CCSCLA as follows:

Like so many other multiracial, locally based environmental justice organizations in the United States, CCSCLA was established by lower- to moderate-income African Americans because [other] institutions in their community failed to address hazardous environmental afflictions that disproportionately plagued minority communities. Meanwhile, prominent, national environmental groups also had little to contribute to their cause . . . .

By combining the issues of race, concentrated poverty, social isolation, and environmental health, leaders of CCSCLA not only made certain that South Central Los Angeles emerged as a significant focal point of the burgeoning modern environmental justice movement that was sweeping the nation, but they also effectively challenged an overly narrow definition of “the environment.” [Mainstream environmental groups] had long employed this definition to prioritize public policies related to conservation, preservation, and aesthetics, all at the expense of environmental inequity in historically marginalized communities of color. The emergence of a thriving environmental justice movement, as embodied by CCSCLA, challenged [mainstream environmental groups] to develop more inclusive discourse and policies—a move that was met at times with hostility from their predominantly white membership base. . . .

CCSCLA overcame the challenges confronting it and became a model to emulate by other community groups committed to social justice. . . . By the early twenty-first century, decades after its embroiled battle with the city, CCSCLA had evolved into a key social justice organization in the Greater Los Angeles area. . . .

As the first decade of the 2000s drew to a close, CCSCLA remained committed to addressing environmental inequity concerns.  In 2008, for example, CCSCLA filed a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles to challenge their “environmental impact report and oil drilling regulations covering the oil field adjoining the Baldwin Hills Park . . . [and] for failure to provide adequate health and environmental safeguards in a dense and diverse community that has long suffered from environmental degradation and discrimination.” [Prof. Winton cites The City Project blog, “Concerned Citizens Sue to Protect Baldwin Hills People, Homes and Park,” November 26, 2008, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/1160.]

Sonya Winton, “Concerned Citizens: Environmental (In)Justice in Black Los Angeles,” chapter in Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christian Ramon, eds., Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities at 343, 344-45, 354-55 (2010) (footnotes omitted).

An alliance of community advocates seeks to keep the Baldwin Hills clean and green for generations to come in and out of court, including Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, The City Project, the City of Culver City, Community Health Councils, Natural Resources Defense Council, Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, and the Greater Baldwin Hills Alliance.  Visit www.greaterbaldwinhillsalliance.org and www.baldwinhillsoil.org to learn more.