Park funds under California’s Prop 84 and AB 31 have been invested based on need in communities that are park poor, income poor, and disproportionately of color. AB 31 defined standards to measure progress and equity and hold public officials accountable. The goal is to promote healthy green land use, equitable development, and planning by and for the community as a policy matter, and under civil rights laws.  The park poor, income poor standards are a best practice to prioritize investments based on need under future resource measures, including park and water bonds, to distribute benefits and burdens fairly for all.
The City Project’s Robert García testified about distributing park funds fairly for all at a hearing before Senators Kevin de Léon and Fran Pavley on the proposed 2014 park bond.
Senator Kevin de León’s AB 31 prioritized $400 million in park investments in communities that are park poor and income poor under Prop 84. Park poor is defined as less than three acres of parks per thousand residents, and income poor is below $48,706 in median household income. The City Project with diverse allies worked with Senator de León to define these standards.
58% of grant funds were invested in communities that are both park poor and income poor, as shown in the chart. The next 35% were invested in communities that are either park poor or income poor.
82% of funds were invested in communities that are disproportionately of color compared to the state average.
The map shows where the funds were invested, using the park poor and income poor standards. The map also shows funds invested in communities that are the most burdened by pollution from multiple sources, and most vulnerable to its effects, taking into account their socioecomic characteristics and health. The map uses the measures under CalEnviro Screen 2.0. See www.oehha.ca.gov/ej/ces2.html.
Click on the map to see a larger image.
The new California
There are important lessons from resource bonds passed over the past decade, and the demographics of the new California. Communities of color can support properly framed environmental initiatives even when the non-Hispanic white vote is opposed. The benefits and burdens of resource bonds must be distributed fairly. Standards like park poor and income poor can help. Similar standards should apply to future resource bonds. The present map and analysis are a best practice for analyzing where funds were invested under other resource bonds, including Props 12, 40, and 50, and under Prop 84 apart from AB31. Upfront standards help ensure funds are invested in underserved communities.
Prop 84, a $5.4 billion park and water bond, passed because of the Latino community vote in 2006. 80% of Latino voters voted in favor, while only 48% of non-Latino voters supported the measure. The support from the Latino community was enough to push the balance in favor of Prop 84. Prop 40 in 2002 received the support of 77% of black, 74% of Latino, 60% of Asian, and 56% of non-Hispanic white voters. 75% of voters with an annual family income below $20,000, and 61% with a high school diploma or less, supported Prop 40 – the highest among any income or education levels. Communities of color and low-income communities support resource bonds, and are entitled to their fair share of the benefits.
Meaningful work and economic vitality
Funds must promote the full range of values at stake in park, water, and other publicly funded infrastructure projects. These values include the joy of playing or being in parks, health and human development, meaningful work and economic vitality, conservation values of clean land, air, water, and climate justice; culture, history, and art; and Native American values.
Rsource bond funds offer exceptional opportunities to promote economic vitality for low income communities and communities of color. Solutions to many social problems – unemployment, environmental degradation, no place to play, little hope for disadvantaged youth, obesity and diabetes, rebuilding infrastructure for generations to come – must be tied to a vision for a new California that includes green and blue projects to improve the lives of all residents.
According to study by Sacramento State University, visitors to California’s state parks spend an average of $4.32 billion per year in park-related expenditures, based on attendance estimates of about 74.9 million visitors a year. National parks support more than $30 billion in spending and more than a quarter million private-sector jobs each year in rural and urban communities that are gateways to the parks. Each dollar invested in park operations generates about $10 for local communities, and every two NPS jobs generate one job outside the park.
The Civilian Conservation Corps offers valuable lessons for distributing fairly the benefits and burdens of parks and recreation. The CCC was one of the most successful New Deal programs and appealed to people across the political spectrum and class lines. CCC employed 3 million young men, planted 2 billion trees, slowed soil erosion on 40 million acres of farmland, and developed 800 new state parks. Visits to National Parks increased 600% from 1933 to 1941. Unemployed youth got paid, their minds and bodies grew stronger, they contributed to society, and they stayed out of trouble as they learned the benefits of hard work, conservation, and healthy active living. Businesses sold goods and services to CCC camps. This is just as important in terms of lessons learned: the CCC employed almost only white men — not women and not young boys and men of color. Resource bond funds should be invested to promote workforce diversity and create the environmental justice stewards of tomorrow.
The National Parks Service highlights Transit to Trails as a best practice for taking inner city youth and their families and friends on fun, educational, and healthy park, river, beach, and mountain trips. “As demonstrated by The City Project’s work in Los Angeles, many families in the low income neighborhoods of the region often do not have cars nor are near public transportation systems that allow for access to regional parks,” according to NPS. Transit to Trails provides opportunities for inner city residents to learn about water, land, wildlife, and cultural history, engage in physical activity through recreational opportunities, and have fun. It also helps reduce traffic congestion and parking problems, improve air quality, and reduce polluted water run-off into rivers and the ocean by providing accessible public transportation.
1. Prioritize projects in communities with the greatest need, using park poor and income poor under AB 31 as a best practice.
2. Create meaningful work, apprenticeships, and opportunities for diverse enterprises now through a 21st century Civilian Conservation Corps.
3. Take people to the parks now through Transit to Trails. This is the most effective community engagement tool. Taking people to the parks is faster, cheaper, and more effective in the short term, and builds support for creating new parks in underserved communities.
4. Park agencies must collect, analyze, and publish data to demonstrate who benefits from past and future resource funds.
5. Policies and programs must be in place to avoid gentrification and displacement as places?become greener and more desirable.
6. Agencies should ensure compliance with federal and state civil rights nondescrimination requirements through the planning and funding process. The Army Corps of Engineers draft study for revitalizing the Los Angeles River; the NPS study for the proposed national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains and watershed; and Congresswoman Judy Chu’s draft legislation for the national recreation area are best practices to promote environmental justice and health.
7. Agencies and foundations should provide fair and adequate funding for community based organizations and advocates for civil rights and environmental justice.
8. Health impact assessments should be conducted for park projects.
9. Multibenefit green / blue projects should promote diverse values including health and human development; economic vitality for all; conservation values of clean land, air, water, and climate justice; culture, history, and art; and Native American values.
10. Urban state parks should reflect the needs of urban residents including health and active recreation.
Targeting park poor and income poor communities should distribute benefits and burdens of resource bonds fairly for all.
Click here to download the Policy Brief on Park funds for park poor and income poor communities under Prop 84 and AB 31 standards.
1. See Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its regulations, Affordable Care Act section 1557, Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health, 28 C.F.R. § 42.406(a) (data collection requirements), and California Govt. Code 11135 and its regulations. See generally Invest Park Funds in Park Poor and Economically Poor Communities, www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/1332.
2. See Pub. Res. Code §§ 5642(b), 75005(g). AB 31 is the Community Neighborhood Park Revitalization Act of 2007. Prop 84 is the Safe Drinking Water Bond Act of 2006.
3. Prop 40 is the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002.