The site of what is now the Los Angeles State Historic Park could have been warehouses. Instead, it’s a park. “On a deserted railroad yard north of Chinatown, one of Los Angeles’ most powerful and tenacious real estate developers, Ed Roski, Jr., met his match,” as reported on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. In 1999, the site was an abandoned rail yard. The City of Los Angeles and wealthy developers proposed building 32 acres of warehouses with federal subsidies on the last vast open space in downtown Los Angeles.
HUD’s Decision Led To the Greening of Los Angeles
Andrew Cuomo, who was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development at the time, withheld any federal funding for the proposed warehouse project unless there was a full environmental impact statement that considered the park alternative and the impact on low income people and people of color. Secretary Cuomo relied on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its regulations, and the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health. As a result of HUD’s decision, the state bought the land for the park. The L.A. Times Magazine called the community victory to create the park “a heroic monument” and “a symbol of hope.”
Secretary Cuomo required the planning process to include the following steps: a full blown assessment of environmental impacts, including environmental justice concerns; identifying the full range of alternatives that the community believed should be considered; and public participation in deciding the best use of the site. Secretary Cuomo acted in response to an administrative complaint alleging that the proposed warehouse project had disproportionately negative impacts on people of color. HUD’s leadership provides a best practice for how to use civil rights and environmental justice tools for healthy green land use through planning by and for the community.
The City Project “organized a civil rights challenge that claimed the project was the result of discriminatory land-use policies that had long deprived minority neighborhoods of parks,” as the L.A. Times reported on the front page. The City Project helped bring together a diverse alliance of over 35 community, civil rights, environmental, spiritual, business, and civic organizations and leaders to stop the warehouses and convince the state to buy the land for what is now Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Groundbreaking for L.A. State Historic Park
Senator Kevin DeLeon highlights the impact of the park on the greening of Los Angeles. “This park is not here because of the vision of politicians, or some design or plan. This park is here because of the struggle and agitation by the community. The community stopped the industrial warehouses to create the park in the most park poor city in the nation.” “Deservedly, their action is renowned as one of the most significant environmental justice victories in Los Angeles, and is the catalyst for the revitalization of the Los Angeles River.” “This is the future of state parks in California to meet the needs of our urban communities, with urban parks that include active recreation and soccer fields.” “This park shows everyone has the right to a park. We don’t have to move to Malibu to enjoy state parks. We are bringing state parks to the people.”
A Framework for Voluntary Compliance with Equal Justice Laws and Principles through Community Planning for Healthy Green Land Use
HUD’s decision is a best practice on how to use community planning for healthy green land use to help ensure compliance with civil rights and environmental justice laws and principles .
1. Describe what you plan to do.
2. Analyze the benefits and burdens on all people, including people of color and low income people.
3. Include people of color and low income people in the decision making process.
4. Analyze the alternatives.
5. Develop an implementation and monitoring plan to distribute benefits and burdens fairly.
There are several best practice examples on how to use civil rights and environmental justice tools for healthy green land use through planning by and for the community. The noted HUD decision is one. The National Park Service final study and recommendations for the proposed national recreation area in the San Gabriel Mountains is another. This NPS study recognizes there are unfair disparities in access to green space for people of color and low-income people, that those disparities contribute to unfair health disparities, and that environmental justice requires agencies to address those disparities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) draft 2013 study for the revitalization of the Los Angeles River is a third example. This USACE study also recognizes there are unfair disparities in access to green space for people of color and low-income people, that those disparities contribute to unfair health disparities, and that environmental justice requires agencies and recipients to address those disparities. In addition, the Federal Transit Administration articulates these compliance and planning principles in its guidance on Title VI and Executive Order 12898.
More information about these best practices is available below.
1. Read the 2000 letter from HUD here.
2. Learn more about the National Park Service framework for the planning process here.
3. Download the relevant excerpts from the National Park Service San Gabriel Study here.
4. The relevant excerpts from the USACE Los Angeles River Study are available as an appendix to the public comments submitted by diverse allies.
5. Read FTA’s one page summary of Table VI and Executive Order 12898 here. See Federal Transit Administration, Environmental justice policy guidance for Federal Transit Administration recipients, Circular FTA C 4703.1 (Department of Transportation, Aug. 15, 2012); FTA, Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients, Circular FTA C 4702.1B (Oct. 1, 2012); Letters from FTA to Metropolitan Transportation Commission and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (Jan. 15, 2010 and Feb. 12, 2010).
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with children from Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Raul Macias from Anahuak, and Robert Garcia from The City Project at L.A. State Historic Park.