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Parks Forward, Health, and Environmental Justice and Quality For All

The City Project and diverse allies applaud the excellent work of the Parks Forward Commission to transform the California State Park System. The Commission’s July 30, 2014, draft Parks Forward Plan for a vibrant, sustainable park system for California does indeed offer the promise of transforming state parks for all the people of California and other visitors.

We agree with the two overarching findings in the draft Plan: One, the system does not provide a park experience that serves all Californians or attracts other potential visitors. Two, the State Park System is debilitated by outdated organizational structures, technologies, and business tools, and by a culture that does not adequately reward excellence or innovation. Fundamental change and transformational reform is necessary. Modest incremental change and more funding are not enough.

We urge the Commission to amplify, expand, and be explicit in certain areas to strengthen the final Plan and recommendations. We strongly urge the Commission to explicitly address disparities in green access and health based on race, color, or national origin, and the civil rights and environmental justice tools that are available to alleviate those disparities through the planning and implementation process. Thus, for example:

1. There are documented disparities in access to green space based on race, color, or national origin throughout the state.
2. Evidence based research shows that these disparities contribute to racial and ethnic health disparities.
3. Civil rights and environmental justice laws and principles require agencies, including the California Department of Parks and Recreation, to alleviate these disparities. Federal agencies provide best practice examples of how to do this.
4. Highlighting the diverse values at stake can bring stakeholders together to support transformational change in the State Park System.

As Commissioner Manuel Pastor has written in a related context, “[W]hen society’s rewards—including the right to breathe clean air[,] live far away from toxic wastes[, and enjoy parks]—are systematically distributed by race, it is better to know than to remain dangerously ignorant.”

We agree: The final Plan must provide a ready road map for state government and community leadership. Federal agencies in California offer best practice examples of a roadmap and framework for the Commission, the Department, and the people to address more effectively green access, health, and social justice to transform the State Park System through the planning and implementation process. These best practices include the National Park Service final study and recommendation for the proposed San Gabriel National Recreation Area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draft study for the revitalization of the Los Angeles River, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decision that resulted in the creation of Los Angeles State Historic Park. We urge the Commission to use the framework in order to strengthen the final Plan and its implementation, and ultimately to improve the State Park System for all.

Thus, for example, people of color disproportionately live in the areas of the state that are the most burdened for pollution, and are the most vulnerable to health risks.

CES POC 20140915

Click on the map for a larger image

As the preceding map illustrates dramatically:

  1. In the areas with the 10% highest CES score (most burdened) for pollution burden and vulnerability, fully 89% of the people are of color; only 11% are non-Hispanic white people. Statewide, the population average is 58% people of color.
  2. In the areas with the 10% lowest CES score (least burdened) for pollution burden and vulnerability, only 31% of the people are of color; fully 69% are non-Hispanic white people.
  3. 64% of people of color in the state live in areas with the 50% highest CES scores (most burdened) for pollution burden and vulnerability; only 31% of non-Hispanic white people live in those areas.
  4. Only 36% of people of color in the state live in areas with the 50% lowest CES scores for pollution burden and vulnerability; fully 69% of non-Hispanic white people live in those areas.

Visitors to state parks are disproportionately non-Hispanic white, as illustrated by the following map based on state park surveys.

CAStateParksSurvey 20140916

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To learn more please see the attached public comments to the Parks Forward Commission from the following diverse allies: The City Project, Amigos de los Rios, Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council (A3PCON), Robert Bracamontes, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, EndOil/Communities for Clean Ports, Friends of the River, Global Community Monitor, State Senator Tom Hayden (ret.), Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC), Latinos Outdoors, Los Angeles Wilderness Training, Multicultural Communities for Mobility, National Parks Conservation Association, New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Social Justice Consultancy, and SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center).

The Parks Forward Commission should ensure that the final Plan promotes health and environmental justice and quality for all through the transformation of the State Parks System.