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Whitewashing the L.A. River? Displacement and Equitable Greening

Revitalizing the Los Angeles River once offered hope for a more sustainable, livable and socially just city. Whose dreams will come true, and who will be left behind? Civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity strategies by the people offer hope along the river.

Click on the map for a larger image.

There is growing evidence of green displacement and gentrification along the river. As neighborhoods become greener, more desirable, and more expensive, the people who have fought epic battles to improve quality of life for their neighbors and children through parks, schools, and river revitalization can no longer afford to live or even work nearby. Our nation was founded on the ideal that all of us are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government agencies and recipients of public funding need to distribute benefits and burdens of river revitalization fairly for all. Civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity strategies by the people offer hope along the river. That’s how people from Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, Chinatown, the San Gabriel Valley, and others won community victories at L.A. State Historic Park, Río de Los Angeles State Park, Baldwin Hills, and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) $1.4 billion plan to green 11 miles of the L.A. River documents there is not enough park space in L.A. County for people of color and low income people, this contributes to related health disparities, and recipients of public funding need to ensure equal access to the benefits of river revitalization and compliance with civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity requirements. The plan by USACE and the City of L.A. is generally a best practice example for equitable planning. The plan, as good as it is, does not address displacement, recreation, and climate change adequately.

USACE recognizes that “gentrification” from river revitalization could cause significant impacts to people along the river, but states that “no clear trends have emerged at the time of this assessment.”

There is a disturbing pattern of displacement along the L.A. River in the 11 mile USACE study area. The percent, number, and density of non-Hispanic White people has increased dramatically, even as they have declined 0.15% throughout L.A. County from 2006 to 2015. In Trópico in northeast L.A., for example, the density of non-Hispanic White people has increased 168%, while dropping 19% for people of color. Incomes have increased significantly – 18% in Trópico, for example. Maps 1-3 and Chart 4 tell these stories in the attached Policy Report.

Recommendations

Greening the L.A. River must expand equal opportunities for everyone to enjoy safe and healthy parks and recreation, fair housing, quality education, good jobs, and climate justice. People have the right to hold public officials and recipients accountable for the fair use of taxpayers’ dollars. We must watch how projects play out on the ground to guard against discrimination in any form. Displacement exacerbates segregation. Civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity laws prohibit discrimination, even when it’s subtle or implicit. Discrimination is illegal, and we need to enforce equal justice laws that protect us all. Government agencies do not hesitate to turn to the courts to protect their interests. Everyday people have the same right to hold their government accountable. Communities of color and low-income communities traditionally have the least resources and the least political power. Environmental justice provides an equal opportunity for everyone to live in a healthy community, and freedom from environmental degradation. Opportunity is a core value that means that we are all entitled to reach our full potential. Discrimination is a major barrier to opportunity, holding people back from pursuing their dreams, and we have a responsibility to eliminate it.

  1. Recipients of public funding need to comply with the equitable planning process to distribute benefits and burdens of river revitalization fairly. River L.A., for example, receives public financial assistance, but maintains “nothing requires equity.”
  2. Government has a responsibility to ensure equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination. California state and local agencies need to comply with and enforce state and federal civil rights, environmental justice, and health equity requirements.
  3. Federal agencies need to comply with and enforce federal laws.
  4. Fortunately, we know what works to keep communities healthy and ensure equal protection of the laws based on race, color, national origin, income, and other factors. These laws include California Government Code 11135 and its regulations, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its regulations, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health equity, and others.
  5. Funders need to support civil rights and environmental justice strategies to promote equal access to publicly funded resources for all.
  6. We the people must organize and stand up for our rights.

We must remove barriers to opportunity for everyone along the Los Angeles River and beyond.

Download the Policy Report by Robert García and Tim Mok, Whitewashing the L.A. River? Displacement and Equitable Greening.

Samuel García, Take Action ComicsThe City Project. Click on the page for a larger image.

Diverse allies are working together to promote equitable revitalization of the L.A. River, avoid displacement, and ensure compliance with the equitable planning framework. Download Equitable Redevelopment for the Los Angeles River.