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Environmental Quality / 2013

Youth for Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Communities In Schools of Los Angeles

Low income communities of color are disproportionately impacted by cumulative sources of pollution and poor land use decisions. The only way these disparities can be seriously addressed is for well-informed community members to engage in the decision-making process. Our idea is to build a generation of civic leaders that will work with different stakeholders to transform their communities and their neighborhoods toward more sustainable and livable environments. In this project we propose to offer a wide range of leadership development and technical trainings related to civic engagement and environmental stewardship. These trainings will build the capacity of a dedicated group of youth activists, leaders and future decision-makers in Southeast Los Angeles County and in the Harbor area--which is host to some of the most polluted and vulnerable communities in the Los Angeles region. Here are the activities that CBE proposes: Leadership Development Trainings: Youth will complete an intensive 6-week, 18-hour summer training. Youth will learn how and why pollution disproportionately affects low-income communities of color (Session I); the locations of the most egregious polluting industries in their communities (Session 2); pollution’s detrimental effects on human health in their communities (Session 3); the environmental decision-making processes in their communities (Session 4); how community efforts can successfully stop or prevent pollution (Session 5); and how communities develop a vision for protecting and improving their environments (Session 6). Educational and team-building elements of the trainings will help youth build motivation to become leaders in community environmental stewardship. Mono Lake Trainings: Youth and adults will participate in intergenerational “Parent Night” workshops on water issues and Mono Lake. Youth, with CBE staff, will participate in 5-day, 4-night educational field trips and trainings at Mono Lake, hosted by the Mono Lake Committee. Youth will learn to analyze the relationship between Mono Lake and the Southern California water supply, how to gather and test water samples to assess the health of water, and uses for this data. By learning about water conservation practices and about the impact of Southern California water use on Mono Lake, they will develop motivation to conserve water on individual and household levels, for example by turning off the tap while showering or brushing teeth and by using water-efficient systems to water plants. LA River Stewardship Training: Youth will each attend 1.5-hour LA River Stewardship workshops and one of three, 2.5-hour LA River Stewardship kayaking field trips with CBE and LA River Expeditions staff. During the workshops, youth will learn about water pollution issues related to the LA River, the history of the revitalization of the upper portion of the river, and current community efforts to revitalize the lower portion. Youth will learn to analyze the relationships between mobile sources of pollution and river water quality, and between the future health of the lower portion of the river and planning for Highway I-710, which runs next to it. During the post-field trip workshop, all youth will gather to compare the upper and lower LA River, to analyze the impact of river pollution on human health, to problem-solve better solutions, and to conduct a visioning process for river stewardship. Stormwater Pollution Trainings: Youth will participate in one 1.5-hour stormwater pollution workshops and water sampling field trips with CBE and LA Waterkeeper staff. The workshops, co-led by CBE staff and LA Waterkeeper, will teach youth to think critically about industrial water pollution and how the Clean Water Act can be used to reduce it. During the field trips, youth will see and learn how industrial runoff contaminates ecological systems and affects the health of humans and other species and will gather water samples to be evaluated for pollution levels.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

• Working with adult and youth members in refinery communities to achieve precedent-setting standards to prevent chemical leaks from thousands of valves at oil refineries and mandating vapor controls on refinery tankers loading in California. This historic regulation is now a national standard.

• Working with adult and youth members to significantly strengthen the California South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Rule 1402 to reduce allowable cancer risks from air pollution from stationary sources of pollution by 75%.

• Working with adult and youth members in refinery communities in California to achieve the nation’s most stringent regulations of “flaring,” or burning of excess gases by refineries, at both the Bay Area and South Coast Air Quality Management Districts, now a national working model that can be put in place at all refineries. In the South Coast air shed alone, by December of 2012, this regulation has achieved an estimated reduction of 1.18 tons per day of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and 1.44 tons per day of CO2 (carbon dioxide).

• Working in intergenerational settings to lead a successful campaign against construction of an unneeded and highly-polluting power plant in the City of Vernon, California. This prevented an annual emission of 1.8 million pounds of local and regional pollution and 5.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the environment. It also created regional awareness about health impacts of pollution, energy planning, and contributed to exposing corruption in Vernon’s city governance.

• Working with Youth members to defeat an unnecessary polluting power plant proposal in the City of South Gate, California. This campaign is analyzed in Power Politics, a book written by UCLA social anthropologist, Karen Bodkin.

• Working with youth and adult members along the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) corridor and in coalition with other environmental and community groups to create an unprecedented public participation framework in the I-710 freeway expansion project led by Caltrans and Metro. We used this strategic opportunity to elevate community demands for a cleaner, healthier project.

• Working with youth and adult members, allies and academic partners to introduce a novel policy initiative in the City of Los Angeles called Clean Up Green Up to address cumulative impacts from multiple pollution sources and environmental health and justice concerns in city planning. Relying on participatory action research methods and engaging community members in the Wilmington area from the early phases of policy formulation, CBE staff and community members engaged with experts, allies, city councilmembers and the Mayor’s office to win their support for this policy.

• Building one of the most successful and vibrant environmental justice youth programs in the country during the past 15 years in Southeast Los Angeles County.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

• Mono Lake Committee • LA River Expeditions • Los Angeles Waterkeeper

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Evaluation strategies and tools will include, at a minimum: (a) plus/delta evaluations of all meetings, trainings, activities, recorded on butcher paper during the meeting, then transcribed into electronic format; (b) pre- and post-surveys for selected attitudes, knowledge and skills; (c) results of pre- and post-surveys conducted by Mono Lake Committee for youth members who participate in Mono Lake field trips; (d) monitoring of quarterly staff work plans by supervisors to ensure that satisfactory progress is being made on project elements; and (d) end-of-year evaluations in December/January of each year.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Environmental justice communities are at the fence-line of polluting sources. Creating greener and cleaner operations at the fence-line neighborhoods and improving land-use decisions in vulnerable communities will not only promote the public health of residents most in need but also benefit the entire LA region. Addressing environmental equity for communities that have traditionally been neglected due to gaps in proper permitting, enforcement and planning will create great environmental benefits to the most susceptible LA communities by way of improved air quality, reduction of water pollution, enhanced access to open space, revitalization of blighted lands, greater access to healthy food options, greater community cohesion and overall improvement of quality of life.

These benefits will not be limited to the areas that will be receiving direct attention. They will have a positive impact on all of the residents in the region by reducing pollution and spurring economic growth regionally. Working with businesses with industrial operations in environmental justice communities to better manage their storm water run-off will protect our waterways and the Pacific Ocean. Pushing for zero emission technologies during the expansion of goods-movement operations near Wilmington and along the I-710 corridor will benefit all communities in Los Angeles. Prioritizing green jobs and clean energy sources in low-income neighborhoods will benefit all LA residents and our planet by way of reducing our region’s carbon foot-print. We believe the main component of improving the quality of life for vulnerable communities is enhancing civic engagement of local residents in these communities, and this project is focused on this effort.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

We hope that in 2050, environmental justice communities will rank high in a wide range of sustainability indicators. Clean water, clean air, safe streets for walking and biking, an improved public transportation system, revitalized brownfields, more open/green space, more access to healthy food outlets and nutrition, more engaged communities, and more accountable decision-makers will be the indicators that will demonstrate significant improvements in the current disparities in environmental justice communities.