Soapbox

Put environmental justice into planning

Emy Daniel, a resident pediatrician with UC Davis, left, talks with Lamaria Harris, 9, as she gets a booster shot at the Oak Park Health Center this month.
Emy Daniel, a resident pediatrician with UC Davis, left, talks with Lamaria Harris, 9, as she gets a booster shot at the Oak Park Health Center this month. lsterling@sacbee.com

When my husband and I were ready to buy our first home, we bought in Oak Park. Not only was it the only neighborhood we could afford that was within biking distance to our jobs downtown, it is an incredibly resilient community working to build on its history and incredible diversity to redefine what equitable development looks like.

Oak Park also has had lower life expectancies than neighborhoods just on the other side of the freeways, the legacy of unfair development and land-use decisions. Sacramento County’s Community Health Status Report shows that where we live is a major contributor to our overall health. The environmental justice movement was founded on this inequity.

The Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1000 by Sen. Connie Leyva, which would require cities and counties to have environmental justice goals and policies in their general land-use plans. This bill, set for an Assembly vote as early as this week, would help address the legacy of inequitable land-use practices and would give us a tool to map a path forward.

Our communities in Sacramento and across the nation have been planned and largely built around race. Red-lining made home loans less favorable for minority applicants, while restrictive covenants prevented them from buying homes in thriving communities. Inadequate transportation infrastructure contributes to bicycle and pedestrian deaths, drive-thru restaurants lead to increased obesity and heart disease and poor schools fail to give kids hope for a thriving future.

For Oak Park, SB 1000 could give us a proactive strategy for community development without displacing current residents. We could have a plan for bringing in grocery stores, banks, health clinics and restaurants, providing business opportunities for residents and job preferences for local youths. We could have a strategy to improve our transportation network so everyone can have safe, direct and affordable ways to travel. We could even discuss annexing the unincorporated neighborhoods in the south that are in desperate need of additional services and resources.

We have an environmental health crisis in our state, and we can’t afford to continue to make land-use decisions that harm our communities. We need a state law to direct local governments to consider environmental justice since California has not updated its land-use laws since the 1970s and our cities look much different today. I encourage everyone to contact their legislators to vote for SB 1000.

Katie Valenzuela Garcia, who lives in Oak Park in Sacramento, is a member of the California Air Resource Board’s Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. She can be contacted at kbvale@gmail.com.

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