BY EDGAR SANCHEZ
Choices made by city planners affect the health of people in those cities.
Consider, for example, that people’s life spans have been linked to their ZIP code.
“If you live in Oak Park, your life expectancy is much lower than if you live in Curtis Park,” said Jackie Cole, an environmental justice consultant. “We’re trying to close that gap.”
Cole considers herself a liaison between local government decision makers and residents in disadvantaged communities.
This year, she took on her biggest mission — ensuring that marginalized communities in Sacramento have a voice in shaping brighter futures for themselves during the general plan update process.
The City of Sacramento and Sacramento County began updating their respective general plans earlier this year. General Plans, referred to as GPs, set guidelines for future growth and address things like land use, housing, conservation, open space, noise and safety. Cole is assisting in the process as part of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Initiative.
Her hiring was critical. Both city and county announced that for the first time, they would craft environmental justice (EJ) components, which are required by Senate Bill 1000 whenever jurisdictions revise multiple elements of their GPs.
“It’s our turn to shape how our communities are going to change.”Jackie Cole
Environmental justice consultant
Victimized by “inappropriate land use,” disadvantaged communities “bear a disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental hazards,” according to a summary of SB 1000.
“Environmental justice means we have to make sure all community members have a voice that’s strong enough to be heard by decision makers,” Cole said in January. “It’s our turn to shape how our communities are going to change.”
Parts of SB 1000 took effect Jan. 1, including a provision that cities and counties listen to low-income communities during GP revisions.
“Decisions made in GP updates are a matter of life and death for the communities we serve,” said Veronica Beaty of Sacramento Housing Alliance.
Cole has investigated the priorities of underserved communities, knowing that ongoing talks between local government and residents regarding GPs will intensify in 2019, as the city gets started on its two-year update process. “For BHC, the priorities are healthy food access, youth engagement and community development,” she said.
Her firm, Veritable Good Consulting, will communicate the yet-to-be-set dates of upcoming GP meetings in the city and county. Interested parties should self-subscribe to Sacramento County’s email update list for meeting notifications at http://www.per.saccounty.net/PlansandProjectsIn-Progress/Pages/Environmental-Justice-Element.aspx
Sacramento County completed Phase 1 of its EJ Element Update in May. Phase 2 will involve much more “robust public outreach and conversations” with the county’s EJ communities, including North Vineyard, North Highlands, West Arden-Arcade and South Sacramento, said Todd Smith, principal planner for the county’s Office of Planning and Environmental Review.