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Pasadena Planning Commissioners Grapple With Making Environmental Justice Plan Effective

Commissioners debate how to ensure new element results in tangible improvements for disadvantaged communities

Published on Thursday, June 13, 2024 | 5:33 am

In a study session on Pasadena’s forthcoming Environmental Justice Element, Planning Commissioners engaged in a spirited discussion Wednesday about how to ensure the plan results in tangible improvements for disadvantaged communities and doesn’t just “sit on a shelf.”

“This approach is not just about making life better for everybody,” said Commissioner Rick Cole during the June 12 meeting. “This is about addressing historic injustice practiced against low-income people, particularly people of color and indigenous communities in our state and in this city.”

The Environmental Justice Element is a new addition to Pasadena’s General Plan, required by state law for cities with disadvantaged communities to address disproportionate pollution burdens and health risks. 

Using the CalEnviroScreen mapping tool created by state agencies, Pasadena City staff identified one census tract in the northwest part of the city as a “disadvantaged community.”

Per the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research guidance, the Environmental Justice Element must address specific topics such as promoting community engagement, reducing pollution exposure, promoting food access, promoting safe and sanitary homes, and prioritizing improvements that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.

While noting the value of the detailed analysis to be done for the Environmental Justice Element, Cole cautioned against simply producing “a beautiful report” without real change. 

“If we want to change the lives of people who live shorter lives and more precarious lives in our city because of the way in which our city is structured and been built, that’s going to take a different approach than the one we usually take,” he said.

Cole suggested setting up an advisory committee of community members and local experts to guide the process, rather than relying solely on outside consultants. He also advocated for focusing on a short list of high-priority actions to “move the needle” on environmental justice issues within Pasadena.

Other commissioners agreed on the importance of community engagement in developing the plan. 

“It’s really easy to make this an academic conversation, but I don’t think that really gets us to where we need to be,” said Commissioner Steven Olivas. “I think it’s so important to go to the communities and hear from the residents and take that feedback to really focus on how we’re going to expand these resources.”

The commission took no formal action, as the Environmental Justice Element is still in the early stages of development. 

City staff will present the plan to the Northwest Commission and the Environmental Advisory Commission, and there are plans for community engagement.

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