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Plan Mitigates Climate Change, City’s Environmental Racism

To mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental racism that impact certain hotter and more polluted areas of the city, a group in Stockton, Calif., has secured funding from a state grant program.

A public waterfront in Stockton, Calif.
Parts of Stockton, Calif., were long ago isolated by industry and other factors, creating pockets of communities that suffered disproportionately when it comes down to factors of climate, such as excessive heat, air pollution and even flooding.

Residents of those communities have long dealt with the consequences, and with forecast models predicting increasing summer temperatures, more pollution and perhaps major flooding, the prospects for those communities suffering from environmental racism is bleak.

But a community effort to obtain grant funding and take steps toward mitigating the effects of the change in climate and even reconnect these communities to the rest of the city has provided hope.

Community groups merged to solve the problem and helped secure $10.8 million through the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program for the Stockton Rising project. The plan will take steps to reduce the impact of the warming climate on communities in South Stockton by planting trees, retrofitting homes, developing education and youth advocacy efforts, and developing mitigation plans for the event of a major flood.

TCC is a California grant program that invests in helping communities combat the effects of climate change. The program aims to develop these efforts in a holistic way, getting local groups and city agencies to work together for a holistic solution.

“It encourages development of unified community plans that bring together different efforts like affordable housing, clean energy and transportation,” said Emi Wang, associate director of capacity building at The Greenlining Institute. “Instead of addressing these things in isolation, like most grant programs do, it moves it all together in a one-stop shop so communities can plan holistically.”

That required getting some of the community groups to begin working together before there was any money to do so and before there were any guarantees of success, said Wang, who helped facilitate that effort.

The groups, eight of them, including the city of Stockton, came up with the plan, and to do it they first had to invest in gaining an understanding of the possible hazards and problems the communities were facing.

“The whole application process took about a year, and that’s unfunded time, that’s everyone on their own time contributing,” Wang said. “We pushed it to the brink in terms of whether we could sustain the effort.”

Heat was a major factor in some of these communities. Stockton is dry and arid and offers little in the way of tree shade to cool communities. Through the grant, TCC is planting 2,000 trees in strategic locations.

Utility bills are through the roof in these areas and residents often spend 30 to 40 percent of their income on utilities. The trees should help with this, as will retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient.

The threat of major flooding was another area that the group uncovered.

“Stockton sits at the bottom of the Delta basin and so if there were to be a major flooding event, the flood projections for Stockton are not great,” Wang said. She said that was a surprise to many who weren’t really aware of the potentially devastating hazard, which will take long-term planning to fix.

Community Development Director Irene Calimlim worked on the project with her group, Little Manila Rising, a TCC partner.

Calimlim explained that the group had to learn some of the history of the city as well to be able to understand how some of the neighborhoods face greater effects of heat and pollution than others.

She said that Stockton, a port city, is built in such a way that pollutants are boxed into some of those communities by major freeways, an airport and industrial sites. “A lot of stuff that seems to be contributing to really high asthma rates and cardiovascular disease,” she explained.

“It’s kind of interesting to learn about Stockton history going back to the 1800s,” Calimlim said. She said it became a diverse city as the Gold Rush attracted Chinese immigrants, then a Filipino population that farmed the area, then Little Tokyo and Little Manila.

“We learned that from the 1920s, Stockton has one of those historical redline maps that started to cause planning processes that created suburbanization and growth to the north and led to restrictions that barred minority communities from buying those homes,” Calimlim said.

And thus those populations live today in a form of environmental racism, trapped, as it were, in zones where more heat or pollution are important health considerations.