Supervisors approve creation of new environmental justice office: ‘We are at a crisis point’


The historic San Diego County Administration Building. (Adobe Stock image)

SAN DIEGO (CNS) –  The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved the creation of an Office of Environmental and Climate Justice to help communities harmed by pollution and environmental racism.

The state of California defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people of all races, cultures incomes and national origins with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”

Supervisor Nora Vargas, who proposed creating the office, said it’s time to make local government work for all residents.

“We are at a crisis point that will only continue to escalate,” she said. “We’re looking for systemic change, so this will be a countywide process.”

Vargas said that according to the American Lung Association, San Diego neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan and National City rank third in the nation for lung conditions such as asthma.

Vargas credited community and environmental groups such as Casa Familiar, which also conducted air-monitoring studies, for their input in creating the new office. Those organizations “lead the work that government should handle,” she said, adding an environmental justice office will result in stronger communities.

The office will function within the county’s Land Use and Environment Group and have a director, along with additional staff support. Money for the office will come from the fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

Supervisors directed Helen Robbins-Meyer, chief administrative officer, to report back over the next 120 days on the scope, roles and responsibilities of the Office of Environmental Justice, including:

  • engaging environmental justice communities to establish programs and services, and creating steering committees for North El Cajon, North Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and Sweetwater;
  • working with other county departments, the San Diego Air Pollution Control District and other partners on efforts to reduce pollution, improve air quality, and ensure robust environmental and climate justice practices throughout the region;
  • identifying state and federal grant or funding opportunities to support programs, activities and investments, and;
  • creating an outreach and engagement strategy for environmental justice communities throughout the region.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said the new office would further ensure that every resident has clean air and water.

During the public comment period, environmental and social justice activists praised the board’s decision.

Rick Bates, a research analyst with Unite Here Local 30 — which represents 6,000 hotel, food service, airport and gaming workers — said many of its members are immigrants living in communities affected by climate change.

“All San Diegans have a right to health, happiness and prosperity,” he said.

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