Low-income communities, communities of color, and other vulnerable populations experience a disproportionately severe impact of climate change compared to other communities. And, these communities are often unaware that they could have a say about what happens in their city when it comes to the things that affect their environment. East Palo Alto, in particular, is a high-risk, vulnerable community as it is located in an area that will be affected by rising sea levels.
We’re proud to be leading an effort towards environmental justice that expands beyond our local communities to broader San Mateo County. Nuestra Casa advocates, informs, and trains members of our community to become environmental justice leaders. By teaching and unlocking local communities of color’s leadership potential, they can understand, develop, and prioritize local solutions to more comprehensively address environmental equity and justice issues. We believe our community can do more than survive in this climate reality.
Our work in this area includes broad advocacy and community engagement as well as specific programs, like Food Distribution and Environmental Justice Parent Academy.
Environmental Justice in the Bay Area
In 2019, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) made history by voting to amend the SF Bay Plan to address environmental justice. Nuestra Casa was part of the Environmental Justice Review Team that helped establish and implement these amendments. The amendment is a significant step towards addressing historic discriminatory environmental and public health policies and planning practices that resulted in communities of color and low-income communities bearing an unequal burden of the climate crisis. The BCDC amendment means that communities of color will more meaningfully engage in shoreline development projects. And, it means that public shoreline spaces will be more accessible for all communities, not just high-income ones.
Authentic Community Engagement
Residents of communities disproportionately affected by climate change, like East Palo Alto, have historically been left out of environmental planning and advocacy efforts. Nuestra Casa is changing that dynamic by putting the community into the drivers’ seat of environmental justice efforts. Agencies and organizations throughout San Mateo County contract with us to gather community input about environmental issues and development projects that affect our community members. The result is a more legitimate, democratic policy process—genuine community engagement and a shift in the power dynamic for a community like East Palo Alto. Read a summary of our accomplishments here.
East Palo Alto has a long history of water rights and quality issues. Working with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, Nuestra Casa is part of a broad Bay Area water justice initiative. Under this initiative, we support residents in assessing and test their drinking water. We receive technical assistance to guide this work as part of the Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement Program (DACTIP). Once the results are in, we plan to work with the community to determine the best path forward for improving water infrastructure, access, and quality. Read the results of a survey of community members from 2019 in this report.
Environmental Justice Academy
Our Environmental Justice Academy organizes and empowers community residents to take ownership of their advocacy abilities. The goal is to ensure low-income and immigrant communities’ inclusion in discussions and policies related to climate change. Through this process, participants built their environmental understanding incrementally as a cohort during the multi-week sessions. Sign up for our next Academy here.
Food Rescue & Distribution
Did you know that our Food Distribution program does more than feed thousands of people every month? With our partners, San Mateo County Office of Sustainability and Second Harvest Food Bank, we also save tens of thousands of pounds of edible food per month from a landfill, reducing greenhouse gases.