Pesticides Use and Environmental Justice in California: A meeting with the Assistant Secretary of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at California’s EPA, Yana Garcia

The most important thing about pesticide use is that we don’t know about it.

In California, families living in agricultural areas using pesticides have high development rates of  neurological disorders, primarily Parkinson’s disease. Children living throughout the Central Valley where pesticides are used in agriculture are particularly vulnerable to the development of these diseases. It should come to no surprise that chemicals used to kill pests are highly toxic to human health–deadly as a matter of fact. If we had to pay for the social, public health and environmental costs of pesticide chemical products, the price of food would be resisted throughout the state. The EPA has been fighting pesticide use and exposure throughout California. Yana Garcia, the acting Assistant Secretary of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at CALEPA, agreed to speak with us about her work in serving as the Assistant Secretary of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at CALEPA. Her work includes protecting communities from toxic environmental exposures and enforcing human rights. As we sipped on our hot drinks at a local Latin-American cafe in downtown Oakland, she explained to me the new California statute in charge of monitoring pesticide use. Although there are a plethora of things we are warned to keep on our radar, pesticides is one that should be towards the top of the list.

Y (Yana): The Federal Statute that governs pesticide use is called FIFRA, the federal insecticide, fungicide, and rodenticide act. That statute was really designed to stimulate the growth of the agricultural economy and the growth of chemical products that would assist in agricultural production. The main thrust of the statute is to look at how we can support or facilitate  the registration of pesticide products while counterbalancing some of the environmental impacts that we know are caused by pesticides, since pesticides are known to kill biological species, mainly pests. There aren’t really strong provisions within FIFRA that allow us to articulate human health impacts in a way that is all that helpful from an advocacy perspective. It also sets up the structure that then influences what all the states do with registration. For example, the department of pesticide regulation operates under the general guidance provided by FIFRA, and I’d say there’s weak standing for a lot of public health protections in that realm. That has always been a challenge.

V (Valentina):What is needed to stimulate more attention in that area?

Y: A couple things, I think better health data would definitely be helpful, but I don’t think that is the sole answer, because I’d also say we have a lot of health data that is either ignored or is not taken seriously enough. I think a mass consumer based movement would be helpful. There is a pesticide that is still on the market called Chlorpyrifos that has garnered a lot of public attention in the last few years. It’s extremely harmful, and  is known to cause neurological impacts that are really really dangerous, particularly for kids, yet it’s used pretty prevalently throughout the state of California. When people think of California they think of organic foods and sort of fad healthy diets and environmental movements and in many cases we see that is the case. We have a lot of farmers markets, a sort of farm to table culture , and many consumers here prioritize organics. But when it comes to actually drilling down on what some of the most harmful pesticides are, we’re sort of lacking the same kind of attention that we put on say greenhouse gas emissions. So one we have all of this movement towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing your carbon footprint, and we think about that now as consumers I’d say, not as much as we should, but at least some. We need to also start thinking about  what we do in our day to day lives to facilitate the decrease in the use of of pesticide products. One thing that would help is product labeling, so today if you label something “non-GMO”, it’s kind of popular. You have fair-trade labels, you have gluten free and paleo labels, all these things, so why not slap on a labels that actually show, CPF, or chlorpyrifos, or organophosphate free, or some kind of a direct correlation to a product that we are trying to get off the market. And a third thing thing is that our regulators really need to take their jobs much more seriously to do more than what is required, as a bare minimum protection. So this kind of goes to the overarching problem. The FIFRA statute, another statute that sort of governs how we regulate pesticides aren’t going to protect us. They are not going to be the gold standard that we need to live by in order to protect our health.

V: It needs to be ahead of the legislation.

Y: Exactly, it needs to be ahead of the game. And maybe we also legislation. We might need some serious federal legislation and/or state legislation that will help us phase out some of these products and enhance  on some of the weak statutes that we currently have in place.

V: We need feel empowered in ourselves to start changing without waiting for legislation to follow. How have things changed in the past 15 years in this field in the work that you are doing?

Y: So I’d say in the context of my work, and I generally only work within the state, so I’ll keep my comments pretty limited to that, but I think the articulation of Environmental Justice as a concept, that can and should be informing all the work that we do within the environmental movement and within our regulatory work as state agencies and at the state level has been huge. I still think we have a long way to go. And in some instances people can tend to think of it as a fad, but in many places, 10-15 years ago, people didn’t really know what environmental justice was or didn’t really think about it. And I’ve seen that across the board, not just in the state agency where I now work, but I’ve seen it in the non-profit space, I’ve seen it in the general environmental movement, in the public interest environmental movement, this sort of grappling with what the intersection is and should be between environmental conservation and social justice. And racial justice and equity. There is somewhat of a tendency to give it nominal treatment, maybe some superficial treatment, and not really engage in the root causes of way racial inequities persist today that are really based in racism and economic inequities, but I still think that even in those instances it’s a conversation starter and maybe in many ways an opportunity to go deeper and get more. So, I’d say that is one of the biggest things that has affected the type of work that I do.

V: What are some sources of inspiration or solutions that have been effective in other places or here?

Y: I don’t know that it is necessarily a solution per say, but here in the state of California, almost every year there have been a set of bills, not just one or even two, but more like 3-5 minimum, that have something to do with environmental justice and something to do with addressing impacts that affect disadvantaged communities in particular throughout the state in the environmental realm. And I think that directly relates to the movement building that’s taken place in the state so we’ve seen a lot of broad based coalitions evolve into pretty sophisticated alliances. So the California Environmental Justice Alliance is one example of that where small place-based organizations doing work that is really at the  grassroots level that is really based in particular communities can come together and actually develop the narratives that build strong capacity for those types of legislative winds to take place. EJ is inherently a very local concept right, you are looking at the various effects of not just environmental issues but socio economic issues, political issues, and disparities–what those effects actually cause on the ground. So you are taking a very intersectional approach, but you are really looking locally within a particular city, an incorporated area, a neighborhood, you are really looking at what the effects are in this location, whatever that may be. In many instances it’s actually not cities, sometimes it’s rural areas, sometimes they are unincorporated areas, sometimes they are communities that are largely farmworker communities where they don’t have the infrastructure that a city or municipal government would offer because they are fully unincorporated. With that you have this very grassroots level of focus, so you might not be developing the networks necessary to create change at a statewide or even regional level. And I think what we are seeing more of is that these state-wide networks, or regional networks, are developing, so it’s giving this extra life to a lot of these efforts that we have seen so often that are happening all over the place on the ground, and I think that’s really important because it creates a platform that gives a lot more power and thrust to issues that are being fought on the ground.

V: I am interested in hearing more about your work with Tribal Affairs.

Y: So there are a lot of aspects to it, but I guess I’ll focus on the helpful general aspects. First, it is interesting and in many ways beneficial I think, that our Tribal Affairs work at CALEPA is housed within the same unit as our environmental justice work. I think there are actually some pros and cons to that. On the pros side, there’s actually almost no better example of environmental justice issues from the perspective of sheer racism and genocide when it came to really taking over natural resources than how tribes have been dealt with not just in this country but across the Americas, across the world actually, so it is in some ways really relevant to keep Tribal Affairs within the Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs Unit. The downside is that particularly because I am at a state agency, and state agencies are less versed in dealing with Tribes than Federal Agencies are because of the nature of the relationship between tribes and states versus the Federal Government. Sometimes the tribal work can get a little side-barred, a little siphoned off from the rest of the work. The EJ work here in California has grown and developed so much largely because we have the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is the fund of cap-and-trade proceeds, that is now required to go in some percentage to disadvantaged communities, and so that whole area of investments-based work is also housed within the Office of Environmental Justice, at least in part. So there is a lot of work in that area, and it takes over, and the tribal work doesn’t always get its due attention and its due level of resources. So there is that kind of pro and con. The tribal work generally consists of not just looking at the environmental impacts of some of our regulatory work, but also really thinking about the assumptions and culture that much of our staff and even some of our executive leadership have around the role of the state in relation to tribes. There is an assumption, for example, that state agencies don’t have to deal with tribes because we have no jurisdiction over tribal lands, and that assumption is obviously wrong, because when you think of environmental media it’s not like water contamination or soil contamination or air pollution stops at any form of a border. The assumption also lies in the fact that there’s a misconception I think that tribes don’t want to work with the state, that tribes only want to work with federal government, and in my experience that is not the case. There are a lot of barriers to break down to talk to state agencies about the role that they should have in terms of engaging with and interacting with tribes. We do a lot of work in terms of providing guidance on what are called consultations. Consultations are government to government communications and negotiation processes between tribes and government agencies. Usually that involves federal government agencies, and federal government agencies have more of an articulation of what consultation entails, but it’s also with state agencies. So a big part of what I do is work with all of our various boards and departments and even sometimes other agencies whether those are local or regional agencies to think about whether their consultation practices are really meeting the goals of providing government to government consultation that respects and honors tribal sovereignty the way it should be.

V: What is the challenge there?

Y: There is usually an unwillingness to provide the type of leadership that tribes expect or desire in certain instances. So for example, a tribal chair should be meeting with the highest decision maker of a particular agency or department or really a particular government. So sometimes a tribal chair may demand to speak to the governor himself, and oftentimes, most of the time I’d say, that is not possible to accommodate. So the current governor, Governor Brown, put in place a tribal advisor position, so he has a tribal advisor, whose role it is often times to be deployed in these types of situations where maybe his presence is requested, but he can’t be there in person. She engages on his behalf. I think the real challenge for many agencies to wrap their heads around is that the real question of who should be the appropriate person to have in a consultation; it’s really the person who will be the ultimate decision-maker with respect to whatever issue is giving rise to the need for the consultation. Say it’s a beneficial use. Beneficial uses are the underlying way that you establish a water right by the state water board, and so defining what that beneficial use is, maybe it’s a cultural use or maybe it’s a subsistence fishing use by a tribe, should go to the head of the water board, or their designee, because the head of the water board might be making the ultimate decision about whether that beneficial use is going to be recognized or not.

V: What would you like to see in the future of the line of work you are doing?

Y: More representation, more people of color. And I know that it’s not necessarily like we get people of our background in these positions and all of our problems go away; however, I think we need to make a concerted effort to get folks of color into these positions to just increase the awareness of these issues and these positions as attainable. And people talk about the symbolic role that Obama’s presidency had in a way that almost diminishes the power of the symbol. The power of the symbol is everything sometimes. I think there’s a lot to be said for young kids for seeing scientists that look like them, seeing leaders in the environmental movement look like them. There’s a lot of power in that and by and large right now, in the environmental movement, there is so much work to be done in terms of increasing representation. Every time we think that we’ve made some progress, which is not to diminish the progress we’ve made, it’s still so apparent how much more progress we need to make. When you look at the numbers, they still are abhorrent. And we really need to fix that. So that’s one. Two, I think we have done a lot of work, particularly in the state to increase investments and focus in disadvantaged communities, and I think that’s been really great. I’d like to see more comprehensive technical assistance provided in tandem with those investments, so that we can ensure that those investments aren’t one time cash flow opportunities but they’re really long term opportunities that come with support over the longer term to make sure that implementation of various projects goes well and that we are not exacerbating current socio political inequities. So for example, climate investments in a city like Oakland have to come with really clear requirements and support to meet those requirements to ensure that vulnerable residents aren’t displaced, that homelessness is also being addressed. That we are not just looking at climate in a single sphere, but we are looking at it holistically in terms of how it pertains to all of the other issues that low income folks and vulnerable folks are facing.

V: What are some gems of advice that you have to pass on to people who are starting their career EJ work?

Y: Not to sleep on your voice. To really know that your experience matters and that your perspective is valuable. Only you can bring to the table what you can bring. And maybe that seems super different, or maybe you’re thinking it is not particularly relevant to a conversation that is kind of out there that is not directly tied to an environmental issue as it is being framed. Don’t be intimidated by that. I think putting your ideas forward, putting your thoughts forward and your perspective forward is really the only way that we are going to get to where we need to be in terms of actually adopting intersectional approaches to our environmental work—to think of environmental issues as attainable for you and not separate from your experience and your understanding of what is real.

Interview with Oscar Dubon

Interview with Oscar Dubon–Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion at UC Berkeley

This inverview was conducted by Valentina Cabrera, one of our fellows.

Oscar Dubon has been part of the UC Berkeley faculty for the last 20 years as a Cal alum. When he first entered the engineering department, he was one of the only Latinx students, and now he is the Vice Chancellor of Equity & Inclusion at UC Berkeley

Latinxs & Environment (L&E): Good morning! So let’s get right to it. How did you hear about the Latinos and the Environment at UC Berkeley?


Oscar: I have been involved with the Latinx community, at the faculty level, and I have known Lupe Gallegos Diaz for a while. She told me about the Latinos and the Environment Initiative that she was working on with Federico, and it really resonated with me because we had done some work to cultivate a really diverse and inclusive college of engineering and integrate social justice into engineering. We developed new courses for the curriculum, and one of the courses that was developed is a lecture called Engineering, the Environment and Society, which is basically and environmental and social justice course from standpoint of engineering with the intention to engage historically underrepresented students in issues around power, privilege, race in environmental issues and engineering decision that have an impact on society. When Federico and Lupe mentioned it, I just thought it was a very natural fit. It is also an important way to bring spaces together across campus–community engagement,  engineering, public policy, government, community organizations… bringing all these courses together to really create an interdisciplinary approach to these issues. I thought it was a real natural connection. And as a Latinx, I thought this was a really important cause.


L&E: This really resonates with me too! As a Latina, I don’t really see a lot of other latinos in my environmental studies classes, despite the fact that this is impacting a lot of our families both in California and also in our Latin-american home countries so much.


Oscar: And you know, our college of engineering has among the most Latinx students.


L&E: Wow, I did not know that, that’s wonderful.


Oscar: That is another reason why this felt like a really natural fit, bringing professional development, community engagement, environmental education, etc. together.


L&E: You have been a part of UC Berkeley for a long time. What are some of the changes that you have seen with the Latino community on campus since you joined faculty in 2000?


Oscar: Well just in my own space I have seen a huge change. So I first came here in 1989 as a doctoral student in the College of Engineering for Material Sciences Engineering, and I was here over 6 years earlier as a graduate student, and over that time I may have met one or two African American or Latinx PhD students in engineering, so didn’t have that community. I met many graduates in the social sciences and humanities in latinx grad students but I didn’t have that much engagement with my latinx identity in my own field. Now it’s very different. Nows there’s a thriving graduate group of latinos graduate students in Science and Engineering and I go to banquets where there could be 40 students in STEM with latinx backgrounds. That is very inspirational and uplifting. That makes me feel that there is progress–it is always slow, but that is part of the nature of how a lot of people stick around at university. I have been a faculty member for 20 years and so when you look at the cycle of people coming in and leaving and creating opportunities for diversity to happen, sometimes you can’t be looking at things with a period of two years, you have to be looking at things that are in the 10 year range to make sure you are taking steps that bear fruit over the course of a decade because those are the types of cycles that the faculty level is dealing with. I also know in engineering, I have been very pleased that we have had progress around being more inclusive of increasing diversity in the college. I think that his is important for the initiative right now, because we will have engineers who are really interested in the environment who will want to engage in the types of questions  that this initiative is really seeking to address and create solutions for. So I see a lot of progress in that space, with Latinx students population increasing naturally over the course of the last few decades. Initiatives like this, Latinxs and the Environment, can catalyze even more progress.


L&E: What lead to the success?


Oscar: I think a number of reasons, one is there needs to be a concerted effort to effect change from the diversity standpoint, you can’t just let it happen because then all of the obstacles that exist for that to happen would just perpetuate a lack of diversity. So we have to look at what are the structures that are impeding that and what are the actions and practices that we can take to change that. These are difficult things, and we take action with that. It also takes support from the academic leadership, dean, chairs, faculty. And all of this came from a moment of crisis there that really lead us to be more proactive and not just wait for things to happen but take action. Unquestionably,  over 50% of California high school graduates are latinx, and this is only going to grow. There will be change. The question is how fast and how are we addressing what is impeding the natural evolution of how the demographics are going to change. And if we don’t do that then we will continue having challenges.


L&E: Latinos are increasingly taking the lead on environmental issues in California. What importance does this have for the future development of California and Central America?


Oscar: Well, that’s a very interesting question, its very broad I’ll say that internationally, I think there are challenges that might be too big for this Initiative to address because you are looking at a socio-political landscape that is fraught with many challenges. If you look at central america, each country has its own set of challenges. For example, Nicaragua right now, which is where my parents’ home country, is having a horrible situation where our students are voicing their concerns both the lack of opportunity and political situation and they are being shot to death. So when we think about not having fundamental societal structures that allow people to make decisions without consequences, and you have corrupt government structures that have been in play for decades since dictators were elected. So the you start to think, well what can I do around the environment? It’s hard to focus on the environment if you are having to focus on life or death issues. So that is a really hard piece. It’s important for us to not lose sight of the environmental impacts we are seeing because they will impact all of us over time, but i think that society needs to be ready to have long term goals and commitments and stability for those goals to be fulfilled. I think any latin american country very sadly and tragically is still working on that. Here in california it’s very different, if we are also looking at the south west, the latinx community needs to have not just a voice but a significant voice at every table including decisions around sustainable cities, labor, governance, environment, and all of these issues that impact our ability to make sound environmental decisions and implement sound environmental policies. And California is a leader in that, as one of the largest economies in the world not just in the US, as a state that is among the most progressive in all type of environmental policies that support an increasingly diverse society and eventually our society is moving in that direction. So we are really the test bed of all the changes that need to happen, not just in the environment but in all sorts of different areas. When we make a decisions, others listen and look to us, so this is an opportunity to understand that when we make decisions, we need to understand it in the context of scientifically, financially or fiscally, and also what makes sense in the very communities that we are engaging and trying to serve. And we are not doing that in California right now. We have a responsibility to become good stewards of the environment our economic infrastructure and all these other things.


L&E: Being a role model for many of the Latinos in our community, what advice do you have for new Latino students starting at UC Berkeley or at other UC’s?


Oscar: Well, it’s hard for me to see myself as a role model because I just try to do the best I can in whatever position I am in. I love what i do, and I am very fortunate to be passionate about the work that I do. The more passionate you are, the more successful you will be in expressing it and finding ways to support and sustain that passion through your work or career. Here at UC Berkeley, different parts of the campus reflect aspects of the Latinx community, that is something that has important meaning for diversity and inclusion on campus. How do the people in leadership reflect who we are? This takes a lot of work, coming back to the way that structures and practices limit the diversity seen on campus. As a parent of a new Cal student, I think about the types of engagement my brown daughter will have on campus. It’s all about finding community, across different identities. For example, I find fulfillment in my latinx community across different departments, but i also connect with my engineering community and want to talk about all the research that I love what i do. Sometimes they are not all intersecting but i need to find a way to navigate those communities. So i think that the most important thing for latinx students when they come here is that they explore all different parts of themselves that make up who they are and see how different communities enable them to explore the multiple parts of who they are. Even where you don’t feel welcome, it’s important to reach out and find ways to be strong in those spaces to open the door for the next people to come. It takes work. Sometimes you may be the only person in your field, but you are the only person who can be responsible for your passion and dream. Perhaps, there is a need to discuss strategies and tools in situations where you may be the only person of your culture or background in a specific area of study.


L&E: I agree! We need to keep our strength and focus in those challenging moments.


Oscar: There are various alumni that I have heard speak, and they talk about what they did despite the odds, not what they didn’t do because of their situations. Sometimes it does take extraordinary effort. But we cannot shy away from the challenge. We can’t afford to! I hope that over time our work expands opportunities and makes it easier for other students down the line to feel fully welcome and supported.


Interview with Sarah Sieloff- Director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling

Sarah Sieloff- Director of the Center for Creative Land Recycling

Oakland’s Center for Creative Land Recycling

Sarah Sieloff directs the non-profit Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR or “see clear”), one of Oakland’s own, an organization committed to transforming communities through land recycling.  CCLR’s work facilitates the redevelopment of brownfields (vacant, abandoned or contaminated parcels) to support sustainability and environmental justice. Throughout the past 20 years, CCLR has provided technical assistance to hundreds of communities, and has helped these same communities win  millions of dollars in federal and state grants to support land transformation projects around the country. These projects have removed environmental and human health hazards, replaced wastelands with urban oases, and created community assets in the form of jobs, new tax revenues, and beautiful spaces. CCLR’s work brings together local non-profits, government entities, and communities “from the neighborhood up” to consistently achieve effective land reuse catalyzed by local imagination.  

What are the most successful projects that you have seen CCLR take on?


CCLR worked with the  community of San Pedro in Los Angeles to turn a vacant lot into a neighborhood park.  San Pedro is majority Latinx community. It’s located close to freeways and industry, which raises many environmental justice and health issues. Residents love their community and wanted to express that San Pedro is a great place to be. CCLR helped San Pedro fund the community outreach and design process that led to a conceptual design of the park.  Today, San Pedro welcome park. It’s a lovely little park, it’s right off the side of the main road that goes into San Pedro and it has some street furniture, some places to sit, a flagpole, some greenery. It looks a lot better than it used to. And most importantly it’s a great way for the community to express to the world that this is their little spot and they are very pleased and happy to be there and welcome to their neighborhood. I should say the community did a lot of beautification work on that parcel that was driven by them for them. So you can really see how without engaged neighbors, nothing would have really happened there, or less would have happened.


Another example, if you drive or travel through the East Bay, you may have seen Union Park. the park is right outside of Alameda on the other side of the estuary. It’s at the park street bridge practically, it’s on the embarcadero in Oakland. That parcel, well water fronts have been working areas for a long time, and in the Bay Area we are no exception so this particular parcel of land was an all purpose industrial site. Contaminated with oil solvents and other chemicals that come with years and years of storing vehicles and producing chemicals who knows what else. The Unity Council, which is an organization based in Oakland, worked with the city of oakland to turn that parcel into a park and that required assessing the parcel to  better understand how it was contaminated and with what it was contaminated and with what and also cleaning it up and remediating it. And again, this happened before my time but I love this story because it think it really shows how an engaged community with a local champion in this case a local non-profit really made the difference. Because when the clean up started it was shown that there was more pollution than had originally been expected, so we realized that the clean up was going to be much more expensive that what originally was expected and anticipated. The Unity Council is a massive non-profit but no non-profit can absorb massive increases in cost/budget unexpectedly and be okay. There was a breaking point where there was a choice. In order to scoop out and remove all the contaminants and say, send out on a train either to Utah or somewhere else in California that was going to cost way more money than anybody had on hand.  The alternative was working with regulators and a landscape architect who was actually brought in from Mexico to find a way to contain the contaminated soil on site and that really reduced the cost of remediation while still protecting human health and the environment. And today when you drive past Union Park, you may notice a large mound, and its really Nicely landscaped, there’s a path you can walk up, beautiful native plants… At the core of that mound, deep underneath impenetrable barriers and several feet of clean soil, in addition to the landscaping, is the contaminated soil. Long story short, it’s a pretty great story because the understanding of the clean up practice. Union city made that all possible. If you look at the waterfront on embarcadero, Union Point Park is a important node of green space because lots one of the few green spaces on that water front for a significant length of the area so it makes a positive contribution to the city to the surrounding neighborhood and this is all . Thanks to the Unity Council. And I should say, I was really fortunate to meet Arabella Martinez who was one of the directors of the Unity Council at the time and is a community activist, I think she still may be involved with the Latino Community Foundation, she was their interim executive for a while. But she is just phenomenal and  One of our interns a couple of years ago did an interview about a separate project that they did in Fruitvale. And it’s an amazing story and Arabella pulls no punches and it just a formidable and phenomenal community activist.


Third one that is more recent: A good example would be Puerto Rico. In PR, there are a lot of challenges we don’t necessarily see on the mainland. The island is continuing to recover from the hurricanes. Sometimes when new mayors are elected at the municipal level, and those mayors come from a different party, the transitions between administrations is not always smooth and that can create challenges to continuity for things like Federal Grants. So we have seen situations where the change in administration can kind of lead to grant funded projects being stranded. That is an issue on which we are consistently working on and that we are building staff capacity for in Puerto Rico, so that does not have to happen. One projects that has been super successful I think on the Island is an assessment and planning project on the southern part of the island, its close to Ponce and Guayama and it deals with redevelopment of a substantial tract of land that is a former oil refining facility. This is the World’s Second largest petrochemical area on the planet, so there have been EJ concerns in this area for a very long time.The local council of governance for Southern Puerto Rico, which the full name of the organization is Desarrollo Integral del Sur, and they go by DISUR. They have spearheaded the application and management for multiple EPA grants which has given them the funding to be able to  plan for an EcoFriendly business park, so there is a planning element that is very community based and very inclusive, and they also have some money to to assess different properties. So for example they have made it a point of working with mayors of nearby small towns to do help things like assess old gas stations, vacant sites, industrial sites that have been vacant and no one knows what used to be on them and one knows whether or not they are contaminated and whether or not they can be redeveloped. That has been a great success story in Puerto Rico where you’ve got a local council of government. With ties to mayor and community, but is taking the lead of not only bringing federal resources to these communities and helping to manage them and putting them to good use. As I’m sure you know, finding a grant is one thing but having the skills for management and putting together a program of management of those grantsv is another thing. So those skills don’t necessarily always come together. But we have really seen that work really well with DiSur in SPR. Another story, another angle, kinda shows how it’s great to cut a ribbon, but most of the time it’s a long hard slog to the finish line and that is why every step along the way is very meaningful and really important, and we try to make sure we are helping to tell these stories of interim steps of that equal success.


You attended our inaugural Latinos and the Environment Summit on April 5-6. What attracts you to the Latinos and the Environment Initiative?

From our perspective, thinking about environmental justice and land reuse, it’s no accident that so many brownfields and dilapidated property concentrate in communities of color. These are patterns of a lot of times racist federal housing policies, discrimination, and there are issues in political power that are literally inscribed in the landscape. So the Communities that are the most impacted are the ones who have the fewest resources to take on these problems head on. This means a lot of times Latino, African American, and other communities of color. We work in Puerto Rico and also target our work in the mainland to communities dealing with brownfields and contaminated or vacant lands where the market alone is not going to drive redevelopment, so in other words we really try to push uphill against the economy and use our resources to go into those communities and help grow the capacity of the local actors to take these on.  I think Latinos and the Environment is a phenomenal idea because it creates a conversation that I haven’t heard a lot about. There are some groups out there, Green Latinos comes to mind, that are trying to really galvanize environmental opportunity and opportunity for action in the Latino community, but frankly I see that there is a larger discussion to be had and i frankly see the Environmental community as a whole becoming more diverse and needs to become more diverse. The people who are most impacted need to be at the forefront of these discussions. So I think Latinos and the Environment seems like a really great idea because it brought together such an amazing diversity of activists and professionals and it’s important to celebrate that and recognize that, but also when you put a bunch of smart people in a room, good stuff happens. Again the power of the network. I personally walked away from Latinos and the Environment having had so many inspiring conversations with just amazing people. I collected a number of business cards of people for folks who I hope to have an opportunity to work with over the next fews months and I gave me access to people who are out there. Many of us are working on the same issues but no one had brought us together before. Latinos and the Environment, to me is demonstrative of a whole bunch of potential. Your group is doing a great job of really harnessing that energy.


Thank you, we are mutually as excited. You are a role model for women leading the environmental movement. What advice do you have for young women working towards doing the same?

That’s such a great question. I work with a lot of women, and what advice do i have networking. I think that’s the third or fifth time that I have used that word but it’s really critical. I think there are a lot of women who want to help other women and networking is the way you find those women. Again, through Latinos and the Environment, I got to meet you! We probably won’t have time to discuss all the amazing things that you are doing throughout your undergraduate career, but I connected  with you because of networking. I connected with Lupe because of networking, and Lupe in turn has brought more career opportunities for professional growth with the students with whom she works. It’s all about networking and going out of your way and putting yourself in situations where you will end up connecting with people who are doing things that of are interesting to you. Women are often told not to be aggressive. We live in a culture that tells us not to pursue what we want–that’s an incredibly destructive and unhelpful cultural feedback out there in the ether if you will. For woman of any age, whether I’m taking to a college student ory m colleagues, and I give this advice to my friends and try to follow it, if you want to talk to somebody ask for an informational interview! If it’s in a job hunting context. See if that person will have a cup of coffee with you. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. You know, women I meet who are college students who are thinking about their career, I’m happy to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you. Even if that person walks away from the conversation saying, oh my gosh I do not want to work for a non-profit, or if you walk saying I am totally jazzed. That’s great too. Those are especially critical messages for women.


What do you see are the future step for CCLR? New areas you would like to work in? What are the future long term role that the non profit has?

Yeah that’s a great question, because I think especially in the environmental world the role of the non-profit has really grown and expanded in the past couple of decades. In the case of my organization, we work in a very market driven corner of the economy. Fundamentally, we are talking about real estate. Real estate is all about the market. Like I mentioned earlier, even our programs are shaped by markets where we can direct our resources to places where the market is not going to go and often where the local government doesn’t have the capacity to go. So these are things that we are always thinking about, and so I think for that reason, having the third sector, the nonprofit sector present is critically important. The forces of market and government alone cannot meet all of our needs and don’t, so I think nonprofits are going to continue to fill in really important ways. And we happen to be a really unique organization in that sense and perhaps illustrative of that trend, which I am really excited about, puts it puts us in a really unique position and I think we get to accomplish really interesting things together with local communities because of it.


Where CCLR is going? So we have an initiative called Land Recycling 2.0. and we started this initiative when right after we turned 20 years old as an organization, so in 2016, in the last year and a half we have been very focused on 3 things under Land Recycling 2.0. For one, we want to build more networks, there it is again (Sarah smiles) and stronger relationships among practitioners, so to do this we are starting a national mentoring network that is bringing together land reuse professionals from cities around the country big and small to provide a place and a platform where people who are in the public sector and dealing with these issues at the local level have a place to interact with one another and exchange ideas outside of a conference, outside of a special weekend where everyone is getting together for that specific purpose. We are trying to light the fire and keep it burning. So nationally mentoring is really exciting.


Where are we going? So we have an initiative called Land Recycling 2.0. and we started this initiative when right after we turned 20 years old as an organization so in 2016, in the last year and a half we have been very focused on 3 things under Land Recycling 2.0. For one, we want to build more networks, there it is again (Sarah smiles) and stronger relationships among practitioners, so to do this we are starting a national mentoring network that is bringing together land reuse professions from cities around the country big and small to provide a place and a platform where people who are in the public sector and dealing with these issues at the local level have a place to interact with one another and exchange ideas outside of a conference, outside of a special weekend where everyone is getting together for that specific purpose. We are trying to light the fire and keep it burning. So nationally mentoring is really exciting.


The second thing we are trying to do is diversify the field of land use, re-use and by extension urban planning. How we are doing this is by expanding job and career opportunities especially for students of color and first generation college students. I have heard, this came to mind, a couple of years ago I heard someone say, and this person was talking about the process of trying to redevelop blighted* sites in upstate New York, and they said that they went in search of an environmental engineer of color because the area they were working was predominantly Latino and African American, and they said they couldn’t find anyone. And i thought this was a really interesting point because in the field in which I work there are a lot of skilled professionals who are mainly older and going to retire in 5-10 years and have been working in the field for decades which is precisely why they are so good at what they do, but who’s going to fill in behind them? And furthermore, many communities of color are disproportionately impacted by these issues, like pollution, so where are those communities in this discussion? And our goal at CCLR is build on our existing internship program and really open up more opportunities for students who might have an interest in this work to join us–join us for a summer, join us for a semester. At the moment we take a couple of interns a year, and over the summer we take an intern from a wonderful program in San Francisco called the achieve program. And that student is typically a student of color usually from a low income area of the east bay or San Francisco. We have had fabulous experiences with this program, so right now we are just trying to figure out the money side of the equation so that we can bring these students on, pay them something of a stipend because the Bay Area is expensive and I personally feel like if you are going to have an intern working with you need to by paying them some sort of stipend to underwrite their own expenses. Internships for a diverse range of students is the second thing under Land Recycling 2.0.


The third is we are trying to elevate climate change in the field of land recycling as an issue that gets considered when people are working on land reuse projects. We really don’t want people to think of this as a separate issue; the two are intimately connected. Sea level rise is a good example, there are a lot of old industrial sites, polluted sites along the water in the Bay Area for example, but we are by no means unique. What happens to those sites when sea levels start to rise and storms are more intense–these are questions that really need to be answered. These are questions that we have by no means the answers to but we are trying to elevate the national dialogue on these issues. So these are the 3 things. Networking, increasing opportunities, and elevating climate change as an issue of concern.