A primer for infusing diversity and equity into public policy
California voters taxed themselves more than $4.1 billion to improve park access when they approved Proposition 68, the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018 on the June ballot. Why?
According to Senator Kevin de León, a leader of the measure: “Parks make life better. You can feel the grass below your feet. You can see butterflies. You can hear birds. Playing fields for soccer, not just passive parks, but active parks, make life better,” Sen. de León made this statement during a community celebration at Vista Hermosa Natural Park and Soccer Fields, which adjoin the Edward R. Roybal Learning Academies. The celebration and setting, in one of the most park-poor assembly districts in the state, reinforced the message for the shared use of parks, schools and pools to make optimal use of tax payers’ dollars.
“This is a human and civil rights issue,” Sen. de León emphasizes. “Some folks have to fight and struggle for access. So, thanks to the incredible folks here, and the incredible campaign that made this come to fruition. Folks like The City Project, Our Parks LA Coalition and others have done incredible work.”
Sen. de León continues: “Parks matter for health reasons. This includes type 2 diabetes, obesity, psychological and mental stress…pressures we deal with. Parks make for great therapy for mental health issues. Parks impact all of us. Everyone loves parks,” he concludes. “Parks and green space, equal access to bees, trees, the ocean, beaches, larger regional state parks, soccer fields, pocket parks. We want it all.”
Prop 68 recognizes disparities in park access and helps ensure everyone has their fair share of healthy parks, water and climate protections. People of color and low-income people disproportionately have the worst access to parks and recreation, are harmed by global warming and are among the biggest supporters of conservation measures.
Prop 68 does the following:
- Authorizes $4.1 billion for state and local parks, natural resources protection, climate adaptation, water quality, and flood protection
- Recognizes the underinvestment in parks, trails and outdoor infrastructure in disadvantaged areas and communities
- Favors disadvantaged communities for certain projects
- Provides workforce education and training, contractor and job opportunities for disadvantaged communities
- Provides standards for outreach to minority, low-income and disabled populations, and tribal communities under section 8
- Requires annual audits
The Prop 68 standards are important to measure progress and equity, and to hold public officials accountable. The annual audit makes it possible to ensure the standards are being met. Public agencies that receive Prop 68 funds must consider actions to engage diverse populations, including minority, low-income and disabled people, and tribal communities under section 8. Those actions include:
- Conducting active outreach to diverse populations about programs and opportunities
- Mentoring new environmental, outdoor recreation and conservation leaders to increase diverse representation
- Creating new partnerships with state, local, tribal, private and nonprofit organizations to expand access
- Increasing visitation and access
- Expanding multilingual and culturally appropriate materials
- Developing or expanding coordinated efforts to promote youth engagement and empowerment, including fostering new partnerships with diversity-serving and youth-serving organizations, urban areas and programs
- Identifying staff liaisons to diverse populations
Prop 68 recognizes the dangers of green displacement, where, as communities become greener, more desirable and more expensive, current residents no longer are able to live or even work nearby. Prop 68 prioritizes funding for projects that prevent displacement as a result of increased housing costs.
Legislative leaders and Governor Jerry Brown led the battle to put Prop 68 on the ballot. These leaders include Sen. de León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assembly Members Eduardo García and Cristina García.
The City Project worked with these legislative leaders to include the provisions on diversity and equal justice in Prop 68. That language in turn is based on the Presidential Memorandum called Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Our National Parks, National Forests, and Other Public Lands and Waters (2017). The City Project also worked with GreenLatinos, Next 100 Coalition and others to support that work. In recent testimony before the Congressional Forum on “People Over Polluters” in Washington, D.C., The City Project testified on Prop 68 as a best practice for the nation.
Prop 68 and its provisions on diversity, equal justice and inclusion are more examples of progressives taking matters into their own hands to improve equal opportunity in California. The diversity language was added directly by the people and the leaders, not by mainstream environmental organizations and funders that have dictated the terms of past “pay-to-play” natural resource funding measures.
Indeed, the first bill that then-Assembly Member de León introduced on his first day in office was a park bond measure that passed. He later worked with community leaders to define standards for “park-poor” and “income-poor” communities to receive park funding. The standards worked: fully 88 percent of those funds reached communities of color and low-income communities. These measures were a response to ballot measures that make empty promises to distribute park and resource funds equitably, and notably failed to deliver.
Progressive grassroot leaders are often marginalized by mainstream organizations and government agencies. They have helped change California into a “state of resistance” against national cutbacks in safety-net protections for environmental justice, health equity, climate and conservation, and other areas. The state’s journey from Prop. 187, which would have made undocumented immigrants in the state ineligible for public benefits, required legislative action, but it was pushed every step of the way by immigrant advocates. While Governor Brown receives credit for the state’s current budget surplus, the “millionaires’ tax” that raised needed revenue was the result of activists threatening to run their own ballot measure. Even the decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 is the product of an even more aggressive schedule offered by labor and community allies, according to University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, Prop 68 offers lessons for activists and candidates nationwide.
Robert García is the Founding Director-Counsel for The City Project/Proyecto del Pueblo