Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News VOLUME 32, NUMBER 2, FALL/WINTER 2023

THE STATE HOUSING ELEMENT LAW CREATES POWERFUL OPPORTUNITIES TO ADVANCE ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY ACROSS CALIFORNIA

Written by Ashley Werner1

INTRODUCTION

Accomplished civil rights and environmental justice leader and West Fresno resident Mrs. Mary Curry often says that, if one branch of a tree is damaged, the entire tree knows and works to repair that branch.2 She makes this point to illustrate her perspective that if one neighborhood or population is uniquely harmed by environmental degradation, disinvestment, or other threats to human well-being and access to opportunity, other neighborhoods in a community and the greater body politic should naturally work to come to that neighborhood’s aid. They should work in unison to repair the harm and restore health, well-being and equilibrium for the benefit of the entire community.

In California, low-income communities and communities of color, especially Black and Latinx communities, experience insufficient decent quality housing, inadequate or absent infrastructure, services, and amenities, and exposure to disproportionate and often severe pollution burdens compared to more affluent and predominately White communities.3 These inequities trace their origins to historic explicitly discriminatory policies and practices which denied people and communities access to housing, financial services, and public and private investment based on income and race and bombarded low-income communities and communities of color with noxious and polluting land uses.4 California’s legacy of discrimination persists today, often through facially neutral policies and practices, which perpetuate, reinforce, and exacerbate long-standing disparities based on income, race, and place.5 This reality yields devastating consequences: residents of low-income communities and communities of color live shorter lives, experience worse health outcomes, and face acute barriers to opportunities that allow people to thrive.6

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