Environmental & Climate Justice

To Address Past and Present Injustices and to Ensure that These Injustices Do Not Occur in the Future

Pollution affects everyone; however, race and income levels cause some residents to be disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards - such as industrial waste, air pollution, and indoor toxins - and these have negative effects on their health and safety. At the same time, people of color, particularly those in poverty, have the fewest resources to address these hazards. The County of San Diego is leading a regional effort to focus on environmental justice (EJ) and to reduce community exposures to health hazards. On May 19, 2021, the Board of Supervisors (Board) approved Vice Chair Vargas’ recommendation to direct the establishment of an Office of Environmental and Climate Justice (OECJ) within the County’s Land Use and Environment Group. The Board also directed staff to return with the overall scope, roles and responsibilities of the office, including engagement of environmental justice communities in the unincorporated areas to determine their needs and preferences for involvement, collaboration with other regional agencies and cities, identification of grant or funding opportunities at the federal and State level, and an outreach and engagement strategy for environmental justice communities throughout the region.

Foundational to the concept of environmental justice are the pillars of “fair treatment” and “meaningful involvement”. California Government Code Section 65040.12(e)(1) 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.” Based upon feedback provided by stakeholders, the proposed mission would be as follows: “The Office of Environmental and Climate Justice will prioritize and value the human health and well-being of the San Diego region through collaboration with our communities, neighboring jurisdictions, and other regional entities. OECJ will partner with environmental justice communities throughout the region to be responsive to their self-determined needs through meaningful engagement, while respecting community expertise and recognizing the racial injustices and historical disparities faced by them, now and for generations to come.”

This mission will continue to evolve as OECJ hires a Director, and the needs and socio-economic profiles of the impacted communities evolve. Some of the key findings from our stakeholder outreach include prioritizing collaboration and outreach in EJ communities, developing partnerships and opportunities within EJ communities, maintaining a broad scope and role, facilitating partnerships to identify community engagement priorities, and building capacity across the region.

This office will be a uniquely positioned regional entity focused on environmental and climate justice issues both in the unincorporated areas of the county, as well as the incorporated cities throughout the region. It would address environmental issues inside the home and in the neighborhood, particularly those factors that exacerbate the concentration of pollution and their adverse effects in certain geographic areas of the region. These include stationary and mobile sources of air pollution, toxic hotspots, greenhouse gas emissions, the urban heat island effect, substandard housing, a lack of access to healthy food, lack of transportation options, poor quality neighborhood infrastructure, such as broadband and connectivity, and a historic deficiency in open space and recreational amenities. The purpose of this office is to address these issues and advance equity, environmental and climate justice in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by environmental burdens and related health problems.

The attached draft roadmap is a proposal for how the roles and responsibilities of OECJ could be implemented over the course of one year, and outlines recommended roles and responsibilities for the new office based on stakeholder input.