In 2013 the state of California’s Environmental Protection Agency released CalEnviroScreen, a tool examining pollution burdens and social vulnerability for all of the state’s Census Tracts. The tool responds to the growing concerns in the state of environmental justice issues as well as provides direction in how to best direct funding for the most environmentally burdened and marginalized communities as mandated by law. Specifically California Senate Bill 535 requires the state to target 25% of financial resources from its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund “to projects that provide a benefit to disadvantaged communities.”
In addition the creators of the tool envision its use in municipality and city planning. As stated in the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool Report (California Environmental Protection Agency, October, 2014), “Local and regional governments, including regional air districts, water districts and planning and transit agencies, may also find uses for this tool….helping to identify and plan for sustainable development opportunities in heavily impacted neighborhoods.”
The scoring for Census Tracts within the CalEnviroScreen model is a relative score which combines social variables and pollution burdens. The variables chosen were based upon existing literature in the fields of environmental justice, human health, and social vulnerability. The social variables included in the tool are percent children, percent elderly, asthma rates, percent children of low-birth weight, percent low educational attainment, unemployment and poverty rates, and percent linguistically isolated. Pollution burden variables included indicators on air pollution, pesticide, and toxic release exposure, traffic density, water contamination and threats, and solid and hazardous waste sites / exposure (California Environmental Protection Agency, October, 2014). The scores for these variables were then combined to provide a relative ranking amongst all Census Tracts in the state, permitting identification at both the local and state level of neighborhoods experiencing both the greatest environmental burdens and social vulnerability to these burdens. The higher the score the greater the combined environmental burden and social vulnerability.
The analysis indicates the greatest combined environmental burden and social vulnerability primarily concentrated in the northern and western sections of the city (see above map, highest combined environmental burden and social vulnerability indicated in red). Furthermore 10 Census Tracts (with a combined population of approximately 48,000 residents) had CalEnviroScreen scores in the top 5% of greatest combined environmental burden and social vulnerability for the state of California.
Overall it is hoped that this analysis can help direct policy, programming, and resources to the most environmentally burdened and socially vulnerable neighborhoods as the City of Long Beach continues with its urban development and sustainability efforts.
[All graphics courtesy of Baktaash Sorkhabi]