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OPINION ARTICLE | STUDENT REPRESENTATIVE
Written by Heather Carr, a student representative for the Central Coast Section of the American Planning Association and student at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Injustice in Environmental Planning: From Santa Barbara County to South Dakota
Environmental justice is oftentimes defined as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies is perhaps one of the most controversial themes in the field of environmental planning and consulting today. Currently, its status as an illustration of social and cultural viewpoints is relevant from various case studies, including water mistreatment within the low-income neighborhood of Flint, Michigan1 to the construction of an oil pipeline through sacred Native American sites within the grasslands of North and South Dakota2. Both which are themes which suggest a widespread cultural stance against those given the shorter end of the stick regarding political influence, financial benefits, etc. Such a theme is arguably present within ongoing plans to construct the Alisal Ranch Agricultural Reservoir within the Santa Ynez mountains, where claims from a local Chumash tribe regarding the area’s status as a religious shrine have conflicted with plans for development.
The presence of environmental injustice within this case study is suggested by environmental consultant/archaeologist Thomas F. King who, through a public commentary concerning the project’s Environmental Impact Report3, emphasizes the tribe’s right to access to the area (called Napamu’) as a sacred site. This right, which is supported by a report conducted by Albion Environment Inc.4, views the sacrality of the place in the eyes of the Chumash people as the dominant factor for it being recognized as an area of cultural significance. King noted that such recognition should undoubtedly ensure the tribe’s access to the site in spite of corporate plans which may interfere with spiritual proceedings and also stated that the tribe’s access to the site has been largely restricted due to the social stigmatization and governmental restrictions that have developed over centuries of colonization and development.
King’s critical commentary did not stand out from the rest of the public remarks mentioned in the document; in fact, many had also assumed a similar negative tone against what they believed was a project that would threaten the spiritual livelihoods of tribal members. As a result, plans for development were postponed, and the document is currently being revised for further speculation due to the nature and scope of the comments received. What may be interpreted as appeals for justice for Native Americans and other arguably marginalized groups exist not only regionally, however, but nationally; one case study which can be held as a prime example of these appeals can be cited by the ongoing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North and South Dakota upon Native American lands, despite protests of potential water contamination from regional Sioux tribes. Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II made a passionate appeal for the rights of indigenous people who have been abridged upon by what many claim to be the actions of state police5:
“We invite all supporters to join us in prayer that, ultimately, the right decision—the moral decision—is made to protect our people, our sacred places, our land and our resources. We won't step down from this fight. As peoples of this earth, we all need water. This is about our water, our rights, and our dignity as human beings."
While Archambault primarily remarks upon threats to the tribe’s water supply, a kinship between both the Standing Rock Sioux and Santa Ynez Chumash tribes is also evident by their share of destroyed (or potentially destroyed) areas of spiritual significance; according to an article in the Atlantic Monthly6, it was stated that documents collected by the tribe’s legal team found that the project may result in the destruction of various newly-discovered sacred sites. However, within hours after the proceedings, such sites were eventually nonexistent after the Dakota Access company began construction upon those areas in spite of any recently-furnished evidence of their cultural significance.
Environmental justice, while encompassing our rights to clean water, air, and access to healthy foods, also provides a window upon social conditions that may speak to conflicts concerning not only policy management or mismanagement, but to the cultural values which have shaped us to who we are. While environmental planning may be a seemingly less-than-controversial career field, the aspects of our daily lives which are included in its designs--from the dew-covered trees outside our front yards to the neighborhood creeks which provide a cool summertime relief all consist of some degree of intrinsic value whose existence has shaped our perceptions of the world around us and whose meanings range far beyond those of financial matters. These little, seemingly “commonplace” symbols of what forms the foundation for the setting where we grow, speak, breathe, and learn are recognized in various ways from one community to the next; from the water which flows out of our kitchen spouts, to the coyotes which scavenge in parking lot dumpsters, to the trees which grow alongside our neighborhood sidewalks, etc. Each of these factors, when altered in one form or another, have the potential to invoke necessary procedural change, or they may result in what may be interpreted as the unfair treatment or representation in regards to the development, implementation, and enforcement of such laws or regulations (also known as environmental injustice). It is obvious that environmental justice is an increasingly-emerging theme on both a national and regional level, and as the environment and society changes throughout the 21st Century, fields concerning the environment, especially those in regards to planning/development, will continue to be a mirror of social and cultural values which we will grow to adopt, discard, or develop over the next few decades.
The APA Central Coast Section is looking for student representatives who are interested in city and urban planning, architecture, and environmental consulting. Students are encouraged to participate in monthly meetings, including in-person meetings on the weekend and on monthly calls. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in planning and networking in this field. Undergrad and graduate students are encouraged to participate.
In 2015, the APA Board of Directors approved a one-year pilot program, as a way to better understand the needs and support necessary for success. The scope of the program includes outreach to students and the broader public. The goals of the Pilot are to increase diversity of APA's membership, promote planning to the public, and to provide more opportunities for membership volunteerism.
APA Ambassadors are active members of the American Planning Association of any age and level of experience who volunteer their time, experience, and talents to advance the public understanding of planning and promote the planning profession. Through this program, APA particularly hopes to reach future planners with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Two CA Central Coast Section APA members were chosen for this exciting Pilot Program. Congrats Camille and Hannah!
Camille Jackson - Camille is a senior at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. She is majoring in City & Regional Planning with a minor in Environmental Studies, and has a strong interest in urban design and sustainability. By becoming an APA ambassador she hopes she can teach, engage, and reach out to youth about planning issues and topics.
Hannah Kornfield - Hannah is a Master's candidate in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's City and Regional Planning Program. She is originally a Vermonter who earned a Bachelor's in Political Science and Environmental Studies from the University of Michigan. She is looking to begin a planning career in environmental planning and policy, with a focus on climate adaptation and resiliency. Hannah will be working with local students to inform and inspire the next generation of planners.
For more information on the APA Ambassador Program, please visit: https://www.planning.org/diversity/ambassadors.htm