These days consensus is a rare thing, but we had one in the California redistricting process that is coming to a close August 15th. Everybody said it wasn’t going to be easy and they were right.
Proposition 11 established two primary criteria for redistricting. First was the Federal Voting Rights Act to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. The second was the principle of contiguous geographic area. Within those criteria was a lot of room for discussion and with the new redistricting process was an unprecedented opportunity for public input. The California League of Conservation Voters and the CLCV Education Fund were active participants in this process, providing testimony and letters throughout the process and doing everything we could to protect the environment of all California communities.
California is arguably the most diverse place on the planet in terms of geography and population. Environmental protection cuts across all geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic lines as few issues do. We all need and deserve clean water, clean air, and protection of our natural resources.
The CLCV and CLCVEF provided strong support for the Federal Voting Rights Act. Environmental protection impacts all diverse and socio-economic communities and those most at risk are those at the lower end, so ensuring equal protection is a high priority. We cited recent ground-breaking research that showed lower socio-economic and ethnic communities were at a higher percentage of living within two miles of toxic waste sites around the state. We also presented polling data from the CLCV Education Fund that demonstrated both the Latino and Asian-Pacific Islander communities are stronger environmental voters and care deeply about the health-related impacts of poor air and water.
We worked with map experts from several diverse communities, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) , the NAACP and the African-American Redistricting Coalition. These partnerships will continue to be important long after the redistricting maps are complete as we continue to fight for environmental justice for all.
We have worked inclusively with the myriad of environmental-justice (EJ) organizations around the state to further support the grassroots efforts of diverse socio-economic communities most impacted by pollution and environmental degradation. Through the redistricting process, we supported efforts of EJ colleagues to solidify district representation that would enable a stronger voice. For example, in the San Gabriel Valley proposed congressional districts we testified that regulatory and enforcement policies in cleaning up EPA-identified Super Fund sites would be made a higher priority by compacting these epi-disaster centers into fewer districts, thereby producing better legislative representation.
One of the questions this process raised is what defines a community. Is it your neighborhood, city or county? Or is it something else as well? One idea we introduced into the redistricting process was that there are ”environmental communities of interest.” Such communities are often bound by their unique geography and natural boundaries – coastal regions, watersheds, wetlands, and transportation or air districts, for example – that affect their water and air, as well as their local economy. We cited examples of this in the Sierras, the San Gabriel Mountains and flats, the agricultural transit corridor, and northern and southern coastal communities.
Now the process is almost over and stakeholders are left to argue over district lines. While the process was not perfect, we were able to build on partnerships with diverse groups to protect environmental priorities in their communities, regardless of race or class or geographic location. We also expanded the concept of enfranchisement to include natural geographic boundaries and concerns. Finally, we helped to promote the understanding that environmental concerns are part of our identity and our right to representation.
H. Eric Schockman, Ph.D
CLCV Education Fund Vice President