Activists rally at Capitol for less-polluted low-income neighborhoods

North and south Sacramento's most impoverished and racially diverse neighborhoods are also those most burdened by pollution

Independent reporting for this story is funded by a grant from Sacramento Emergency Foodlink.

Sacramento is home to some of the most troublesome toxic hot spots in the state, all of which lie in the region’s most impoverished and racially diverse communities.

According to data by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the California Environmental Protection Agency, six ZIP codes in north and south Sacramento are among the top 10 percent of California locations most impacted by pollution. Two of these spots, located in the Florin-Stockton neighborhood, sit in the top 5 percent.

“There is a risk here,” said Charles Mason, CEO of Ubuntu Green. “There is a serious risk.”

Ubuntu Green is a nonprofit, with offices in Oak Park and Lemon Hill, that is dedicated to helping impoverished Sacramento neighborhoods to become healthier, sustainable and more equitable.

One of the most commonly used indicators of a community’s health in relation to pollution is asthma rates, and Sacramento—particularly south Sac—scores badly, with some neighborhoods in the top 2 percent of asthma rates in the state.

Mason says that Sacramento is also home to more than 400 brownfields—contaminated, abandoned lots that can’t be put to use until they are cleaned up.

“If you were to look at some of the most incompatible land uses in residential areas, you’re going to find that the population around that is low-income and minority communities,” said Sofia Parino of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, a national environmental-justice organization.

Parino, who grew up in south Sacramento, said that these communities are targeted by businesses prone to pollution because they pack a smaller civic punch than more affluent communities.

But that is changing. For instance, a survey released this summer by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that the state’s blacks and Latinos are at least 20 percent more likely to view global warming as a “very serious threat” than whites.

Last Wednesday, around 200 members of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, a statewide coalition of environmentalist organizations, met on the steps of the Capitol to lobby, in both English and Spanish, for bills that would benefit the environment.

Their rally included a surprise appearance by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, whose proposed Assembly Bill 1330 would both increase transparency of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency and ensure that speakers of foreign languages have equal time in public testimony.

Here in Sacramento, one of Ubuntu Green’s priorities is to raise awareness on the region’s brownfields, with the hope that funding will come to clean them up.

After that, Mason would like to turn many of them into gardens.