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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Environmental Justice Community Success Stories

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

Richmond Environmental Justice Community Leadership Project

The Project

APEN helps Richmond’s Laotian community address key environmental and health issues through building community leadership.

The Community

The Laotian community of Richmond lives in one of the poorest cities in California and in one of the most toxic regions in the nation.  Richmond is located in Western Contra Costa County and is surrounded by more than 350 industrial facilities, including waste incinerators, oil refineries, pesticides and other toxic hazards, which produce tens to hundreds of pounds of toxic air contaminates, toxic pollutants and wastewater, and hundreds of tons of hazardous waste. 

The Laotian community faces challenging environmental threats as their homes, schools, and work environments are exposed to high levels of these toxics on a daily basis.  These threats are exacerbated by the community’s linguistic and cultural isolation, and lack of access to information, services and decision-makers, rendering their community particularly susceptible to environmental and social injustices.

Despite these disadvantages, the Laotian community maintains strong ethnic and community networks and perseveres through forming ethnic and clan associations and other service organizations, such as the Laotian Organizing Project (LOP), which was started in 1995. LOP currently has a membership base of 200 families and over 20 leaders and groups, such as the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), who continue to work together to address the root causes of social, economic, public health and environmental problems, and to bring about systemic change in all of these areas for the community

The Resources

In 2007, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded APEN a $50,000, two-year EJ Small Grant to fund its Richmond Environmental Justice Community Leadership Project, which is charged with building the leadership and capacity of Richmond’s Laotian refugee community, addressing the immediate and long term environmental justice and public health hazards and risks posed by urban development and land use decisions; and to build partnerships of organizations to make their efforts more effective and impactful.  In The City of Richmond’s General Plan, the community identified land use, housing, transportation, and economic development as the priority areas to improve the health of the local environment and well-being of its residents.

The Progress

APEN has made significant progress toward meeting its proposed funding objectives through a very focused and comprehensive two-phase implementation plan.  In the first phase, APEN collaborated with the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) and identified community leaders in LOP and other Richmond-based organizations to analyze and derive policy recommendations on the priority areas mentioned above, which were submitted to City of Richmond’s General Plan Advisory Committee.  Some of the recommendations included:

  • Develop and implement land use criteria, especially in industrial areas, that minimize health and nuisance impacts on residential neighborhoods, schools and other community spaces.
  • Improve access to basic needs and services, such as transportation, food, and open space for all neighborhoods.
  • Help low income households to meet health and safety codes without displacement or rent increases.
  • Establish goods movement routes and schedules that will minimize health, safety, and noise impacts on the community, and promote adoption of cleaner technology and fuels.

Through deepened outreach and communications with and training and recruitment of more than a dozen environmental justice leaders groups and other community stakeholders on the critical issues, APEN was able to solidify a policy agenda to guide its work with the Laotian community for the next five years.  The outreach and training effort included recruitment of 55 leaders from meeting with nearly 200 community members in 28 different house meetings, bi-monthly leadership and policy meetings and trainings, two community leaders retreats, interviews of key stakeholders, allies and environmental and health policy experts, and delegation visits with the Mayor and other City Council members.  

The ultimate success of this effort was demonstrated when APEN’s general membership in both Richmond and Oakland came together in 2008 to ratify the policy agenda.  With the community consensus and strong leaders and advocates behind The City of Richmond’s General Plan, APEN is now awaiting response from the City of Richmond with its version of the Plan.

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