Clean Water Justice
The Civil Rights Park and Clean Water Justice
On this 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are taking a forward look at Title VI of the Act, which prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal funds, and which also created its own administrative enforcement infrastructure in each federal agency’s “Office of Civil Rights.” As the articles below discuss, despite some serious setbacks, Title VI is adapting in new and important ways to the shifting landscape of civil rights in the 21st Century. – the editors. [The City Project prepared the following summaries.]
Walk a Mile in My Shoes: Los Angeles Celebrates Anniversaries of the Civil Rights Movement
Title VI and the President’s Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice and health are helping to transform Los Angeles for generations to come. Healthy green land use, equitable development, and planning by and for the community have led to transportation justice, great new urban parks, the greening of the L.A. River, and a proposed national recreation area in the San Gabriels. Physical education and school construction are civil rights victories for quality education. Public works projects in parks and schools create meaningful work for diverse workers and businesses. A park celebrating anniversaries of the Civil Rights Revolution is not merely symbolic, the park itself is the result of the struggle for clean water justice. As communities become greener and more desirable, it is also necessary to guard against displacement of low-income homes and businesses. Historically and today, the Civil Rights Movement has included attorneys working in and out of court, ground-breaking judicial decisions, grassroots organizing, legislation, action by the President, implementation by agencies, and people providing a civil rights mandate through the right to vote. . . .
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act at 50: An Unfulfilled Promise at EPA
Marianne Engelman Lado
Reflecting on the sweeping promise of Title VI, inequalities continue in exposure to health hazards. Every day, agencies approve permits for toxic facilities, and private actors — owners and operators of incinerators, refineries, scrap metal recycling sites, landfills — make decisions about siting and safety precautions. School districts decide whether to locate a new school on a contaminated site and, if so, how far they’ll go to clean up the grounds, and municipalities reopen brownfields for development. Advocates are working with EPA to ensure compliance among recipients of EPA funds under Title VI and Executive Order 12898. While robust administrative enforcement of Title VI is critical, Congress should also restore a right of action for private parties to bring Title VI disparate impact claims in the courts. . . .
A Title VI Diversity Assessment at the Department of Education?
In the last decade, several federal agencies have taken a more proactive approach and have required state and local governments to assess the racial impacts of their policies in advance, and evaluate less discriminatory alternatives. Title VI regulations and guidance at the Federal Transit Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture exemplify this new approach. These “equality directives” expand non-traditional advocacy in civil rights enforcement. A Title VI “school diversity assessment” could require prospective assessments of school construction spending decisions, school siting plans, and school districting and boundary proposals. . . .
Reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has had the largest impact on racial equality of any legislation. Although the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional a decade earlier in Brown v. Board of Education, no significant school desegregation occurred prior to the Act. With the Act, things changed quickly. School desegregation began occurring at a rapid pace, and those parts of the Act aimed at employment and public accommodations began to fundamentally change opportunity for people of color across the country. The strategy under Title VI was simple: The further the federal government spread its money, the greater its leverage to address racial equity and discrimination in areas such as transportation, health, and the environment. In 2001, the Supreme Court in Alexander v. Sandoval reversed course. It brought an end to private individuals’ ability to use litigation to challenge racial inequality, unless they could demonstrate intentional discrimination. Three major responses are possible: administrative action, litigation to evolve new doctrine, and legislative reform. Civil rights advocates must continue to press on all three fronts for Title VI to regain its glory. . . .
Click here for the complete issue of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Civil Rights Park 50th Anniversary Civil Rights Act of 1964 “Whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward” Martin Luther King
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1064.
“If you can’t fly then run,
if you can’t run then walk,
if you can’t walk then crawl,
but whatever you do,
you have to keep moving forward.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We the people are celebrating the Civil Rights Revolution with a new public art park that is the result of the struggle for equal justice in Los Angeles. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” commemorates the Civil Rights Movement by honoring local and national heroes. Public art and green space transform two traffic islands one mile apart from each other. The distance evokes the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and the March on Selma that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The traffic island on Rodeo Drive and Martin Luther King Boulevard focuses on national heroes, while the island on Rodeo and Jefferson Boulevard focuses on local heroes. The park is inspired in part by the National Park Service’s International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Los Angeles celebrated the ribbon cutting for the public art park — the only monument in Los Angeles dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement — on June 26, 2014.
The Civil Rights park is itself the result of the successful civil rights and environmental justice struggle for clean water justice and green access in African American and Latino Los Angeles. The park is the result of the epic 40 year struggle to fix the sewer system city wide, and eliminate noxious odors and spills that plagued African American and Latino communities for decades. Community leaders working with Civil Rights lawyers, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others reached a $2 billion consent decree with the City of Los Angeles to settle a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. The Los Angeles sewer system is one of the largest in the U.S., making this work significant to the nation well beyond Southern California. This was the first time the Clean Water Act was used to address sewage odors, apart from overflows. This is one of the largest sewage cases in U.S. history, according to EPA. Experts from around the world visit Los Angeles to learn how the city has fixed up the sewer system, spills, and odors.
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Environmental Justice for All: Struggle in Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles, Journal of Poverty Law and Policy
The City Project’s article on Environmental Justice for All: Struggle in Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles appears in the Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (Nov/Dec 2012).
The Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles constitute the historic heart of African American Los Angeles. . . . These communities have long strived for equal access to public resources such as parks and recreation. They have also struggled to be free of environmental degradation, such as sewage overflows and urban oil fields. . . .
Together with [Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles] and other diverse allies, we are making a dream come true: Baldwin Hills Park, the largest urban park designed in the United States in over a century. We have also fought to regulate the adjoining Baldwin Hills oil fields to protect human health and the environment better. This work has defined the standard for protecting human health and the environment in urban oil fields, including those in communities of color and low-income. We have helped fix the sewer system citywide to eliminate noxious odors and create park and clean water projects. We are accomplishing this through a $2 billion settlement agreement in what the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called one of the largest sewage cases in U.S. history, and the first time the Clean Water Act has been used to clean up sewer odors.
Although Baldwin Hills may be comparatively well-off financially, it is plagued by the inequality and environmental injustice common to communities of color and to South Central and other low-income communities . . . .
Mark Williams, one of Concerned Citizens’ founding members and current board member, “Concerned Citizens is about environmental justice, places to play in parks and schools, affordable housing, economic development and local jobs, the community taking part in making decisions that affect our lives….The environment is not just about the absence of contamination.
[The struggle for environmental justice illustrates] principles of equitable infrastructure that can be implemented in and out of court: invest in people, invest in healthy communities, invest in democracy, and invest in justice.
Click here to read full article Environmental Justice for All: Struggle in the Baldwin Hills and South Central Los Angeles, by The City Project’s Robert García and Ramya Sivasubramanian.
The Grass Roots Fight for Clean Water and Green Justice
The City of Los Angeles is complying with the Clean Water Act through a $2 billion settlement agreement and court order to improve the sewer system city wide, and to eliminate persistent and offensive sewer odors that plagued residents for decades in the historic heart of African-American Los Angeles. The odors smell like rotten eggs and are caused by naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide escaping from the sewers. The Los Angeles sewer system is one of the largest in the nation, making this work significant well beyond Southern California to the nation. It was the first time the Clean Water Act was used to address sewage odors, separate from overflows. It is one of the largest sewage cases in U.S. history, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Garvanza Park Stormwater BMP Project in Highland Park
Maybe sewer work is not glamorous, but the case highlights the need for equal access to public resources to improve quality of life for all, including equitable infrastructure investments. After the city admitted liability for more than 3,500 sewage spills, the consolidated cases in United States et al. v. City of Los Angeles ended in 2004 with a 90-page $2 billion settlement agreement to improve the sewer system citywide, clean up sewer odors, and create park, creek, and wetland projects to improve water quality and quality of life.
The original suit under the Clean Water Act was filed by a mainstream environmental group in 1998, with EPA, and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board filing a similar suit in 2001.
Incredibly, the city argued at the time that there was no systemic city wide problem, because overflows were concentrated instead in South Los Angeles and Highland Park — communities that are disproportionately of color or low income.
That’s when grass roots leaders from South L.A. and the Baldwin Hills, represented by civil rights attorneys from The City Project and English, Munger & Rice, took action. They intervened in the pending cases in 2001 because the mainstream environmentalists and government attorneys were not working with the community to address the odors. The grass roots groups seeking access to justice through the courts included the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners’ Association, Inc., Baldwin Hills Village Garden Homes Association, United Homeowners Association, Village Green Owners Association, and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles.
In 2009, the parties went back to court to modify the 2004 settlement. Although the city had made progress to reduce sewer overflows, there had been little progress to eliminate odors in South L.A. and the Baldwin Hills. The people weren’t happy.
Things have gotten much better under the modified settlement terms since 2009. Why? The modified 2009 settlement provides for an Odor Advisory Board with volunteer community members, an independent expert and The City Project as community liaison to work with the city to fix the odor problem. The city has built two air treatment facilities (ATFs) to vacuum air from the sewers and clean it up using state-of-the-art technology. A third ATF will be built in East L.A. “Sewer odors have vastly improved, and equally important, the community’s relationship with the city has also improved as a result,” according to Erica Flores Baltodano, a civil rights attorney who spent ten years on the case before starting her own law firm in San Luis Obispo.
According to Ms. Opal Young, a charming African American community leader who serves as an “odor chief” on the board, “The city’s response under the new settlement has been excellent! It couldn’t get any better.” Why? “I am not an engineer, but the ATF’s, it has to be that, and other things the city did. The city is listening to us. They changed their mode. With our persistence and the help of The City Project and the independent expert, they saw we were not going away. This is not the end of the story. We’re not putting a period there, we’re only putting a comma. But we will make things happen if the good things don’t keep up.”
According to Adel Hagekhalil, Assistant Director of the city’s Bureau of Sanitation and an Environmental Engineer, “The Odor Advisory Board restored trust between the community and the city. We listen to the community. They provide us real feedback. We provide them accurate information.”
Plus: “Results helped. When you drove down Rodeo ten years ago you had to roll up your windows. Now children can walk across the intersection without holding their nose. We have built two state of the art ATFs. We are being visited by experts from around the world to study how we did it.”
Clean Water Justice Timeline and Materials
Air treatment facility at the base of the Baldwin Hills 2010
The following is a summary timeline of this historic work.
Making Legal History: Federal and State Agencies join with Community Groups to Enforce the Clean Water Act
In 1998, Santa Monica Baykeeper, a mainstream environmental organization filed suit against the City of Los Angeles over the sewer system.
In 2001, community groups, the United States Department of Justice, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board joined the suit to address sewer spills and severe nuisance odors caused by poor operation and maintenance of the City’s sewage system in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and state law.
Civil rights attorneys Robert García and English, Munger & Rice represented the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners’ Association, Inc., Baldwin Hills Village Garden Homes Association, United Homeowners Association, Village Green Owners Association, and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles. These community groups joined the suit because sewer odors and spills occurred disproportionately in African-American and Latino communities.
2004 Court Order and $2 Billion Settlement Agreement: Protecting Equal Rights and the Environment
After the city admitted liability for more than 3,500 sewage spills, six years of litigation ended with a 107-page settlement agreement and a $2 billion investment by the City of Los Angeles to improve the sewer system citywide and clean up noxious sewer odors. The city agreed to invest in environmental projects, including park, creek, and wetland restoration, to improve water quality in Los Angeles.
The $2 billion settlement serves as a best practice example of how grassroots community groups, civil rights attorneys, government agencies, and mainstream environmentalists could work together and have a huge impact in protecting quality of life and social justice as well as water and air quality.
2009 Modified Court Order and Agreement: Improving Community Participation and Protection
In 2008, the city reported that it had made progress with most of the terms of the 2004 agreement, but requested additional time to continue to clean up odors in South Los Angeles and Baldwin Hills. After months of negotiations among all parties, The City Project, and English Munger & Rice, the 2004 settlement was modified by court order in November 2009.
Under the 2009 agreement, The City Project is serving as community liaison to work with neighborhood leaders, an independent odor expert, and the city to revitalize the Odor Advisory Board. The Board, which is community-based and community-focused, the expert and The City Project are working with the city to ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act and the 2009 agreement. The city has received additional time to complete Air Treatment Facilities, and study if more are needed. Once the study is complete, the Board and The City Project will help develop and implement landscaping and other community enhancements with the community and the city.
For more information about this ongoing work . . .
Please contact Erica Flores Baltodano, Staff Attorney at The City Project, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 213-977-1035, if you would like more information about the Odor Advisory Board and this ongoing work.
Click here to see the April 5, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.
Click here to see the July 12, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.
Click here to see the August 30, 2010, Odor Advisory Board Meeting Agenda.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Handout: Overview of Sewer Air Flow and Odors.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: NORS Siphon Air Line Feasibility Study.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Sewer Siphons Duct Connection Study.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Differential Air Pressure Study at Drop Structures.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Total Non-Methane Hydrocarbon Monitoring Results.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Airflow Modeling Study.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique Handout: Air Treatment Facility Technical Memorandum.
Click here to see the Independent Odor Expert's Summary & Critique of the City of LA's ATF Draft Final Report (Nov. 2010).
The City Project has worked with the community in South Central Los Angeles and the Baldwin Hills for ten years to enforce Clean Water protections, create the Baldwin Hills Park, and regulate the Baldwin Hills oil field to protect human health and the environment. Learn more about this work at greaterbaldwinhillsalliance.org.