State leaders have pointed to San Francisco’s extreme economic disparity as a challenge to securing funding to address environmental concerns.

Empowering the Bayview to weather climate change

Climate change is already happening, and Bayview-Hunters Point is not ready. With few trees and lots of concrete and asphalt, the neighborhood is particularly vulnerable to extreme heat and floods. It already has high crime and asthma rates. It’s already struggling with police violence and toxic pollution. A lack of affordable housing and gentrification already puts Bayview residents at risk of displacement.

But the neighborhood has taken on challenges before. Residents organized and helped close the dirty Potrero Power Plant in 2010. They’ve fought for local hire policies and the right to work on behalf of the city they call home. How can The City and state help foster the same fortitude to empower residents to weather climate change?

This was the underlying question at Brightline Defense Project’s Sustainability Summit in the Bayview last week. The environmental and labor advocacy nonprofit founded by District 9 supervisor candidate Joshua Arce convened some big-name attendees, including Department of Environment Director Debbie Raphael, Public Utilities Commissioner Ike Kwon and School Board president Matt Haney. Attendees connected with community leaders and state and city government officials. Specific opportunities around the Southeast Treatment Plant and Candlestick Park were discussed.

But despite attendees’ visible eagerness to address Bayview resiliency, some community leaders expressed frustration. California has the world’s sixth largest economy. San Francisco has an almost $10 billion budget. If the government cares about climate change and the Bayview, why isn’t it putting its money where its mouth is?

Ashley Rhodes of the community-action group Aboriginal Blackman United asked assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting how they could get more public, green development in the neighborhood funded. Rhodes, who owns a painting and decorating business, wants to see more of his neighbors find jobs.

Chiu and Ting pointed to San Francisco’s extreme economic disparity as a challenge to securing state funding. State environmental and health studies acknowledge problems in The City’s eastern neighborhoods, but these problems are overshadowed by San Francisco’s prosperity. Why would the state direct money to a region with so many millionaires and billionaires?

“No one wants to argue that one community is more disadvantaged than the others,” Eddie Ahn, executive director of Brightline Defense, told me. “But it becomes a significant issue when it comes to getting funding.”

Ting asked Bayview residents’ to support their efforts in Sacramento. But the community needs more encouragement if it’s going to channel the same grit it used to shutter dirty power plants and secure local construction jobs. Bayview residents need to know how climate change will affect them and why their participation matters.

“In the Bayview, people are very unaware of what climate change is and how it’s affecting their community,” Jacqueline Flin, executive director of the local chapter of the A Philip Randolph Institute, told me. The chapter provides personalized outreach and incentives to encourage community engagement.

Fostering community awareness and participation is how The City can empower Bayview-Hunters Point to weather climate change. APRI interns prepared informational maps for the Summit to show attendees how climate change will impact the Bayview. Why isn’t the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency displaying these maps at bus stops in the neighborhood to educate the wider community?

Flin also repeatedly urged officials at the summit to hire graduates from the Bayview for government jobs. APRI helps neighborhood students get internships with government agencies like the SFPUC, the SFMTA and Department of Public Works. But the internships rarely lead to careers. If more Bayview residents get jobs with The City and state, perhaps more would get done to strengthen the community.

The City should model new and creative opportunities to educate and employ neighborhood residents. It should keep the community visible and make sure its voice is heard in Sacramento. It should give Bayview-Hunters Point power to thrive as climate change worsens by making the fearless neighborhood part of the solution.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time.BayviewBayview Hunters Pointclimate changeDavid ChiuPhil TingRobyn PurchiaSan Francisco

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