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CalEPA Expands Definition of Disadvantaged Census Tracts

Martha Bridegam on
Nov 3, 2014

CalEPA has expanded its definition of "disadvantaged communities" in the cap-and-trade grantmaking programs under SB 535 to the most environmentally burdened 25% of all census tracts.  

CalEPA originally proposed using the most burdened 20% of all census tracts. Although Friday's announcement changed the definition of disadvantaged communities, it continues to propose using the CalEnviroscreen 2.0 environmental justice mapping tool.

As CP&DR reported in September,  CalEPA officials had noted that for most SB 535 programs 25% is the minimum proportion of benefits required to serve "disadvantaged communities", so in those programs a 25% cutpoint guarantees "disadvantaged communities" no more than their proportional share of the total. On the other hand, 50% of funds must be spent to benefit disadvantaged populations in the new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program. CP&DR's previous coverage on how the metric and the AHSC program interact can be found here.

The originally proposal for a 20% "cutpoint" had more starkly disproportionate effects by region. It would have denied the "disadvantage" label to many coastal, northern or hilly census tracts that have suffered from environmental injustice and disinvestment, but that have comparatively good air quality, and/or comparatively high absolute incomes. The metric does not incorporate factors that compare individuals' incomes to local costs of living, and it emphasizes types of environmental injustice that are especially severe in the Central Valley and Southern California. 

Accordingly there was pressure to either widen the designation pool or change the metric.

Activists and legislators from the San Francisco Bay Area had been especially indignant. The expansion from 20% to 25% adds the "disadvantaged" designation to more Bay Area neighborhoods, including parts of Bayview/Hunter's Point in San Francisco.

The CalEPA press release said, "In response to comments, CalEPA said it will evaluate suggestions to further refine the information and methodologies used to develop CalEnviroScreen." New materials posted at http://www.calepa.ca.gov/EnvJustice/GHGInvest/ include a 40-page narrative of the selection process that, from the "Public Input" discussion onward, acknowledges some of the regional concerns, some methodology concerns raised by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District through its complex "Method 6" proposal, and the possibility of including factors like cost of living in the future.

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