One more time for those in the back: Why we need an Equity Advisory Committee at California Transportation Commission

For those that don’t know me, I am a black woman who has spent the last 10 years fighting for transportation justice. For me, this work is about making sure that low-income communities and communities of color have the same access to their surroundings. Their fight for better jobs, increased government accountability, better access to healthcare, and more equitable education outcomes for their children are all valid and necessary. My role is to make sure these communities have a way to get these rights. I chose to advocate for transportation justice because low-income communities and communities of color-- like my own community in South Sacramento--deserve to have access to the safest, healthiest, most affordable transportation option. 

Right now, it feels silly to write a blog explaining (yet again) why we need to create an equity advisory committee to inform the California Transportation Commission’s (CTC) decision making. If the current protests in the country do not scream that we need to change our institutions to be more equitable, I doubt this blog will. But alas, here we are. From where I stand, an Equity Advisory Committee (EAC) at the CTC is the least of the asks from low-income communities and communities of color but it is a step, a good first step. 

What can the CTC lead on? 

Since February, ClimatePlan and our partners have been regularly meeting with the CTC to create an EAC. The goal of this committee is to bring an equity lens to the Commission and uplift cross-sector concerns about transportation. While the current composition of the CTC has become more diverse due to ClimatePlan, California Pan Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) efforts on AB 179 (Cervantes), half of the current commissioners are still white men. As I stated previously, we know the Commission is changing. Read this blog from February where I discussed some of the challenges and opportunities for the CTC. 

In our recent meetings with the CTC, we’ve raised the following issues that we believe the CTC could lead on: 

  • Access: Advocates and community have limited access to the Commission. Advocates and community organizations are rarely invited to present their concerns to the Commission. Instead, advocates and community organizations are relegated to comment letters and two-minute public comments at most meetings. 
  • Collaboration: There has been a lack of tangible outcomes from the joint CTC and California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting on advancing commitments or policies to reducing GHG, increasing climate-friendly infrastructure or advancing equity from the transportation sector. While we have seen strong efforts to build relationships between CTC, CARB, and now Housing Community Development (HCD), these meetings have not been a space where increased interagency collaboration led to meaningful on-the-ground change. 
  • Culture shift: There is a need for a culture shift, one that moves the Commission into the future, in better alignment with the state’s climate and equity goals, and away from their car-centric past. The global pandemic has shown the need for more investment in walkable / bikeable communities, this need is compounded by the need to electrify our transit system to get us closer to our climate goals.

Co-creation is essential to advance equity

In our efforts to create the EAC, we have been intentional about using words like “co-creation” and “collaborative”. These words are the foundation for advancing equity. If co-created intentionally, an EAC is mutually beneficial to both the commissioners and the community. For example, during the May commission meeting, the CTC came under scrutiny after inappropriate remarks were made. You can read more on this incident here. Commission Chair Van Konynenburg said that those comments came from his “frustration and concern over [Caltrans]  failure to submit a fiscally balanced State Highway Operations Protection Program (SHOPP).” If an EAC would have been in place, there could have been a process for Commissioners, Caltrans, and the EAC to discuss the implications of Caltrans’ complete streets reserve before the May meeting. The EAC could have submitted their analysis and recommendations for the SHOPP in advance. 

ClimatePlan and our partners see the EAC as the first step in helping build a relationship between the Commission and our communities. The advocates represented on the EAC will be able to uplift the community voices at the Commission in a way that it is currently not heard. 

If you are interested in joining our effort to create an EAC at the CTC please contact Nailah [at] climateplanca [dot] org. 


Photo Credit: Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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