Environmental justice: Too important to be derailed by the Tea Party

Interesting times lately at the Southern California Association of Governments:

Read all about it in this Streetsblog article, with our thanks to Damien for covering the issue and letting us reprint his piece. We’ve bolded some text for emphasis.

Damien Newton, LA Streetsblog Editor

Regional planning documents and hearings are hardly exciting to write about. Interminably long public meetings, wonky terms, never-ending studies. It’s one reason that Streetsblog hardly covers the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), even though the regional plan it puts out is incredibly important in determining which projects receive federal funds and which ones don’t.

Fortunately for the sake of clicks and page views, but unfortunately for public policy, the Tea Party is taking aim at SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata just as the agency is holding Environmental Justice workshops in advance of the 2016 Regional Plan.

You can email comments on the plan to johnson AT scag.ca.gov?.

SCAG is required to provide an explanation of how its regional planning impacts disadvantaged communities and communities of color. Advocacy groups have rightly noted that this requirement is one lever that can be used to re-direct funds away from the types of highway projects that have traditionally divided minority and less-affluent communities and instead use it to reinvest in those areas by providing better access to parks and public transit, more open space, and safer and more attractive facilities for walking, bicycling, or just being outside.

Coverage of the current SCAG efforts on Environmental Justice by Climate Plan and the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership help explain in greater detail how these meetings, and this part of the plan, provide excellent opportunities to increase investment in active transportation and disadvantaged communities.

The post by Climate Plan is particularly interesting as it calls for, in the wonky way that regional planners prefer [thanks, Damien! -ed.]:

Better outreach to disadvantaged and communities of color,

Creating environmental justice metrics and tracking that can be broken down for each of the six counties in the SCAG region, and

A full analysis on the health impacts that poor air quality created by Southern California’s freeways has on the communities they cut through.

If all of Climate Plan’s suggestions become part of the regional plan, it would have an impact on what kinds of projects get built, similar to a Measure R2 that sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for active transportation.

Maybe not right away, but it would change the way the region talks about transportation.

Any chance that will happen would go away if the public comment they receive is dominated by people asking for greater investment in our already sprawling and gigantic highway system.

But just as SCAG is holding these meetings, Grindal61, a tea party videographer, launched an attack on SCAG’s executive director in a video subtly titled, “COMMUNIST GODFATHER KINGPIN HASAN IKHRATA DEFENDS HIS AGENDA 21 POLICIES.”

Ikhrata makes a perfect canvas for an anti-government tea-partier to project nearly all of his or her fears. Not only is he a renowned urban planner with an Arabic name bringing fever dreams of United Nations-type plans to force people out of their cars, but he is also a former employee of the Soviet Union’s Moscow Metro Corporation and earned his bachelor’s degree from Moscow University.

The horror.

I sometimes get in trouble when I try to be cute and sarcastic when writing about anything involving race and religion, so let me be blunt. Even though Grindal61 doesn’t make any mention of religion, some of the commenters to the video do, and it goes uncorrected and unchallenged. I have no idea what religion, if any, Ikhrata practices. I really don’t care. It is completely immaterial to any discussion of his job performance and priorities nor those of SCAG.

Now, his unwavering public support for the I-710 Big Dig, the kind of government spending project that libertarians usually love, is another issue. That is certainly fair game. Although, oddly, it doesn’t come up in videos slamming the SCAG director for the agency’s efforts to use tolls to fund highway expansion.

As laughable as the video campaign against Ikhrata is, the environmental justice component of SCAG’s regional plan is too important to let the public process be hijacked by groups pushing a separate political agenda.

Be sure to send SCAG a message at johnson AT scag.ca.gov?. It doesn’t have to be long, or in-depth; just let them know how you feel about using progressive transportation planning to help roll back some of the transportation planning disasters from last century.

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