By Jared Brey.
The neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles is one of three communities in California to share in $140 million in grants aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while chipping away at a host of urban ills, from public health disparities and housing shortages to pollution and displacement.
The grants, announced late last month, are the first to be released as part of the state’s Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program. The TCC program is designed to serve three overarching goals in disadvantaged communities—reducing emissions, strengthening economies, and improving public health. And it’s funded with the proceeds of California’s cap and trade system, enacted in 2013 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide. In addition to Watts, which will receive $35 million to plant trees, create new affordable housing, and improve transportation infrastructure, $70 million was awarded to Fresno, and another $35 million to Ontario, a small city east of Los Angeles.
Randall Winston, executive director of the Strategic Growth Council, which was created in 2008 to coordinate all of California’s work on environmental planning, transportation, and economic development, says that the TCC grants are meant to help disadvantaged communities design their own solutions to urban and environmental problems. The Strategic Growth Council used a tool called CalEnviroScreen, which ranks California communities based on their relative burdens from pollution and other health and social indicators, to weigh applications. Even before the TCC grants were officially announced last month, the SGC had decided that half the money would go to Fresno, which includes all of the ten most disadvantaged census tracts in the state, measured by CalEnviroScreen. Another quarter of the money was set aside for L.A., which has the highest number of disadvantaged census tracts in the state.
“This program out of the gate sought to target the most polluted and poorest parts of the state,” Winston says.
The application from Watts rose to the top for a number of reasons, Winston says. The city, which is 72 percent Hispanic/Latino and 26 percent African-American, has lower levels of educational attainment, half the median income, and a greater portion of rent-burdened residents than the state as a whole, according to data gathered by Watts Rising Collaborative, the group that submitted the application. And the history of Watts—six days of riots in the 1960s were followed by a state commission report that identified many of the causes of disparities in the area but was largely ignored—provided a “powerful” backdrop to its application as well, Winston says.