Comments to ASTM on Public Participation

Pacific Studies Center ( )
Fri, 26 Sep 1997 14:48:36 -0700 (PDT)

From: Lenny Siegel <>
Subject: Comments to ASTM on Public Participation

Today I sent the following comments to the ASTM Task Group on
Brownfields. - LS

I appreciated the opportunity, at the Brownfields '97 meeting in Kansas
City, to learn about and comment on your developing "Standard Guide to
the Process of Sustainable Brownfields Redevelopment." I am convinced
that your committee has the best intentions of enhancing the
participation of public stakeholders in the Brownfields Redevelopment
process, but as I said in Kansas City, your document thus far lacks the
substance to guide either public or private parties to build structures
for public stakeholder involvement where they do not already exist.

I am writing to elaborate upon the oral comments that I made in Kansas
City. Much of what I have to offer is based upon experience with federal
facilities, where within the past four years responsible parties -
primarily the Departments of Defense and Energy - have made great
strides in bringing the public into the oversight of environmental
restoration and reuse planning.

I am considering flying down to San Diego in mid-October to offer my
ideas in person to your committee. Could you tell me when your
discussion of the public participation elements of the guide is
scheduled, and where the meeting will be held?

As I see it, there are two types of Brownfields projects. In one case,
public bodies, such as redevelopment agencies, or non-profit
organizations, such as community development corporations, are taking
the lead. In the other, private developers take the lead and the public
sector only serves as planner and regulator. In the former situation,
decision-makers have a strong political and sometimes legal obligation
to involve the public. In the latter case, many project proponents view
the public as an impediment, but the more foresighted recognize the
positive contribution that the community can make. Your document should
offer guidance tailored to both cases.

The first step in developing a viable public participation process is
determining the SCOPE. The proponents and overseers of a brownfields
project need to define the geographic area to be considered as well as
the length or time or sequence of activities to be addressed. While a
particular proponent may be thinking of a process focused on a single
site or project, from the community's point of view it usually makes
more sense to group sites by neighborhood, transportation corridor, or
redevelopment area. That's the best way to encourage sustained
participation, and that in turn makes it possible for public
stakeholders to learn as they participate. It also makes it easier to
consider multiple impacts at once. Similarly, while a project proponent
may expect to walk away once construction is complete, the community
usually wants to consider the long-term impact not only of that project,
but of subsequent activity in the area.

Second, as soon as the geographic and temporal scope is set, some entity
or a collection of entities needs to take OWNERSHIP of the process.
(This is what the Defense Department has done with its restoration
advisory boards.) While other parties may play significant roles, one
party or a group of parties needs to accept legal and financial
responsibility for public involvement. This choice may have significant
implications for the process, because certain parties are bound to
follow established rules. (For example, in California meetings sponsored
by state and local governments must comply with the open-door policies
of the Brown Act.)

Next, the owner of the process, in cooperation with other parties,
should do a community relations ASSESSMENT. Many agencies already have
standard procedures in place for identifying and contacting potential
public representatives. Local officials should be a part of the process,
but they may have been elected for reasons unrelated to the Brownfields
project or may be from distant parts of the jurisdiction. They still
retain their legal authority, but public participation means working
with the people most likely to be affected by the project.

While each community has a group of established leaders, those people
may already be too busy to play a constructive role in the oversight of
brownfields activity. However, established leaders are a good source of
references to other interested members of the public.

Many communities already have organizations or networks of environmental
or environmental justice activists. Even if they are focused on other
issues, or if the proponent perceives them to be hostile, they should be
recruited for the process. It's much better to have these people at the
table than outside the room, angrily demanding entry.

A good community assessment will also consider who has an interest in a
project, but doesn't know it. For example, if the project involves
wetlands, it makes sense to contact area duck clubs. The most effective
community involvement processes are those that bring in representatives
of diverse constituencies. Instead of avoiding debate, the process
should - by its inclusiveness - bring issues to the fore early on,
before plans are entrenched.

The assessment process should also consider an appropriate LEVEL OF
ACTIVITY for public participation . That level should not be set in
stone; indeed, public stakeholders should always have the opportunity to
increase, reduce, or re-arrange activity to meet their concerns. The
process will not be constant; it will be most intense while key
decisions are being made. The Guide can define and describe several
levels of activity, ranging from public notice and communications -
newsletters, web page, etc. - to occasional public hearings to regular
advisory board meetings. Public stakeholders should be offered training
workshops and, if the project is at all technically complex, resources
to obtain independent technical assistance. These activities may be, and
probably should be, combined into a comprehensive public participation

Finally, the DETAILS of a public participation process are critical.
Numerous groups, such as the National Environmental Justice Advisory
Council, have offered guidelines. If the target population works during
the day, then meetings should be at night or week-ends. If many don't
speak English, translators should be provided. Meetings should not be
held in unfamiliar places or (like military bases) locations where
public access is normally restricted.

Underlying this effort is a simple principle. For a Brownfields project
to best serve a community and win public support, diverse
representatives of that community should be informed and involved EARLY,
and should they show an interest, OFTEN. The statutory roles of local.
state, and tribal government agencies are remain essential for a project
to proceed, but they are insufficient.


Lenny Siegel Director, SFSU CAREER/PRO (and Pacific Studies Center) c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041 Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545Fax: 650/968-1126

Effective August 2, 1997, "415" area code numbers for the area south of San Francisco, including Mountain View, have changed to "650." However,"415" may be used until February 1, 1998.