2000 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2000 11:59:31 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] Review of Pacific Institute report
[The following review by Lenny Siegel will appear in the forthcoming
(October, 2000) edition of the Citizens' Report on Brownfields.]

The Oakland-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development,
Environment, and Security recently published Brownfields Redevelopment:
Meeting the Challenges of Community Participation. Written by Arlene
Wong and Lisa Owens-Viani, the 106-page report provides an excellent
overview of the California regulatory framework for Brownfields cleanup,
as well as structures, within the state, for planning and implementation
of redevelopment projects. The authors propose eight simple
recommendations for improving public involvement. Finally, they describe
six case studies of Brownfields activity illustrating meaningful, though
not always successful, community involvement.

Brownfields Redevelopment: assumes, from the start, that community
involvement is essential: "For brownfields redevelopment to truly
fulfill its promise of neighborhood revitalization, and to be
sustainable, it must offer benefits to the communities surrounding
brownfield sites and break the cycle that created brownfields in the
first place. Community interests go beyond those represented by local
government. Communities are the people whose lives are affected by the
decisions made - residents or businesses residing near a site, property
owners, and those in the neighborhood who are affected by th cleanup and
reuse of the site, whether local or regional in nature. Thus,
communities must be active participants in the process of identifying
and redeveloping brownfields sites to ensure that brownfields
redevelopment will actually add to and not detract from a neighborhood's

The authors find that existing programs general don't do an adequate
job, and they identify seven challenges for promoting meaningful
community participation:

"* Convincing the community that involvement is worthwhile and that
there is an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the process;

* Engaging community members who are disinterested or distrustful;

* Communicating technical, complex information in meaningful ways;

* Improving the capacity of those doing outreach;

* Improving the capacity of community members to respond;

* Maintaining engagement throughout a long and complicated process."

In response, they offer eight recommendations for improving community
involvement in the brownfields redevelopment process. The
recommendations, described in detail in chapter 5 of the report, are
both sensible and important.

1. Know the community (and be known).

2. Seek out a diversity of opinions and stakeholders.

3. Provide effective and regular communications to keep community actors
informed throughout the redevelopment process.

4. Recognize and address credibility and trust issues.

5. Integrate brownfields redevelopment with other community priorities.
Flexibility in framing the issues will allow for a broader and more
integrated response.

6. Continue to create policy and financial incentives for projects with
public benefits and community involvement.

7. Improve community capacity.

8. Use facilitators wisely.

The most original and valuable part of the report, however, is the six
case studies. Despite the national popularity of Brownfields programs,
it's hard to find independent information about how communities have
contributed to and derived benefits from brownfields redevelopment. By
"independent," I mean reports based upon interviews with diverse local
participants, as opposed to claims of community empowerment put forward
by those making the decisions, such as regulatory agencies, local
governments, or private developers.

The most intriguing cases are those where community activists took the
lead. The authors studied three: In Oakland's Fruitvale District, the
Unity Council - originally a Latino-lead civil rights organization -
succeeded by winning the support of public agencies. In North Oakland,
the North Oakland Voters Alliance "fought city hall" for many years
before achieving success. But in San Diego, the Environmental Health
Coalition and neighborhood activists still haven't won the full
cooperation of other parties, so their goals remain unmet.

In Fruitvale, the Brownfields project began as a proposal, by the Bay
Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, to construct a multilevel parking
garage on the site of an existing parking lot serving the local BART
station. Community residents and local businesses opposed the garage at
that location, and instead they proposed the creation of a transit
village and community center. Report the authors, "One of the main
themes that came out of these initial meetings was the need to
revitalize businesses and integrate them into the transit station

The Unity Council and its allies won political support from Oakland's
city government and BART officials, and it obtained federal funds from a
variety of programs. The project became a brownfields project when the
Fruitvale Development Corporation, created by the Unity Council, agreed
to buy and remediate nearby property to trade with BART. The
contaminated property, to be cleaned to "parking lot standards," would
be the site of the parking garage that triggered the whole development.
The original parking area is being developed as a transit plaza, with
retail stores, non-profit services, and affordable housing.

Brownfields Redevelopment quotes the Unity Council's project manager:
"We hope to reconnect the fabric of the neighborhood that was torn apart
by construction of the BART line and the freeway... The original design
for the huge parking structure would have just created more of a
separation. We'll be reconnecting streets along part of the railroad
right-of-way, and we're working with BART to make the intermodal station
as pedestrian-friendly as possible.... The project represents the
assertion of community control over its own assets. It builds upon two
of Fruitvale's greatest assets: accessibility to a wide variety of
regional transit opportunities and a strong network or community-based

Across town in North Oakland, however, residents had to fight for nearly
two decades to promote a project that met its needs. It began, long
before the concept of brownfields emerged, as a neighborhood effort to
save the historic Old Merritt College building. A local activist said,
"We wanted to see the building preserved, a senior center, housing, a
community park, and maybe some retail and a grocery store." After a
series of failed city-sponsored redevelopment efforts, neighbors won
historic landmark status for the property. Using litigation and the
leverage of federal Block Grant funds, they gradually took control of
the redevelopment process. The property was restored and cleaned up - it
had lead paint, asbestos, PCBs, and an old leaking underground fuel
tank. Nearby Children's Hospital bought the developed portion of the
property for a research institute, and the city retained the remainder
as a park. The Hospital now leases property for a senior center and
planned cultural center, and a non-profit developer is building housing
there as well.

In San Diego, residents of Barrio Logan, mobilized by the Environmental
Health Coalition, have been working for nearly a decade to close and
relocate a polluting plating shop that is located in the midst of a
residential area. They want the property cleaned up and developed with
housing. In 1999 the city tried to buy the site, but the owner rejected
the offer. The community has not yet achieved its objectives, but as the
Oakland examples show, dramatic changes in the urban landscape -
particularly those initiated by residents who start with few resources
and little power, usually take time.

Brownfields Redevelopment also includes three cases where officials
initiated community involvement. In Richmond, California, the city-led
Brownfields Pilot sought public participation early in its process. The
authors summarize what the officials heard: "Residents focused primarily
on their wish that new developments not worsen the quality of life in
their area or repeat the mistakes of the past by causing more cleanup
problems. Residents stated clear opposition to any chemical plants being
part of future development in their neighborhoods and stressed their
interest in attracting business that would provide employment. The
community also wanted impact from traffic to be minimized...."

The authors also describe the redevelopment planning process for an old
mill site in the low Sierras community of North Fork. (This same project
was summarized in the California Center for Land Recycling (CCLR)
report, "Brownfield Redevelopment: Case Studies," reviewed in the July,
2000 Citizens' Report on Brownfields. There, the work of an outside
facilitator seems to have been the key to effective public involvement.

Finally, authors discuss the cleanup of a neighborhood park in the
Southern California community of Covina. This is the only one of the six
case studies where actual remediation was the public focus. In Covina,
representatives of the responsible party (the Southern California Gas
Company) and the regulatory agency (California's Department of Toxic
Substance Control), "went door to door in the immediate neighborhood to
explain to residents what would be happening in the park." The authors
concluded, "By educating residents and attempting to address their
concerns as thoroughly as possible - including admitting that there was
some level of uncertainty about possible past exposure - the team
succeeded in getting the community's support for the remediation
project, and in doing so prevented a neighborhood park from becoming an
abandoned, cordoned-off, unusable and hazardous site - a brownfield.

The authors' findings really aren't all that surprising, but it is still
extremely valuable to back up widespread rhetoric, about the importance
of community involvement, with concrete examples about how (and when) it

A copy of Brownfields Redevelopment: Meeting the Challenges of Community
Participation can be ordered from the Pacific Institute for $10.00.
Please mail your check, along with the title of the report and your
mailing address, to the Pacific Institute, Attn: Kristen Camacho, 654
13th Street, Oakland, CA 94612. The full report can also be downloaded
in PDF format at http://www.pacinst.org/brownfields.html.


Lenny Siegel

Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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