Crucial and Critical: Invest now in Community Resilience, Public Health, and Emergency Response

California and its constituent communities will require innovative community driven partnerships and physical infrastructure to support response and recovery efforts from compounding disasters.

Community based networks, relationships and infrastructure are critical to responding to emergencies, sharing information and resources, combating food insecurity and offering physical spaces to residents to develop and implement community driven efforts to improve their communities. 

Unfortunately and to the detriment of our collective safety and security, many communities have no places or spaces to gather, rely on for emergency response, or distribute critical resources. California has underinvested in community resilience and the neglect is apparent in the severe lack of basic state public health and emergency response infrastructure: community centers.

Both the value and deficit of safe community centers became even more clear during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ravages of the worst wildfire year on record. 

Community groups quickly mobilized networks and relationships to respond to disastrous impacts in Black and brown communities. Many community groups were able to respond and provide for basic needs and supply critical information much faster and much more effectively than local public health departments even without funding or places to gather. But the communities that had a community “home” have been truly indispensable in responding to COVID-19 and its impacts. They became the place for emergency food distribution. They were where workers got masks when masks couldn’t be found elsewhere. They are where communities receive public health information, and where mobile clinics have set up over the past three months to get vaccines to hard to reach communities.  And they were where community members sought support and safety.

This simply couldn’t happen in neighborhoods with no community space. 

Some communities have community spaces, but they have no facilities, or the existing facilities are in such a state of disrepair that they cannot function to provide shelter during times of extreme heat, or in the event of power outage. That cannot provide refuge from unhealthy air in times of severe wildfire smoke. And they cannot support energy upgrades to contribute to community and environment upgrades. 

The return on investments in community centers in areas without any or without adequate public spaces will be immediate and sustained in the form of improved health, increased economic security, and social cohesion. The time for that investment is now. 

With billions in unanticipated revenue and flexible American Rescue Plan resources, California has a critical and unique opportunity to invest in community resilience centers in both communities that have existing but inadequate community infrastructure and in those that due to historic neglect are forced to heroically mobilize in front yards and backyards. Not only will investments allow for and facilitate all of the support and services outlined above, but in doing so they will also invest in addressing stark and unjust racial disparities in response and recovery effort  – from any crisis. 

California has ways to go to recover from the current crisis. It will face far more frequent and much more impactful crises with climate change, health impacts associated with excessive heat, wildfires and drought. California and its constituent communities will require innovative community driven partnerships and physical infrastructure to support response and recovery efforts. 

An example of how the community of Lanare in Fresno County would serve as a resilience hub for surrounding small, unincorporated communities.

The Lanare Community Center is owned and operated by the Lanare Community Services District (LCSD). The LCSD is managed by an all volunteer board to operate and maintain the community center, a park and the community water system (currently in court appointed receivership). 

The Lanare Community Center was constructed in the 60s and has been maintained by the grassroots community group, Community United in Lanare. Today, the building is in a deteriorated condition, has no cooling or heating central system and is in need of significant repair. Despite these conditions, Community United in Lanare has made every effort to keep the center in working condition and fundraised to pay for ongoing maintenance and operations. 

As noted in the map, the Lanare Community Center serves as a hub for several disadvantaged rural communities in southwest Fresno County. Community United in Lanare hosts three monthly food distributions at the center which provides food to nearly 300 families from the surrounding communities. The community center also serves as a mobilization hub. Community members use the space to work with Fresno County and state leaders to address community priorities and opportunities. 

The Lanare Community Center. (Photo: Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability)

Most recently, the Center has served as a site for COVID mobile testing; resource and information sharing (worker and tenant protections, vaccine information); and, as a mobile vaccine clinic site, vaccinating nearly 1000 farmworkers in less than two weeks. 

The Lanare Center serves as a hub and has the potential for so much in a critical region of our state. With investment, the Lanare Community Center can continue to serve as home to provide food to families; an emergency and climate response center to share information, provide water during droughts, distribute PPE during poor air quality days and during wildfires and serve as a heating and cooling center; and, it has the potential to be a workforce development center targeting farmworkers and other vulnerable populations to provide training and necessary support to allow for upward financial mobility and opportunity. 

We estimate a need for approximately $850,000 to $1,000,000 to pay for building upgrades, clean energy upgrades, water conserving landscaping, food pantry / food storage upgrades and air filtration HVAC equipment. 

Community Center Resilience Center Program:

Estimate: $500 million* ($150 million to CDFA and 350 million to SGC  (to be spent over 2 years) 

*To pay for building upgrades, building construction, land acquisition, clean energy infrastructure and assets.

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