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This letter was sent to City of Fresno Councilmembers, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Regional and City staff, and the Regional Transportation Plan Roundtable on Dec. 1, 2020.
FRESNO — Leadership Counsel works alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income, and place.
We work with community leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Eastern Coachella Valley on such issues as safe, affordable drinking water, essential transit services, wastewater services, decent, affordable housing, and the right to live free from industrial pollution with infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles. Through co-powerment, organizing, litigation, policy advocacy, and research, we confront California’s stark inequalities manifested in too many of California’s low-income communities and communities of color.
The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for 2022 must combat these inequalities and comply with the Fair Housing and civil rights laws (e.g., Gov. Code §§ 12900, et. seq., 11135 and 8899.50). Fair Housing and civil rights laws require the City to both avoid discrimination and to affirmatively further fair housing, which can not be done without accessible transportation to “overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers.” Equal access for historically disadvantaged communities cannot be disregarded, and civil rights requirements need to be upheld.
As the Regional Transportation Plan begins to lay out the future of transportation investments in Fresno County, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability reminds staff, stakeholders, and elected officials about the importance of prioritizing the needs of historically disadvantaged communities.
Community residents have consistently voiced their concerns, ideas, and needs regarding transportation infrastructure. To promote communication, transparency, and the health of disadvantaged communities, we present a list of Guiding Principles that must be taken into account to ensure that the 2022 Regional Transportation Plan for Fresno County is guided by creating a more just and healthy Fresno.
California law defines Environmental Justice as the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 65040.12, sub. (e).)
We cannot even begin to discuss transportation plans without acknowledging and addressing the historical and current inequities in Fresno County’s environmental justice communities. This is most evident in the County and City consistently ranking at the bottom of several California and nationwide indicators. Such indicators include, but are not limited to, those determining air quality, pollution, access to green space, and inclusivity. To warrant that the 2022 Regional Transportation Plan addresses the past and present injustices resulting in these stark indicators, the community’s health and their identified needs must be a leading factor as decisions are made. All Fresno residents have the right to basic transportation access and investments. All agencies must commit to prioritizing first and foremost, the needs of environmental justice populations.
The RTP must recognize and commit to addressing the transportation injustices that have been abundant throughout Fresno County. Regardless of location, community residents have lacked reliable, efficient, and accessible transportation options. Active transportation infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails, have been prioritized in more affluent and white communities. Meanwhile, BIPOC communities have been left with dangerous infrastructure conditions, increasing severe and fatal incidents. For decades, these communities have been advocating for this same infrastructure in their neighborhoods.
The RTP must concentrate efforts on equitable access to transportation alternatives across the county. Alternative methods include, but are not limited to, bus lines, safe walking paths, protected bike lanes, and complete sidewalks, prioritizing areas that have long been ignored.
All projects and investment decisions will promote equitable transportation spending throughout the county in the 2022 RTP must ensure. Accessible transportation options in communities will significantly affect these residents economically, socially, and their health. If working families can get to and from work or school without the need for a car, and families can exercise outside safely, this will significantly increase their way of life.
Projects, planning, and transportation dollars must be equitably distributed throughout the county, but to achieve real equity, the RTP must support the investment in the most disadvantaged communities and unincorporated disadvantaged communities alike.
Transportation policies and investments have traditionally displaced BIPOC communities. Similarly, whenever there are infrastructure improvements in neighborhoods, residents know these investments were not necessarily made for them. These projects are often done without consulting the community and center the needs of affluent, white residents. While we have made relative strides towards racial equality, recent murders of black bodies in public streets have shown us the tremendous amount of work ahead of us. Staff must target and include BIPOC communities as planning efforts are underway to make outreach and engagement opportunities more inclusive, accessible, transparent, and responsive to historically disenfranchised BIPOC communities.
All selection of plans should be identified, led, and driven by community members. Low-income and BIPOC communities have long been left out of the decision-making process, and their expertise overlooked. Staff must focus on issues and solutions that residents have deemed as high priority. By working with formal and informal groups such as non-profit organizations, churches, schools, community groups, and so on, Staff can facilitate a more expansive reach from community members who do not typically engage.
Extreme heat, drought, and wildfires are some of the few extreme weather events that are now an everyday occurrence. They will only worsen unless government agencies take immediate, intentional action. Fresno City and Fresno County must ensure that state-mandated goals are met by setting and completing plans addressing climate change impacts. Reaching our climate goals is critical to protect frontline communities that have historically sustained the brunt of climate change impacts. The 2022 RTP must emphasize climate-resilient projects and mitigating investments for frontline communities.
Access to reliable and accessible public transportation, walking paths, and safe streets should not be further delayed, especially in BIPOC communities. For generations, communities have been faced with the same problems and have not seen much if any improvement. The following is an initial project list resulting from discussions with residents throughout the region for the 2022 RTP to improve their communities and quality of lives as they see best fit:
City of Fresno:
Leadership Counsel looks forward to working with all staff and residents to ensure an equitable, community-driven 2022 Regional Transportation Plan. If any questions are to arise, please reach out to Karla Martinez relating to Fresno City concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or Leslie Martinez for concerns relating to Fresno County at email@example.com.
Karla Martinez and Leslie Martinez are policy advocates at Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.