In addition to the Housing Element Update the City is also updating the Safety Element and preparing a new Environmental Justice Element to align with the updated Housing Element.
Thank you to everyone who attended one of the environmental justice outreach events or participated in our communitywide survey over the past few months! We received a lot of great feedback about your concerns about environmental justice in Visalia throughout this engagement process. This feedback will be used to draft the goals and policies of the City’s new Environmental Justice Element. Please check back soon for the Public Review Draft Environmental Justice Element.
What is "environmental justice"?
Environmental justice is the response to the tendency of low-income and racial minority communities bearing a disproportionate burden of hazardous or degraded environments (e.g., freeways, landfills, hazardous waste facilities, poor working conditions) than the general population. Historically, this is due to a lack of meaningful opportunities for these communities to participate in the planning process, sometimes leading to discriminatory practices, such as redlining, that have segregated communities and pushed low-income and racial minority populations to areas with poor air quality, pollution, and other health hazards. Environmental justice policies and programs work to overcome these trends and undo the effects of discrimination in land use decisions.
Environmental justice is defined in the California Government Code as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of people of all races, cultures, incomes, and national origins with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
How is environmental justice related to the General Plan?
In 2016, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1000 requiring both cities and counties that have disadvantaged communities to incorporate environmental justice goals, policies, and objectives into their general plans. The purpose of this legislation is to address the “unique or compounded health risks” in disadvantaged communities by decreasing pollution exposure, increasing community assets, and improving overall health. State law requires general plans to address the following topics in disadvantaged communities
Cities and counties can incorporate environmental justice policies into their general plans either in a standalone Environmental Justice Element or by including relevant environmental justice policies into existing General Plan Elements. As part of the Housing Element and General Plan Updates, the City of Visalia will be creating a standalone Environmental Justice Element.
State law defines a “disadvantaged community” as “an area that is a low-income area that is disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation.” - California Government Code, Section 65302(h)(4)(A)
Cities and counties in California can use the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (“CalEnviroScreen”) to identify disadvantaged communities in their jurisdiction. CalEnviroScreen contains 12 indicators related to pollution burden and 8 indicators that track population characteristics and other vulnerabilities.
How is environmental justice related to the Housing Element?
The location, quality, and affordability of housing play an important role in addressing environmental justice goals and policies and promoting positive health outcomes for disadvantaged communities. Through the Housing Element Update the City has an opportunity to plan housing near transit, public facilities, and recreation, and work to overcome concentrations of lower income populations in areas with hazardous or degraded environmental conditions. Additionally, the Housing Element can address issues faced by disadvantaged communities, such as substandard housing, displacement, and homelessness, through policies and programs that promote safe, secure, and affordable housing for all residents throughout the community.
Why is the City drafting an Environmental Justice Element now?
State law requires cities and counties that have disadvantaged communities to identify environmental justice policies whenever two or more elements are adopted or updated concurrently. Since the City of Visalia is updating both its Housing Element and Safety Element as part of this Housing Element Update process, the City is also adopting a new Environmental Justice Element to be in compliance with State law.
What is a Safety Element?
The Safety Element is one of the required elements of the general plan. The purpose of the Safety Element is to reduce the risk of death, injuries, property damage, and economic and social dislocation resulting from fires, floods, drought, earthquakes, landslides, climate change, and other potential hazards in the community. The Safety Element identifies potential risks to community safety and establishes policies and programs to protect the community from those risks. Topics addressed in the Safety Element include evacuation routes, flood and fire hazards, emergency shelters, emergency response services, and emergency communication programs.
How is the Safety Element connected to the Housing Element Update?
State law requires the Safety Element to be revised each time the Housing Element is updated to address flood and fire hazards and identify any evacuation challenges associated with updated land use designations in the Housing Element. The City is currently updating the Safety Element as part of the Housing Element and General Plan Update.
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Brandon Smith, Principal Planner
City of Visalia Planning Department
315 E. Acequia Avenue
Visalia, CA 93291