By Alex Breitler
STOCKTON — We haven’t won the race. But we’ve got our running shoes on.
City officials and advocacy groups earned a small state grant this week that may help position them for a much larger award as soon as 2019 — a chance for serious money that would at least begin to address some of Stockton’s most glaring environmental inequities.
More than 90,000 residents — close to one-third of the city’s population — face greater environmental health risks than 95 percent of the rest of California. More than 30,000 residents fare worse than 98 percent of the state.
That’s based on citizens’ exposure to hazards like air pollution, as well as basic demographics and health impacts such as asthma rates.
This week’s $170,000 planning grant from the Strategic Growth Council is less than local advocates had asked for, but it should still help them prepare to apply for a much larger sum later. For example, Fresno this week was awarded $70 million to fully implement its own plans.
The “Transformative Climate Communities” money comes from the state’s cap and trade program, which requires polluting businesses to reduce emissions or buy credits from the state. The grants are targeted toward the neighborhoods that are hammered hardest by this pollution.
“This is a great, great victory for Stockton, for sure,” said Sammy Nuñez, director of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, one of about a half-dozen advocacy groups that have teamed up with the city to seek assistance. “We want to make sure those communities most impacted (by pollution) have a say how that cap and trade money is spent.”
Among other things, the grant is to help pay for outreach and community meetings in a disadvantaged area of Stockton that includes most of the city south of Harding Way. The result of that outreach will be a “Sustainable Neighborhood Plan” that will consist of improvements most important to residents. Those improvements will be based on a separate climate change action plan written by Stockton officials in 2014.
“Creating a healthier environment will improve issues like asthma and other ills hurting our citizens,” Mayor Michael Tubbs said in a prepared statement. “We can do better for the next generation.”
The environmental disparities in south Stockton are well documented. Take the “heat island” effect, for example. Scientists have determined that Stockton’s poorer inner-city neighborhoods are likely to experience extreme temperatures as much as 3 degrees warmer than more affluent neighborhoods on the perimeter of the city.
Poorer residents may have a harder time dealing with this temperature spike, since it costs money to run an air conditioner.
Organizers will now regroup to determine how they should proceed with their outreach efforts in the years to come, with an application for a more substantial grant possible as soon as next year.