Impact Sciences, in partnership with the City of Bell (City), is pleased to accept an Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP) Award of Merit for the preparation of the City’s Environmental Justice (EJ) Element to the 2030 General Plan. The award, presented to the City of Bell on April 11, 2022, at the annual AEP State Conference in Yosemite, CA, celebrates individuals, organizations, and programs advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI efforts may include internal workplace initiatives, programs, and policies, and external community engagement. The Bell EJ Element addresses public health risks and environmental concerns for vulnerable populations—which have long suffered public health effects from geographical inequities—and provides consideration of these communities in land use decisions.
The City of Bell is located in the urbanized southeastern Los Angeles metropolitan area, about five and a half miles south of downtown Los Angeles. This industrial and bedroom community region, including the City of Bell, has one of the highest population densities in the United States.
Bell is split between two communities connected along the I-710 Freeway and the Los Angeles River. The northern portion of the City, called the Cheli neighborhood, predominately comprises industrial uses with one homeless shelter, permanent supportive housing, and associated services. The Central City area, located south of Cheli, comprises predominately single-family and low-scale multi-family housing and commercial uses. Environmental considerations for the City include the Bandini Oil Fields located near the Cheli area, the large number of industrial uses in and around Bell, and the I-710 Freeway.
Bell is a minority-majority city, with census data showing that its population is more than 93% Hispanic with about 89% of residents speaking a language other than English at home. The City falls below Los Angeles County’s rates in median household income, homeowner occupied housing, and high school education. About a quarter of residents in Bell live below the poverty line. The entire City meets OPR’s definition of a disadvantaged community.
Given its proximity to industrial land uses concentrated in the Cheli area and the I-710 Freeway which runs through the City, pollution exposure is an issue of concern. Such burden is calculated by California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen), which analyzes a health score based on 20 indicators by census tract with each census tract within the state assigned a score out of 100 based on these indicators. According to CalEnviroScreen, pollution burden percentile assigned to census tracts within Bell ranges from 82 to 99, among the highest in the region and the state. These indicators include pollution exposure, location of toxic chemicals in or near communities, sensitive populations in a community, and socioeconomic factors. Developing policies and programs to address pollution exposure was key to the EJ Element.
Goals and Policies
The Environmental Justice Element sets forward goals and policies for implementation to enhance the quality of life for Bell’s residents, employees, and visitors. The goals and policies to implement EJ in Bell are explained in the following topic areas:
- Goal 1 – Pollution Exposure and Land Use Compatibility: Exposure to environmental pollution is minimized through good planning and the public process.
- Goal 2 – Public Facilities: Suitable and equitably distributed public facilities available to the entire community.
- Goal 3 – Accessibility to Public Transit, Employment and Services: Affordable, reliable and safe active and public transportation available to all.
- Goal 4 – Safe and Sanitary Homes: A City with safe and sanitary housing conditions and affordable housing options.
- Goal 5 – Civic and Community Engagement: Residents are informed of and actively participate in decisions that affect their environment, communities, and quality of life.
Each section in the EJ Element introduces the topic, outlines key issues, and reviews Bell’s goals and policies related to that subject.
Challenges to Developing the Environmental Justice Element
This Environmental Justice Element encountered some challenges throughout its progress. Its development commenced at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when it was difficult to meet with and reach out to residents for input and feedback due to shelter-in-place restrictions. Despite these challenges, the City remained committed to be transparent throughout this process even with a lack of resources in order to improve trust among its residents. Community surveys, both online and later in person, were distributed to highlight which issues were important to the public in Bell and what goals and policies should be emphasized in the EJ Element. The Element was circulated for public input and review during fall of 2021 and was before the City Council for adoption in spring of 2022.
How the EJ Element Advances Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The City of Bell’s Environmental Justice Element met AEP’s Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion criteria by setting a framework for future community development and providing disadvantaged communities with a tool for increasing stakeholder engagement. It is also creating greater public transparency in a city government with limited infrastructure in these areas previously. This EJ Element fills the City’s commitment described in its 2030 General Plan (adopted in 2018), which identifies environmental justice as a key issue for the City and aims for an open, transparent, and collaborative process to promote the full participation of the residents, business owners, and property owners in the planning process. Through the programs being implemented as part of the EJ Element, specifically measures for a community outreach strategy, the City and its residents are more knowledgeable about environmental justice and how it relates to their everyday lives.
Featured Photo: Jessica Kirchner Flores, 2022. Pictured (left to right): Council Member Fidencio Joel Gallardo; Council Member Monica Arroyo; Impact Sciences President/CEO Jessica Kirchner Flores; Mayor Alicia Romero; Vice Mayor Ana Maria Quintana; and Council Member Ali Saleh.