Earlier this month, Santa Ana, the second most populous city in Orange County, passed a climate emergency resolution with a vote of 6-1 and put itself on a path to a climate-safe future.
That the city passed such a resolution is laudable, but not a big deal by itself – after all, thousands of cities around the globe have passed some version of a climate emergency resolution over the past few years.
No – what makes Santa Ana unique is the resolution’s contents, the example it sets, and the trajectory it lays out for our beautiful city.
Besides making Santa Ana just the 4th city in the United States (and 14th in the world) to endorse the growing call for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, this resolution lays out a series of critical actions the city needs to take to tackle the twin crises of climate change and environmental injustice.
Too often, the climate movement and the environmental justice movements end up siloed – with the climate movement seeing environmental justice as an afterthought, and the environmental justice movement being too busy trying to keep its communities safe from local contaminants to focus on the bigger picture of the climate crisis.
Led by Councilmember Jessie Lopez, Santa Ana’s community is proving that doesn’t have to be the case.
In one line, the resolution calls for limiting the expansion of fossil fuels as part of the SAFE Cities movement that is phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. In the next line, it calls for the city to take action on the ongoing soil-lead contamination crisis here in Santa Ana, via remediation and renter protections to ensure low-income residents are not displaced by clean-up efforts.
The resolution talks about using land use law to not just keep fossil fuels out of our homes via reach codes, but also to ensure more green space for low-income communities and communities of color. It declares the city’s intention to implement a just transition to a clean energy economy – and to do so in a way that supports workers’ and organizers’ labor.
As is true with all local initiatives, Santa Ana’s leaders must follow through with actions that make these bold plans for a better future a reality for our city.
And let’s be clear, we badly need these reforms.
In a study by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, Santa Ana ranked as one of the cities most at risk to suffer climate impacts and one of the least prepared. We may have a climate action plan, but it’s criminally underfunded and woefully out of date.
What’s more, more than half of the residential neighborhoods in our city (predominantly in low-income and Latino neighborhoods) have soil with hazardous levels of lead – with some areas having levels 25 to 50 times higher than the CalEPA safety threshold. We’re also near the bottom of the rankings when it comes to park space for residents – 88th out of the 100 most populated cities in the US, with just 4% of the city’s land being used for parks. The national median is 15%.
However, I can’t help but feel optimistic.
During the six month process that was needed to get to this point, this community and seemingly disparate groups have made connections and become allies.
The climate emergency resolution was endorsed not just by climate groups such as Stand.earth, Climate Action Campaign, and the Climate Reality Project, but also environmental justice mainstays in the Orange County community like Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, Chispa, and others.
I have faith that the environmental justice community will show up for future votes around formerly niche issues like strengthening climate action plans and banning new gas stations – and you had better believe I will be showing up to push city council to address air quality concerns and the proliferation of environmental toxins in our communities.
The truth is, the climate and the environmental justice movements are inherently related. Fossil fuel pollution is responsible for one in five deaths around the globe. Climate change impacts are felt disproportionately by the unhoused, low-income communities, and communities of color. Environmental toxins like lead that are already unfairly localized in marginalized communities are more likely to to be re-suspended or agitated due to fires, strong winds, and warmer water temperatures caused by climate change.
There can be no climate justice without environmental justice, and vice versa. Together, we might just have a chance to build a liveable future. Let’s get to work.
Do you want to phase out fossil fuels and fast track clean energy solutions in your community? Drop us a line at SAFE@stand.earth or visit stand.earth/SAFE to learn more.
Nathan Taft is a proud Santa Ana resident and the Digital and Communications lead for Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities initiative. SAFE Cities is a growing movement of neighbors, local groups, and elected officials phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. You can connect with him on Twitter @nathantaft.
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