By Stephen Vance
Greening West Oakland. Less cement, more parks and even ponds stocked with fish. More foot traffic and public transportation. And most of all, mixed income housing and retail. Those elements were part of a blueprint for West Oakland that 13 Oakland students created during their summer internship at The Rose Foundation.
“This was the first time students from McClymonds, Mandela, Oakland Tech, Oakland High, Street Academy and Skyline came up with their own vision of a healthy, sustainable community,” said Jill Ratner, president of The Rose Foundation.
“After all their work identifying the sources of pollution in the neighborhood and testimony about diesel fumes, they were able to present a truly beautiful blueprint for what they really want in their community,” Ratner added.
The blueprint was developed in response to Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) – a planning process, which will guide use planning for the next 25 years. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions per person as required by California law SB 375 (SB 375 was adopted by the CA legislature in 2008 and aims to reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — and by 80 percent by 2050).
Two local agencies — Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments — are preparing workshops in January, and will release a scenario for public comment in March or April.
The summer project also coincided with a pilot project by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean lead pollution at several West Oakland locations. For the first time, the EPA used a less invasive and less costly technology that uses fish bones to chemically bond with the lead, making it harmless to people.
The idea was to go beyond identifying toxic elements, health issues like asthma, and pollutants, which students at McClymonds tackled as part of the school’s Law & Government Academy’s focus on environmental justice. McClymonds students, who testified before the EPA and state and local boards, won an award for their community service last year.
“The summer was devoted to making West Oakland sustainable and empowering the voice of the youth,” said Ratner.
“Working on sustainability taught me to rethink urban planning and how that affects the community, ” said Taneka O’Guin , a senior at Oakland Tech.
In order to create a blueprint, students visited the self-reliant house at Merritt College and heard from a number of experts on sustainability and environmental technology. One of the speakers, Dr. Paloma Pazel emphasized the “six wins” necessary to make a sustainable community: better health; end of gentrification and displacement; affordable housing; reliable transportation; economic opportunity and community activism.
Over the summer, students learned how to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions when it comes to the vision of sustainability in their community. They put their dreams and vision to work.