In summary

AB 1087 charts a new course for climate resilience that makes investments in communities so they can be prepared for disasters.

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By Amee Raval, Special to CalMatters

Amee Raval is research director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, APEN, an environmental justice organization,

Last week, a group of youth leaders from Richmond met over Zoom to discuss their visions for community resilience to climate change. Some in high school and others in their 20s, all are members of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and come from Asian refugee and immigrant families.

As members of highly-impacted, fenceline communities who grew up in the shadow of the nearby Chevron refinery, these young people are acutely aware of the gaps in current climate emergency preparedness and response. 

Discussing the recent Chevron oil spill that dumped 600 gallons into the San Francisco Bay – not far from their schools, homes and workplaces – the youth leaders lamented Richmond’s slow action to address the spill. They made the connection to climate disasters that inevitably intensify these kinds of spills – as well as possible solutions: “green energy, health kits, medicine, proper masks, air quality outside and air ventilation inside now, not after the next emergency.” 

Unfortunately, California has a long way to go to realize these young leaders’ vision for their community. All too often, working-class communities of color across the state are failed by both their physical and social infrastructure, and left unprepared when disaster strikes.

During the third weekend of last August, a historic heatwave and power outages in the Bay Area caused a failure at a wastewater treatment plant in Oakland. 50,000 gallons of raw sewage dumped into the Bay, rendering the nearby public beaches useless. As temperatures soared into the 100s, flaring at the Chevron refinery in Richmond forced residents to close their windows against plumes of toxic black smoke. Finally, a rare lightning storm kicked off an early wildfire season and a month of poor air quality that choked the region without relief. 

These disasters reveal that the climate crisis is here – and it is forcing working class people of color to fight for our communities’ wellbeing.

After winter storm Uri devastated Texas, the Midwest and the Southeast in February, mutual aid networks and community-led approaches to climate disasters helped patch the gaps left open by city, state and federal governments. 

In Texas, organizations like Austin Mutual Aid and North Texas Rural Resilience provided vital assistance including food, shelter and health services. In the Bay Area, where the Asian Pacific Environmental Network works with Asian American communities living on the frontlines of toxic pollution, we choked under a summer’s worth of relentless wildfire smoke. Volunteer networks like Mask Oakland distributed N95 masks despite resource constraints to support unhoused, disabled and elderly communities. 

Inspired and guided by these mutual aid networks, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, along with the California Environmental Justice Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are introducing Assembly Bill 1087: The Environmental Justice Community Resilience Hubs Program, a bill authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco, that aims to provide sufficient support and mechanisms for our communities to respond to climate disasters. 

AB 1087 creates a streamlined grant program for preparing our community centers for climate resilience – allowing for communities to insulate buildings for extreme heat protection, install clean energy microgrids for backup power during grid outages and upgrade air filtration to combat wildfire smoke. 

The bill also introduces new terms for climate disaster preparedness. Resilience Hubs are the spaces where community members can gather, organize and access resilience-building services not only during climate disasters like winter storms, wildfires and heat waves, but on a daily basis.

By providing technical support and requiring robust community engagement, the bill addresses critical barriers and promises to deliver benefits to the communities who need it the most.

In the face of converging crises, we urge state leaders to move beyond traditional approaches to emergency planning and boldly champion community-led models.

AB 1087 allows us to chart a new course for climate resilience that makes deep investments in our communities so they can be prepared before disaster strikes.

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