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Improving Air Quality in North Sacramento and Oak Park

By Adrian Rehn

Across the Sacramento region, community leaders and organizations are collaborating to achieve Environmental Justice, defined by local advocates as “the basic right of people to live, work, go to school, play, and pray in a safe, healthy, and clean environment.” Valley Vision is excited to be part of these efforts as we advance a new project to improve air quality in two frontline communities in Sacramento County.

Much of this momentum can be attributed to recent action at the State level. In 2017, Assembly Bill 617 was signed into law, which created the Community Air Protection Program run by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Community Air Protection Program empowers California’s most polluted communities to monitor their air quality and guide investments to reduce harmful emissions and improve public health in frontline neighborhoods. Valley Vision has been active in AB 617 advocacy since the legislation was signed by Governor Brown in 2017, including a strong effort in early 2018 to ensure Sacramento’s inclusion in the program, but more recently our work took on a new and critical purpose.

The work is focused on North Sacramento and Oak Park.

Last year, CARB awarded a two-year Community Air Grant to a group of local nonprofit organizations – Valley Vision, WALKSacramento, Breathe CA Sacramento Region, and Green Tech Education – to help the North Sacramento/Norwood and Oak Park neighborhoods monitor their air, understand how air quality impacts health, and develop a plan to reduce exposure to air pollution. Both of these communities are formerly redlined and underinvested air monitoring “deserts” with little available pollution data, and both have been nominated by the Sac Metro Air District for formal consideration by CARB as priority communities for pollution reduction programs.

The purpose of AB 617 is to empower communities to identify their own solutions in achieving better air quality, and our project centers on supplying the tools and resources for residents to do just that. To this end, our work is guided by a Project Advisory Committee (PAC) of 13 community members and technical experts. A majority of PAC members are eligible to be paid for their participation – a best practice for those seeking meaningful community engagement. You can learn more about the PAC on the project web page.

The air monitors are currently being calibrated with high-grade regulatory monitors at CARB’s T Street facility in downtown Sacramento, to ensure high accuracy in data collection.

Our next major milestone is placing 20 Clarity Node-S air monitors (10 in each neighborhood) in locations determined by residents, and creating a public data portal where people can access real-time emissions information. Led by WALKSacramento, the team has already hosted four public listening sessions to seek community input, with live translation offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, and Hmong, and put out a multilingual survey to gather information from residents about priority locations for the air monitors to be placed. We are currently working with our PAC to review the dozens of applications that came in from both neighborhoods to determine which residents are eligible and interested in making these important siting decisions. Of course, residents who participate are being offered stipends of $75 per meeting attended.

The work of Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality will last through March 2022, with the following milestones:

As you can see, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Once the two air monitoring networks are deployed in locations determined by residents, we are funded to continue working with community members on an educational curriculum to ensure shared understanding of air quality and its effects on public health, further community workshops and planning efforts to identify community-led solutions, a Hackathon to begin to develop technological tools, and finally a Community Air Action Plan which can be elevated to the CA Air Resources Board to secure resources and to enforce new rules in line with community priorities.

Overall, we believe that the resources and tools that we are bringing to the table will help residents move the needle on public health in our region’s frontline neighborhoods. Especially in the age of COVID-19, it is absolutely critical that we address environmental and health disparities by empowering communities with real decision-making power, and do it in a transparent and equitable manner.

If you have any feedback to share or are interested in partnering in this work, please reach out by emailing! To stay up to date with our work to improve regional air quality, subscribe to Valley Vision’s “Cleaner Air News” email newsletter!

Adrian Rehn is a Valley Vision Project Leader overseeing the Cleaner Air Partnership, Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality, and Valley Vision’s online communications.

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