Urban Releaf founder and Director Kemba Shakur has joined the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC), a group committed to helping the state of California develop its 5-year scoping plan around AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act.
“After 15 years of advocating for trees in communities of color and poor communities, we at Urban Releaf are well-suited to play a role in helping to shape the future of California’s environmental policy,” Shakur says, adding, “These are exciting times. California is on the cutting edge of a national push toward a clean energy economy, and urban forestry can play a big role in that socioeconomic shift.
“Urban forestry is an integral part of a healthy ecosystem – it relates to air, land, water, energy and people. The benefits of urban forestry include increased air quality and mitigation of the urban heat island effect, as well as creating green jobs which can be part of youth workforce development efforts.”
In inner-city communities, Shakur adds, “the lack of trees affects people’s lives, particularly poor people, who are living in toxic, polluted, and otherwise unhealthy environments, next to the port, freeways, and diesel trucks routes.” To address this, Shakur maintains, “urban forestry needs to be instituted into every city’s climate action plan.”
EJAC’s mission is to assist Sacramento legislators and state employees in developing best practices recommendations for the implementation of SB535/AB1532, which mandates that a portion of revenues generated by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) be allocated to “disadvantaged” communities (as identified by CAL-EPA’s Enviro-Screen), also known as EJ, or Environmental Justice, communities.
The forming of the EJAC committee is an indication, Shakur says, that “the benefits of trees are beginning to be more widely known, as more emphasis is placed on policy around climate change and global warming.”
Urban Forestry is one of five priority areas identified by the SB535 Coalition (Urban Releaf, Greenlining Institute, Asian Pacific Islander Environmental Network, Climate Change Action, and Public Advocates) to be targeted according to the criteria identified in the California Air Resource Board (CARB)’s Draft Investment Plan (available as a .pdf here) for the GGRF, also known as Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds. In addition to urban forestry, priority areas include energy (energy efficiency/renewable energy), transportation, and affordable housing next to transit.
“We need to green communities most affected by poor air quality and the urban heat island effect,” Shakur says. Projects Urban Releaf would like to see developed under AB32 and SB535 include green jobs, training programs, research, partnerships, and collaborations, specifically:
- Reforestation in low-canopy urban zones
- Planting trees along transit corridors and high-traffic areas
- Increased investment in urban gardening/farming/landscaping
“An urban reforestation plan can be the centerpiece of a community-based environmental health campaign in disadvantaged/ EJ communities,” says Urban Releaf Program Manager Kevin Jefferson. This includes storm water remediation, heat island reduction, tree canopy increase, and a total tree count increase, as well as urban farming and small-scale renewable energy, such as rainwater catchment.
In addition to creating much-needed jobs for the community, the results of such campaigns, Jefferson notes, would include “increased oxygen, and a reduction in carbon-based pollution, as well as improving the quality of life, providing psychological benefits, raising property values, and supporting plant, insect, and animal life. Lastly, Jefferson adds, “there is a need for more education and research, which allows for more informed policy decisions to be made.”