|From:||Lenny Siegel <email@example.com>|
|Date:||22 Apr 2005 21:10:05 -0000|
|Subject:||[CPEO-BIF] Do's and Don'ts of Community Involvement|
[The following is a slightly modified version of a presentation I made
yesterday, April 21, 2005 at the Phoenix Brownfields University. To
download a formatted version, go to
http://www.cpeo.org/pubs/Do's&Don'ts.doc. - LS]|
THE DO'S AND DON'TS OF COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN BROWNFIELDS REVITALIZATION Lenny Siegel April, 2005
As smart developers, project managers, and regulators know, community support can be one of the most important assets in promoting and implementing brownfields projects. Still, in many cases, brownfields decision-makers treat community activists with suspicion if not downright hostility. I believe, however, that sensible, pro-active community relations programs more often than not lead to smoother processes and better projects.
As a member of U.S. EPA's Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on All Appropriate Inquiry, I consistently argued that the people who live and work on or near a project site should be informed from the moment a site investigation begins. Some of the private sector participants, however, said the secrecy was essential to make many projects happen. One cited the example of a possible plant closure-where the owner wouldn't want to tip off the soon-to-be-displaced workers. Perhaps there are better examples-for property assembly, for instance-where some level of confidentiality is useful, but this plant closure argument raised a fundamental question about brownfields policy: Should public policy encourage projects that do not serve the public good? The corollary question is: How does one determine the public good?
My position on the first question should be obvious. Our governments should not implement, subsidize, ease regulatory oversight for, or otherwise encourage any projects that do not, in balance, benefit the public at large. My answer to the second question is: Establish an inclusive, effective program of public participation.
The first challenge, in setting up a community relations program, is determining who the community is. I know consultants who get paid big bucks for conducting community relations surveys, but that's usually not necessary. The key is to identify people who are likely to be impacted, either by existing property conditions, or by cleanup and redevelopment. If the site has important natural resources, I would include conservation or recreational interests as well, even if they don't live, work, or study nearby.
And I would go a step further. Don't limit the concept of the affected community to those people impacted by or interested in a specific project. In most brownfields scenarios, both the blight and the vision of recovery are at least neighborhood-wide. It not only makes sense to work from a neighborhood plan, but it's easier to generate consistent community involvement when meetings and information materials are not limited to single projects.
Next, don't assume that the elected representatives of a community-or the officials they appoint to manage programs-fully represent the community. Ideally, at the end of the public involvement process, official and grassroots views will be harmonized. But if the issues surrounding a project or neighborhood have never been the focus of elections, hearings, or other democratic processes, it's unreasonable to expect that officials elected for other reasons speak for the community on cleanup and redevelopment.
Remember, in most localities, local government is actually a complex overlay of multiple agencies, each of which may have its own reasons to be involved in overseeing a project. I serve on the Restoration Advisory Board for the former Moffett Naval Air Station, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It's generally considered a national model for constructive community involvement. In addition to activists and individuals, we have had five local agencies-each with elected boards and taxing authority-represented: two cities, the water district, the Open Space District, and the County. For a few years, the regional council of governments sent a representative as well.
My point is simple: No single entity, even the government with planning jurisdiction, is the sole elected voice of the public. A good public involvement process helps the agencies, as well as other community participants, achieve a common position. If they can't, it at least narrows and delineates the differences.
It's not enough that the agencies leading brownfields activities are "closer to the people" than U.S. EPA. Many policy-makers view brownfields as part of a larger trend of regulatory reform, which is devolving more responsibility for cleanup and reuse decisions from the federal government to the state and local levels. This environmental devolution relies on private market forces and encourages more streamlined regulatory oversight. In fact, there are severe limits to the notion that devolving brownfields responsibilities to state and local governments will make projects more responsive to community needs and interests.
This is particularly true in poor and non-White communities, including communities of all colors in major Northern cities, immigrant communities in the Southwest, and African-American areas throughout the South. Community relations programs may therefore need federal involvement on the side of environmental justice. They should, in any case, identify such environmental discrimination from the start. They should target less empowered constituencies through education, trust-building exercises, translation, and other tools. Silence, from traditionally excluded populations, should never be assumed to indicate support. It should trigger special effort to stimulate involvement.
Speaking of exclusion, I have one cardinal rule: Don't exclude people because you consider them uncooperative. I know there are many community activists who are obstructionist, or who come to meetings just to raise issues that have nothing to do with those meetings. That's a challenge, but in most cases it's easier to resolve if those trouble-makers are inside the tent. That's what happened to me back in 1990. The Navy started listening to me, so I had to be constructive. Even when people aren't as reasonable as I, it's generally possible-though maybe very difficult-to work with other community participants to get the problem-children to play by the rules, or leave of their own accord.
In the brownfields context, individuals and organizations "come to the table" with a variety of agendas. First, there are the ostriches, who don't want to hear about problems. This includes people who don't want to hear any public mention of contamination or even potential contamination because they believe it depresses their property values. It's important to be sensitive to their concerns, because some of them will pull their heads out of the ground once the news is out. Once contamination reports are widely circulated, it's in their interests to do something about it.
Second, there are those people who are primarily concerned about future use. Will redevelopment force them to move their homes or businesses out of the neighborhood? Will the new use generate too much pollution, noise, or traffic? It may be in the interest of a property owner or developer to redevelop an industrial site as industrial, because the cleanup standards are likely to be less stringent, but in a mixed-that is, including residential, commercial, and industrial uses-that may simply perpetuate a long-standing problem for the neighbors.
Then there are the people who care most about the health risks of existing contamination. At most genuine brownfields-sites with relatively little contamination-this isn't a major issue. But if contamination is significant, or there is (or is proposed) a sensitive use, such as a school, senior center, or day care center, exposure to contaminants becomes much more important. The emerging issue of vapor intrusion, in which volatile contaminants rise into houses and other structures, is heightening health concerns at a number of brownfields sites, because there is a completed exposure pathway.
And in my community, vapor intrusion issues have helped identify, conceptually, one more constituency: future residents or workers. People who moved into the award-winning homes at the former GTE site in Mountain View were surprised and upset to learn that TCE vapors might be intruding into their homes. Some have even gone to court. A forward-looking community relations program, therefore, needs to consider the people who haven't arrived yet.
Six Elements of Effective Public Involvement
It would be presumptuous for me to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach to involving these disparate publics in a constructive process for overseeing brownfields activity. Still, I offer six key elements that I believe should form the core of an effective public participation program. Regardless of the specific tools used, the primary objective of a public involvement program is to establish trust-not necessarily agreement-among the responsible parties or developers, regulators, local officials, and the grassroots public.
1. Define the neighborhood. In many places the boundaries are obvious, but in others it takes some thought. Are the environmental and development questions fairly homogeneous over the area? Are there enough people living within to create an ongoing process? Are there too many?
2. Inform the public early and often. One of the most common sources of distrust is the belief that decisions have already been made, that the public is being invited in as window-dressing or as a rubber-stamp. The best way to overcome this is to establish a process before any decisions have been made: Hold meetings. Depending upon the community, distribute information on fliers or via the Internet. Listen!
3. Create an advisory group. This group, perhaps called a neighborhood revitalization committee, should be representative of the various constituencies and interests within the community. Ideally, it should address revitalization issues within the entire neighborhood. It should meet regularly, to give community participants a chance to learn the ropes of cleanup and reuse, as well as to give all parties a chance to get to know each other.
It should be clear, from the start, that this is an advisory group. Once everyone recognizes that the committee doesn't own property, zone, or otherwise make binding decisions, then membership and procedural questions become less contentious. But participants should know, from the start, that if their advice is ignored, that they can pursue their interests through the political processes that existed in the absence of the advisory group.
There may be cases where a neighborhood organization or community development corporation wants to take the lead on a brownfields project. That approach, as well as the traditional developer-led or city-led scenario, is compatible with the advisory group approach. But a community-based developer is not the same as a neighborhood advisory committee.
4. Provide technical assistance. If brownfields activities involve technical decisions on public health, hydrogeology, or other areas of expertise beyond the capacity of the community, then the advisory group needs its own, independent technical consultant. This may seem like an extra expense, but it usually pays off. With such help, directed by community participants, the residents are better able to frame their concerns in a way that decision-makers can address.
5. Develop a "community impact statement." If practical, one of the first activities of the neighborhood revitalization committee should be to draw up a community impact statement (CIS), to document environmental conditions and concerns within the community. The CIS differs from the well known "environmental impact statement" in three ways: First, it is not written in response to a specific development or infrastructure proposal. Rather, it describes the neighborhood, from the point of view of its residents. Second, it is not confined to issues regulated by environmental agencies. Should the neighbors wish to describe traffic, crime, or other issues, then those belong in the statement. And third, the level of detail is flexible. Because the CIS is not required to meet a statutory requirement, the depth and breadth may be determined by the level of effort that both volunteers and the sponsoring government agencies are able to sustain. In the hands of potential developers, as well as local officials, the CIS gives a hint about what forms of property use the community is willing to tolerate or support.
6. Persevere. Brownfields redevelopment, particularly in low income and people-of-color neighborhoods, requires intense effort over many years and under changing circumstances. Development projects often move forward slowly, while both political leadership and private sector representation changes.. In the face of changing circumstances, community-based institutions can provide continuity, serve as a forum for creative negotiations, and act a lever to keep brownfields projects viable.
A carefully constituted program of public involvement, entailing these elements, is likely to build public support for local revitalization efforts, either by winning support for the proposals of project proponents or by helping those proponents adjust their plans to suit community preferences.
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