October, 1999
Citizens' Report on Brownfields
The Center for Public Environmental Oversight & the Pacific Studies Center Volume I, Number 3


In June, 1999, U.S. EPA published the results of a series of case studies designed to determine whether its "Interim Guidance for Investigating Title VI Administrative Complaints Challenging Permits" was having a chilling effect on Brownfields redevelopment. To the extent that the six cities evaluated in the report are representative, the answer is a convincing "no." But the report, "Brownfields Title VI Case Studies," has additional useful information. It shows how public involvement, particularly when encouraged early in the Brownfields planning process, aids rather than hinders Brownfields projects.

Title VI is a key section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. EPA's Interim Guidance, issued in February, 1998 provides a framework for EPA's Office of Civil Rights to process Title VI complaints "alleging discriminatory effects resulting from the issuance of pollution control permits by state and local governmental agencies that receive EPA funding." If EPA finds that an agency discriminates in the issuance of such permits-for example, if it allows the concentration of polluting facilities in communities of color-it is required to "initiate procedures to deny, annul, suspend, or terminate EPA funding" to that agency.

When the Interim Guidance was issued, local officials and private sector representatives complained that it would discourage Brownfields redevelopment, since Brownfields tend to be concentrated in inner city neighborhoods. In response, EPA Administrator Carol Browner promised to consider this hypothesis in a series of case studies. In June, 1999 EPA published the results, based upon multiple interviews in six cities. The cities-Camden (NJ), Charlotte (NC), Chicago, Detroit, Lawrence (MA), and Miami/Dade County (FL)-were selected to represent cities of varying sizes where Brownfields redevelopment projects are underway.

Four of the case cities have active environmental justice movements. Community groups are definitely aware of Title VI, since they have made or supported complaints in Chicago and Florida. But in none of the case-study communities has Title VI been considered as a tool for challenging Brownfields activity.

Interviewees explained this finding in three ways: "1) a relationship of trust has been developed among stakeholders, municipalities and developers; 2) almost any development is an improvement over conditions of contamination and blight, especially if it includes jobs for local community residents; and 3) the types of redevelopment activities typically undertaken at brownfields sites are not pollution-heavy or permit-intensive."

Conceivably, therefore, the specter of Title VI could make developers and local governments more likely to select Brownfields projects that don't pollute or which are designed to win the approval of neighboring communities. But that's not such a bad thing. And in fact, two case-study communities actually supported the construction of new cement factories, on the assurance that they would use modern, pollution-minimizing technologies.

In five of the cities, public involvement seemed to contribute significantly to the success of Brownfields projects. For example, "In Camden and Chicago, involving the community allowed potential problems to be identified and solved from the beginning when stakes were lower and design changes could more easily be made. Charlotte representatives noted that the trust built between the community and the developer and the fact that involvement continued throughout the project gave community organizations a sense of ownership in the project and prevented opposition." Only in Lawrence, where development is taking place far from residential areas, was public participation minimal.

Developers, at least in case-study communities, often recognize the value of working with neighboring communities early. "For example, in Chicago, Charlotte and Detroit, interviewees mentioned that it was common practice for developers to solicit support from community members before they invested in a redevelopment project or redevelopment planning. These 'up-front dialogues' saved time and money for the developers and got the community in on the ground floor."

In some cases community relations focused on explaining projects to the public: "In Miami, the Pilot brought in a toxicologist to explain to concerned citizens the likely emissions from a new type of cement processing."

In others, however, developers actually modified projects in response to public concerns: "In the Camden Square project in Charlotte, developer Tony Pressley lowered the height of some of his planned buildings to address community concerns about light and tree health. Great trust has been achieved here and, in turn, community groups wrote letters of support for Pressley, allowing him to get a State brownfields liability protection agreement." In Miami, a developer responded to community fears about traffic and dust.

The promise of jobs consistently wins community support for Brownfields projects. "In Chicago, a developer was interested in spending $2 million to clean up and redevelop a site, but could not get the necessary permits from the State because the site was located in a non-attainment area. Since the developer was going to create jobs for local residents, the community became an advocate for the project and the developer was able to get an emissions credit." The developer of the Miami cement plant won support by promising to train local residents for jobs there.

However, Detroit residents told researchers that they didn't want just any jobs. One said, "We are not saying 'not in my backyard [to polluting facilities],' we are saying, 'my backyard is full.' Now it is our turn for clean jobs."

The report notes, however, that community groups tended to think community involvement programs have been less successful than local officials rated them. They said business interests still held more power in the process, and sometimes "cultural or language barriers prevented full participation from some community groups." On the positive side, interviewees felt that continuing education, outreach, and technical assistance are proven aids to successful community involvement.

In addition, Brownfields community involvement can spark related activity. In Chicago, "relationships built between the City and local communities during the course of brownfields redevelopment" led to a community-based enforcement program against illegal dumping, saving the city money while improving the neighborhood.

In summary, involving neighboring residents in Brownfields redevelopment not only makes Title VI challenges unlikely. It helps smooth the way to project completion while increasing the likelihood that the quality of life in such areas will improve.

"Brownfields Title VI Case Studies" (EPA 500-R-99-003) is available on the Web at http://www.epa.gov/swerosps/ej/ejndx.htm#titlevi.


The Center for Public Environmental Oversight and other organizations are convening the third an-nual Environmental Justice/Community Caucus at U.S. EPA's Brownfields '99 Conference. That conference, "Alliances for 21st Century Livability," will take place on December 6-8, 1999 at the Adam's Mark Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. The Caucus meeting is open to anyone who wants to see community and environmental justice issues addressed in Brownfields programs and projects.

The Caucus Session will take place on Monday, December 6, 1999 from 9 to 11 am at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Room Houston C. This is before the initial session of the Brownfields '99 conference, so those who wish to take part in the Caucus need to make travel plans accordingly.

Caucus participants will discuss ten proposed recommendations for more responsive brownfields redevelopment. The recommendations are part of a larger effort to research the concerns of environmental justice and other community-based organizations at Brownfields projects. It builds from the Caucus meeting at Brownfields '98 in Los Angeles, where approximately sixty participants reported their experiences with Brownfields redevelopment. The similarity of the problems that they raised reinforced the need for a national strategy to ensure that their voices be heard and to promote the sharing of community-oriented Brownfields success stories.

Once again, caucus members are expected to include:
* residents of Brownfields communities
* representatives of non-profit organizations
* researchers
* staff from EPA and other agencies

For more information on the Caucus, contact Tony Chenhansa at 415-405-7751 or e-mail <cpeo@cpeo.org>.

For more information about the Brownfields '99 Conference, call the toll-free Brownfields '99 Hotline at 877-343-5374 or visit the official website, http://www.epa.gov/brownfields.


Since the inception of the Brownfields concept, Brownfields revitalization has been associated with the notion of development: the construction of factories, offices, houses, or other buildings. Increasingly, however stakeholders from all constituencies have urged the creation of open space, at least within larger Brownfields projects. In fact, at the upcoming Brownfields '99 meeting in Texas, three separate panels will address open space issues.

At closing military bases, the federal version of Brownfields, open space has always been a major reuse option. The military, with its need for buffer zones, training areas, and aircraft rights-of-way has managed millions of acres as open space, even in or near major metropolitan areas. For example, San Diego and Los Angeles would be a single megalopolis were it not for the presence, along the southern California coast, of the Camp Pendleton Marine training base. While the military has an abysmal record of industrial pollution, it actually has managed much of its open space well. Communities have become accustomed to the military-owned forests, prairies, beaches, and even deserts next door. When bases are closed, neighbors often try to keep those lands open.

Furthermore, excess military lands may be transformed into parks or wildlife refuges at little or no cost. They may simply be transferred to the Interior Department as national parks or wildlife refuges, or to the Department of Agriculture as national forests. If those agencies don't want military properties, they may be turned over to state or local governments as recreational public benefit conveyances, at essentially no charge.

In either case, the military-at least in theory-remains responsible for the cleanup of hazardous wastes on transferring property. While cleanup levels and schedules are a bone of contention at numerous sites, valuable open space is being made available to the public throughout the country, from the Presidio of San Francisco to Cecil Field Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.

At civilian Brownfields, however, the preservation or creation of open space is still the exception rather than the rule. Civilian sites are generally smaller than military bases, and usually a public agency has to purchase property for this purpose. Still, civilian Brownfields are often strategically located in congested urban areas where park space, plazas, trails, and habitat are in great demand.

There is a tendency, among some, to view open space as a luxury for middle-class tree-huggers, but people of all colors and social classes value the benefits of "undeveloped" or "underdeveloped" lands. In fact, urban trails-built along old railroad tracks, creeks, and utility rights-of-way-provide more opportunities for families from poor neighborhoods to exercise or enjoy the outdoors than large, pristine, remote parks. Soccer fields and tot lots are treasured in dense urban areas.

Still, in the rush to recoup taxes and provide jobs, many planners are reluctant to promote open space. However, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) has published a report showing how open space can prove economically beneficial. In The Economic Benefits of Parks and Open Space, TPL argues that open space preservation can attract investment, stimulate commercial growth, and boost tourism. (For copies of the report, contact TPL at 116 New Montgomery Street, Fourth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105, 800/714-LAND, or http://www.tpl.org/tpl).

It describes progress in Chattanooga, Tennessee: "Where once there were rusting factories, there are now green open spaces surrounded by a bustling commercial and residential district. Where the Tennessee River sweeps through the city, abandoned warehouses have given way to an eight-mile greenway, the centerpiece of a planned, 75-mile network of greenways and trails." Today the creation of that greenspace is widely viewed as a smart investment that fueled an economic revival.

Turning portions of urban brownfields into greenspace, suggest TPL and others, does more than protect the environment and enhance the quality of life. The public acquisition and restoration of parks, trails, and other open space is like an investment in infrastructure, such as roadways. In most cases, roads and parks don't generate revenue directly, but they make surrounding property more useful, more valuable, and stronger sources of tax revenue. And the in-fill creation of greenspace makes it possible to revitalize inner city areas-with housing, commercial development, offices, and even industry-instead of watching such activity drift to the suburbs and semi-rural areas.

Compared to closing military bases, it may be more difficult-and usually more costly-to convert private brownfields into greenspace, but the pay-offs to the overall revitalization of urban America may be even more significant.


Building Upon Our Strengths: A Community Guide to Brownfields Redevelopment in the San Francisco Bay Area is a handbook for urban and older suburban communities on brownfields redevelopment.

The Community Guide is designed to prepare communities to speak with an effective voice as they take their seats at the brownfields redevelopment table. With an environmental justice vision, the Guide provides a regional and historical framework for looking at brownfields as a means of attaining just and sustainable communities.

Both an educational and organizing tool, the Community Guide aims to assist communities in familiarizing themselves with the phases of the brownfields redevelopment process; understanding the perspectives of the various stakeholders involved; and identifying the different issues they must work through to realize their vision for brownfields revitalization.
By sharing lessons learned through Bay Area efforts, the Guide strives to contribute to the forging of innovative brownfields redevelopment strategies at the regional and local levels based on strong community-based alliances and collaborative relationships among diverse stakeholders.

The Community Guide also includes a glossary, list of common abbreviations, a directory of Bay Area brownfields organizations, and other helpful tools that will expedite the learning process for communities facing the challenges and opportunities posed by brownfields redevelopment.

The Community Guide was published in May, 1999 by the Urban Habitat Program's Community Revitalization and Land Restoration Project. Through research, leadership training, and policy advocacy, UHP's Community Revitalization and Land Restoration Project supports community-driven efforts to clean up and reuse vacant, blighted, and contaminated land as a means of addressing health, environmental, and economic needs of low-income communities of color in the San Francisco Bay Area. Using brownfields or land recycling as one of many community-building strategies, UHP works to build the capacity and leadership of community-based organizations to effectively direct urban revitalization efforts across the region.

To order your copy of the Community Guide, please contact either Torri Estrada, Project Coordinator, at (415)561-3336, or Catalina Garzón, Project Associate, at (415)561-3328, or send a check or money order for $23.00 (includes shipping & handling) to Urban Habitat Program/Tides Center, Box 29908, Presidio Stn., San Francisco, CA, 94129-9908. Fax: 415/561-3334. <tje@igc.org>