March, 2000
Citizens' Report on Brownfields
The Center for Public Environmental Oversight & the Pacific Studies Center Volume II, Number 1


Brownfields revitalization, with its emphasis on development in areas already developed and served by urban infrastructure, is becoming in-creasingly linked to the Smart Growth concept. Smart Growth is an approach to metropolitan planning that prefers the construction of housing and employment generators within existing communities and along transit corridors. It is the antithesis of urban sprawl, designed to conserve land and other resources.

Many in the development community still resist smart growth practices, pointing out that families prefer the traditional suburban home, but in many regions, such as the Bay Area, buying such a home close to work is becoming more and more difficult. By necessity as much as by choice, federal, state, and local governments are embracing in-fill development, a core aspect of Smart Growth. Governments are therefore devising tools and rebuilding infrastructure to support Smart Growth.

Among the most important tools are Brownfields programs. By encouraging developers to consider projects on old industrial properties with low or uncertain levels of toxic contamination, these programs promote housing, industrial, commercial, institutional, and recreational development in old areas served by roads, transit, and utility networks as well as public safety, educational, and other services. These activities generate tax revenues and economic activity that can serve to revitalize the community as a whole.

However, a Brownfields program can succeed statistically-increasingly property values, employment, tax revenues, etc.-and physically-with nicer buildings and cleaner streets-without revitalizing a community. That's because it is often easier to strengthen an urban economy by displacing the non-white and other poor people who historically have lived near brownfields and suffered the impact of blight and contamination, instead of building on the strengths of those communities and improving the incomes and living conditions for the residents and business operators. To take off on one of Ronald Reagan's favorite aphorisms, a rising tide sinks the old boats and makes room for the yachts.

This is what is happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the growth of Internet industries is attracting highly skilled workers from throughout the world, concentrating wealth in the hands of young entrepreneurs and professionals, and forcing housing costs off the charts. As the Urban Habitat Program report, "There Goes the Neighborhood" documents, long-time denizens of East Palo Alto, San Francisco's South of Market Area, and other Bay Area communities of color are being forced out. The places look better-physically and statistically-but the communities are devastated.

Brownfields activity represent only a small part of this change, and official brownfields pilot programs make up only a fraction of that activity, but in the absence of countervailing policies, they contribute to the problem. Thus, as currently practiced, Brownfields programs and Smart Growth practices work against environmental justice, for more often than not they promote economic improvement at the expense of communities.
It doesn't have to be that way. The "Recommendations for Responsive Brownfields Redevelopment" include the following: "We recommend that revitalization protect communities, not force out long-time residents. Protecting the culture and identity of a community shall be considered when public resources are used to promote or subsidize Brownfields projects. Special provisions shall be made to protect residents against displacement due to rising property values and improving neighborhood desirability."
We propose the term "Smart Just Growth," to represent the intersection of Smart Growth and Environmental Justice. Introducing socio-economic equity and community cultural stability to Smart Growth should improve, not detract from, Smart Growth strategies, not only because it's right, but because communities of color, other poor people, and their allies still wield significant political power in many cities.

There are many potential solutions to undesirable gentrification: Ensuring that a mix of housing is included within each new development; providing training and job opportunities for low-income workers and their children; guaranteeing a living wage to sales, service, and clerical workers; and boosting housing subsidies for people, such as senior citizens, unable to generate the income growth necessary to keep up with rising housing costs. None of these are easy to implement. Poverty is a tenacious adversary. However, without such efforts, conditions for residents will deteriorate even further, even as the neighborhoods become showcases of rebirth.

In metropolitan areas with booming economies, community preservation policies may turn out to be a rear guard strategy, creating of islands of continuity amidst the floodwaters of economic expansion. Without such policies, however, there is no doubt that those communities will drown and their members will be dispersed.

Not long ago, the Environmental Justice movement challenged-with some success-many of the nation's premises for the siting of undesirable land uses. Now those same forces need to coalesce behind Smart Just Growth to ensure that Brownfields revitalization and Smart Growth serve communities of color and other poor communities as well.


Share your thoughts with the Environmental Justice/Community Group Caucus.

CPEO is inviting non-profit, community, and environmental justice representatives who deal with the revitalization of brownfields sites to join the National Brownfields Environmental Justice/ Community Caucus. The Caucus started as a way for people to share ideas and experiences about community issues at the Brownfields '97 Conference. Since then the Caucus has developed into an informal advisory group that works on action-oriented strategies targeted toward the private sector as well as government agencies. In 1999, CPEO facilitated conference calls and a national face-to-face meeting of Caucus members to develop the Interim Final "Recommendations for Responsive Brownfields Revitalization," published in the December, 1999 Citizens' Report on Brownfields.
Here are some planned activities for 2000 that will build on last year's work.
o Develop detailed guidelines for each of the ten Recommendations.
o Discuss emerging issues pertaining to Smart Growth and Environmental Justice.
o Suggest and plan possible community related Brownfields 2000 panels.
If you have ideas on what the Caucus should be working on, or if you just wish to participate, please contact CPEO's Tony Chenhansa at 415/405-7751 or <>.


The San Francisco-based Urban Habitat Program (UHP) recently published a pamphlet summarizing and challenging gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area. "There Goes the Neighborhood: A Regional Analysis of Gentrification and Community Stability in the San Francisco Bay Area," analyzes current trends and offers a series of recommendations. For those outside the Bay Area, "There Goes the Neighborhood" offers a framework for integrating the sometimes conflicting concepts of Environmental Justice and Smart Growth.
Written for a general audience, the report explains how the Bay Area's economic boom, driven by high-tech industry centered in Silicon Valley, has created an imbalance of jobs and housing. Communities on the San Francisco Peninsula can't house their growing workforce, so professional and skilled workers are commuting great distances, clogging the roadways and moving into historically poor neighborhoods, from East Palo Alto to San Francisco's Mission District and beyond.

"There Goes the Neighborhood" describes a three-phase process of disinvestment, public reinvestment, and displacement. It specifically identifies nine causes, beginning with the "Silicon Valley Domino effect," but also including a range of government housing, tax, and transportation practices.

The report also describes a number of short-term policies to slow gentrification and long-term recommendations for community stability. These include the enforcement of existing housing laws, investment in community planning and mass transit, and changes in the tax system to encourage regional development patterns which emphasize benefits for all.
With high-tech industry booming off the charts, the Bay Area may be facing greater gentrification pressures than other regions. The report's foreword (written by UHP Executive Director Carl Anthony) begins, "In the San Francisco Bay Area we are both blessed by and stressed by our booming regional economy." But the displacement of urban poor is evident in many other cities, from Harlem to Portland, Oregon.

Anthony's conclusion is relevant in all such communities. He explains Smart Growth, which "emphasizes development in already built areas, or in-fill development." He writes, "At Urban Habitat we believe that Smart Growth is an important step toward a sustainable region. However, as an environmental justice organization concerned with building healthy communities and multicultural, urban, environmental leadership, we see the Smart Growth initiatives as both an opportunity and a potential threat to the low income communities of color that are our constituency.... Ending suburban sprawl by pushing low income, communities of color into yet another Diaspora is not sustainable, not smart, and most of all, not just."

"There Goes the Neighborhood" is written by Cameron Y. Yee and Julie Quiroz-Martinez, with Torri Estrada and Catalina Garzon. It is available from UHP for $20. For more information, see, phone 415/561-3333, or write the Urban Habitat Program, P.O. Box 29908, Presidio Station, San Francisco CA 94129-9908.


Perhaps by coincidence, U.S. EPA's national brownfields conference this year will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the city whose street names provide the model for the world's most popular real estate board game, Monopoly. Brownfields 2000 will take place at the Atlantic City Convention Center from Wednesday, October 11 through noon on Friday, October 13.

This year, for the first time, the EPA conference will be combined with the Industrial Site Recycling Conference, organized annually by the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania (ESWP). ESWP has taken the lead in planning the conference, in cooperation with a long list of other sponsors, including CPEO.

Brownfields '99, held in Dallas last December, attracted more than 2,300 participants. The Atlantic City meeting is expected host even more. Last year's conference had 65 sessions and over 250 speakers. This year there will be as many as 75 sessions with close to 300 speakers.

Titled "Research & Regionalism: Revitalizing the American Community," the 2000 conference will have a greater research focus than before. Sponsors are already circulating a call for papers, which asks for 250-word abstracts of proposed presentations. (The official deadline for abstracts is March 24, 2000.)

The conference sponsors are considering, for the first time, a crosscutting system of session Tracks. Instead of designing one set of break-out sessions for lawyers, one for financiers, and one for planners, etc., it is likely that the panels will be organized to encourage dialogue among the various stakeholder groups.

As with previous meetings, Brownfields 2000 will include bus tours of area Brownfields projects. Atlantic City wants to showcase its $7 billion redevelopment, which includes city-wide beautification and infrastructure improvements.

Once again, CPEO plans to convene the National Brownfields Environmental Justice/ Community Caucus. Given New Jersey's reputation for racial profiling, however, participants may wish to bring their "Get of out jail free" cards.

For more information about Brownfields 2000, contact the Engineers' Society of Western Pennsylvania at 337 Fourth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or If you have questions, call Amy Lesko at ESWP, 412/261-0710, ext. 32. The International City/County Management Association will again be providing a limited number of travel scholarships. For more information on scholarships, contact Adam Ploetz at ICMA, 202/962-3601 or <>.


The Eastern Stakeholders' Forum on Land Use Controls in Federal Facilities Cleanups, jointly sponsored by CPEO and the International City/ County Management Association, will take place in June, 2000 in the Washington, DC area, but we have not yet firmed up the exact dates and location. Please contact CPEO for details.

The Western Stakeholders' Forum on Land Use Controls in Federal Facilities Cleanup, also jointly organized by CPEO and ICMA, was a resounding success. Over 200 people, including public stakeholders; state, local, and tribal officials; and representatives from U.S. EPA, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, and other federal agencies took part in a constructive discussion of the appropriateness, implementation, and maintenance of institutional controls and related mechanisms in the context of the remediation of toxic, radioactive, and explosive wastes at active, closing, and former federal facilities. A few years ago, such a meeting might not have attracted much community interest, but the increasing proposed use of land use controls at federal facilities has heightened public awareness and concern throughout the country.

ICMA and CPEO are preparing a Forum report, which will include a range of suggested policy options to guide the selection and enforcement of land use controls. They will bring those alternatives to the Eastern Forum in June, and the two organizations hope that the meetings will leading to the creation of a smaller, representative dialogue designed to hash out related policy differences among the various agencies and stakeholder groups concerned about land use controls. Though the Forums focus on federal facilities, many of the issues addressed pertain directly to Brownfields revitalization as well.

Participants in the Western Forum generally agreed that land use controls should be treated like any other remedial response. Instead of tacking them on to cleanup plans as an afterthought, decision-makers should evaluate them as they would removal or active and passive treatment. Each land use control should be costed out -over the life of the project. And each control, as well as an assignment of both management and financial responsibility, should be spelled out in remedial decision documents.

The Forum report will contain suggestions for both long-term and short-term solutions to the challenges posed by land use controls. One short-term proposal that won support was the rapid development of geographic information systems (GIS) to track and disseminate information of institutional controls as soon as they are imposed. With minimal expense, such systems could provide essential warnings to builders, utility crews, planners, regulators, and community members, reinforcing language otherwise hidden in title documents and remedial plans.

It is doubtful that these two forums will resolve the debate between permanent treatment of contamination and "risk-based" cleanup supported by land use controls, but it is possible that they will lead to a better way to weigh the alternatives and, where land use controls are selected, to restrictions that are more likely to last as long as the contamination.