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Designing public green spaces for carbon sequestration and environmental justice

San Ysidro, California

Featured image for the project, Designing public green spaces for carbon sequestration and environmental justice

San Ysidro is a majority (93%) Latino community and contains some of the lowest income census tracts in the City of San Diego (SD). Of the 30,000 residents, 70% are Hispanic and 54% have less than a high school education. The median household income is 56% less than that of the City of San Diego and 24% less than the average for California as a whole. San Ysidro is framed by three active freeways: Interstate 5, Interstate 805, and State Route 905. Proximity to the U.S.-Mexico Port of Entry (POE) has raised concerns about air quality due to extreme vehicular wait times and industrial truck exhaust. As many as 120,000 vehicles and 60,000 pedestrians cross the POE each day. While many SD County communities have seen a reduction in air pollutants during the COVID-19 pandemic, San Ysidro has recorded an increase in pollutant levels such as black carbon (BC).

Casa Familiar is the leading non-profit organization in San Ysidro and has a 40+ year history of advocacy, service provision, community planning, and development. Alongside San Diego State University, the San Diego Air Pollution Control District and the University of Washington, Casa Familiar was part of the San Ysidro Community-Based Air Monitoring Study. The goal of this study was to engage the community of San Ysidro in designing, deploying, and analyzing the data collected from a network of low-cost air quality monitors for 12 months. This study found significant links between border wait times at the POE and air pollutant levels at nearby sites.

Currently, 1 in 4 residents in San Ysidro are diagnosed with asthma. Casa Familiar is now advocating for a community park that integrates innovative design and carbon sequestration strategies. Casa Familiar would like to utilize best practices for the urban environmental landscape of Southern California to reduce air pollution and address environmental justice issues. Named Beyer Park in the City of San Diego’s General Design Plan, this 9-acre park sits east of San Ysidro city center. In 2018, local youth successfully advocated for a skate park to be included in the design. The design also includes a ½ basketball court, nondescript trails, and dog park. It is imperative to note that Beyer Park has been in City of San Diego design plans since 1984.  It is Casa Familiar’s intention to advocate and provide research-based community-led design ideas to ensure that Beyer Park is environmentally and ecologically sustainable and responsive to community needs and desires. One of the end products from this project is to have an innovative landscape design for the City of San Diego to update in their General Design Plan.

Description

The Project

Casa Familiar’s overall goal is to inform the design of the proposed Beyer Park in the City of San Diego with research-based community-led environmental and ecological solutions that provides social and cultural benefits and mitigates impacts from climate change. This project will require interdisciplinary perspectives and 1-3 scientific partners. This project requires working directly with the Casa Familiar Community Air Quality team, who have mixed backgrounds of community-based research, community development, environmental justice work, and advocacy. Work may include discussions with City of San Diego Parks & Recreation and Sustainability departments.

 

Project Outputs

Provide environmental solutions for a park in southern California that centers carbon sequestration and social/environmental/ecological benefits to the surrounding community. Project team will focus on research, spatial analysis, and design that focuses on not only on environmental/ecological benefits, but also sociocultural benefits for San Ysidro residents. We will be incorporating community-based feedback on wants/needs for Beyer Park This will result in the creation of proposed landscape design revisions to the City of San Diego for the General Design of Beyer Park. Additionally, we want Beyer Park to serve as a case study for implementing air pollution mitigation strategies.

 

Project Impact

Together with project partners & collaborators, we will be able to create an environmentally just, equal, and innovative design for the residents of San Ysidro. This will be done through calculation of climate metrics and GHG emission reductions and assessment of environmental, ecological, and public health benefits of proposed design.

Our case study can serve as a tool for Disadvantaged Communities (DAC) throughout California by addressing tangential issues that affect their residents as well. These include transportation justice, green pedestrian corridors, public safety, and serve as a launching pad for future green infrastructure.

 

Timeline

  • Casa Familiar paired with Thriving Earth Community Scientist (1-3 months)
  • Complete project plan with Community Scientist
  • Design research & review begins early February 2021

Identify: Identify appropriate greening solutions for the community of San Ysidro. This stage should take into account native plant species, community preferences, and overall landscape appropriateness (soil, adjacent ecosystems, biodiversity, water use, climate resilience, carbon sequestration and water quality improvement potential)

→  (1-2 months)

 

Metrics and Design Final Review

Evaluate: Evaluate the efficacy (social, environmental, economic) of greening solutions to mitigate local air pollution in San Ysidro. This can take a modeling approach with existing air quality data from local community air monitors, consider topology and integration of existing plan, impacts to adjacent ecosystems and biodiversity, etc.

→  (3-4 months)

Key Milestone: Submit design to City of San Diego

Project Team

Community Leads

Alejandro Amador is the Community Air Program Supervisor with Casa Familiar.  In 2018, Amador joined Casa Familiar as the Community Air Monitoring Technician responsible for aiding in the restoration of the San Ysidro Air Monitoring Network. This community-based research project consists of collaborating with San Diego State University and the University of Washington to place low-cost air monitors around the border community of San Ysidro. This project incorporates engagement with San Ysidro residents and stakeholders to interpret the community’s top air quality concerns as well as educational materials and workshops for the community to grow a better understanding of the impacts of air pollution through the data collected.  Now, as the program supervisor, Amador oversees the continuous implementation of Casa Familiar’s air program and grants while working to connect this work to Casa Familiar’s community development and advocacy efforts.

Sarina Vega is an Air Quality Technician at Casa Familiar. Her background is in environmental science and policy. At Casa Familiar, her roles as a researcher and public health advocate intersects with issues of public health, environmental justice, transportation, data analysis and community outreach/engagement is a large part of her position. She has extensive experience working in San Ysidro schools, with promotoras and youth. She is deeply interested in GIS work and has spent time studying the U.S./Mexico border landscape and urban infrastructures. Before Casa Familiar, she also worked at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Youth Conservation Corps. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at UCSD.

Lisa Cuestas is currently Chief Executive Officer of Casa Familiar, a 501(c)(3) non-profit community-based organization in San Ysidro, CA. Ms. Cuestas has worked for Casa Familiar for 20 years and nearly 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Ms. Cuestas’ passion is the development of workforce programs for youth and has supervised many service programs and contracts while at Casa Familiar.

 

Community Science Fellow

Estenia Ortiz Carabantes is a community science fellow in the Science, Policy, and Engagement Cohort (SPEC) with Thriving Earth Exchange. She is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida (USF) and received her Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from USF as well.  She received her bachelor’s in environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida (UF). Her research interests include water quality, water reuse, food security, and sustainable development through community-engaged research. Some of her previous projects include analyzing modified powdered activated carbon impacts on mercury removal from water, assessing heavy metal content in edible seaweed, and conducting a holistic, systems thinking framework to the food-energy-water nexus in seaweed farming in Belize.

Scientist Wanted

Casa Familiar is seeking 1-2 scientists to help identify and evaluate innovative design and carbon sequestration strategies that can be applied to open spaces in San Ysidro, CA.

  • Scientist A: Research background in all or one of the following fields: environmental biology, ecology, and/or botany and demonstrable experience and familiarity with the San Diego landscape and/or southern California (ideally)
  • Scientist B: Research background in landscape architecture or environmental engineering with emphasis in carbon sequestration strategies
    • Preferred: Familiarity with the southern California landscape
    • Preferred: Demonstrable experience working in low-income urban communities

Desired Skills and Expertise for Both

  • At least one scientist must have experience calculating climate equity benefits and GHG emissions reductions
  • Experience with scientific sampling and study design strongly preferred
  • In-depth understanding of connections between equity, sustainability, land use, and environmental justice
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Adept problem-solver and able to effectively convey results in written form
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • Preferred: Able to visit the community in-person
  • Experience in and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement
  • Knowledge and respect for indigenous and Latinx cultures and worldviews
  • Bi-lingual Spanish/English preferred but not required
  • Previous experience in policy/collaborating with local government helpful

 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!