Civil Rights and Access to Recreation and Open Space
Advancing Racial, Social, and Environmental Equality
IN THIS EPISODE
01:23 Introduction of Robert Garcia.
02:30 Robert explains when he realized fighting for civil rights would be his life’s work.
04:00 Robert describes the victory of the Bus Riders Union versus the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
06:15 Robert shares why Title VI of the Civil Rights Act is an important tool in the battle for environmental justice.
10:47 If those who receive federal funding violate the agreement of Title VI, what can the federal government do?
14:43 Robert explains why The City Project is focused on equal access to natural resources.
19:23 Robert discusses his efforts to restore the Los Angeles River.
23:30 Robert shares what it was like for The City Project to be involved in creating new national monuments.
27:10 How will the communities with newly restored natural areas benefit from the investment and the restoration and not become displaced?
31:56 Robert shares one change that would lead to smarter, more sustainable, and more equitable communities.
32:23 Robert describes the action listeners can take to help build a more equitable and sustainable future.
32:42 Robert explains what California, our national parks, and our natural resources and monuments look like 30 years from now.
Robert García is a civil rights attorney who engages, educates, and empowers communities to seek equal access to public and natural resources. He is the Founding Director and Counsel of The City Project, a non-profit legal and policy advocacy organization in Los Angeles, California. Robert graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School and is an Assistant Professor at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science.
Robert has extensive experience in public policy, legal advocacy, mediation, and litigation involving complex social justice, civil rights, human health, environmental, education, and criminal justice matters. He has influenced the investment of over $43 billion in underserved communities, working at the intersection of equal justice, public health, and the built environment. He served as chairman of the Citizens’ School Bond Oversight Committee for five years, helping raise over $27 billion to build new, and modernize existing, public schools as centers of their communities in Los Angeles. He has helped communities create and preserve great urban parks and preserve access to beaches and trails. He has helped diversify support for and access to state resource bonds, with unprecedented levels of support among communities of color and low-income communities, and billions of dollars for urban parks. He served on the Development Team for the National Park Service Healthy Parks, Healthy People Community Engagement eGuide.
Robert served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund. He received the President’s Award from the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice for helping release Geronimo Pratt, the former Black Panther leader, from prison after 27 years for a crime he did not commit. He represented people on Death Row in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi. Stanford Law School called him a “civil rights giant” and Stanford Magazine “an inspiration.” Robert served on the Justice and Peace Commission for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles under Cardinal Roger Mahony. He is an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Guatemala at age four.
The City Project, a non-profit legal and policy advocacy team in Los Angeles, California. The City Project works with diverse allies on equal access to (1) healthy green land use through community planning; (2) climate justice; (3) quality education including physical education; (4) health equity; and (5) economic vitality for all, including creating jobs and avoiding displacement.
President Barack Obama and federal agencies are catapulting The City Project’s work on green access to the national level. As the President recognized in dedicating the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, “Too many children, . . . especially children of color, don’t have access to parks where they can run free, breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their environment. This is an issue of social justice.” Conservation isn’t about locking away our natural treasures. “It’s about working with communities to open up our glorious heritage to everybody — young and old, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American — to make sure everybody can experience these incredible gifts.”
The National Park Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers agree. Their studies on green access and the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains, and the Los Angeles River rely on The City Project’s analyses to document that there are disparities in access to green space for people of color and low-income people in Los Angeles, that these disparities contribute to health disparities, and that environmental justice requires agencies to address these disparities. The City Project worked with Ranking Member Raul Grijalva and the House Natural Resources Committee to organize the historic forum on environmental justice, climate, and health. The forum included seven Members of Congress and community advocates at the L.A. River Center in 2015.
“I am a civil rights attorney. I am an environmental justice and health attorney. We consider environmental justice the environmental arm of the civil rights movement, and we focus most specifically on equal access to parks and recreation—we have since we started The City Project in 2000—and many people wonder, how is that a civil rights issue? But, in fact, access to parks has been a central part of the civil rights movement ever since Brown versus Board of Education.”
“We’ve always recognized that equal access to public resources is a core part of the battle for justice and dignity for all.”
“Residential segregation contributes to many of the disparities that we see in cities and rural areas—disparities in fair housing, decent housing; disparities in health; disparities in access to green space; disparities in quality education; disparities in the kinds of jobs you have access to; disparities in transportation to get to the jobs and schools and parks; and in general, disparities in infrastructure.”
“It’s not only the parks that have been created—and there are many—and it’s not even the planning process and the compliance with the law—which is rewarding; ultimately, we measure success by the smiles on children’s faces from playing in parks and schools that did not exist before. And that’s what we’re the most proud of.”
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