By Kerry N. Doi
When I first came to Los Angeles from Hawaii in the late 1950s I remember the smog being so thick that, at times, you could barely make out the shape of a building that was only a few blocks away. As kids growing up we couldn’t run around outside for more than 20 minutes because the air quality was so bad that your lungs would burn.
Although air pollution in Los Angeles has drastically reduced since then, we need to find ways to continue improving environmental conditions for our children and families, especially in communities that suffer more than their share of the environmental burden.
It’s well documented in urban cities like Los Angeles that low income and ethnic minority communities bear a disproportionate amount of adverse health impacts from environmental burdens. However, it is often overlooked that these same communities are also at the forefront of addressing climate change.
Low income and ethnic minority communities have a wealth of knowledge that, when combined with data and standardized government information, provide a holistic picture of the pollution burdens and socioeconomic vulnerabilities within our neighborhoods. According to CalEnviroScreen 2.0, half of the statewide population of ‘Disadvantaged Communities’ resides in Los Angeles County. These are neighborhoods that are densely populated and include historically low income, ethnic minority communities where residents look to strategies that can mitigate the causes and adapt to the impacts of climate change while providing revitalization opportunities to their communities.
As President and CEO of the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), I have witnessed firsthand the passion that our communities of color have for a greener Los Angeles. PACE’s Weatherization Program is run by our diverse, multi-lingual staff, which is the foundation for PACE’s reputation as a resource for low income, ethnic minority populations. Over the past 38 years, we have built familiarity and trust with these neighborhoods and aim to create a meaningful relationship with each community member. Our staff is fluent in over 40 different languages/dialects and provides cultural sensitivity that enables PACE to access and empower disadvantaged communities.
PACE’s Energy and Environmental Services Program has grown with funding from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Today, PACE serves 26 zip codes in Los Angeles and is one of the largest contractor agencies for the State of California, Community Services Department.
Overall, our Energy and Environmental Services Program has assisted over 284,000 homes throughout Southern California since the inception of the program. This hard work has resulted in more than $2 billion in savings for residents by lowering energy bills, which helps low income residents to stay in their homes, especially when faced with issues of displacement and gentrification.
What we have also seen, is that weatherization Assistance Programs also have the potential to offer workforce training, expand green industry opportunities and create much needed jobs. At PACE, these jobs not only provide benefits and career ladder opportunities but also living wages at $15-$35 per hour. With the infusion of ARRA funding in 2009, PACE’s Weatherization Program doubled in size and was able to create/retain 60 jobs!
“My wife and I fled our home country of Ethiopia in order to escape the violence and political upheaval. In ‘81 we came to the U.S. as refugees. It was 31 years ago when I started at PACE that they gave me just a screwdriver and a hammer. Over time I was trained as an installer and now I am a field supervisor. I was able to buy a house and put two children through school. I thank God for the strength he gave me to take care of PACE’s Weatherization Program. As a result, the program has taken care of me all these years.”
– Asrat Feissa, Field Supervisor of PACE’s Weatherization Program
PACE is proud to be a part of this movement toward addressing climate change. As we continue to build on our efforts to address the environmental injustices resulting from the warming climate, we look forward to continuing our efforts in comprehensive community development, with a triple bottom line—lessening our carbon footprint, creating green jobs, and helping people to save on energy costs. In this way, we hope that our efforts will also allow the children of our future to not suffer from asthma because of too much smog caused by dirty energy, or the long-term consequences from climate change inaction.
About the Author: Kerry N. Doi has honed and demonstrated his experience and expertise in all forms of community economic development. In his 38 years as President and CEO of Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE. On the national level, Kerry is a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and is a founding member and the former national chair of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD), a national association of Asian and Pacific Islanders engaged in community development.