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Summary Meeting Notes: November 28th, 2012 Watershed Health and Environment PEG Meeting

Summary Meeting Notes


Watershed Health & Environmental Policy Expert Group (WHE PEG)
Meeting Date: November 28th, 2012
Time: 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

PEG Attendees
: Judy Bluehorse Skelton, Claire Carder, Corky Collier, Sallie Edmunds (BPS), Mike Houck, Roberta Jortner (BPS), Noelwah Netusil, Bob Sallinger, Jennifer Thompson (called in), Maryhelen Kincaid, Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, Paul Ward, Thomas Putman, Jerri Williams
Invited Attendees:
  Dante James and Judith Mowry (Office of Equity and Human Rights), Desiree Williams-Rajee (Equity Coordinator, BPS) 
Other Attendees: Shannon Buono (BPS), Nan Stark (BPS), Jerry Grossnickel, Mary Vogel, Dave Harvey

Facilitator: Dena Marshall, Solid Ground Consulting

View the original agenda, including materials, for this meeting.

Key Points and Outcomes 

  • Conversations about equity and race aren’t necessarily easy but they are critical if we are going to improve outcomes for all people in Portland and create policies and plans that will not contribute to perpetuating race as a social determinant.
  • Examining our assumptions and the assumptions that exist in our policies is an important step to being culturally conscious and responsive. The assumptions generally come from the dominant culture perspective, and do not consider the needs or interests of people of color.
  • One myth that exists is that people of color and poor people don’t care about the environment. The class and race conversation has improved, but lack of trust may contribute to a disconnect between environmental groups and communities of color.
  • Relationship-building and the opportunity to understand one another’s values are not built into government processes but need to be in order to reach more understanding and to change assumptions.

Introduction and Review Agenda (15 minutes)
Presenter: Dena Marshall, Solid Ground Consulting
Summary: Dena welcomed the group and kicked off the meeting with introductions.

Updates on the Comprehensive Plan Process
(10 minutes)
Presenter: Sallie Edmunds, Watershed Health and Environment PEG Lead
Summary: Sallie provided an update on the Comprehensive Plan process:

  • Bureaus are currently reviewing draft policies. An equity reviewer has been hired to review the whole document through an equity lens.
  • Official release of working draft will be in January.  PEG members will be emailed a link to the document as well as page numbers that contain the content the PEG work contributed to.
  • There will not be a PEG meeting during the month of the public workshops (February or March) so that PEG members can attend. PEG members will debrief feedback received at workshops.
  • Habitat corridors and other concept maps will be included in part 2 of the working draft (to be revised later).
  • The work of the newly formed Industrial Land and Watershed Health Working Group will most likely not influence the draft that will be released in January, but potentially questions that will be discussed at the public workshops.

Equity Overview (60 minutes)

Presenters: Dante James and Judith Mowry, Office of Equity and Human Rights
Summary: Dante and Judith facilitated a rich discussion around the questions: Why is equity important?  How do we talk about race and apply this discussion to the Comprehensive Plan? Main points discussed included:

  • All PEGs are having a discussion about equity and race during the month of November so that everyone can be on the same page about the fact that race is a social determinant and because of that it is important to always include an equity perspective (specifically regarding race) in policy making discussions and how to do that.
  • The Office of Equity and Human Rights is charged with working to undo the institutional racism that exists inPortlandand contributes to disparities in outcomes for communities of color. This means talking about race and examining structures, institutions, practices and policies.
  • Currently half of the students in Portland Public Schools are of color, and 27% of the population ofPortlandis people of color.
  • When asked how well the equity conversation is going in the WHE PEG, answers and discussion that followed were:
    • At the first meeting, there was a conversation about intergenerational and interspecies equity and that we have an obligation to people and living things beyond us.
    • It was acknowledged that important conversations could be around the question: How will the standards or rules that we are creating impact people (and species) across the spectrum, and what should we think about with regards to impacts when we discuss improving the watershed?
    • Race is a social determinant. There are strategic and quantified reasons that race is the key indicator that should be explored (as opposed to class, gender, disability, etc.). If we don’t start with race, we won’t touch the other indicators.
    • Ben Duncan and Jeri Williams have been spearheading conversation about environmental justice and watershed health and the impacts they have on people’s health, specifically calling out that some people are more negatively impacted; this needs to be part of our conversation. Cultural consciousness means that there is consciousness that there are detrimental outcomes for some based on race. When people in policy- making conversations are conscious and ask critical questions based on this awareness, they are being allies. Usually it is people of color who are asking these questions and initiating this conversation and it can be very tiring and exhausting. Allies are people who share in this responsibility.
    • Conversations about race can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable and people may shy away from talking about race for reasons such as: they don’t want to sound or say something racist, they don’t want to be wrong or sound stupid, they have been taught to be colorblind, and talking about race is rude.  Being colorblind and treating everyone equally doesn’t get us to equity because it does not acknowledge that there are groups of people that are lagging behind (if not going in a different direction). A history of discrimination and lack of access has created this reality. Being color conscious is not being racist; it is acknowledging that race is a social determinant.
    • When we become more comfortable with conversations about race and how it is a social determinant, it is possible to start evaluating the negative outcomes and work to change everything from policies and institutions to other practices of unconsciousness.
    • This PEG has been conscious of evaluating policies and protecting resources so that there will be a change in the spatial distribution of resources, which ties directly to addressing issues of access based on race.
    • If you look at a map that shows our natural resources and where communities of color live, you will see that these two things are inverse. This PEG is designing with nature and focusing on greening the built environment in addition to sidewalks and safe routes to school. But we haven’t been having the conversation about what it means to live in an area with less trees or access to nature. The inability to get to the river is amazing. What does that do for kids who want to?
    • Our cultural norms and biases impact the way we behave and think and they impact our interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal dynamics are what shape office culture and impact procedures and protocols. This leads to how policies and structures are made. 
    • For some people of color, it is painful and uncomfortable to work for government because government and its policies has and still does treat people of color with disrespect by not genuinely and transparently engaging with them. Relationship building and the opportunity to understand each others’ values are not built into government processes. It’s important that we question policies and laws that were created in isolation by those “in power” (usually white men) and their values, not representative of values of people of color.
    • Since the creation of Coalition for a Livable Future the class and race conversation has improved in the environmental justice community. Lack of trust may contribute to a disconnect between environmental organizations and communities of color. It’s often a question of who should reach out to whom? It’s tiring when communities of color reach out and are not responded to.
    • It’s common for anyone in a situation where they are the minority to experience defensiveness. Building trust and feeling safe take time; over time, a dialogue can happen.
    • Our assumptions deeply impact what we think and how we behave. In western culture, we are steeped in how to think alike. We each view the world from our own lens, and by realizing this and intentionally creating a shared lens do we live less unconsciously. To illustrate how assumptions impact how we behave, PEG members participated in a small group activity where they discussed the assumptions that were made by Laotian refugees who built gardens along I-84 and ODOT workers who reacted negatively to these gardens.

Watershed Health and Environment Issues Through an Equity Lens (30 minutes)
Presenter: Dante James and Judith Mowry, Office of Equity and Human Rights
Summary: PEG members participated in a second small group discussion about this goal: All Portlanders have clean air and water, can experience nature in their daily lives, and are reasonable protected from the impacts of landslides, flooding, earthquakes and other natural hazards. They were asked to reflect on these three questions:  Are there any assumptions implicit in this goal?  What do we need to know about impact on communities of color? What else do we need to know?

  • The word “reasonably” is a red flag.  What is reasonable? Who determines what is reasonable? Are externalized costs (such as diesel fumes) being taken into consideration?
  • The word “all” was discussed. Some in the room believe it was included explicitly to include all people – including people of color. The question of how the phrase is perceived by readers was discussed.
  • This goal is only about people – does not include other critters.
  • Some felt that this goal is not possible because “all Portlanders” can’t have access to clean air and water because of where some people live.
  • There is a false assumption that we all have the same access or accessibility to nature, clean air and water, etc.
  • Where does this goal get us if every area of the city is gentrified to meet this goal, but as a result poor people are pushed out and not able to live in the city any longer? How does this make sense?
  • There is a disconnect between what happens in the meetings and what is put into practice. BPS doesn’t walk its talk on this stuff. Where does GOAL 4C connect to reality? The current paradigm will not get us to everyone having clean air and clean water and if we really want that we need to look at everything that is making us compromise that. We have an issue with integration. We say we want clean air and clean water but we also say we want other things (economic development) in other meetings and until we really prioritize and put them in a hierarchy and make hard decisions we aren’t going to get anywhere.
  • We don’t measure how things impact people of color.
  • We continually accept economic growth to loss of resources and impacts to health. As long as there is a policy mandate for balance, this leads to environmental degradation.
  • Is there a way we can make our regulations less color-blind?  Can we use the census data to do a more detailed equity analysis? How would that work when people move around?
  • Is it even possible for people to have access to clean air given that we have a freeway running through the City.  Do we have any good maps of where different people work? Lots of the day is spent at work too.

Public Comment (3 minutes) 

A community member shared that being open to input from communities of color is different than seeking out the input of communities of color and he thinks the latter is what is necessary. Another community member commented that the key is that development improves things and cumulative impacts can be addressed. The goal assumes that everyone has the opportunity to experience nature, and this is not true.

Wrap Up

The next meeting of the WHE PEG will be on January 23, 2013, from 4p-6p, 1900 SW 4th Ave, Room 7A.