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When Public Participation Isn’t Enough: Community Resilience and the  Failure of Colorblind Environmental Justice Policies

  • Author(s): Arata, Heather Lyne
  • Advisor(s): Hutson, Malo
  • Corburn, Jason
  • et al.
Abstract

Issues of health inequities and environmental hazards affect low-income communities of color throughout the US (Pastor et al, 2001; Morello-Frosch and Lopez, 2006). These communities are both rural and urban, and located in every corner of the US, but one area of California hosts a disproportionate share of environmental hazards in the form of toxic facilities, pollution, and health disparities. One San Joaquin Valley community, Kettleman City in Kings County, California is an unincorporated, rural community lacking political representation in environmental and land-use decision-making processes. This lack of influence in decision-making has led to the Kings County Planning Commission permitting a large, Class I landfill near Kettleman City that residents believe has a negative impact on their health.

Using a single case study of Kettleman City and an environmental justice framework, this dissertation examined how rural communities with few resources can utilize community-based strategies to be meaningfully involved in the permitting process of a hazardous, Class I facility. Relying on planning and legal documents, participant observations at public meetings in 2013 and 2014, archival research, and in-depth interviews with 22 residents, organizers, and advocates, as well as government officials involved with the public meetings in 1990 and 2009, this study reveals the challenges and opportunities for meaningful involvement with local and state permitting processes that occurred in 1991 and 2009. By examining the community resident’s experiences with these two permitting processes, their challenges, strategies, and resilience for inclusion in the processes is demonstrated. Ultimately what is revealed are the limitations for using public participation to achieve environmental justice, the barriers to challenging state permitting decisions, and what is needed from government officials to work toward achieving environmental justice.

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