Climate, Equity, and Health: A Priority for Cross-Sector Collaboration

Leaders in Public Health and Planning gathered at the Maple Neighborhood Center in South Sacramento on June 7th for the second annual Regional Convening of Public Health Officers and Planning Directors, presented by Design 4 Active Sacramento and Planners4Health. The event, featuring speakers from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the California Department of Public Health, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and the California State Legislature, shined a spotlight on the interconnectedness of health, equity and climate – specifically highlighting priorities to address climate change and environmental justice issues as they relate to community health.

Dr. Elizabeth Baca, Senior Health Advisor for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, spoke from a policy perspective on land use and environmental justice, focusing on new State legislation that requires city and county general plans to incorporate environmental justice considerations for disadvantaged communities, where too frequently residents are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards such as air pollution. California State Senate Bill no. 1000, signed by the Governor in September 2016, requires “an environmental justice element” in the identification of disadvantaged communities, for the subsequent purpose of lessening health risks through “reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public facilities, food access, safe and sanitary homes, and physical activity.”

Dr. Baca emphasized that SB 1000 will promote equity and resilience among California’s most disadvantaged communities, pointing also to new resources to help guide leaders in the pursuit of health equity. The book Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and released this month by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, delves into the root causes of health inequities and the roles of communities, policy-makers, and partners in promoting health equity for all. Click here to download a free copy.

Katie Valenzuela Garcia, Principal Consultant for the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies at the California State Legislature, gave a powerful commentary on social equity and how it relates to environmental justice issues and health inequities in the Capital region. Sharing maps of race, poverty, and tree canopy in Sacramento County, Ms. Valenzuela Garcia illustrated that there is a strong correlation between race and environmental injustices – one such example being that communities with higher rates of poverty and higher proportions of minority residents also have far fewer trees. Not only do trees provide communities with much-needed shade, but trees also reduce air pollution by 7-24% in urban areas. Ms. Valenzuela Garcia explained further that these patterns are the result of racially restrictive covenants in Sacramento County preventing people of color from living in certain areas until 1968, when the U.S. Congress enacted the National Housing Act, prohibiting housing discrimination by race, color, creed, and national origin. However, the effects of these racially restrictive covenants from decades ago are still very much seen today, and as a result, health issues associated with air pollution and other hazards disproportionately impact impoverished communities and communities of color.

Speaker Kathleen Ave, Climate Program Manager for SMUD and Chair of the Capital Region Climate Readiness Collaborative (CRC), stressed the importance of involving a diverse array of partners in efforts related to regional preparedness for climate change. For example, the CRC  hopes to see more involvement from health organizations to enhance health improvement efforts through reduction of regional heat pollution. Additionally, Plan4Health Executive Director Kirin Kumar called for private sector engagement in efforts that bring together public health and planning perspectives to address climate, equity and health issues, stating that there is a clear “market case for addressing health in the built environment.”

Clearly, in order to address climate change, environmental injustices and subsequent health inequities, regional and cross-sector collaboration are needed. Fortunately, the Sacramento region has a number of examples of public-private-partnerships, such as the CRC and the Cleaner Air Partnership, where people of diverse perspectives are all working together toward a common goal of making our communities among the most livable, and equitable, in the nation.


Jenny Wagner is a Valley Vision Project Associate working on School2Home, the Cleaner Air Partnership, and other Healthy Communities-related initiatives.

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