By: Giuliana Schroeder – Individual Giving Director

Recently I sat down with Franco Garcia, EHC’s associate director of organizing, to talk about civic engagement and what it means for our communities.

Franco, why is civic engagement in our communities important?

Historically, low-income families of color are unlikely to vote. When we vote, we can positively impact election results. When we don’t vote, we give up the opportunity to create a safer and healthier environment for our families.

How many people in our communities vote?

The chart below shows that 60 percent of California is made up of communities of color, yet only 35 percent of us vote. To ensure the policies that will build #healthyhoods win, we have to change this picture.

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What does EHC hope to accomplish with its civic engagement work in 2018?

Ultimately, we want voting to represent the community voice. We want to empower our residents to go to the polls so we can ensure the policies that pass reflect our needs and what we know will build #healthyhoods.

EHC has a track record of impacting elections and the culture of voting. Every investment in EHC enables us to provide resources to empower the most marginalized communities to find their voice and use it at the polls.

To learn more about our civic engagement efforts or to get involved, please contact Franco at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This op-ed originally ran in Voice of San Diego. It is authored by Philomena Marino and Maria Martinez, Barrio Logan residents and community leaders with the Environmental Health Coalition.

Our polluted neighborhood has long been ignored. We have a vision for a healthy, clean neighborhood and we have a solution: the community-developed Barrio Logan community plan update from 2013.

Children suffer in Barrio Logan because polluting businesses operate next to homes, schools and parks.

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Families here live on the same street as companies like SA Recycling. You might think “recycling” means neat rows of bins for glass and cans, but SA Recycling crushes junked cars creating hazardous wastes, and moves mountains of debris onsite using noisy and diesel-driven equipment. Additionally, fires at recycling centers are regular occurrences, and SA Recycling had a large, middle-of-the-night fire in 2015 that sent toxic smoke into our homes.

We know that most people in San Diego don’t have an industrial-scale recycling plant on their street, but in Barrio Logan, it’s common. That’s why, when the city asks us about what we want to see in our neighborhood during its redrafting of our outdated community plan, we feel frustrated because the answer is so clear.

We have already answered the question of what we want to see here so many times. In fact, it’s been such a long process answering this same question that our children are now old enough to attend the meetings themselves and reiterate what we’ve been saying for years.

We want clean air in our community.

Our polluted neighborhood has long been ignored. We have a vision for a healthy, clean neighborhood and we have a solution: the community-developed Barrio Logan community plan update from 2013.

Currently, Barrio Logan operates with a community plan from 1978 – the oldest in the city of San Diego. Nearly 40 years of an outdated community plan has led to a neighborhood where children are almost three times more likely to end up in the emergency room for breathing problems than the average San Diego child, according to data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. We know that playing outside leads to coughing fits and asthma flare-ups for our kids and elders. Barrio Logan ranks in the top 5 percent of most impacted communities in California in CalEnviroScreen, the state’s screening model to identify areas with high levels of both pollution and socioeconomic disadvantages such as poverty that make pollution more harmful to health.


More than 50 community meetings over five years resulted in a plan for a better Barrio Logan that was approved by the City Council in 2013. The plan is simple. It re-zones Barrio Logan – establishing residential, industrial, and commercial areas within the community so that residents, industries, and businesses can each operate safely. A “buffer zone” separates residential areas where families live and children play from the heavy industries and shipyards. The buffer zone encourages the development of a parking structure for the working waterfront workforce, maritime administration offices, and maritime suppliers that would not pose health threats to residents, and more.

It also protects Barrio Logan’s historical culture and improves the community. It prioritizes developments that enhance and reflect the character of Barrio Logan, encourages affordable housing opportunities and preserves and restores older homes in the neighborhood. The plan even identifies Barrio Logan as a cultural and arts center and lays out the development of the Logan Avenue Arts District. Those elements of the plan protect and preserve our neighborhood for the people who currently live here.

In 2014, Mayor Kevin Faulconer supported the repeal of the plan. Now, three years later, we see the city proposing a plan that doesn’t support the community’s vision and adds significantly more polluting industries to the buffer zone.


So when city planners come in and ask, “What do you want to see in your neighborhood?” we feel insulted, because we’ve already given the answer. They know that our air is thick and tastes dirty when we wake up until we go to sleep. They know that we live with the reality that our children and elders will struggle with asthma their entire lives. They know that we will never be able to breathe easily, and that playing sports or being active will never be effortless. They know all of this because we’ve said it. And, they know the answer, because we developed it more than four years ago.

So let’s not go back to square one. Barrio Logan families deserve the plan they spent years creating. Please don’t come to our meetings and ask us questions you already know the answer to. When you are ready to talk about implementing the community-created plan, we are ready to talk about what a just future looks like for Barrio Logan.

This week, KPBS recognized EHC’s Executive Director Diane Takvorian as its environmental sustainability community hero. 

For more than 37 years, Diane has empowered community members living in low-income neighborhoods of color.

She credits her passion for social justice to her own family’s struggles that stretch back to the early 1900s. Her grandparents survived the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and came to the United States two years later. Diane and her parents lived in Pasadena, where she says she experienced some discrimination because of her ethnic background.


As the founder and executive director of Environmental Health Coalition, Diane now dedicates every day to ensuring we all know the power of our voice to influence decisions that bring environmental justice to the people that need it most. Diane believes that every person has the right to a healthy and safe place to live, work and play -- and so do we.

Congratulations, Diane.

Want to keep reading about our hero? Click here to see the full story. Want to keep up with Diane? Follow her on Twitter.

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On October 19, 32 participants joined our BarrioLive! tour of Barrio Logan to highlight the environmental justice work we have collectively done. The tour explored past victories as well as the current challenges found in our community, giving guests the opportunity to learn about the issues in Barrio Logan and the more than thirty-year history of EHC's work in the community. Our guests learned about our dedicated Community Action Team Members who have been advocating for ways to improve the health of our community and heard directly from our community leaders about the work that they do to for environmental justice in our neighborhoods.22496131 10155276387313640 6613728183959103081 o

After the tour, EHC hosted more than 70 people for our mixer, including long time donors and new faces, as well as partners and sponsors Barrio Logan College Institute, San Diego Convention Center, Border X Brewing, and SD Green Drinks. City Councilmember David Alvarez  joined us and awarded a proclamation to long-time community leader Maria Martinez, while her son, Panchito Martinez spoke about his experience growing up in Barrio Logan -- bringing his perspective as a second generation environmental justice advocate. The meaningful relationships we have been able to nurture throughout the years continue to ignite our organization’s passion for this important work. Thank you for being invested in building #healthyhoods -- and we'll see you on the next BarrioLive! 

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Thank you for your commitment to transportation justice. We did it!

We signed petitions. We spoke at press conferences. We attended meetings. We talked to our neighbors about why our communities need AB805 -- the statewide bill to bring us one step closer to transportation justice in the neighborhoods that need access to transit and safe places to walk and bike most.

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And when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law this month, we cheered and rejoiced at our community-earned victory.


Thank you to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher for championing this effort and bringing our communities one step closer to transportation justice. We look forward to a new SANDAG – one that creates an equitable transportation system that works for all people in San Diego.

Congratulations. We could not have done this without you.