Carolina Martinez and Paradise Creek Apartments Receive National Planning Award
Recipient of the American Planning Association’s 2019 Advancing Diversity and Social Change Award in Honor of Paul Davidoff brought affordable housing to a low-income community of color.

CHICAGO –Carolina Martinez, policy director with the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), has received the 2019 Advancing Diversity & Social Change Award in Honor of Paul Davidoff by the American Planning Association. Martinez is receiving the award for her work with residents of National City, California, to develop the Paradise Creek Apartments. The apartment development remediated a hazardous site in a low-income community of color and provided needed affordable housing near transit.

The Paul Davidoff award honors an individual, project, group or organization that promotes diversity and demonstrates a sustained commitment to advocacy by addressing the concerns of women and people of color through specific actions or contributions within the planning profession or through planning practice. The award honors the late APA member, Paul Davidoff, for his contributions to the planning profession.

“When others would say the Paradise Creek Apartments were impossible, Carolina made us believe that it was,” said Lorena Chavez, one of the lead resident organizers for the project. “She would organize visits to other affordable housing communities for us to visualize our dream and learn more about the resources offered. Carolina helped us come up with a plan to make our dream come true.”

Paradise Creek Apartments show how fiscal policy can achieve environmental justice by extending investments to the most disadvantaged communities. Most important, Paradise Creek demonstrates community-based planning at its best, with residents working together to create the community they want to live in.

According to the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health, National City is currently home to 32 million pounds of hazardous substances and 870,000 cubic feet of toxic or hazardous gases. In the Old Town neighborhood of National City, these polluting industries are mixed with residential properties and schools. As a result, 14 percent of children suffer from asthma, and the economic benefits of the industrial uses do not compensate for the negative health and quality of life impacts.

Encouraged by the community, the city prepared the Westside Specific Plan in 2005 to comprehensively address environmental and land use issues, leading to a plan that reflects residents' aspirations for their community. These priorities were outlined in a 2005 community survey, which include:

  • Construction of new affordable housing;
  • Phasing out auto-body shops to a heavy industrial area; and
  • Changing the zoning of Old Town to residential and residential-compatible land uses.

Martinez, who emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia at the age of 14, advocated together with residents during the process and ensured residents with limited English proficiency had input on the plan.

National City’s designation as a “disadvantaged community” through CalEnviroScreen made it eligible for investment through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). Martinez and other environmental advocates lobbied the California State Assembly for significant portions of this fund to be dedicated to disadvantaged communities, like Old Town. After receiving a $9.2 million GGRF grant, the Paradise Creek affordable housing project, an infill transit-oriented development was able to be completed.

“Carolina’s cultural competency and commitment to community-driven land use planning helped improve the quality of life of the community, while ensuring that the community spoke for themselves,” said Jury Chair Wendy Shabay, AICP. “Through her tireless efforts, she has made a long-lasting, positive impact that will benefit generations to come.”

APA’s national excellence awards – the APA’s highest honor – is a proud tradition established more than 50 years ago to recognize outstanding community plans, planning programs and initiatives, public education efforts, and individuals for their leadership on planning issues.

The 2019 APA National Planning Award recipients will be honored at a special luncheon on April 15, 2019 during APA’s National Planning Conference in San Francisco. The award winners will also be featured in the May issue of Planning magazine.

For a complete list of the APA’s 2019 National Planning and Excellence and Achievement Award recipients, visit

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The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides vital leadership in creating communities of lasting value. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the professional of planning, offering better choices for where and how people work and live. The 42,000 APA members work in concert with community residents, civic leaders and business interests to create communities that enrich people’s lives. Through its philanthropic work, APA’s Foundation helps to reduce economic and social barriers to good planning. APA has offices in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Learn more at

Press Release from American Planning Association. 

NOTE: Environmental Health Coalition worked closely with the non-profit affordable housing organization, Community Housing Works, to bring fiscal resources, housing expertise and community priorities together to make the project possible.

For more information, please contact:

Roberta Rewers, APA, 312.786.6395, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Bari Samad, EHC, 619-343-6509, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..