How a local East Oakland effort is using $28 million to help residents deal with climate issues

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The predominantly black and brown residents of East Oakland, especially those who live in neighborhoods along Interstate 880have endured for years high levels of pollution, poverty, housing costs, health issues and fewer grocery stores than decades divestment and discriminatory government policies.

Today, a grassroots effort, backed by $28 million in public funds, is underway to create lasting solutions — and literally put the tools in the hands of the community.

On a recent Tuesday morning in Oakland, a crew of five nurserymen loaded the bed of a pickup truck with a wheelbarrow, pots, shovels, soil and 16 trees – pomegranate, apple, fig and olive. Their mission was to plant the trees for free at four locations in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of East Oakland.

Elementary School garden volunteer Alma Guzman (left) talks to Planting Justice staff member Sol Mercado as Rigoberto Ortega (center) and Obichukwu Lebeke work to plant trees trees on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.”/>

Madison Park Academy Elementary School garden volunteer Alma Guzman (left) talks to Planting Justice staff member Sol Mercado as Rigoberto Ortega (center) and Obichukwu Lebeke work to plant trees trees on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Constanza Hevia H. / Special for The Chronicle

The trees were donated to residents by plant justice, a combination of food sovereignty and economic justice. The Free Fruit Tree Program is one of five projects spearheaded by East Oakland organizations and Oakland city officials with the goal of revitalizing and creating lasting solutions to a myriad of problems in the area. : reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent displacement, create jobs and involve community members. participate in the transformation of their neighborhood.

Planting Justice began donating fruit trees to residents about two weeks ago. Their workers, many of whom grew up in Sobrante Park, went door to door with flyers asking people if they wanted a tree. By Wednesday, they had planted 87.

“(There) were fruit trees in everyone’s yard,” said Covanne Page, 33, a nursery technician at Planting Justice. Growing up, Page says, he had lemon trees, plum trees and loquats in his garden.

Madison Park Academy Elementary School garden volunteer Alma Guzman (left) poses for a portrait with a peach tree just planted by Planting Justice on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Oakland, Calif.

Madison Park Academy Elementary School garden volunteer Alma Guzman (left) poses for a portrait with a peach tree just planted by Planting Justice on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Oakland, Calif.

Constanza Hevia H. / Special for The Chronicle

“They don’t have that anymore,” he said of his neighborhood. “To (us) give fruit trees… it’s like bringing back what it was before.”

the five projects are an extension of decades-long community activism in East Oakland, city officials said, and the East Oakland Neighborhood Initiative, a partnership between the city’s Planning Bureau and 12 community organizations, including Planting Justice .

They understand 55 units affordable housing with a health clinic on the ground floor; a 1.2-mile trail connecting neighborhoods to Martin Luther King, Jr. Shoreline Park; creating what officials say is the largest urban aquaponics farm in the United States; a bicycle shelter and an after-school program on bicycle safety and repair; and the planting of 2,000 trees in six neighborhoods.

The projects are largely funded by a $28 million grant from the City of Oakland and local organizations has received in 2020 by California officials through the statewide Transformative Climate Communities Program and other funding sources. Using cap and trade dollars, the program has funded community-led projects in historically disadvantaged communities and communities of color that are most vulnerable to high levels of pollution, such as Watts in Los County. Angeles and South Stockton in San Joaquin County.

The TCC program “allows communities to lead climate action and decide for themselves where investments should be made,” said Lynn von Koch-Liebert, executive director of the California Strategic Growth Council, which runs the program, in a statement. communicated.

Sol Mercado carries a tree through the garden at Madison Park Academy Elementary School on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Sol Mercado carries a tree through the garden at Madison Park Academy Elementary School on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Constanza Hevia H. / Special for The Chronicle

“Communities will know best how to solve their problems,” von Koch-Liebert added.

Four of the five projects in East Oakland are underway and expected to be completed by 2024, city staff said. The review team is focusing on three projects: the tree planting initiative, the affordable housing development, and the bike share and youth development program.

These three projects are estimated to sequester about 7,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide, said William Riggs, who teaches transportation, housing and urban development at USF and leads a team of researchers evaluating community involvement, creation jobs and the reduction of greenhouse gases resulting from three of the projects.

Carbon sequestration is a method of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the most commonly produced greenhouse gas, by capturing and storing it in the atmosphere, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Planting Justice staff travel in the back of a truck with trees they will be delivering to the community on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Planting Justice staff travel in the back of a truck with trees they will be delivering to the community on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Constanza Hevia H. / Special for The Chronicle

For example, the researchers are using what they call a place-based strategy for the development of affordable housing, which will be open to longtime residents of deep East Oakland. This project was estimated to mitigate about 2,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide over a 30-year life cycle, Riggs said.

“These are (car) trips that shouldn’t be done because, ideally, it’s people who live and work in Oakland who take the BART, ride bikes, engage as pedestrians and commuters. transit and bicycling in the East Oakland community as well as throughout Oakland,” he said.

The Bike Enrichment Program is a collaboration between The Original Scraper Bike Team and the Higher Ground Neighborhood Development Corporation. Together, they partnered with after-school programs at two East Oakland schools to teach 100 students about bicycles and bicycle safety, such as how to fix a flat tire and how to use hand signals while riding a bicycle, Khariyyah said. Shabazz, Deputy Executive Director of Higher Sol. At the end of the six-week program last year, the two groups of students went on a community bike ride through the neighborhood.

Planting Justice staff members Rigoberto Ortega (left) and Obichukwu Lebeke work to plant trees in the garden at Madison Park Academy Elementary School on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Planting Justice staff members Rigoberto Ortega (left) and Obichukwu Lebeke work to plant trees in the garden at Madison Park Academy Elementary School on Tuesday, March 29, 2022 in Oakland, Calif.

Constanza Hevia H. / Special for The Chronicle

“What’s wonderful is the relationship building between these two neighborhoods as well as the staffing,” Shabazz said. “We went to Martin Luther King Jr.’s regional coastline and had deeper conversations about environmental concerns (where) they live and we really tied it all together.”

Planting Justice’s effort to plant 1,000 fruit trees in residences is part of the Community Greening project with the city’s Parks and Recreation Foundation, which aims to plant a total of 2,000 trees over the next two years.

Planting Justice also recently purchased a three-acre nursery that the group plans to turn into what they say will be the nation’s largest urban aquaponics farm, producing thousands of pounds of produce and creating 27 jobs, staff at Planting Justice said. the city.

This Tuesday morning, nursery workers first stopped at nearby Madison Park Academy. Alma Guzman, parent and school garden volunteer, requested six trees. Because Guzman lives in an apartment building where she cannot grow her own tree, she asked the school principal if she could request some for the school site. She said she wanted to continue teaching children the importance of gardening.

Bike mentor Fred Rogers rides with students on a community bike ride through East Oakland.

Bike mentor Fred Rogers rides with students on a community bike ride through East Oakland.

Provided by Tom Holub of the Original Scraper Bike Team

“It’s important for this generation of children to see the process and learn where the fruits come from,” said Guzman, 46.

Resident Sunja Briggs requested an olive and apple tree to add to her growing little garden. She loves juicing and is thrilled to have her own apple tree which she says won’t have insecticides.

“I just wish I had done this when I (was) still living with my son,” Briggs, 54, said of her adult son. It would have been “just another way to teach him to be independent”.

Jessica Flores (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jessmflores

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