Barrio Logan
Barrio Logan with downtown San Diego in the distance. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego County supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved a road map for a new environmental office focused on reducing air and toxic chemical pollution threats to residents, with an emphasis on minority and low-income communities.

The Office of Environmental and Climate Justice road map also provides direction, scope, roles and responsibilities, according to county officials.

According to the county Land Use & Environment department, once OECJ staff members are hired, they will start addressing region-wide sustainability needs in underserved communities.

The Board of Supervisors voted to create the office, proposed by Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas, last spring. Vargas said Wednesday that she was “beyond thrilled” about the latest step for the office, which will represent “transformational policy for our environmental justice communities” and drive systemic change, she said.

Vargas called it fantastic that the road map “has really evolved into what community members (wanted).”

Nicole Ambrose, group program manager of the county Land Use & Environment department, told board members that other goals are meaningful community participation and feedback. She said earlier meetings with various community groups covered topics such as investment opportunities, access to healthy food, housing, toxic hot spots, urban heat island effects and transportation.

Ambrose said her department wanted to recognize past injustices against 17 county native American tribes, including the Cahuilla, Kumeyaay and Luiseno.

“We aspire to learn from indigenous traditional knowledge,” she said.

Ambrose said the OECJ will conduct public outreach and collaborate with stakeholders in the county’s unincorporated regions and cities including North El Cajon, North Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and Sweetwater.

Murtaza Baxamusa, Land Use program manager, said the OECJ road map addresses present and past injustices, and “ensure(s) these injustices do not occur in the future.”

As one example, Baxamusa said the OECJ will use mapping tools to review areas where there are few parks or homes with high amounts of lead.

Baxamusa added that the map “is a working document and may change over time.”

Vargas also requested that the county apply for grants, and work with its Air Pollution Control District and the California Air Resources Board to reduce emissions from medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

Supervisor Jim Desmond thanked Vargas for her efforts to create the new office and said the county needs to be vigilant on where it allows solar energy projects to be built, as those can impact residents living nearby. The board’s approval last August of a major solar farm in the rural community of Jacumba met with considerable opposition by residents.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer also credited Vargas, saying it’s important for communities to have a voice. “I wish we were there in person to celebrate,” she added.

As they have for some months, board members participated via teleconference on Wednesday.

City News Service contributed to this article.