Because many of the counties in California remain segregated by race, there are significant race-based disparities when it comes to the built environment, which is concerned with whether communities have access to clean drinking water and sufficient food, can easily access a neighborhood park for exercise and recreation, or are close to toxic facilities or other hazards. Most of California’s coastal counties from the Central Coast to the north are high-performing. However, while many have ample environmental resources, they are also among the highest-disparity counties. Orange County, for example, has the third-lowest asthma rate. However, it is the most racially disparate county in the state on this measure. The built environments in southern and inland counties are lower performing, and many of them also have high disparities, including Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange counties.
Public investments in the built environment often leave out low-income communities of color, where they lack access to hospitals, clinics, healthy food, supermarkets, and other environmental resources. Historically, white suburban development has been prioritized while densely populated, inner city infrastructures were defunded. This resulted in increased geographic segregation, that exacerbated unequal public federal and state investments for urban, low-income people.
While changing the built environment can be a slow process, organizers and advocates are taking advantage of new environmental policies, like funding from California’s cap-and-trade global warming auction program, to ensure that resources for environmental improvements are directed toward the highest-need communities. Other advocacy efforts focus on land use policy to promote healthy communities that include safe, healthy, affordable housing, parks, and green space, while others focus on removal of pollutants.
Access to clean water is critical for basic human health as it’s used for drinking, cleaning, cooking and bathing. Drinking contaminated water can increase a family’s risk for disease including cancer.