Grants from the EPA and the state’s Toxic Substances Control Department will fund an inventory of National City’s brownfields and test them for contaminants.
Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, National City Mayor; Marcus Bush, Deputy Mayor; council member José Rodriguez; Madi Swayne, assistant professor of urban planning at SDSU; and Executive Director of the SDSU Center for Regional Sustainability, Jessica Barlow. (Susanne Clara Barde/SDSU)
In downtown National City, the entire facade of an old storefront is covered in off-white paint. Originally built in 1930, National City bought the property along with the vacant land next door in the early 2000s. The city plans to build a mixed-use, transit-friendly development there to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. housing and improve the climate resilience of the city.
But both properties sit next to a historic dry-cleaning business, and before any redevelopment can take place, the floor must be tested for toxic substances.
“The contaminants from the solvents get into the ground and then can get into the air, and so any building on top of that, it would end up in the air of the building,” said the professor from the State University of San Diego and Executive Director of the Center. for regional sustainability Jessica Barlow.
Barlow and Assistant Professor of Urban Planning madi swayne received a three-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a two-year, $296,000 grant from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to conduct environmental assessments of properties like these, known as brownfields in National City.
“The EPA defines a brownfield as a property where the reuse of any development could be complicated by the presence or perceived presence of a hazardous substance,” Swayne said.
The grants will provide funds to research the history of National City’s brownfields, creating an inventory of these properties and their uses. Soil sampling will test for heavy metals, chlorinated solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants.
“It is possible to get better information about each package and understand how much you have to invest in order to be able to reuse it,” said Carlos AguirreDirector of the National City Housing Authority.
Founded in 1887, National City is a highly diverse and densely populated community in South Bay. Due to its location and history, it has historically been home to many brownfield sites. Just north of the US-Mexico border, it is bordered by several highways, the port of San Diego, a naval base and a historic railroad depot. Sources of pollution in their own right, these features have also allowed industry and housing to spring up side by side.
“And that can have real impacts on the people who live in those residential areas. They’re kind of surrounded by all this industrial activity,” Swayne said. “This history of mixed uses has just created multiple pathways of environmental contamination and human health impacts for the residents of National City.”
The city ranks in the top 25% of communities disproportionately affected by pollution statewide according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment screening tool, or CalEnviroScreen. Residents are affected by high rates of asthma and several other serious health conditions.
“Environmental damage is spreading through our neighborhoods in a way that disproportionately burdens low-income and communities of color,” Swayne said.
The grants prioritize sites that, if redeveloped, could reduce the burden of environmental justice by improving the quality of life in National City. For example, the site of a former auto shop in the middle of a downtown residential area could provide 38 affordable housing units, and a former welding shop could be transformed into green space, community gardens and bike paths.
“Through these grants, they are prioritizing certain plots that have the potential to do more than just clear the ground,” Aguirre said. “They will actually be developed in areas where the community can thrive economically, socially and academically.”
Barlow says developers are often hesitant to build in neighborhoods with environmental concerns because of the expense involved in remediation, and won’t take the risk unless someone else does first.
“If they’ve done all of these assessments and found that some plots are clean, that means they can go ahead with the development of those sites and get rid of the perceived stigma associated with empty plots and also build housing affordable or build green spaces. other needs that the community has or wants,” Barlow said.
Once the initial brownfields assessment is complete, SDSU and National City may apply for additional grants for sites that need to be cleaned up prior to redevelopment.
A Brownfields Advisory Committee, comprised of several nonprofit and government organizations, will partner with SDSU to guide grants and engage in site inventories and reuse planning. They will also play an important role in raising community awareness.
“There’s a really huge community engagement element where we partner with the community so they drive the vision for these spaces, based on what’s important to them,” Barlow said.
National City has a long-standing relationship with SDSU and became the first Sage Project partner in 2013, working with students on projects to promote sustainability and quality of life. Project Sage classes have returned to National City several times since then, and for the study of brownfields, students from a variety of disciplines will have the opportunity to research and map properties, follow environmental consultants on soil sampling and help with community engagement.
“The win-win that has always driven this relationship is that there’s a lot of motivation from staff and students to just get into the weeds and really understand what’s going on in the community,” Aguirre said. .
“San Diego State University has been an excellent working partner with National City in providing technical assistance and developing our capabilities and resources to advance strategic initiatives,” said the Mayor of National City. Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. “These grants provide a unique opportunity to utilize SDSU’s capabilities to jump-start remediation of well-placed lands to meet the needs of National City residents and bring greater economic development and sustainability to our city.”
National City Brownfields Grants Tied to SDSUs Community Climate Action Network (CCAN)which is part of the President’s Office Big Ideas initiative.