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As SCAG Talks Environmental Justice, Tea Party Group Hones in on E.D.

Each red dot on this map is a concentration of 1000 low income households. The green is the parkland in the 6 county SCAG region. Click on the map for a larger version.
Each red dot on this map is a concentration of 1,000 low-income households. The green is the parkland in the six-county SCAG region. Access to these parks is one issue that SCAG is trying to deal with in its Environmental Justice planning. Click on the map for a larger version. Graphic via SCAG.

Regional planning documents and hearings are hardly exciting to write about. Interminably long public meetings, wonky terms, never-ending studies. It's one reason that Streetsblog hardly covers the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), even though the regional plan it puts out is incredibly important in determining which projects receive federal funds and which ones don't.

Fortunately for the sake of clicks and page views, but unfortunately for public policy, the Tea Party is taking aim at SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata just as the agency is holding Environmental Justice workshops in advance of the 2016 Regional Plan. Meeting details for its second of two outreach meetings are at the bottom of this post. You can also email comments on the plan to​.

SCAG is required to provide an explanation of how its regional planning impacts disadvantaged communities and communities of color. Advocacy groups have rightly noted that this requirement is one lever that can be used to re-direct funds away from the types of highway projects that have traditionally divided minority and less-affluent communities and instead use it to reinvest in those areas by providing better access to parks and public transit, more open space, and safer and more attractive facilities for walking, bicycling, or just being outside.

Coverage of the current SCAG efforts on Environmental Justice by Climate Plan and the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership help explain in greater detail how these meetings, and this part of the plan, provide excellent opportunity to increase the investment in active transportation and disadvantaged communities for anyone who wants to learn more.

The post by Climate Plan is particularly interesting as it calls for, in the wonky way that regional planners prefer, better outreach to disadvantaged and communities of color, creating environmental justice metrics and tracking that can be broken down for each of the six counties in the SCAG region and a full analysis on the health impacts that the poor air quality created by Southern California's freeways has on the communities they cut through.

If all of Climate Plan's suggestions become part of the regional plan, it would have an impact on what kinds of projects get built similar to a Measure R2 that sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for active transportation. Maybe not right away, but it would change the way the region talks about transportation.

Any chance that will happen would go away if the public comment they receive is dominated by people asking for greater investment in our already sprawling and gigantic highway system.

But just as SCAG is holding these meetings, Grindal61, a tea party videographer, launched an attack on SCAG's executive director in a video subtly titled, "COMMUNIST GODFATHER KINGPIN HASAN IKHRATA DEFENDS HIS AGENDA 21 POLICIES."

Ikhrata makes a perfect canvas for an anti-government tea-partier to project nearly all of his or her fears. Not only is he a renowned urban planner with an Arabic name bringing fever dreams of United Nations-type plans to force people out of their cars, but he is also a former employee of the Soviet Union's Moscow Metro Corporation and earned his bachelor's degree from Moscow University.

The horror.

Ikhrata, on the far right, defends the I-710 Big Dig project at last May's Zocalo Public Square meeting. Image:##
Ikhrata, on the far right, defends the I-710 Big Dig project at last May's Zocalo Public Square meeting. Image:##

I sometimes get in trouble when I try to be cute and sarcastic when writing about anything involving race and religion, so let me be blunt. Even though Grindal61 doesn't make any mention of religion, some of the commenters to the video do and it goes uncorrected and unchallenged. I have no idea what religion, if any, Ikhrata practices. I really don't care. It is completely immaterial to any discussion of his job performance and priorities nor those of SCAG.

Now, his unwavering public support for the I-710 Big Dig, the kind of government spending project that libertarians usually love, is another issue. That is certainly fair game. Although, oddly, it doesn't come up in videos slamming the SCAG director for the agency's efforts to use tolls to fund highway expansion.

As laughable as the video campaign against Ikhrata is, the environmental justice component of SCAG's regional plan is too important to let the public process be hijacked by groups pushing a separate political agenda. If you can't make it tomorrow night, be sure to send SCAG a message at​.

It doesn't have to be long, or in-depth; just let them know how you feel about using progressive transportation planning to help roll back some of the transportation planning disasters from last century.

Workshop Information (click to register):

Thursday, April 23, 2015
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
SCAG Main Office
818 West 7th Street, 12th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90017
The Thursday, April 23rd workshop will be video conferenced to the following locations:
Imperial County Regional Office
1405 N. Imperial Avenue, Suite 1, El Centro, CA 92243

Orange County Regional Office
OCTA Building
600 S. Main Street, Suite 906, Orange, CA 92868

Riverside County Regional Office
3403 10th Street, Suite 805, Riverside, CA 92501

San Bernardino County Regional Office
1170 W. 3rd Street, Suite 140, San Bernardino, CA 92410

Ventura County Regional Office
950 County Square Drive, Suite 101,Ventura, CA 93003

City of Palmdale
38250 Sierra Highway, Palmdale, CA 93550

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