Environmental justice is the right of all people and communities to live, work and play in a clean and safe environment.

As we know through the Our Greater San Diego Vision report, San Diegans value safe neighborhoods and a clean environment where children and families can grow and thrive. Yet many communities, such as those in South County, are disproportionately impacted by pollution and other environmental hazards.

On January 11, community leaders and environmental advocates packed KPBS studios for the fourth installment of the Community Heroes series, which placed a spotlight on environmental resilience and equity within the region.

The event, hosted by KPBS and National Conflict Resolution Center in partnership with the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement at The San Diego Foundation and Jewish Community Foundation, sparked dialogue about the topic while honoring local hero Diane Takvorian, a leader in San Diego’s social and environmental justice movement for over 30 years. As Co-founder and Executive Director of Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), Diane has worked to promote public health and protect the local environment from toxic pollution.

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During the event, Diane spoke with KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson about the history of environmental inequity in San Diego that has had detrimental impacts on residents across the region.

Take for example the story of Master Plating, a metal-plating shop that was allowed to operate right next to homes in Barrio Logan for decades. While in operation, the shop racked up more than 100 environmental and health violations, all directly impacting those families that lived just feet away.

It wasn’t until Diane, public officials and community leaders got involved that change was realized.

Most often, zoning requirements strictly outline that residential homes be separated from commercial and industrial operations to reduce health risks and ensure a high quality of life. In certain low-income communities though, such as Barrio Logan and National City, that’s not the case.

Community Heroes Conversation - Environmental Resilience

The fourth installment in the Community Heroes event series sparked dialogue about the topic while honoring local hero Diane Takvorian.

As a result, Master Plating spent decades polluting the air and harming children’s respiratory health in Barrio Logan. San Diego’s own councilmember David Alvarez is living proof of the effects. Much like countless other youth who grew up right next to Master Plating, Alvarez developed asthma as a result of the toxic fumes produced from the shop.

Through the dedicated efforts of local leaders and community advocates, Master Plating ultimately closed operations and those families and children living there now have a clean, safe place to live, work and play.

While this is just one case of environmental inequity in San Diego, it’s an illuminating example of what’s possible when the community comes together to push for positive change and eliminate environmental and health risks.

Learn how the Opening the Outdoors Program is Making an Impact