Environmental Justice Movement Gains Momentum in Sacramento

Study: Grassroots Movements, General Plans, Get Some Credit

Protesters in shadows at California capitol building in Sacramento
A group of protesters assembles outside the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento. In the past decade, the city has begun to build a cohesive environmental justice movement, a UC Davis study found. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

New forms of environmental justice organizing — from grassroots movements to government-led policy initiatives — are building healthier and more equitable communities within the Sacramento region, suggests a new study by the University of California, Davis.

The analysis, published by the journal Local Environment, explains that despite years of community organizing around racial and social justice issues, Sacramento had not been on the state’s environmental justice map. However, California’s capital city has recently started to build a cohesive environmental justice movement.

“It’s taken a long time for Sacramento’s environmental justice movement to develop, but it’s really taking off,” said Jonathan London, professor of human ecology and author of the case study. “Sacramento has an important environmental justice story to tell.”

Cars at UC Davis
A cyclist merges with traffic in Sacramento. (Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis)

A growing network 

London said that, in the past 15 years, there’s been an increasingly dense network of organizations and coalitions that explicitly identify with the environmental justice movement. The diverse groups have been building a grassroots movement, which really hadn’t happened before.

“I think what they’re accomplishing is creating a grassroots resident base that over time can really push for change,” London said. “When you have a mass of people behind a movement it can make transformative change.”

In the study, London lists local groups that are identifying with the environmental justice movement, including Sacramento ACT, United Latinos and the Sacramento Environmental Justice Coalition. London said the groups have held community events to engage residents in environmental and health issues. London also highlights the Red Black and Green Environmental Justice Coalition, which formed in 2019 and has focused on the relationship between structural racism and transportation, air pollution and illegal dumping in low-income communities of color.

“Sacramento has an important environmental justice story to tell.” - Jonathan London, UC Davis professor of human ecology

The research highlights state-led environmental justice policy initiatives that have created opportunities for community engagement. One example, SB 1000, signed into law in 2016, required development of an environmental justice element for local general plans. According to London’s analysis, to implement SB 1000, the County of Sacramento launched a community engagement process that expands outreach into typically marginalized communities.

London said there’s value in having local and state agencies devote resources to environmental justice, but that this must be coupled with a vibrant environmental justice movement to push the government and build a cohesive framework to address disparities in the region’s communities.

“Having these coalitions, along with government allies, come together around a particular framework of environmental justice and racial justice, and making that widespread, can be a really potent combination,” London said. “If we have a more just society, it benefits everybody.”

Media Resources

Media Contacts:

  • Jonathan London, Human Ecology, jklondon@ucdavis.edu
  • Kat Kerlin, UC Davis News and Media Relations, 530-750-9195, kekerlin@ucdavis.edu 
  • Tiffany Dobbyn, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communications, 530-524-3120, tadobbyn@ucdavis.edu

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