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CEC is committed to creating a more resilient and just region in the face of climate change. Through our work with the Central Coast Climate Justice Network and elsewhere, our vision includes an end to racial injustices and their resulting environmental inequities.

This article, written in collaboration by Community Environmental Council and the Santa Barbara Foundation, features voices from participants and partners offering their perspective on the Climate Resilience Roundtables.

In early September, a group of experts gathered on Zoom to help local Santa Barbara County and City leaders, officials and planners work toward building greater local climate resilience.

Unlike a typical presentation, these experts did not bear long lists of credentials after their names, and they did not represent a line up of universities and policy centers. Nor did they all speak English. In CEC’s Climate Resilience Roundtable: Stories of Resilience from the Frontlines of Climate Change, the experts were those living the frontline experience.

Facilitator Ana Rosa Rizo-Centino, creator/co-hostess of ¡Que Madre! on KZAA 96.5FM, welcomed the audience to the event, held primarily in Spanish with English interpretation – a conscious choice to center the authentic voices of speakers and help government and community leaders see a different possibility for engaging Spanish speaking communities.

Setting Intentions

We designed this event to center on the stories of community members who live with social, economic, and environmental impacts every day. Our community members are experts in their own right. These are the people who practice resilience daily in response to climate change impacts and historical social justice issues, but their solutions are not always acknowledged or recognized in climate and resilience planning.
We wanted to give these expert voices a platform to educate participants – including planners and decision makers – about their challenges and solutions.

Genevieve Flores-Haro
Associate Director, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project / Proyecto Mixteco Indígena Organización Comunitaria (MICOP)

Speakers shared their firsthand experiences of weathering climate impacts and disasters: the health and safety impacts on outdoor workers during the Thomas fire; the financial challenges for families during the COVID pandemic when jobs were lost or hours cut; discrimination of indigenous cultures that prevents access to information and resources; stereotyping that prohibits people of color from feeling welcome at beaches, which are critical cooling centers during heat.

The power of the stories was palpable, as was the shift in perspective for many of the officials and participants listening in. Armed with anecdotes and hard won knowledge, these were the true climate resilience experts – people who had been digging deep wells of resilience long before the concept was trending in the broader community.

One idea rang out most clearly: the need to break down barriers that prevent marginalized groups from taking part in community planning sessions and being included in decisions that impact the lives of them and their families.

Since I am new to Santa Barbara and to this position, getting to know the community is a priority for my work. Research tells us that marginalized communities are being impacted most by climate change and COVID-19. The roundtables provided an opportunity to meet face-to-face (virtually) with residents and elevate our understanding of the hardship, inequity, and crisis they endure. I was humbled and moved by their testimonies. As a planner, it is important to be grounded in the reality experienced by others – otherwise the policies, programs, and projects we conceive cannot be truly effective and help those in greatest need.

Garrett Wong
Climate Program Manager, County of Santa Barbara Sustainability Division

I was astounded to see so many leaders from different sectors come together to acknowledge climate issues, brainstorm solutions, and affirm that collective action is critical to making the changes necessary to build resilience in our community. I was energized by the breadth of knowledge roundtable participants offered and the group’s commitment to using our diverse experience to strengthen Santa Barbara County’s climate resilience.

Van Do-Reynoso MPH, PhD
Director, Santa Barbara County Public Health

What most resonated for many participants was the need for more access for people to participate in climate planning and government processes, and to eliminate barriers that prevent people from having their voices heard. Our community members should be in decision-making positions – not just used for their knowledge or to ‘check a box’. This roundtable is the first step of many towards inclusive planning practices that will bring change to the Central Coast.

Genevieve Flores-Haro
Associate Director, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project / Proyecto Mixteco Indígena Organización Comunitaria (MICOP)

As the severity and frequency of climate disasters hitting our communities increases, it’s important that resilience is centered around meeting the needs of the most impacted people. The Stories of Resilience Roundtable lifted up the lived experiences of Indigenous, Spanish speaking, and working class families, which are often the most overlooked. One of the key issues that came out of the roundtable was the importance of community engagement within the planning process. The roundtables set a precedent that making space for frontline communities is important and possible.

Lucia Marquez
Policy Advocate, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)

Organized in partnership with Central Coast Climate Justice Network and its partners Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Environmental Office, this roundtable succeeded in flipping the norm by putting often marginalized voices on center stage. The need for centering these voices had been underscored at a separate roundtable held in August, which framed the disproportionate impacts climate change has on low-income, frontline and vulnerable communities.

Combined, these roundtables spurred action: multiple groups including the City of San Luis Obispo and City of Santa Barbara have already taken steps to create Spanish-first events that more equitably involve these community members.

These roundtables provide opportunities for Public Health to form new partnerships and allies in our mission to address health equity by examining the environmental disparities affecting various members of our community. We can offer unique perspectives and frameworks to help move the conversation forward. These conversations are critical to community resilience because of the opportunity for collective impact. It will take diverse organizations and agencies – public and private, government and business – to be on the same page in order for new policies to be implemented so that every member of our community can have better health outcomes.

Van Do-Reynoso MPH, PhD
Director, Santa Barbara County Public Health

This was the fourth in CEC’s Climate Resilience Roundtable series, which has gathered more than 700 big, bold ideas around safeguarding our community – including suggested projects, initiatives, collaborations and value propositions – into Opportunity Matrices. These community priorities are now being organized into CEC’s first annual Climate Resilience Priorities Snapshot Report, which will inform climate and resilience planning efforts throughout Santa Barbara County and Central Coast communities. Stay tuned for a final community roundtable in early 2021 to synthesize all we’ve learned and take the next steps toward building deep community resilience.

The ability to connect with smaller groups allowed for a deeper understanding and exchanging of ideas – a necessity when approaching challenges of this magnitude. Building relationships and trust is a key component to solutions needed in climate resilience; these events are bringing people together in a meaningful, authentic way that includes all.

Jordan A. Killebrew
Director of Communications, Santa Barbara Foundation

I see the roundtables as a bridge from conversation to co-creation of resiliency with frontline and vulnerable communities. True and lasting resilience can only be created when we engage and plan with community members at every level of society and center our processes around building long-term relationships, trust, and distribution of power. These roundtables are an example of how this can be done, and I hope this work leads to a greater focus on the need to create these community-centered opportunities.

Jen Hernández
Energy and Climate Program Assistant, Community Environmental Council

The Stories of Resilience roundtable was a very powerful sharing of stories from local community members who face the greatest risk from changing climate and COVID. These people – who are often on the front lines –  typically do not have the opportunity to share, yet hearing from them is exactly what our community needs to help build strength and resiliency. When voices and stories are shared and listened to with respect, it lifts consciousness and awareness for our entire community. We face resiliency challenges together as a community, and we will build stronger resiliency together, rather than apart. I believe the resilience roundtables are a platform where there is an opportunity for this type of shared conversation, idea generation, and full community representation.

Teresa Romero
Environmental Director, Santa Ynez Chumash Environmental Office

As threats and costs to human health mounted during COVID-19, CEC and sponsors (including The Santa Barbara Foundation) actively sought to better engage and empower underrepresented voices and perspectives in their Climate Resilience Roundtable series.

This article – including the voices of multiple partners and participants – is offered in gratitude and respect to the community members who participated – in particular those on the front lines of climate change and COVID, who took time amid the stress and challenges to share their stories so that we as a community can begin to build systems for resilience that are more equitable and just.

Watch the Stories of Resilience Roundtable recording

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