People Who Give Us Hope: CALA 2020 Cohort

Since 2013, Green Foothills has been hosting an annual cohort of activists who service both Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties through the Community Advocates Leadership Academy (CALA). During this 8-month program, Green Foothills shares internal expertise on how to conduct effective advocacy in the benefit of land conservation while exploring the ways in which environmental movements intersect with matters of race and equity. Participants are challenged to exercise knowledge from their own experience and areas of expertise, revealing keen understandings around social justice, community engagement, environmental justice, and structural inequality. 

The CALA 2020 cohort is a group of 20 local advocates from all walks of life and experiences. This year’s cohort is composed of volunteers, scientists, public agency workers, students, full-time activists, experienced educators, even a beekeeper! These 20 individuals represent the creativity, solidarity and integrity of progressive advocacy in the Peninsula and South Bay Area. As part of the training program, they formed 5 separate workgroups around an assignment: to create a campaign plan around a developing issue related to the environment through a racial equity lens. Participants organized around the following local issues:

  • Addressing access concerns to Cooley Landing Preserve for East Palo Alto residents. 
  • Assessing the possibility and benefits of indigenous land stewardship in Coyote Valley. 
  • Addressing the environmental degradation of Guadalupe River Park while also meeting the needs of the unhoused community
  • Redefining the sustainability movement and what it means to the Latinx community. 
  • Exposing the link between redlining and disproportionate environmental impacts in Bay Area communities. 

On Saturday, August 8, all workgroups presented their findings, leadership plans, and calls to action to fellow CALA alumni, friends, family, and Green Foothills staff. Participants created their campaign plans by following a step-by-step approach of information gathering, power mapping, strategic thinking, and concurrently reflecting on racial equity for each step. 

Addressing Access Concerns to Cooley Landing Preserve for East Palo Alto residents 

Sophie Christel, Iliana Nicholas, Michele Beasley, and Alex Coronado assessed the ways in which lack of information around Cooley Landing Preserve has created a barrier for East Palo Alto residents to readily enjoy the preserve. Not only did they collaborate with fellow participants in other workgroups to find critical community information, this workgroup identified three different, creative approaches to address existing and perceived barriers to Cooley Landing. From lowering the on-site education center’s fee, to activating lines of communication between the city and residents, to holding a space-activation street event like Viva CALLE. This workgroup encouraged Green Foothills staff to keep our finger on the pulse of this issue and reintroduce it to the 2021 cohort, in addition to providing influence-building assistance to reach key decision-makers. 

Assessing the Possibility and Benefits of Indigenous Land Stewardship in Coyote Valley

Jonathan Davis, Monica Matthews, and Susan Steinbrecher explored the ways in which the stewardship of Coyote Valley could better include local indigenous communities and positively impact the environment. This group shared vital information about the history of land ownership and indigenous people in our region, along with the ecological impacts that colonization has had. Modeling true accompliceship, the group recognized the limits of their own leadership as they are not members of local indigenous communities. Although their research led to the recognition of two possible avenues in the stewardship of Coyote Valley (a stewardship contract or joint partnership with Open Space Authority and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust), they recognize that any efforts to exercise indigenous land restoration must be led by local indigenous communities. 

Addressing Environmental Degradation of Guadalupe River Park, Meeting the Needs of the Unhoused Community 

The Guadalupe River Park workgroup showed us the ways in which developments in wider society affect expectations of what is possible in a campaign. As the COVID-19 crisis developed in spring, participants learned that once difficult-to-attain resources that could benefit the unhoused community in the park were magically starting to appear (particularly trash bins and hand washing stations). “Our group is quite big; seven individual, independent, and powerful women. We learned early on that in order to hold members accountable, we needed to delegate tasks and research to make the best use of our schedules and timelines,” shared Mel Sarmento, who was part of this workgroup. At the end of the program, these seven advocates had identified the steps necessary to equitably address the recovery of Guadalupe River Park, starting with establishing a relationship with the unhoused community who lives there. Amada Montelongo, Ariana Hoyt Perez, Camille Nguyen, Honu Nichols, Mel Sarmento, and Sudha Fatima make part of this workgroup.

Redefining the Sustainability Movement and What it Means to the Latinx Community

In addressing the incorrectly perceived disinterest of Latinx communities around issues of environmental sustainability, Adriana Fernandez and Roxana Franco embarked on a journey of exploration, finding support from different institutions while grappling with the question of the specific impact their campaign would make in San Mateo County. As CALA unfolded and they considered the possibility of offering a culturally relevant sustainability training, Roxana and Adriana had an epiphany. “We realized that our purpose was and is to highlight and elevate the way our community practices conservation cultura instead of the westernized concept of sustainability.” It was through this realization that they identified the next best steps to connect with the community in San Mateo County and let their efforts be guided by the community’s expertise.

Exposing the Link Between Redlining and Disproportionate Environmental Impacts in Bay Area Communities

The Redlining and Environmental Impact group, composed by Maisha House Asemota, Ray Larios, Dashiel Leeds, and Marina Jones, studied the ways in which redlining–a state-sanctioned practice of government entities and the private sector to move away economic investment from certain neighborhoods– consequently shaped negative environmental impacts in the communities it took place, which tend to be primarily composed of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). With East Palo Alto as a case study, this workgroup explored appropriate approaches for “finding redress for redlining’s dramatic impact on climate change and access to green, open, and clean spaces.” They explored strategic relationship-building and possible street greening projects. “What we are advocating for through this campaign is a regenerative economy, where we are using those resources but we are constantly regenerating more opportunities and more actions for not only the land, the people, but the entire society.”

We could dedicate an entire blog series to telling the stories of each CALA 2020 workgroup (or participant for that matter!) as the breadth of their work is so comprehensive and their individual perspectives and expertise so diverse. For the time being, we want to invite you to watch the presentations yourself and learn about current efforts to protect land, repair injustice, and improve relationships to nature and community.

In addition to the insightful contributions to their respective issues and movements, the CALA 2020 cohort has invited us at Green Foothills to reflect about the ways in which our own approach to advocacy can be more equitable. The question of genuine community engagement came forward repeatedly and was a key takeaway for each group, reminding us of how important it is to have solid relationships with the communities that live in and close to the places we work to protect. In addition, we intend to support these campaigns as they continue to develop.
After eight months of a Leadership Academy program that unfolded in ways that no one could have predicted, the CALA 2020 cohort joined a community of almost 250 advocates who are exercising their leadership throughout Santa Clara valley and the Peninsula. We are thrilled and proud to be in community with this group of outstanding community leaders. Meet the CALA 2020 cohort.

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