Higher temperatures, more intense droughts and more damaging wildfires and floods are just some of the climate change effects already being seen in the California desert — and residents of low-income, minority communities in the Coachella Valley are most likely to suffer the consequences of those environmental stresses.
Amber Amaya, an editor at Coachella Unincorporated, a nonprofit youth media program, discussed her organization’s efforts to bring attention to poor bus service in North Shore, by the Salton Sea. She described the stories of local women who relied on bus service to get to the nearest city to buy groceries. The women were forced to wait in the heat, at bus stops without shade structures. Buses only arrived every three hours, so the women would arrive early and wait in the heat to make sure they didn’t miss their bus.
But local residents weren’t able to convince SunLine Transit Agency to install shade structures in North Shore, Amaya said, because the agency’s criteria for building shade structures made it difficult for bus stops in rural communities to qualify.
“It really favors urban areas that are high population density and already have infrastructure like a sidewalk,” Amaya said.
Silvia Paz, executive director of the nonprofit Alianza Coachella Valley, which focuses on public health, described a similar struggle. Despite the advocacy of her organization and others, she said, the California Air Resources Board didn’t designate the eastern Coachella Valley as one of 10 communities statewide with especially high pollution burdens, which would have qualified the area for additional funding and air-quality protection under Assembly Bill 617, which was approved by the Legislature last year.
“A rural community will never score up to the criteria if they’re being measured against more urbanized areas,” Paz said.