By Hilary Morefield
As soon as I arrived at the seventh session of the Institute, I could see the SDLA fellows had already eagerly started into an engaging and informative day of talks on public policy. After an active team building break outside to kick off the mid-morning, the group jumped into discussions of all kind of policy approaches, ranging from healthcare to environmental impacts and coalition building. The day served as a continuation of the public policy discussion in the 3rd session of the Institute.
Late in the morning, the fellows participated in an educational and creative Healthcare version of Cranium lead by Gary Rotto, SDLA Board Member and Director of Health Policy and Strategic Communication at the Council of Community Clinics. The room divided into teams, who tackled a range of health care policy fact tidbits in a fun competition. After the fun and games, Rotto pulled back to talk. Rotto reminded the fellows that in order to have a successful policy campaign, you have to “be there to support your friends and know that they have your back”.
Lunch speaker Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) Executive Director Diane Takvorian lead an absorbing conversation around the history of environmental justice and issues of environmental justice policy in the San Diego community. She discussed the broader context of environmental justice over time and went on to show their comprehensive and comparative approach. All of the fellows took a strong interest to her knowledgeable discussion of environmental justice missions in San Diego, especially in relation to very current issues surrounding their current advocacy in Barrio Logan for dealing with issues pulled out of mixed zoning.
The afternoon panel also tackled the topic of environmental justice, discussing their unusual, but highly successful coalition campaign around the Chula Vista Bayfront Project. The coalition consisted of Allison Rolfe, Director of Planning at Pacifica Companies; Laura Hunter, Senior Policy Advocate at EHC; and Bridgette Browing, President of UniteHERE Local 30. The group consisted of a campaign coalition between a smart development planner working with a developer in the area, an environmentalist interested in preservation of certain protected areas, and a labor union interested in union-based job creation at the new development. Despite the group’s differences, they held to the principle that having an advantage in power dynamics was necessary in order to advocate their own causes. In understanding each other’s agendas and working together, the team was able to create obstacles to the original development plans and encourage a more involved conversation in planning coming from all sides.