Alianza for Environmental Justice
From a distance, the desert environment surrounding the Eastern Coachella Valley is beautiful to behold. Look closer and you’ll see the unsettling reality of hard-working people living in poverty and disproportionately burdened by environmental challenges.
Local infrastructure improvements have been inadequate in boosting standards of living. Public transportation providing connections to jobs and grocery stores is limited. Parks offering children safe outdoor recreation are scarce. This is not the case in wealthy cities a short drive to the west.
The future of the Salton Sea looms large over the Eastern Coachella Valley. As the lake dries up, accumulated agricultural runoff is exposed, threatening to become airborne in foul clouds of toxic dust. Already, communities near the Salton Sea face higher rates of pulmonary diseases such as asthma, especially among children.
Alianza supports environmental justice policies that enable the people of the Eastern Coachella Valley to enjoy healthy lives at home, work, and school. We believe solving community problems means addressing their root causes, and we advocate for letting people have a say in decisions affecting the places where they live. This includes supporting resident-led solutions, leadership training, and lobbying governments for better infrastructure.
Our collaborative community engagement project is designed to raise awareness and integrate varying viewpoints on environmental issues at the Salton Sea. We are helping residents, policymakers, and other stakeholders better collaborate to counteract environmental hazards, particularly air pollution.
The campaign aims to influence environmental justice policies in Riverside County’s General Plan document in order to reduce health risks in disadvantaged communities so they can be healthy and vibrant places to live.
Read more about the Environmental Justice campaign.
Kayaking on a Sea Worth Saving (Coachella Unincorporated)
California's Dying Sea, extensive ongoing coverage of the Salton Sea crisis from The Desert Sun
- Signs of Success:
- Gave residents of North Shore a vital link to shopping, jobs, health care, and parks by successfully lobbying for the first public bus route serving that community.
- Improved air quality in low-income neighborhoods by helping secure funding for a multi-million dollar paving project that reduced dust contamination in nearly 40 mobile home parks.
- Achieved historic change in the Coachella Valley Water District’s electoral system when the district’s board agreed to change from an all at-large system to a district system, which should better ensure Latino representation.
Alianza for positive school climate
Students in the Eastern Coachella Valley face extraordinary challenges in order to graduate high school and further their educations. Four out of five qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch and roughly half are English learners. Of those who graduate, about a third aren’t prepared to enter college.
Student suspension rates at some schools are alarmingly high. At Bobby Duke Middle School in Coachella, the suspension rate is more than three times the average seen across California. Suspensions deny students immediate learning opportunities and can have negative consequences on long-term academic performance. This punitive approach to school discipline can be counterproductive for the overall school climate and thus hinder the educations of all students.
More can be done to support student success. The local school district, Coachella Valley Unified, receives a substantial amount of state money specifically to support at-risk students – more than $53 million for the 2018-2019 school year. The school district is required to engage stakeholders, including parents and students, in planning how this money should be spent.
Local schools must use every possible resource to keep students in the classroom, improve the learning environment, and support students considered high-risk of not graduating. Alianza works with school district leaders to ensure that every dollar designated for disadvantaged students is accounted for and spent in the most effective manner.
Alianza supports an alternative disciplinary approach in schools based on restorative justice that reduces suspensions and expulsions while fostering a safe and welcoming school environment for students and teachers.
Alianza and the school district are partnering to introduce restorative justice at an expanding number of local schools with the goal of reducing suspensions and expulsions and creating a learning environment that uses open dialogues to resolve conflicts.
Alianza is engaged with community members, including parents and educators, to make sure all stakeholders are represented in the school district budget process. The work includes advocating for greater disclosure about equity funding coming to the district through the Local Control and Accountability Plan.
The rise of restorative justice in California schools (EdSource)
The California Conference for Equality and Justice, an organization dedicated to eliminating bias, bigotry, and racism through education, conflict resolution, and advocacy.
- Signs of Success:
A restorative justice program at Bobby Duke Middle School has been well-received by students, teachers, and administrators. After the program was implemented, suspensions fell by 33% and more teachers reported that students and staff interacted respectfully with one another. The program is now being introduced at more local schools.
Alianza increased community knowledge of the school district’s budget process through educational forums and encouraged stakeholder participation in public meetings. In 2018, for the first time in recent years, the school district presented a full accounting of its LCAP spending plan.
Alianza for Criminal Justice
Alianza wants care for our community that is sensitive to an individual’s life experiences and culture, and we advocate for programs that address the underlying causes of violence. We believe acts of violence are symptoms of greater social and economic issues and that alternative approaches to criminal justice produce better results than the traditional imprisonment model. Our alliance works to educate and activate community members, healthcare workers, and social service providers around the detriment of traditional views of safety and security and the effects of harmful policies that do not take into account root causes that exacerbate stress and lead to individual and community trauma.
By working together to change how care and criminal justice are delivered, our partners help everyone live fuller lives regardless of immigration status, contact with the justice system, income, gender identity, or where they live. Our biggest asset in this work is the strong sense of pride many people in the Eastern Coachella Valley have for their families and community. We help direct that pride toward actions that result in positive health outcomes for future generations.
We envision a Coachella Valley that embraces a community conferencing approach to criminal justice based on the principles of restorative justice. Community conferencing gives offenders a chance to take responsibility for their actions and get their lives back on track without incarceration.
Alianza is partnering with Riverside County as it develops trauma-informed care practices across departments. This helps guarantee that the county’s stated commitment to trauma-informed care creates the most meaningful outcomes possible.
We are leading an educational effort about the potential life-long ill effects of trauma and the need for trauma-informed care and criminal justice reforms in our community. The conversation stresses local empowerment and asks people what they envision their community’s response to trauma should look like.
Trauma-informed care: What it is, and why it’s important (Harvard Medical School)
Coachella Valley health clinics see drop amid immigration fears (The Desert Sun)
- Signs of Success:
- Secured funding to expand an Affordable Care Act health insurance enrollment campaign, which reduced the local eligible but uninsured population by 45,000.
- Convinced Riverside County to assign a MISP eligibility worker to Mecca for the first time.
Youth Organizing Council (YO-C!)
Alianza’s Youth Organizing Council (YO-C) prepares young people to be the Eastern Coachella Valley’s future leaders by helping them put their values into words and their words into actions. Through group discussions, members examine how race, class, gender, and immigration status shape personal experiences and the wider community. After gaining an understanding of local issues, they work alongside Alianza’s diverse coalition to raise awareness and take steps to bring about long-term change by addressing the root causes of systemic problems.
The YO-C is the best opportunity our area young people have to learn community organizing skills and apply those skills to solving real-world issues. Members have planned large community events and successfully advocated for better schools and a cleaner local environment. They have traveled to Sacramento to speak with elected leaders and gone outside of California to engage with similarly community-minded young people from around the country. The YO-C’s success is a product of its ambitious members and their desire to empower themselves with the skills to change their communities for the better.
Participation in the Council gives students the skills they need to be successful in their lives, in their careers, and in their communities. They develop into leaders and critical thinkers. They improve their written and oral communication skills. They gain confidence in their ability to influence policy.
The Youth Organizing Council on Facebook
- Signs of Success:
- Summer programs focused on personal stories, community needs, and leadership development
- Soapbox Speeches, public speeches on a personal topic that bring greater understanding to the whole community
- Assisting Alianza with community outreach efforts
- The Hue, an annual culture and music festival, and the first Eastern Coachella Valley LGBTQ Pride Festival, now an annual event
- Playing a major part in efforts to increase transparency in local school funding
- Successfully requested that the local school district adopt a restorative justice pilot program