City Hall

Local Environmental Justice Group Blasts City of Dallas over Racial Equity Plan

Dallas environmental justice group Southern Sector Rising called out Dallas City Council on its proposed equity plan.
Dallas environmental justice group Southern Sector Rising called out Dallas City Council on its proposed equity plan. Photo by ALEKSEY KUPRIKOV on Unsplash
The Dallas City Council has released its "Racial Equity Plan," the first of its kind, but a local environmental justice group has criticisms.

This week, Southern Sector Rising (SSR), a group made up mostly of members of Black and Hispanic communities in southern Dallas, took to Twitter to criticize the plan, which they worried could "simply be another plan without actionable strategies."

Designed to undo racial bias in city spending, the plan laid out goals related to workforce and community development, environmental justice, housing, infrastructure and public safety and wellness.

In areas with high crime, the plan aims to improve response times by police and other emergency services. In places like West Dallas, where some communities have been hit hard by pollution, the plan calls for better monitoring of air quality, for instance.

SSR says the City Council released the plan without any notice to the affected residents of the area or to the general public, then scheduled a vote on the issue within three business days.

"I was disappointed after learning that the city of Dallas' Office of Equity released the Racial Equity Plan for council approval without making it accessible to the general public, translating it for Spanish-speaking populations or inviting community review and input,” Marsha Jackson, co-chair of SSR, said by email. “Considering that equity is a foundational element of the Plan, this approach missed the mark and raised concerns about the City's strategies to deliver on their promises.”

Brittani Hite of Ethos Equity Consulting, a firm that has been contracted by SSR to assist the group in expanding their environmental justice efforts, said the SSR wrote to the city manager, the mayor, the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the 13 council members in an effort to delay the vote.

Hite said that not informing the public about the meeting isn’t uncommon for the city’s operations.

“We collaborated with residents across Dallas to establish an equitable framework of best practices to guide the development of the Racial Equity Plan, and even shared practical resolutions from a separate citywide survey that amplified community desires for an intersectional, cross-departmental approach to accessible and inclusive civic outreach and engagement,” explained Hite. “Unfortunately, there was greater concern for getting the plan before council rather than establishing a true shared vision for racial equity."

The SSR’s Twitter post stated that after that, “any semblance of optimism and trust in [the council’s] outreach and engagement process dissipated.”

SSR was founded in 2019 as an effort to remove Shingle Mountain in southern Dallas, a giant deposit of 60,000–100,000 tons of used roofing shingles dumped there by Blue Star Recycling.

Now, the group's mission is to offer “health equity through community organizing” to residents predominantly living south of Interstate 30, a population they say has been “historically overlooked and disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution.”

But it seems as though the council is not making a large enough effort for the equity and inclusion that SSR is looking for.

By email, SSR co-chair Allen McGill said "equity and inclusion were not foundational" to the city plan. “Dallas residents, specifically those in the southern sector who are facing disparate social circumstances from our neighbors north of I-30, deserve a level of self-determination when working with the City to rectify the discriminatory decision-making that fuels the racial disparities we're experiencing today," he added.

The Observer was told that council member Tennell Atkins did not have time for an interview, and Jaynie Schultz, the Workforce, Education, and Equity chairperson referred to in SSR’s post, wasn't able to provide comment by publication time.

But the SSR has ideas on what the council can do better moving forward. The group has called on the city to be more transparent about the decision-making process, to include residents of often overlooked communities and to make their message as widely available as possible.

“For example, 42% of Dallas' population are Spanish speakers, so if equity is the goal, at minimum, every phase of outreach and engagement should be translated and interpretation services should be offered so all residents can effectively participate," Jackson added.

“The city of Dallas has a legacy of discriminatory practices and exclusion that breeds distrust among the most underserved and marginalized communities,” she continued. “When instances like this occur, those perceptions are perpetuated.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kate Pezzulli, an editorial fellow for the Observer, is a graduate student at the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. Besides storytelling, she likes sailing, working on Jeeps, camping, potting and baking. Voted No. 1 friend in an apocalypse.
Contact: Kate Pezzulli