Youth are leading the fight for water equity in East Palo Alto, a city that receives 100% of its water supply from the SFPUC.
The SFPUC and its social impact partner Brown and Caldwell supported the Youth United for Community Action’s Water Equity Campaign. Youth United for Community Action (YUCA) is a youth-led non-profit that empowers young people of color in East Palo Alto to advocate for environmental and social justice.
The Water Equity Campaign is YUCA’s most recent initiative to raise awareness about the history of water access, conservation, and advocacy in East Palo Alto. The campaign includes community presentations, workshops, a local newspaper article, and a 4-minute educational video. In the video, YUCA youth explain East Palo Alto’s challenges accessing resources as an unincorporated part of San Mateo County until 1983, the politics and history of water distribution throughout the Bay Area, and the community’s ongoing advocacy to ensure a fair water allocation. The video was produced by BAYCAT, a non-profit organization that provides film and media education and jobs to low-income youth and youth of color in Bayview-Hunters Point.
“This campaign is very important to us because we get to inform the community about water issues that are not widely talked about or even understood in our community,” said YUCA Program Director Kenia Najar.
Brown and Caldwell volunteer Jenny Gain elaborated on YUCA’s impact. “Their campaign and video offers unique value by distilling a complex storyline, layered history, and call to action into a brief, high-quality video, increasing accessibility to this information,” said Gain.
In July, SFPUC staff and its social impact partner Brown and Caldwell joined YUCA staff, students, and their families to celebrate the release of the Water Equity video and YUCA’s 25th Anniversary.
“This initiative is a great example of how our partnerships with private firms have far-reaching impacts on empowering and educating the next generation of environmental justice leaders,” said SFPUC Assistant General Manager of External Affairs and Chief Strategy Officer Juliet Ellis.
YUCA was established in 1994 to encourage young people to take an active role in East Palo Alto’s community organizing efforts. Water equity is one of many environmental justice concerns that YUCA empowers the community to address. Throughout its 25 years, YUCA has engaged over 650 youth in various community campaigns, led over 250 workshops and tours about toxic waste, and successfully advocated for the shutdown of a toxic hazardous waste plant in East Palo Alto.
YUCA’s Water Equity Campaign is supported by financial and volunteer contributions from Brown and Caldwell, an environmental engineering and construction firm partnering with SFPUC through its Social Impact Partnership program.
Brown and Caldwell volunteer Katie Ruby explained her role, “I had the pleasure of leading workshops that explored East Palo Alto’s past, current, and future water needs and discussing how racial and economic injustices embedded in the city’s history relate to today’s water supply situation.”
The SFPUC’s Social Impact Partnership Program invites its private sector firm partners to give back locally to the communities in which they are performing work on behalf of the SFPUC. The SFPUC is the first public utility in the country to implement a program that advances corporate social responsibility as a part of its competitive bidding process for professional services, alternative delivery, and energy contracts valued at $5 million or more.