CALRC 2023: The People Behind Progress in Land Recycling
With 83 content-expert speakers, 23 sponsors and exhibitors, 17 sessions and record-breaking attendance, the 2023 California Land Recycling Conference (CALRC) lived up to its theme – People, Partnerships, Progress. Professionals from across states and industries came together to learn how to support equitable, resilient communities through land reuse.
Warm weather and blue skies welcomed more than 300 attendees to Carson, California on September 26 to kick off the conference. Day one started with an inspirational pre-conference event where ECRG Round 1 grantees shared successes, milestones and ideas for how to improve the program. Attendees were welcomed by the Mayor of Carson, Lula Davis Holmes, who shared how land recycling is cleaning up Carson, as well as Dr. Meredith Williams, Director of California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), Noemi Emeric- Ford, Director of the Southern California Field Office for USEPA, and Marayam Tasnif-Abbasi, Brownfield Development Manager for DTSC.
The afternoon saw a flurry of sessions covering everything from how to apply for federal grant funds, to which species of fungi process dangerous toxins out of contaminated soil.
Amid the hustle and bustle, conference goers found time to explore bonus content in the form of exhibitor booths, Brownfield Karaoke and a funding fair, featuring EPA, Department of Toxic Substance Control, the SDSU Center for Community Energy and Environmental Justice and the CA Department of Housing and Community Development to name a few.
During Happy Hour on Tuesday night, attendees enjoyed “Disappearing Portals: A Historic View into Brownfields,” a photo gallery curated by CCLR’s Sheila McElroy. The project reminds us that brownfields are more than contaminated land, they have stories to tell. Cultural histories make brownfields beautiful! They’re also filled with potential for creative reuse. McElroy invites us to get excited about progress in store.
Exhibitors joined from across the country to network with new clients and connect with familiar faces in the community. Mingling around their booths, attendees were excited to gain valuable resources and unique giveaways — think beautiful tote bags, sturdy camp mugs, and even native Rhus integrifolia saplings!
Day two opened with a discussion all about the evolving needs of California communities. For many, remediation and restoration involves addressing long histories of inequality.
Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai presented a local California example. Since 2019 the Hunters Point Biomonitoring Foundation has monitored residents of the historically underserved community of Hunters Point, San Francisco for 35 toxicants known to be leftover from the neighborhood’s history as a Naval Shipyard. In 2022, the foundation received a CalEPA grant to continue its efforts. Dr. Porter Sumchai’s work is a powerful example of people building partnerships to enact change in their communities.
The day continued to be an educational powerhouse. Ida Sami of Climate NXT shared the real and urgent dangers of extreme heat in urban centers and presented her research into AI as a tool for reimagining the future of climate infrastructure. Desiree Martinez led her audience through some challenges indigenous communities face during the grant application process. For instance, what does it mean when historic preservation status requires physical evidence but indigenous sites are intentionally left pristine? She prompted the audience to widen its lens and think critically about the norms baked into bureaucracy.
Getting technical, yet another session dove into Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), their implications for brownfield redevelopment and the science emerging to manage them.
With eyes to the future, “Women Visionaries” showcased progress in land recycling. Panelists discussed a shared dedication to diversity, using their platforms to uplift the next generation and how they ensure sustained participation from historically underrepresented groups. In her opening remarks, Supervisor Holly Mitchell captured the spirit of the panel by citing congresswoman Shirley Chisolm’s famous quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
After a fun night of singalongs at Brownfields Karaoke, it was day three and a packed audience listened with rapt attention to the Founder of SOMOS group Alfred Fraijo Jr. and Luis Gutierrez of Los Angeles Mayor Karren Bass’s office as they held a passionate discussion of their work in the LA communities they call home.
CALRC 2023 ended strong with a keynote address from CalEPA Secretary Yana Garcia. Her presentation highlighted advocacy and asserted the state of California’s commitment to provide timely solutions for urgent climate concerns. Garcia gave advice to young professionals, “never underestimate yourself,” she urged, and emphasized the urgency of including diverse perspectives in environmental justice.
Throughout the week, speakers and attendees returned to the theme “People, Partnerships, Progress” to express the reach of CALRC. Government leaders sat next to CEOs, scientists mingled with community organizers, professors clapped for students. Together, they advocated for progress and built capacity for a sustainable, connected future.