May 01, 2005

Jesse Merrithew

OPAL Environmental Justice, Portland, OR

OPAL (Organizing People, Activating Leaders)

I used my PILP summer stipend to work for OPAL (formerly PACE), a community-based environmental justice organization. OPAL (Organizing People, Activating Leaders) is a grassroots organization formed in 2003 to organize communities around public health issues, including brownfields and land-use/zoning practices, public participation and proactive community involvement in the low-income communities of the Portland Metro area. While Portland is known throughout the country as a pioneer in land-use planning and re-use, the benefits and burdens of these policies are not equally distributed across economic and racial lines. Low-income communities have an abundance of abandoned and contaminated properties that pose cumulative health risks and stifle economic expansion. My task was to research ways in which community groups could leverage public funds into these properties and ways in which they can play an active role in determining the future use of the properties. My research encompassed a variety of law, policy, and economic issues including: community land trusts, federal grant programs, the economic effects of brownfields, conservation easements and the built environment, and the state voluntary clean-up program.