Out West student blog

The Future is Local, and So is Our Environment

Sarah and her colleagues take a tour of the Tenderloin in San Francisco.
Walking tour with TPL colleagues in the Tenderloin neighborhood, SF.

By Sarah Flamm
Master's in Public Policy, 2016
Grants and Government Affairs Intern at the Trust for Public Land

This summer at the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in San Francisco, I have had my first official exposure to environmental policy. I see how TPL’s goals in securing people’s access to the outdoors is a critical piece in the puzzle of improving people’s life quality and helping meet their basic needs. Going forward I expect to incorporate this experience into future public policy and community development work.

As my final week wraps up with the Grant and Government Affairs teams, I reflect upon my experience and have several random takeaways:

• Environmental conservation is inherently a local, grass roots effort. There is no way around it; you have to know the community and the land in order to be able to effectively help transform it into a usable park or thoroughfare. Working with the affected community is paramount to successful policy outcomes. TPL staff members regularly travel to their work sites to see the landscape first hand and meet with community members. For example, I enjoyed going on a walking tour of the Tenderloin neighborhood to better understand the community and its history.

• Perhaps this is obvious, but I have been impressed by the amount of work and variety of skill sets that go into preserving land here at TPL. There are many teams: lawyers to deal with angry residents who do not like how their space has been transformed; designers to construct parks, green alleyways, and trails; marketers to promote TPL’s projects and garner support for new plans; philanthropists to help keep the lights on via donors; grant writers to secure government funding; policy outreach to promote sound enviro-friendly initiatives—it really is a full shop. The bigger an organization gets, the more bases need to be covered, multiplied by the geographic space in which it works.

• Environmental policy bureaucracy in California is complex, especially when it comes to water and transportation. In my investigations into funding sources I have come across various, often overlapping authorities. For example, there are Nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards and 48 Integrated Regional Water Management Groups, both of which are tasked with slightly different, yet related missions. This complexity may reflect the sensitivity and battle to control water issues in the state.

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