With support from the California Endowment through the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Initiative, the California Institute for Rural Studies began collaborating with public health partners in the Eastern Coachella Valley (ECV) in 2011. CIRS was invited to form part of the Neighborhood Action Team, which worked alongside community members and community partners to inform county officials of infrastructure and development needs as well as ongoing environmental justice issues affecting the ECV. Our initial work within the ECV focused on environmental hazards that affect farmworker health. In collaboration with ECVBHC and UC Davis Center for Regional Change, a two year health study produced the report, “Revealing the Invisible Coachella Valley” (2013). Since this landmark report, CIRS has continued to build lasting relationships with community partners in ECV unincorporated communities.
This work included tracking and monitoring air quality, water quality, recording home conditions and existing housing types that was then compiled into data tools for the environmental justice policy campaign.
As the California Endowment’s ten year Building Healthy Communities initiative came to a close in 2020, CIRS was fortunate to continue collaborating on existing environmental issues with community-led organizations, such as Alianza Coachella Valley and Pueblo Unido, as well other statewide organizations working in the ECV like Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. This work continues to push for changes in environmental policies that continue to burden unincorporated ECV areas.
View all past reports and research in the CIRS Research Library.
CIRS began as an organization that used data for action, and it continues to carry this thread forward alongside community researchers who are dedicated to responsible research for their rural communities. CIRS welcomes the opportunity to partner with young researchers who are interested in working with rural communities to support environmental justice, public health and counter narratives for necessary change in rural California.
Our current community partner work includes supporting the development of the People’s Council as a new council participating within the Riverside County unincorporated community councils with community representatives living in Oasis, Thermal, Mecca and North Shore. This process has been led by our partners Alianza, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Pueblo Unido alongside COFEM, Lift to Rise, and ICUC.
In addition, CIRS continues to provide support to county and local leaders to understand current environmental justice issues at hand with local data by providing reports at county and state meetings with environmental governing bodies (South Coast Air Quality Management District, State Water Boards and the Salton Sea Management Plan, Cal CAN).
Erika is CIRS’ Eastern Coachella Valley Project Manager and is currently crafting tools for action from our ECV Household Health Survey. Erika is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego, was raised in California border towns, Mexicali and El Centro, and grew up in Imperial and Coachella Valley on occupied, unceded Kumeyaay and Cahuilla lands . Before coming to CIRS and UC San Diego, she organized alongside young women and parents around education equity and co-founded Raices Girls and Women of Color Network, and Las Nepantleras in Coachella, CA. Her interdisciplinary scholarship and activist work explore the use of oral history and testimonio in social justice circles and community development in rural California.