Administration of Community Participation in Small-Scale Projects: Brownfield Remediation in Los Angeles

AuthorAdam Eckerd,Yushim Kim,Heather Campbell
Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-176251Dux4ehCn/input 944064AASXXX10.1177/0095399720944064Administration & SocietyCampbell et al.
Administration & Society
2021, Vol. 53(3) 378 –409
Administration of
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
Community Participation
DOI: 10.1177/0095399720944064
in Small-Scale Projects:
Brownfield Remediation
in Los Angeles
Heather Campbell1, Adam Eckerd2 ,
and Yushim Kim3
This study examines when and how community involvement occurs in the
remediation processes of brownfield sites in Los Angeles County, California.
Although community participation is usually considered important for
determining what happens with these sites, our results indicate that, except
in sometimes triggering evaluation by alerting authorities about it, community
involvement almost never occurs when important decisions are made.
Participation does sometimes occur, but when and how cleanup occurs is
driven by administrative processes, with bureaucrats following procedure,
rather than following community preferences. The findings suggest that the
best space for communities in the process may be the identification of sites
that need remediation.
brownfields, public participation, environmental management
1Claremont Graduate University, CA, USA
2Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN, USA
3Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA
Corresponding Author:
Adam Eckerd, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA.

Campbell et al.
Although many environmental challenges are national or global in nature,
hazardous land uses are local in nature. Hazardous sites can be any form of
undesirable land use, usually in the form of a shuttered business, waste facil-
ity, or industrial site upon which there is residual pollution that must be
cleaned up before the site can be reused (Alberini et al., 2005). Hazardous
sites can reduce property values, foster neighborhood blight, decrease the
overall livability of a community (Hite et al., 2001), and contribute to envi-
ronmental injustice (Campbell et al., 2015). Their remediation can reverse
these effects, leading to reduced pollution, increased property values, busi-
ness investment, neighborhood beautification, and even gentrification
(Eckerd, 2011; Eckerd et al., 2019; Haninger et al., 2017; Woo & Lee, 2016).
Although the effects of environmental problems such as air pollution or cli-
mate change tend to be more diffused, the effects of these sites are often
limited to their immediate surroundings, but even so they may be highly
salient and present in the daily life of a community, much more so than more
diffuse environmental concerns (Leyden et al., 2011). We might, therefore,
expect that community residents would be highly engaged with what happens
(or does not happen) with a local hazardous site, particularly in light of
administrative systems that encourage community involvement in environ-
mental decision making.
Hazardous sites or locally undesirable land uses (LULUs) can threaten
environmental and public health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) distinguishes different types of such sites as Superfund sites, brown-
field sites, and other hazardous waste sites (e.g., treatment, storage, and dis-
posal facilities).1 Superfund sites are generally the most risky and most
expensive of hazardous sites as identified by the federal government. In this
article, our focus is on non-Superfund brownfield sites, the most local and
prevalent of hazardous sites. Brownfields are “real property, the expansion,
redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or
potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”2 The
number of brownfield sites and the magnitude of contamination at brown-
field sites are largely unknown (Rechtschaffen et al., 2009). There are some
estimates of the number of brownfields in the United States, and such esti-
mates range from 450,000 (EPA website) to “at least 500,000 to 600,000 or
more” (Simons, 1998), to between 500,000 and 1 million (Kim 2018; Solitare,
2005). The magnitude of contamination—including types of contaminants—
is even less well quantified. These numbers stand in stark contrast to the
number of Superfund sites, which is 1,335, with an additional 51 proposed,

Administration & Society 53(3)
as of May 2020 (EPA, 2020). Thus, brownfields are much more relevant to
the daily lives of community members.
The EPA and its state-level counterparts perform and oversee the investi-
gation and cleanup process at active or abandoned waste sites (Dull &
Wernstedt, 2010), but little is known about how members of the community
are involved in decisions as they relate to these local, lower risk, or moderate-
risk hazardous sites. Virtually everyone, from the highest levels of govern-
ment to the communities themselves, agrees that these sites should be cleaned
up (Greenberg et al., 2001). The federal government and most states require
public participation to be part of the hazardous site remediation process, typi-
cally encouraging local participation in both alerting officials to the presence
of a hazardous site and participating in the planning for postremediation. The
intent of policies that encourage (or require) public participation is usually to
ensure that decision makers have access to more information about a site, as
well as to ensure that residents have a voice in how sites in their community
will be cleaned up and redeveloped (Eckerd, 2014). In contrast to many other
types of environmental issues (Eckerd and Heidelberg, 2020), brownfields
should offer an excellent scenario for robust public engagement—they are
likely salient to the community, most are not technically complex, most are
managed locally, and there are existing processes and procedures in place to
facilitate public involvement.
In this article, we first review general literature regarding public participa-
tion in administrative decision making and hazardous-site remediation, and
community involvement in environmental decision making, arguing that
brownfields provide an ideal venue to examine public participation. We
report on our approach to assess community involvement in hazardous sites
in Los Angeles (LA) County, California. From the analysis of hazardous site
remediation and community involvement in LA County, we have four key
findings: (a) Communities can play a role in trigging site examination; (b)
otherwise, recognized community involvement almost never occurs for sites
under the early evaluation stage of remediation, but can occur later in the
process for sites undergoing cleanup, though this is usually too late in the
process to affect the remediation; (c) school-related cleanup sites, which are
presumably the most salient types of site, are more likely to include recog-
nized community involvement; and (d) when cleanup occurs, it is generally
done following administrative operating procedures, rather than participant
preferences, with bureaucrats doing their due diligence under state and fed-
eral laws and regulations. These findings suggest that, even though brown-
field remediation offers a very local venue that could engender a robust
public participation process, the cleanup of these hazardous sites functions

Campbell et al.
similarly to more complex environmental projects: There is limited effectual
public engagement.
Participation in Hazardous Site Cleanups
Hazardous sites can have significant effects on communities, both in negative
impacts from contamination and blight and in positive ways from their remedia-
tion, which should motivate the public to be engaged. In addition to the potential
health consequences of polluted sites, brownfields are often shuttered sites and
community eyesores that virtually everyone wants to see cleaned up. For exam-
ple, increasing evidence shows that a lack of greenspace has both physical and
psychological health consequences, with some urbanists, therefore, focusing
“urban brownfield remediation projects on urban green space to address public
health and environmental justice concerns” (Wolch et al., 2014, p. 239).
However, there is little research on community involvement in the reme-
diation of moderately contaminated sites such as brownfields. One of the
great challenges of brownfield sites is involving multiple stakeholders
(Solitare, 2005), and evidence of meaningful participation in brownfield
remediation is scant (Solitare, 2005; Wolch et al., 2014). Owing to their very
local, and typically relatively uncomplicated nature, brownfield sites could
offer an exemplar of public engagement that provides useful administrative
information as well as meaningfully involves a community in administrative
decision making, and thus is directly a democratic activity.
Some Terms of Focus: Remediation and Community
To move forward on discussing community involvement in environmental
decision making on brownfield cleanup, we clarify our use of some terms.
This research focuses on site remediation (or cleanup), rather than redevelop-
, which is about the specifics of site reuse. We focus on remediation for
a few reasons. First, government is always involved in remediation, as it is
the arbiter of validating the presence of contamination and verifying its
removal. Although the actual work is typically done...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT