Link21 is committed to advancing equity in the Northern California Megaregion through accessible and connected passenger rail service. When we say equity, we mean that all people, regardless of their background, have the same opportunity to live happy and healthy lives. In short, equity means a just and fair inclusion in society where all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We’ll know we’ve achieved equity when someone’s background or identity no longer predicts their quality of life.
Historically, infrastructure projects have negatively affected people of color, low-income, and systemically disadvantaged communities. Through a grassroots community co-creation process, the Link21 Team is intentionally working with underserved communities, which we call priority populations, to ensure their voices are heard and past harms are not repeated.
Alongside the community co-creation process, Link21 is building equity into all our technical work, including our Market Analysis and business case framework. The Team is evaluating the distribution of program benefits to priority populations and partnering with other agencies and jurisdictions to uplift community input received throughout the Program.
Link21 will continue to refine its equity strategy based on information gathered from data-driven tools, community input, and experts in equity and transportation.
Link21's Priority Populations
The term "priority population" refers to census tracts in the Megaregion that experience high levels of inequitable outcomes. The Link21 Team is committed to prioritizing these communities throughout the planning of the Program.
The Link21 Team partnered with underserved communities to create a program-specific definition of priority populations. This definition accounts for the unique conditions of the Megaregion and is consistent with BART's emerging equity framework. The priority populations definition was shaped by input from over 1,800 community members through co-creation and a poll of low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities.
Link21’s definition identifies priority populations as the geographic areas most impacted by negative economic, mobility, community, health, and safety outcomes. By identifying communities currently experiencing inequitable outcomes, the Program is able to partner with those populations to better understand their needs and design a program that addresses them.
During Phase 0, the Link21 Team used a preliminary definition based on existing designations of disadvantaged and low-income communities. These designations included the State of California’s Disadvantaged and/or Low-Income Communities, Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Equity Priority Communities, and individual county Congestion Management Agencies' Equity Priority Communities. The preliminary definition evolved as the Link21 Team received more information and allowed us to co-create a program-specific definition in partnership with impacted communities.
The Link21 Team will continue to partner with communities to make sure this definition fits with their vision of a more equitable future, refining it at appropriate points in the Program. Link21's priority populations definition is just one tool that the Program will use in its efforts to advance equity. It is not intended to replace other definitions, like the ones mentioned above, nor will it be used as a replacement for environmental justice or Title VI considerations. The Link21 Team acknowledges that geography does not always tell the full story of inequity in our community, and we are committed to working with impacted residents regardless of what census tract they live in
Co-creating the Future of Passenger Rail
The Link21 Team understands that to meet the diverse needs of the Megaregion, the Program must work directly with communities to understand their priorities, needs, and values.
The Link21 community co-creation process is founded on collaboration with local community-based organizations (CBOs). Partnering with CBOs provides a deeper level of engagement, promotes open conversation, and helps us understand and integrate the needs of underserved communities into the Program. The Link21 Team co-creates with CBOs and community members from priority populations census tracts and with residents experiencing inequitable outcomes, regardless of what census tract they live in.
The personal experiences and feedback shared in community co-creation are shaping Program efforts. Workshop participants and CBOs are being compensated for their lived experience expertise. This approach is increasingly being recognized as a best practice in local planning work.
Link21’s co-creation goals are to:
- Rebuild trust and develop long-lasting relationships with sectors of the public through CBOs
- Overcome barriers to participation for our priority populations
- Work with priority populations to better understand their needs, priorities, and values to avoid further harms and deliver needed benefits
As of October 2021, the Link21 Team has hosted two rounds of community co-creation. Link21 partnered with 31 CBOs to reach 550 community members through workshops, 1,500 through polls, and hundreds more through surveys. The Link21 Team is working to address and integrate the priorities cited during these workshops into the Program.
The third round of community co-creation is planned for spring 2022. Building on the relationships formed through the workshops and in direct response to community requests, Link21 will establish an Equity Accountability Council (EAC) to advise the Program. More details about the EAC will be announced in early 2022.