Seeking Environmental Justice in North Las Vegas
A town just five minutes away from me is sinking into the Earth, and I never knew about it. Windsor Park is a community in the city of North Las Vegas established in the 1960s before segregation ended in Southern Nevada.
Once a vibrant community, residents’ hopes for the future were compromised when they discovered their homes were sinking. Only 20 years after Windsor Park was established, residents discovered their town was built on geological faults and an aquifer. So, as groundwater was pumped from the aquifer, their houses began to sink, crack and break.
A decades-long battle for a just resolution ensued. Community residents found the solutions offered by North Las Vegas inadequate, and the problems grew more complex. Windsor Park residents felt the city deemed their community’s issue as too expensive to solve. These sentiments re-opened wounds to a collective past plagued with racial discrimination, neglect and environmental injustice.
With no way to save their sinking town, many residents accepted offers from the city to relocate to alternate housing worth a fraction of their original investment. They left Windsor Park, which for many residents was the only community they have ever known, and had to take on entirely new home loans. Others were forced out of their homes. What was once a vibrant, connected community became a neighborhood with more empty lots than houses, where squatting and dumping became the norm.
Sounding the alarm
Of the 240 original households, only 90 families remain in Windsor Park today. Many of these residents are older, cannot afford to take on a new mortgage and have grown distrustful of the city’s efforts to move them. Instead, they place their trust in Nevada State Senator Dina Neal, who has fought for the residents from the state legislature. After conducting her own research, Sen. Neal sought the assistance of UNLV Film and the Boyd School of Law. They collaborated on a documentary of the Windsor Park struggle to raise awareness of the community searching for hope. Windsor Park: The Sinking Streets was released in September of 2021.
The film is how I came across the issue. A few months ago, I was scrolling through UNLV’s website and, as someone with a passion for both art and justice, this film naturally piqued my interest. The film compelled me to learn more about the community, and I reached out to Frank Fritz, Ph.D., who is a professor specializing in environmental law and who helped Sen. Neal tell the story of Windsor Park.
I wanted to know more about this environmental injustice, and most importantly, I wanted to know how I could help. I came out of our conversation realizing that awareness was key. Since I lived so close to Windsor Park and never knew about their story, it was unlikely other members of our community knew about their struggles.
After meeting with Professor Fritz, I went to the Nevada state capitol in Carson City to meet with Sen. Neal between committee hearings. I could sense her enthusiasm and passion for her work and constituents.
That’s when she told me about the Windsor Park Environmental Justice Act. The bill, led by Sen. Neal, seeks to combine funding from the City of North Las Vegas and the State of Nevada to get the remaining 90 households of Windsor Park moved together, as a family, to new homes with the same size lots on land that is actually surveyed to be safe. Sen. Neal, Professor Fritz and the UNLV students and professors raised awareness in the way they each knew best, and I knew that I brought a valuable skill from Defend Our Future and EDF: community organizing.
I planned a watch party and community discussion on Earth Day to raise awareness of the plight facing the Windsor Park community.
With a documentary to inform people and a bill to rally behind, everything was in place for successful community organizing event! I printed fliers and canvassed the neighborhood with my mom as my first volunteer. I met with residents and invited them to the event, emphasizing the urgency of spreading awareness of the Windsor bill.
On the day of the event, six volunteers helped me, and more than 50 people attended! Many were residents themselves. Representatives from environmental and justice-oriented organizations including Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), EDF Action and Sierra Club showed up to learn about Windsor Park. Although Sen. Neal could not attend, she helped secure media coverage of the event (the local Fox affiliate covered the event) and sent her daughter in her place.
After the documentary screening, I presented to attendees about the Windsor Park bill. Then the Windsor Park residents led a passionate community discussion.
Raising community voices
Knowing that Windsor Park residents have advocated for years that they wanted to stay in Windsor Park and fix the houses there instead of moving, I asked attendees if their views changed since time has passed or since the presentation of the Windsor Park Environmental Justice Act.
There was a moment of solemn silence.
Nancy Johnson, who has lived in Windsor Park since 1976, replied:
“They’re never going to help us. I don’t believe they’re ever going to help us. So, we might as well go with Dina’s proposal and get out while we can. At least we’ll have new homes with the same size lots we have now… no stipulations… it’s a good proposal. The city is never gonna help us as long as we are where we are now. They are going to go all around us like they are doing now. Like we don’t exist. Like we don’t matter. We matter. We struggled a long time. I started off really young, struggling, I’m still struggling for my children and for my grandchildren. And I want to leave them something decent.”
At the end of the event, we made sure to urge everyone to provide testimony to their state legislators at the bill’s first hearing five days later. Sen. Neal gave a compelling overview of the repeated injustices the Windsor Park community continues to face, while residents, members of organizations standing in solidarity and others involved in the documentary’s research and production testified in support of the bill. It was an outstanding show of support and a success that could not have been possible without increased awareness.
The bill passed out of committee and continues along its legislative journey, providing hope to the Windsor Park community. Our work continues.