In May 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Environmental Justice Action Agenda -to address issues of environmental justice and equity in communities that have suffered from environmental concerns. In December of that year, the Portland Brownfields Initiative hosted a series of public Brownfield Roundtables to develop a set of community-based Brownfield Action Plans. Three actions plans were developed to provide guidance for the Portland Brownfield Initiative: Partnerships, Land Use and Growth Management, and Regulatory Enhancement.
In May 1997, Vice President Gore announced a Brownfields National Partnership to bring together the resources of various federal agencies to address brownfield cleanup and reuse issues in a more coordinated manner. This multi-agency partnership pledged support to 16 Brownfields Showcase Communities as models to demonstrate the benefits of collaborative activity on brownfields. Portland was selected as a Showcase Community in 1998 because of its commitment to brownfields redevelopment and its well-established relationships among local, state, and federal partners. Community members formed the North/Northeast Portland Brownfield Community Advisory Committee, which worked closely with property and business owners to identify potential brownfield properties for inclusion in the program. Property owners made presentations at community forums, describing their plans for redevelopment. Community members voted on proposed properties, and final recommendations were made to the Portland Brownfield Showcase Policy Committee, a 20-member board made up of the Mayor, a City Commissioner, several other elected officials, representatives from federal, state and local organizations, and community members. Abiding by environmental justice criteria, 822 NE Emerson was one of the sites approved for conversion into a community garden.
In November 2005, OPAL (Organizing People, Activating Leaders) participated in the 2005 National Brownfield Conference in Denver, CO around “Diverse Community Stakeholder Involvement in Environmental Justice Communities,” and attended workshops around a national network of non-profit groups focused on Brownfield and community involvement, forming a strong relationship with Groundwork USA, led by Executive Director Vernice Miller-Travis, former Environmental Justice Program officer for the Ford Foundation and noted national environmental justice activist. As a result, OPAL approached the City of Portland Brownfield Program to partner in submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI) to National Park Service to create a Groundwork trust in Portland. Groundwork USA accepted the LOI, requesting a formal proposal in January 2006. OPAL and its partners began organizing a Steering Committee for a Groundwork Portland trust focused on a “Community-First” approach to revitalization of community space.
A Steering Committee (representatives from Organizing People Activating Leaders, EPA, Restorical Research, LLC, Oregon Sustainable Agricultural Land Trust, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., and North/Northeast Portland Business Association, and Portland Brownfields Program) performed a gap analysis, feasibility study in Spring 2007 that determined a need for an organization focused on building relationships with traditionally ignored communities to increase environmental justice by increasing opportunities to influence neighborhood development and converting vacant, contaminated lots into green space, community gardens and parks.