Latinx / Hispanic organizers are leading the way towards a green Pacoima
Pacoima is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, whose claims to fame include producing such talents as cult actor and restaurateur Danny Trejo, and California US Senator Alex Padilla. It is a family oriented, community based neighborhood, which despite the threats of gentrification and displacement remains almost 90% Latinx/Hispanic in population.
GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles is working with funding from state programs like DAC-SASH and TCC in the iconic neighborhood of Pacoima to bring no-cost solar onto the roofs of residents. We install solar in collaboration with trainees from our workforce development program, which is also no-cost to students. More money saved all around means more money stays in the community, while the community also gains resources like clean, renewable energy and a workforce trained in clean energy deployment.
The primary obstacles we face when outreaching no-cost solar to the neighborhood of Pacoima is distrust. Decades of predatory lending practices by financial institutions, combined with shoddy installations by solar companies offering “spectacular” deals, have left homeowners rightfully skeptical of any deal sounding too-good-to-be-true. With most homes in the area built during the 1950s and 60s, unpermitted additions as well as home deterioration, especially roofs, are also common deterrents in the neighborhood for going solar. We often have resources and solutions that can help with all of these issues, but working through community distrust requires a special kind of attention.
GRID GLA’s Community Engagement Coordinator Ruben Montoya leads a discussion on the patio of a group member’s home for the Esperanza de Pacoima / Sun Valley’s first in-person meeting
Javier Chacon from Washington, DC based Sol Systems speaks about mindfully increasing Latinx / Hispanic inclusion in solar energy:
"There is no one-size-fits-all approach; we need multiple strategies to ensure Hispanic and other minority communities benefit from and are involved in shaping how energy is built and used, whether that use is residential, commercial, or utility-scale.”
Somewhat new to GRID Alternatives but full of innovative ideas, Community Engagement Coordinator Ruben Montoya faces all these challenges as he works to install state funded rooftop solar throughout Pacoima. Ruben is a big fan of the GRID GLA mission - he has been a volunteer with us in the Pacoima neighborhood for almost 5 years. His idea for distributing the benefits of solar has been to utilize the community - trying to bring people together to spread the power of the sun. Together with Outreach Director Nick Boateng, they created what they officially call a CEBA Committee “Community Engagement Brand Awareness”, and what Ruben calls “The little committee that could.”
Esperanza de Pacoima / Sun Valley is what has formed - initially a WhatsApp chat group launched to share resources and to scheme and plan how to bring solar energy to Pacoima. The Esperanza group started meeting in each other’s homes recently, sharing food, socializing, and discussing strategy. Ruben says about Esperanza: “We are basically putting a group of people from the community together so they have a direct voice in how we market and bring awareness to our brand and the work we are trying to do in the community.”
Comprising of 14 people so far, 2 of whom have already received no cost solar through GRID GLA and are now dedicated to sharing that wealth with their neighbors, the group reflects the neighborhood it is serving with almost all members being of Latinx/Hispanic heritage. The group is designed to break barriers and address the mistrust that the community has for organizations and government.
To Ruben, the Esperanza group represents the community coming together. Spreading free solar throughout Pacoima is only part of the group’s missions. Ruben and the existing members see the committee’s potential to leverage mutual aid fundraising to benefit families who are receiving no-cost solar. Ruben says that oftentimes when we are installing rooftop solar for a family, that family has other needs that are outside our scope as an organization to provide assistance. Enter the Esperanza group, which will exist to connect families to additional resources that can benefit them, as well as be available to do some grassroots fundraising for a family who may need additional assistance.
Senior Outreach Coordinator Lidia Castelo talks to the group about how our no-cost solar installations work and the benefits of going solar.
Step by step, Ruben says the goal of the Esperanza group is to “improve the environment of the community and increase the level of pride in the community.” The freshly formed group is currently meeting to establish a collaborative vision and initial road map for their actions. As they grow and gather traction, their actions will be crucial in sparking the light of solar in Pacoima, and ensuring the community a seat at the table in the rapidly evolving solar industry.