Extraordinary macro social worker committed to advancing health policies and promoting environmental justice
With skill, persistence and dedication, Diane Takvorian has followed a non-traditional path as a social worker to promote environmental justice in low-income communities of color in the San Diego/Tijuana region and beyond. Not long after graduating from San Diego State University in the mid-1970s with her bachelor’s and MSW degrees, she helped found the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), one of the largest such agencies in the country, and has served as its executive director since 1982. The organization’s goal is to empower residents, through leadership development, organizing and advocacy, to achieve public policies that improve the health of children, families and neighborhoods, as well as of the natural environment.
Under Takvorian’s leadership, the EHC uses a research-to-action approach to confronting environmental concerns, a process integral to the Social Change for Justice methodology developed by EHC and disseminated to other organizations through an online toolkit. This approach has turned many residents of disenfranchised neighborhoods into powerful advocates for their communities.
Among Takvorian’s early successes at EHC was securing one of the nation’s first community Right-to-Know laws to give residents information about chemicals being used at businesses near their neighborhoods. That accomplishment led to the EHC’s report identifying the communities at highest risk, and then to numerous other victories for community health, including forcing a halt to fruit cargo fumigation with toxic pesticides at the Barrio Logan port terminal; the closure of a chrome-plating business next to homes in the same area; and the approval of an ordinance and subsequent Community Plan to phase polluting businesses out of National City neighborhoods. Takvorian was also instrumental in National City’s adoption of the first General Plan in the nation to incorporate principles of environmental justice, and in the City of San Diego’s passage of the Children’s Right to Lead-Safe Housing ordinance.
Transportation is also among EHC’s primary areas of engagement. Among the victories residents have achieved with the organization’s support are bans on driving and parking diesel trucks in parts of Barrio Logan and National City in the U.S. and in Colonia Chilpancingo in Tijuana. EHC also participates in regional, state and national efforts to influence transportation policies to make them safer and healthier for everyone.
On the state level, Takvorian co-founded the California Environmental Justice Alliance, bringing together grassroots organizations to advocate for policy solutions to alleviate poverty and pollution. Recognizing her role as a leader of the environmental justice movement, President Clinton appointed her to the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission, and in 2009 President Obama asked her to serve on an advisory committee for the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Throughout her career, Diane Takvorian has applied social work values and macro-level skills in the pursuit of justice and equality. Her unwavering efforts and creative leadership in doing so have positively affected thousands of lives.