Designing public green spaces for carbon sequestration and environmental justice

Designing public green spaces for carbon sequestration and environmental justice

Community Lead



San Ysidro, California

Casa Familiar’s overall goal is to inform the design of the proposed Beyer Park in the City of San Diego with research-based community-led environmental and ecological solutions that provides social and cultural benefits and mitigates impacts from climate change. This project will require interdisciplinary perspectives and 1-3 scientific partners. This project requires working directly with the Casa Familiar Community Air Quality team, who have mixed backgrounds of community-based research, community development, environmental justice work, and advocacy. Work may include discussions with City of San Diego Parks & Recreation and Sustainability departments.

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The challenge

A post-Covid increase in pollutant levels

San Ysidro is a majority (93%) Latino community and contains some of the lowest income census tracts in the City of San Diego (SD). Of the 30,000 residents, 70% are Hispanic and 54% have less than a high school education. The median household income is 56% less than that of the City of San Diego and 24% less than the average for California as a whole. San Ysidro is framed by three active freeways: Interstate 5, Interstate 805, and State Route 905. Proximity to the U.S.-Mexico Port of Entry (POE) has raised concerns about air quality due to extreme vehicular wait times and industrial truck exhaust. As many as 120,000 vehicles and 60,000 pedestrians cross the POE each day. While many SD County communities have seen a reduction in air pollutants during the COVID-19 pandemic, San Ysidro has recorded an increase in pollutant levels such as black carbon (BC).

The Results

Environmental justice and innovation

Project Outputs

Provide environmental solutions for a park in southern California that centers carbon sequestration and social/environmental/ecological benefits to the surrounding community. Project team will focus on research, spatial analysis, and design that focuses on not only on environmental/ecological benefits, but also sociocultural benefits for San Ysidro residents. We will be incorporating community-based feedback on wants/needs for Beyer Park This will result in the creation of proposed landscape design revisions to the City of San Diego for the General Design of Beyer Park. Additionally, we want Beyer Park to serve as a case study for implementing air pollution mitigation strategies.


Together with project partners & collaborators, we will be able to create an environmentally just, equal, and innovative design for the residents of San Ysidro. This will be done through calculation of climate metrics and GHG emission reductions and assessment of environmental, ecological, and public health benefits of proposed design.

Our case study can serve as a tool for Disadvantaged Communities (DAC) throughout California by addressing tangential issues that affect their residents as well. These include transportation justice, green pedestrian corridors, public safety, and serve as a launching pad for future green infrastructure.

Project Team

Alejandro Amador

Alejandro Amador

Community Lead

Alejandro Amador is the Community Air Program Supervisor with Casa Familiar.  In 2018, Amador joined Casa Familiar as the Community Air Monitoring Technician responsible for aiding in the restoration of the San Ysidro Air Monitoring Network. This community-based research project consists of collaborating with San Diego State University and the University of Washington to place low-cost air monitors around the border community of San Ysidro. This project incorporates engagement with San Ysidro residents and stakeholders to interpret the community’s top air quality concerns as well as educational materials and workshops for the community to grow a better understanding of the impacts of air pollution through the data collected.  Now, as the program supervisor, Amador oversees the continuous implementation of Casa Familiar’s air program and grants while working to connect this work to Casa Familiar’s community development and advocacy efforts. Sarina Vega

Sarina Vega

Sarina Vega is an Air Quality Technician at Casa Familiar. Her background is in environmental science and policy. At Casa Familiar, her roles as a researcher and public health advocate intersects with issues of public health, environmental justice, transportation, data analysis and community outreach/engagement is a large part of her position. She has extensive experience working in San Ysidro schools, with promotoras and youth. She is deeply interested in GIS work and has spent time studying the U.S./Mexico border landscape and urban infrastructures. Before Casa Familiar, she also worked at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Youth Conservation Corps. She is currently pursuing a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at UCSD.
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Robert Andrade 

Community Scientist

Robert Andrade is originally from San Diego and holds a Masters of Fine Arts from Cornell University and a Bachelors degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has been a practicing artist and educator for the past 10 years. More recently, Andrade is completing his Masters in Landscape Architecture + Urbanism at USC with the hope to work in areas regarding climate resiliency along with equity and inclusion. Robert likes making music for fun and reading. Estenia Ortiz Carabantes

Estenia Ortiz Carabantes

Community Scientist

Estenia Ortiz Carabantes is a community science fellow in the Science, Policy, and Engagement Cohort (SPEC) with Thriving Earth Exchange. She is a PhD student in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida (USF) and received her Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from USF as well.  She received her bachelor’s in environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida (UF). Her research interests include water quality, water reuse, food security, and sustainable development through community-engaged research. Some of her previous projects include analyzing modified powdered activated carbon impacts on mercury removal from water, assessing heavy metal content in edible seaweed, and conducting a holistic, systems thinking framework to the food-energy-water nexus in seaweed farming in Belize.

Lisa Cuestas

Community Lead

Lisa Cuestas is currently Chief Executive Officer of Casa Familiar, a 501(c)(3) non-profit community-based organization in San Ysidro, CA. Ms. Cuestas has worked for Casa Familiar for 20 years and nearly 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Ms. Cuestas’ passion is the development of workforce programs for youth and has supervised many service programs and contracts while at Casa Familiar.

Hector Covarrubia Del Cueto

Community Scientist

Hector Covarrubia Del Cueto has a background in architecture and is from Guadalajara, Mexico. He has worked with private initiatives, government instances, nonprofits, and indigenous communities. The projects he has worked on range from mixed use developments and urbanization projects, to regional gardens, productive community gardens, and sustainable indigenous home schemes. He is currently completing his Masters in Landscape Architecture + Urbanism at USC and is a part of the Landscape Justice Initiative.

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