Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New complaint claims Lubbock's racist zoning violates Civil Rights Act

Avenue A
Rob Avila
Texas Tech Public Media

A formal complaint from the North and East Lubbock Coalition and Legal Aid of Northwest Texas has been filed with federal officials, claiming the city’s acceptance of federal money without addressing racist zoning is in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

The complaint was sent to directors of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice and the Treasury. The City of Lubbock said Wednesday morning that it's currently reviewing the complaint.

Lubbock’s City Council recently approved changes to the city’s zoning in the Unified Development Code as part of the comprehensive Plan Lubbock 2040. The new code rules, which were under development for years, will go into effect this October. But the complaint states the new zoning map does nothing to district boundaries, and only changes some zone names from “M-2” to “general industrial.”

This comes after decades of North and East Lubbock residents, who are predominantly Hispanic and Black, raising concerns about the industrial zoning and air pollution around their neighborhoods.

The complaint refers to the city’s actions, or lack thereof, as “unlawful.”

Adam Pirtle, an attorney with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, said the complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

“Title VI says that if a city takes money from the federal government, then it may not have programs or activities that discriminate based on race,” Pirtle said.

The complaint details a century of zoning plans and documents from the city, from 1923 to the present, that keep Lubbock’s Black and Hispanic citizens near harmful industrial zones and away from white neighborhoods. Multiple complaints have been filed with agencies in recent years.

“The Unified Development Code and Zoning Map double down on past discrimination that's been a part of Lubbock since that 1923 ordinance, when the city forced black residents to live east of Avenue C and south of 16th Street,” Pirtle said.

Map provided by Legal Aid of Northwest Texas

According to U.S. Census data, 37% of the city’s population is Hispanic, and 8% is Black. But the complaint states under the UDC’s new zoning map, 38% of Lubbock’s Hispanic residents and 57% of Lubbock’s Black residents live within one mile of General Industrial zoning.

Meanwhile, 50% of the population is white, but 17% of Lubbock’s white residents live within the same proximity to General Industrial zoning.

In contrast, the complaint refers to southern parts of the city with predominantly white populations as places where positive commercial development is encouraged, citing as an example $1.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds earmarked to build a $1.8 million pickleball facility in McAlister Park.

“Despite many years of sustained and passionate advocacy from the residents of East and North Lubbock pushing city leaders to treat their neighborhoods fairly, the city continues to endanger rather than protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents,” the complaint said.

Dora Cortez, a member of the North and East Lubbock Coalition, opened a news conference Wednesday about the complaint.

“The North and East Lubbock Coalition submits this complaint because the City of Lubbock has willfully failed to provide fair and equal zoning protection to Black and Hispanic citizens living in East and North Lubbock neighborhoods and instead surrounds those neighborhoods with industrial zoning,” Cortez said.

Cortez has repeatedly spoken out about zoning issues with the UDC and Plan Lubbock 2040, continuing decades of advocacy on this issue. Since the plan was adopted in 2018, residents of North and East Lubbock communities like Cortez have referred to these growth actions as an opportunity to address a century of racist redlining and health consequences from being so close to industrial zones.

The complaint references a 2021 study from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, that found Lubbock’s Black residents “disproportionately required hospitalization from severe asthma events as compared to Lubbock residents of all other races or ethnicities.”

In November 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded community advocates with Lubbock Compact’s LEAP, or Lubbock Environmental Action Project, almost $483,000 to implement a study on the health impacts of pollution from discriminatory industrial zoning.

Natalie Miller, “a proud citizen of East Lubbock,” said it’s necessary that “the buck stops here.”

“Our city's most fundamental duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents,” Miller said. “And year after year, our city has failed North and East Lubbock communities.”

At the request of the North and East Lubbock Coalition, the complaint listed the following measures for the compliance plan from federal officials, requiring the City of Lubbock to:

1. Immediately impose a moratorium on permitting new industrial development within 500 yards of residential development until all Neighborhood Plans for East and North Lubbock neighborhoods are complete;

2. During the neighborhood planning process, amend the 2040 Plan and its Future Land Use Map (“FLUM”) by downzoning industrial or heavy commercial areas that are less than 500 yards from residential development;

3. Downzone parcels that are M-1 and M-2 in Lubbock’s current Zoning Map and LI (Large Industrial) and GI (General Industrial) in the Unified Development Code that are not identified as industrial or heavy commercial in the FLUM;

4. Downzone current vacant, abandoned, or nonoperational M-1 and M-2 parcels and LI and GI in the Unified Development Code within 500 yards of residential development by December 31, 2024;

5. Downzone industrial land within 500 yards of residential development to a more compatible zoning designation by December 31, 2024, and relocate nuisance industries by or before 2040;

6. Allocate substantial and adequate funding to comply with SB 929 which instructs how a city may terminate a nonconforming use;

7. Allocate substantial and adequate funding to remediate and/or remove abandoned and blighted structures on the industrial land the City rezones to a more compatible, less noxious category;

8. Allocate substantial and adequate funding to carry out the recommendations of the Neighborhood Plans for each East and North Lubbock neighborhood;

9. Work with the TCEQ to install official TCEQ air monitors capable of rendering near real-time measurements for volatile organic compounds and particulate matter smaller than 10 microns and 2.5 microns in North and East Lubbock near pollution sources by December 31, 2024.

A full copy of the complaint can be found here.

Sarah Self-Walbrick is the news director at Texas Tech Public Media, where she leads the news team and focuses on underreported stories in Lubbock. Sarah is a Lubbock native and a three-time graduate of Texas Tech University. She started her career at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Brad Burt is a reporter for KTTZ, born and raised in Lubbock. He has made a point to focus on in-depth local coverage, including civic and accountability reporting. Brad's professional interest in local journalism started on set as a member of the technical production team at KCBD Newschannel 11 before becoming a digital and investigative producer.
Related Content
  • This season of Beyond the Report examines the history of segregation in Lubbock, and features hopes for positive change in historically Black neighborhoods.