Organizing People | Activating Leaders


OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon builds power for environmental justice and civil rights in our communities. We organize low-income communities and people of color to achieve a safe and healthy environment where we live, work, play and pray. We strive to create opportunities for meaningful participation in the decision-making that sets policy in our region.

Co-founders Kevin Odell and Jonathan Ostar, who worked together as community organizers for the Environmental Justice Action Group from 2001 to 2002, established OPAL in 2005. Kevin and Jonathan worked with Multnomah County Health Department on environmental health concerns facing public housing residents in North Portland. They formed OPAL to build capacity around environmental justice issues in response to the gentrification and displacement of N/NE Portland’s low-income communities and communities of color, later carrying forward this community-based work to East Portland neighborhoods that were becoming increasingly diverse. OPAL’s initial work focused on disproportionate indoor and outdoor air quality and asthma concerns in communities along the I-205 freeway corridor. After serving as the Executive Director for four years Kevin left the organization and Jonathan, along with another board member, Joseph Santos-Lyons (longtime EJ advocate), stepped off the board to serve as Co-directors from 2010 through 2011. In 2012, Joseph left the organization to direct program work at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), and Jonathan took over as the Executive Director.

OPAL initiated its Transit Justice program in 2010, spearheaded by the Bus Riders Unite membership. In three short years, OPAL staff and BRU volunteers have:East Portland Bus Stop Project

  • organized a core leadership group of transit-dependent riders
  • identified the extension of transfer times as a priority issue (Campaign for a Fair Transfer)
  • assessed over 100 bus stops in East Portland that currently lack adequate infrastructure and amenities
  • formed a partnership with the Multnomah Youth Commission to advocate for YouthPass
  • critically analyzed TriMet budget proposals and developed an Alternative Budget
  • mobilized over 100 transit riders and allies to support its alternative budget proposals
  • preserved round-trip transfers on a single fare
  • won a million dollars for a low-income rider mitigation fund.

BRU and transit justice continues to be OPAL’s primary program, along with related urban environmental justice concerns around affordable housing, land use, air toxics and health equity.