“White Flight” to the suburbs and redlining housing policies have shaped the way our communities are today. Until these issues of racism and discrimination are brought front and center, real solutions and equity will not be forthcoming. For decades, driving and development patterns favoring suburbanites have polluted poor communities and destroyed the environment
While SB375 seems to make sense in theory, its implementation may fall short on long term equity due to unfunded mandates and unspoken racism. Getting the public to buy into the idea of living in compact urban developments rather than sprawling suburban subdivisions miles away from urban problems will not be an easy sell.
Suburban communities have reaped the benefits born from the economic and environmental exploitation of poor communities. They still don’t see how conserving the environment and driving less will benefit them economically.
The health and economic well-being of people living in polluted urban communities has been ignored for decades at the local, state, and federal levels. Cities like Pleasanton have long refused to comply with existing state requirements to zone for affordable housing.
People of color and poor people are not the ones who need to be convinced to drive less and embrace urban living. Although a growing number of low-income people of color are moving to the outer suburbs for cheaper housing, the majority already live in or near urban centers and are transit dependent. So, even if successful, SB375 could simply increase gentrification pressures rather than improve the quality of life in low-income communities of color.
Of course, communities planned with the priorities of keeping emissions low, driving less, and encouraging more walking provide opportunities for informal social interaction and greater relationships between neighbors. Incorporating more trees and other green infrastructure throughout communities can remove or trap lung-damaging dust, ash, pollen, and smoke from the air, while also providing shade and conserving energy. Inner city residents would love to see some of these benefits.
However, the bill lacks positive funding mechanisms and real restrictions on sprawl. We have a Governor who claims to be a champion of the environment, but will not support tax policies that raise the necessary funds to make SB375 a success. In the 2009 legislative session, he vetoed SB391, SB406, and AB338, all bills that would have strengthened SB375 or provided financing.
Finally, while SB375 encourages developments in urban centers near transit, it does not take into account the need to make improvements to urban schools, bring down the crime rate, or provide jobs. Creating complete, functioning communities cannot be done in silos, with education or employment being discussed separately from crime prevention, land-use, housing, and transit policy. Until real issues like racism and discrimination are addressed in the planning process, equity will remain out of reach.
Kisasi Brooks was a field representative for former Assemblymember and now State Senator, Loni Hancock.