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2008 Indicators Report - The New Opportunities

The New Opportunities

Our assessment of regional equity – or better put, inequity, in the Bay Area, suggests a series of key questions. These questions – and some answers we suggest – include:

How do we maintain diversity and prevent displacement?
Diversity is at risk of being displaced by the pressures of gentrification, but social movements have grown and we now have the tools to stand our ground more effectively.   Our strategies include land trusts, inclusionary zoning, and affordable housing mandates – all of which should be couched in a larger, regionalist agenda of equitable Smart Growth.   Fortunately, the Bay Area has many of the organizers who have been focused on this work, and intermediaries like PolicyLink who have policy toolboxes at their disposal.  Efforts like those in Richmond around the General Plan revision are key to protecting long-term residents and insuring that their stake in local revival is rewarded with a secure place in the neighborhood.

How do we prepare new leadership to step up to the decision-making plate?
California has long pointed to where the nation is headed: a majority-minority country where those holding the highest offices in the land will include folks from communities of color.  Thinking nationally but acting locally, we need to be doing the leadership and policy development training that will be necessary for all leaders hoping to cope with the new demography, new economy, and new environment.  Urban Habitat and Working Partnerships are already engaging upcoming leaders in committing to racial justice and equality, committing to multiethnic and multiracial equality, making cross-sector linkages, and becoming lifelong learners.   Leadership institutes like these that work through a regionalist lens deserve our support on the road to a more equitable Bay Area.

How do we improve job quality, job creation, and job readiness for low-income communities of color?
The Bay Area has been host to pioneering work around community benefits strategies.  Holding developments accountable to the community is important, as is the underlying attempt to change widespread inequity through policy rather than proceeding battle by battle, development by development.  But it’s more than securing a part of a growing pie – it’s figuring out how to make the economy grow and prepare people for the new jobs.  Equity advocates should develop strategies based on new economic sectors, particularly in the green economy, and see where partnerships are possible with business and others.  On the job readiness side, we need to upgrade secondary and post-secondary education to train youth, support community colleges and others who provide retraining of adults in growing job sectors, and fashion effective reentry programs for those who are leaving prison and often returning to distressed communities. Finally, there’s not a worker to spare – stopping the abuses of ICE raids and securing a path to legalization is not just part of our justice agenda but part of our economic agenda.

How do we address the problem of foreclosures and housing stability in the region?

Solutions and salves for the foreclosure crisis are not springing up at the rate anyone would like.  But policy wonks and organizing friends from the south present new opportunities.  In the San Fernando Valley, a local church in coordination with One-LA is organizing 500 Latino immigrant families to negotiate with a bank, collectively, since individual efforts were getting them nowhere.  And taking a cue from the policy people, they could ask for loan modifications that extend the length of their mortgages, keep rates down, and keep families in their homes. In the longer-run, we need to increase the housing stock across the Bay Area.  Land banking is a unique opportunity for government:  the Emergency Assistance Act includes (unspecified) ways for how government can gather land from foreclosed and abandoned properties.  This might be an opportunity to combine properties and re-build with more homes per acre, increasing housing stock and affordability.

How do we resolve the transportation inequities that lead to underutilization of the system?
If we want to resolve what appears to be an unjust distribution of transportation resources, we must think regionally.  In Myron Orfield’s early analysis What If We Shared? – one of the first activities of what eventually became the Social Equity Caucus – we learned that transportation dollars have in recent history gone to the fringe, not the core.   Not much has changed but there are two opportunities.  One, the new state bill, SB 375, offers opportunities to steer transportation funding to urban core (read bus services) because it gives preferential treatment to smart growth transportation and land use planning. The second opportunity: we appear to be on the verge of a new White House Office of Urban Policy that will be thinking metro and including a place for community organizers and grassroots voices.  This might be a favorable place to bring demands for funds that will keep fiscally solvent the bus services that carry more than their share of low-income riders.  In any case, we need to craft a new model for transportation funding that is financially just, encourages the ridership of those who actually use the system, and creates the opportunities for connecting to employment.

How do we prepare the region to fully meet the new environmental challenges and opportunities of a greener Bay and a greener economy?
Although AB 32 looks like it will be implemented on shaky legs of cap and trade, there will be opportunities to improve it.  In five years, the reauthorization will open a door to present the uneven affects of co-pollutants in already toxic neighborhoods, if there are any, and to upgrade emission control strategies.  In the meantime, SB 375’s requirement to plan for cutting carbon emission may favor environmentally sound growth most feasible in the urban core – and national level efforts are likely to favor the creation of jobs shoring up and greening our infrastructure. While green jobs have always had at their heart opening opportunities for the long-time unemployed, the recent surge in joblessness might result in openings being taken by incumbent workers, instead.  Displaced workers deserve a shot but so do others; to help this, training facilities like high schools and community colleges with green programs should be located in low-income neighborhoods, and workforce developers and green investors must begin working together.

These are just the outlines of answers and an agenda to have a more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable Bay Area.  The intricacies of the new Bay Area will require a complex understanding of the problems and will necessitate painstaking efforts to get the right solutions.  But one thing to us is clear: you can’t get there without making equity central to the mission.

This was the basic idea that led to the creation of the Social Equity Caucus (SEC) ten years ago – that the region was where the action was, that inclusion was key to metropolitan success, and that to do this you needed the organized voice and policy ideas of those social justice advocates closest to the ground.  On this tenth anniversary of the SEC, that voice is still needed and it is our hope that this document and the data that we presented on December 15 will be of assistance to advocates as they chart their path for the next decade.