Posted by: macjohns | October 26, 2011

The Sacramento Region’s Economy is ALIVE!

Last Thursday and Friday I got the privilege of being able to attend the Third Annual Sacramento Regional Internal Study Mission. The event was put on by the Sacramento Asian and Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce as well as a host of community partners including the Center for Regional Change.

The two day event’s goal was to showcase those sectors in which Sacramento is “Best of, First at, and Leader in”. In that respect there was a real wealth and variety of speakers, interesting destinations throughout the region, and a lot of networking between professionals interested in seeing the region thrive.

Destinations and Speakers:

West Sacramento: Raley Field-Redevelopment

The first stop on the tour was Raley Field in West Sacramento. Near the river, the site used to be home to a number of industrial warehouses. This $53 million dollar project’s goal was/is to: conduct environmental remediation (the site was home to a fertilizer plant), create a stadium with an entertainment district around it, link this development to downtown Sacramento, include a bike and pedestrian trail  to make the river more accessible, and create opportunities for commuting outside of a car with streetcar service.

To start the project, a JPA (Joint Powers Authority) was formed that included: the City of West Sacramento, Yolo County, and the County of Sacramento. From there, bonds were issued through the JPA. They worked from the idea that this project could transform the area much like the building of Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco transformed the South of Market Area.

Toby Ross, the City Manager of West Sacramento described the “Green drainage system” they were able to utilize that took advantage of the fill (sand) that exists in the area.  With this feature they were able to proceed without any increase in the storm drainage system.  In terms of Economic impact, the project is expected to add 4000 residential units plus office and commercial space (with enough space for additional developments in the future).

For now, fingers remain crossed as the legal challenge to the virtual dismantling of redevelopment agencies is under way. Without redevelopment funding flowing to this project in the near future, plans will have to change dramatically.

West Sacramento City Hall: Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and Economic Development.  

Mayor Cabaldon, of West Sacramento, opened this portion of the event. He called transit an enabler and not the sole reason that people move into an area. Meea Kang, Founding Partner of Domus Development, then spoke about some of the barriers to TOD.  They include but are not limited to: restrictive land uses in urban areas, community resistance, lack of political will, high cost of land, and the financing of the affordable housing piece of the developments.

Ms. Kang did mention successes with TOD in the region, however, including the La Valentina Project. It brought 81 units within 1 minute of light rail, redeveloped a blighted and toxic site, created units priced from $400-1000 per month, serves as a gateway to Downtown Sacramento, and features townhouses on one side that are nearly zero net energy.

Unlike Los Angeles, which has tried to accomplish TOD by locating developments near freeways, Sacramento is taking the route that cities like Oakland have taken in putting these next to rail. In fact, Kang is a “development radical” because of her insistence that we discontinue subsidizing parking spaces (as opposed to more housing). She cited the fact that developers in New York   City don’t even bother to build parking into their developments because of its high price tag and lack of feasibility there. Here in California, however, paying for spaces means that when developments are complete, we have built housing for the wealthy and the extremely poor with little of it affordable to the middle-income brackets. Mayor Cabaldon also chimed in that mandating parking is equivalent to mandating a certain number of home theaters per 1000 ft. of development.

The Center for Land-Based Learning: The Farm on Putah Creek (Agribusiness)

As our bus pulled into what looked like “America’s Heartland”, we were encouraged to notice the plants and grasses that surrounded the farm. Mary Kimball from the Center for Land-Based Learning pointed out this area (planted by high school students) was perhaps the future of farming. The monocultures were enveloped by native habitat for birds, insects and others. Retention ponds were also included and both of these additions served to recharge the groundwater and emulate/encourage the biodiversity that protects and nurtures plants in the wild. The center focuses on wildlife-friendly agriculture but is open to both conventional and organic.

As part of economic development in the agricultural sector, the center boasts a Farm Incubator program where novices to agriculture (city and suburb slickers) can get their feet wet with a half an acre of land and all of the help that one can imagine. Some enterprising individuals eventually acquire more land and turn a profit, some just get an awesome experience. In terms of  agriculture in the region, a panel of experts engaged us all in discussion about the importance of the sector in the regional, state, and world economy.

Interesting tidbits included:

  • The partnership between agribusiness and UC Davis makes the region the “Silicon Valley of seeds”
  • the vibrant economy, wealth of natural resources, and ideal climate all contribute to the fact that 4 out of 5 of the top agricultural products are grown right here.
  • the region has roughly 4 million acres of farmland and over half of that land is in active production.
  • The region is well equipped to feed, clothe and shelter itself in the event of some unfortunate situation
  • The region boasts a map that shows where all crops are grown on a parcel-by-parcel basis. this is necessary in order to anticipate and adapt to changes such as a rise in fuel prices or a fall in the price of a certain agricultural commodity.
  • the local industry generates $1.6 billion in primary, secondary, and tertiary economic effects
  • We produce 3.2 million tons of food and consume 2.2 million tons
  • Researchers continue to work with the agricultural sector in order to turn agricultural by-products into the energy that can power our homes, cars, and smartphones.

Increasing the economic effects of this sector, according to the panel, could entail: enhancing the region’s ability (currently underdeveloped) to process and distribute foods so that we don’t have to ship them raw only to have them come back to us in different, value-added forms; creating connections between the agricultural sector and the ports of Stockton, Sacramento, and Oakland since their fates are intertwined in many ways; working closely with UC Davis researchers studying the effects of Climate Change (for instance the Wine Country is moving steadily toward the Central Valley and coastal areas); realizing, that we are the “Saudi Arabia of food” and that the rise of other nations will only increase world-wide demand for our products.

I should also add that the Strategic Growth Council has given the region a grant to study the eating habits of the region’s inhabitants and also the parts of the region that are “food deserts”. These studies have the potential to open up market opportunities for those who can satisfy those tastes and eliminate those deserts. SACOG itself is also looking at land use and transportation investments that could facilitate growth in this sector.

Crocker Art Museum: Civic Amenities-Past, Present, and Future

This portion of the event combined not only the history and present state of the Crocker Art Museum, it also included the B Street Theater, and the Executive Director of Mayor Johnson’s “Think Big” Sacramento Regional Initiative for the building of a new Entertainment and Sports Complex in the region.

Lial Jones, the Director of the Crocker Museum opened the conversation by describing the museum as having been moribund in 1999 when she arrived. In record time, they took up a campaign for capital expansion, worked with the board of directors to enliven the museum, increased visitation from below 90,000 per year to more than 170,000, and increased membership from roughly 3,000 to 13,500 at last count. The museum is a public/private partnership between the city and a private nonprofit. Their greatest accomplishments being that: individual giving now accounts for more of their revenue than the city’s public investment, and that they are world renown for having the finest collection of drawings in the world. The tour of the museum was amazing and it is increasingly becoming one of the hottest lunchtime destinations in Sacramento.

Next was the B Street theater. The theater is unique in its community engagement in that it encourages local kids to write plays and some are chosen to be enacted for kids all over the community. It gives the children a sense of ownership of both the plays and the theater itself. From what started out as a “tough shed by the railroad tracks”, the theater now features 35-38 plays per week including The Giver (my own fifth grade favorite) and the Diary of Anne Frank.

Chris Lehane then led the conversation around the opportunities and challenges of not only financing and constructing and “Entertainment and Sports Complex” (and not just a stadium), but having the ins and outs of the project finalized by December 13, 2011-the last city council meeting of the year.

The initiative includes 72 local officials that worked from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 2011 on the intricacies of the project. Their goals are to: protect the taxpayers, create a minimum of 4,100 jobs on the project, generate the estimated $7 billion in direct economic impact, and protect the city’s interests. They are working with AEG, the company that owns about half of all U.S. stadiums and manages many concert tours, in order to have a highly regarded company at the center of the planning. On September 8th, the initiative presented: user fees, private sector financing, public contributions (i.e. land in Natomas, signage legislation for freeways etc.) to the council. If all goes well, the actual planning and EIR will happen in 2012 with a breaking of ground in 2013…with or without the Maloofs.

UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures: Health/Biosciences Innovation

The UC Davis Medical Center, Institute for Regenerative Cures was the second to last stop on our tour. There we met Dr. Bauer and his staff who are working on the cutting edge of science in the biomedical field.

It is their goal to make irradiation, chemotherapy, and amputation a thing of the past for survivors of cancer using both adult and embryonic stem cells. They are even treating Huntington’s Disease (a terminal illness) by teaching the neurons of the brain how to deliver medicine. They conceptualize cancer as a tree, where current treatments are able to get rid of the branches and the trunk but not yet the roots.

Cardiac regeneration for those who have lost heart tissue for a variety of reasons (especially heart disease/myocardial infarction) is also a goal. In children, it is their hope to limit the number of lifetime surgeries that children with heart problems must undergo. They are also looking into using stem cells to regenerate human kidneys (as many people die on lists awaiting donors). Finally, they are applying for funding to study the development of anti-HIV stem cells that can manufacture CD4 cells that target HIV. This technology could mean the end of daily medications for millions who suffer from this chronic illness.

The economic impacts of this center are not to be downplayed. Their research touches not just the illnesses listed above but also: spinal chord injuries, liver transplantation with stem cell created liver tissue, and they are able to save 9 out of 10 limbs lost to poor circulation to boot ( 180,000 people lose limbs to poor circulation and underdeveloped vasculature in this country alone).

Future plans include: doubling the size of the cancer center, upgrading to tele-health with all of their new operating rooms (think of Skype tailor-made for medical visits), and becoming the healthcare capital of the Great Central Valley.

Entrepreneurship, Investment and Opportunity- ClikNation Headquarters

Unfortunately the tours and the larger event had to come to a close. However, it ended with many rays of hope for the region. The conversation began with a focus on the “4th sector”, composed of those entities that exist at the nexus of the private/nonprofit, and governmental sectors. There was a brief conversation about social enterprise where businesses make a profit by solving social problems.

Meg Arnold from the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance spoke about the engagement of businesses that are founded in this region. In her view, they are much more committed to the region and invested than those who are encouraged to come here through market mechanisms. One of the biggest concerns for the region is not the talent pool, nor is it the lack of other resources. Instead it is the image of the region as not being a center of innovation. Mark Otero, Founder of ClikNation (an online gaming successful startup) mentioned that he must compete with San Francisco and Silicon Valley because potential employees do not have a sense that there are other companies in this region to which they could transfer laterally. With this mindset, many would rather move or remain in the Bay Area so as not to “trap” themselves in an area where they are too heavily reliant on one company.

Otero and others also commented that capital formation should be a key goal of policymakers and others in the region. As it stands, many investors in the high-tech sector in Sacramento reside in San Francisco. So even the success of the industry in this region still overwhelmingly benefits the Bay Area. The conversation then turned to large pension funds as pools of capital that could be utilized in a time where both credit and capital are hard to come by.

The event closed after that final presentation and we all boarded the bus back to Downtown Sacramento. In every way, the tour was eye-opening. I was able to learn a few redevelopment and financing terms, tour a world-class museum, make plans to see The Giver performed on-stage, get a small glimpse of the “Saudi Arabia of food”, and get a sense of renewed hope that diseases that have long plagued humanity might one day go the way of Scurvy. In every way Sacramento is alive: economically, culturally, and politically; Now the task is to accomplish something amazing and unique with all that “stuff” in our own backyard.

CITY IDENTIFICATION CARDS: THE CONTEXT

Nearly three years ago, as a Policy Analyst for the Oakland City Council, I was asked to conduct research on a potential Oakland City I.D. Card Ordinance. At the time, a program in New Haven, Connecticut had already been started with the help of grant funding and the completion of a report entitled “A City to Model: Six Proposals for Protecting Public Safety and Improving Relationships between Immigrant Communities and the City of New Haven”. The report was produced by three entities:  Junta for Progressive Action, Unidad Latina en Accion, and Yale Law School’s Community Lawyering Clinic (CLC).

The report was prepared in March of 2005 for the City of New Haven to recommend strategies that could improve public safety and civility in the context of a rapidly growing Latino immigrant population; both documented and undocumented. At the time Latinos  accounted for 50.3% of all Fair Haven (within New Haven) residents and they presented with special needs that compromised their rights to participation and protection. The recommendations were an attempt to incorporate their needs into the city’s agenda in order to give immigrants full access to the city.

Public safety provided a necessary boost of legitimacy for the program and served as a way framing the argument for the card to the documented population. Simply put, threats to the safety of immigrant communities were threats to the larger social order as well. For instance, there was a high rate of home burglary and robbery of immigrants  because immigrants could not open bank accounts and were known to  carry cash. Disproportionate rates of theft and property crimes  never made it into police reports and crime tracking because of undocumented immigrants’ inability to obtain legitimate identification for the police. Add to this the fact that Latino immigrants were also worried about the underpayment or nonpayment of wages in working with certain employers. These conditions are thought to promote the existence of street gangs for protection,  require unsustainable levels of police involvement in gang and drug enforcement, reduce public safety for all citizens as criminals become bolder, and keep a large segment of the population outside of the local economy and tax base.

All of the negative consequences of not having valid identification could be mitigated by having a city issue identification cards for its inhabitants. New Haven also partnered with Yale to make these cards serve as student identification cards, and then partnered with merchants in order to incentivize the use of the cards with discounts at local retailers (which encouraged shopping at local businesses). The effect was a city I.D. card that would protect the undocumented without stigmatizing them as the sole users of the card. Public support of the card, added to the creativity of its developers soon meant that other features would be added. Today, the card also operates as a debit card and can be used to pay parking meters and to access city events and services.

 

IF NEW HAVEN COULD DO IT, WHY NOT OAKLAND?

Oakland became the second city in the Nation to actually legislate this program into existence on June 2nd, 2009. It followed on the heels of San Francisco, California. Based on the policy research I had been conducting  with the Municipal Identification Card Coalition. San Francisco and Oakland might have legislated them at the same time, however Oakland decided to wait for the outcome of lawsuits filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), an anti-immigrant organization based in Washington, DC. The first suit alleged that the issuance of these identification cards amounted to a misappropriation of funds by the City of San Francisco (the city paid over $1 million for the machine that would ultimately print these cards), and the second suit was based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It alleged that these cards alongside San Francisco’s designation as a “Sanctuary City” would encourage an unprecedented invasion of undocumented immigrants who would compromise the air and water quality and wreak other havoc on the environment. In January of 2009, the suits against San Francisco were thrown out and Oakland was emboldened to begin its process of legislation.

The original coalition was comprised of members of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation (SSCF), and a multi-ethnic group promoting ACORNs or (Alternative Currency for Oakland Residents and Neighbors). Cohesion within the group was, perhaps, strongest in the beginning when the idea was in the planning stage. This dynamic was apparent because this is long before the coalition had been energized by San Francisco’s passage of the ordinance and New Haven had not yet expanded its program to include a financial component. This phase was marked by high levels of research to determine whether or not a program like this could work given California State law and the availability of organizations willing to fund such a pilot project in Oakland.

Also at this time, African-American involvement was loose; representatives attended meetings more as a show of solidarity than for any strategic involvement. It was only after our city council office began to work collaboratively with financial institutions and the City of New Haven on the incorporation of a financial component that African-American involvement began to increase. This heightened involvement was mostly due to the fact that parasitic financial institutions dominated the poorer areas of Oakland and African-Americans were some of their primary victims.

Economic and public safety improvement data from New Haven, as well as expanding the program to include African-Americans and other stigmatized groups were critical in order to maintain our office’s involvement in the process. At this time in 2009, the economic downturn was becoming a major consideration in Oakland’s political economy and the city could ill-afford to be thought of as spending large sums of money in order to “privilege” undocumented immigrants.

The coalition also began to grow in early 2009  to include homeless activists from the Homeless Action Center and Transgender Activists from various organizations in the East Bay and San Francisco. Their chief concerns were: an I.D. more affordable than a California I.D. that could be used as a debit card, and an identification that either removed gender or allowed a person to self-declare their gender-respectively. It was also around this time that the judgement in the lawsuit against San Francisco was handed down in favor of the San Francisco. Attention poured not only on San Francisco but on Oakland as well. Suddenly the coalition added more Latino and African Americans that had not necessarily been affiliated with the organizations previously mentioned; so too was another city council office added to the coalition, that of Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente. At this time, more work was also done to get city agencies on board to accept the card (including police), and to involve the local community college district and local merchants to expand the program’s scope.

 

HIGH POLITICAL STAKES CREATE DIVISION

The sudden viability of such a project coupled with anti-immigrant rhetoric that had become more pronounced during the recession began to erode the racial inclusion that had begun to characterize the coalition, unfortunately. For instance, DUI checkpoints were believed to be targeting Latino enclaves in Oakland (the Fruitvale District) and when drivers could not produce identification, they were taken to jail where they would inevitably encounter Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The politically unpalatable external factor of ICE raids of Latino communities and spatially concentrated DUI checkpoints served as a powerful external factor that began to unite Latinos across organization and nationality to push for a card that could be quickly legislated and produced. With this motivation, the majority of the Latinos involved argued to jettison the idea of a financial component as its intricacies would protract the process. In response, African-Americans pushed ever-harder for the financial component and argued that they would not let their efforts and and needs be marginalized in order to respond to the immediate needs of undocumented immigrants. Both groups stood to benefit from the legislation but the political process threatened a stalemate. Obviously, there were Latinos who pushed for the financial component and there were African-Americans who sympathized with the plight of undocumented people who literally lived in fear of arrest and deportation.   As the original Policy Analyst working on the project, I sided with those who pushed for a financial component and also worked with the police to end some of the most egregious acts of profiling identified by advocates for the undocumented. I sided with the financial component faction not only because I am an African-American and know very well the forms of financial abuse targeted at both of our communities, but also because the financial component created the consensus that would ultimately get the ordinance passed. Without strong African-American involvement in a city that is roughly 22% Latino coupled with demonstrably less involvement of other immigrant groups, this card could easily be labeled as an exorbitantly-priced “city handout” to “illegal immigrants”. An I.D. card machine priced at about $1 million was not practical nor fiscally possible in the first half of 2009, it is only less possible today.

 

THE CURRENT SITUATION

As part of the ordinance, Oakland’s program must be cost-covering. The only method, thought to make this program cost-covering while still assuring that the cards will be reasonably priced (as little as $5), is to work with a financial services company that could make the cards function also as debit cards or prepaid credit cards; much like New Haven’s program. After putting out an RFP, the Oakland City Council selected a financial services vendor. The program appears to be stalled, however, by the fact that the city appears to be requiring a sort of “report card” for this vendor; something to prove that the vendor has the financial resources and industry reputation to cover “fraud, theft market downturns and other problems that could jeopardize cardholder funds”. The City believes that to accomplish this, it would have to hire a consultant at a cost of $5-10 thousand.

There are, however, always ways to circumvent the red tape that continues to bedraggle any prospects for the actual issuance of these identification cards. That tape was cut several times before the ordinance was even drafted and had been cut by activists and policy makers alike in both New Haven and San Francisco. As an activist who has spent the past 11 years working for progressive causes in both Northern and Southern California, I find my interests drawn back into this 3-year scuffle to establish this program in Oakland. The fight begins, however, in turning this into a national phenomenon.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit the following websites:

http://oaklandcityidcard.org/acorns/

http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-07-26/bay-area/29815171_1_debit-card-id-card-identity-card


On Thursday, March 24th, I attended “A Conference on Redevelopment” that was sponsored by the UC Center and Capitol Weekly Newspaper. The event was composed of two panels and a keynote address at the end. The first panel was called “Follow the Politics” and the second was called “Follow the Money”. Both panels were designed to give participants the various perspectives on the political and economic effects of eliminating the state’s 425 redevelopment agencies as Governor Brown has proposed to do.

The “Follow the Politics” panel consisted of: Assemblymember Chris Norby (R-Fullerton); Julie Spezia, Executive Director of Housing California; Mike Madrid, editor and publisher of California City News; and a representative from California State Senate President Pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg’s office. The composition of the panel provoked some very heated debate as some members were for the elimination of redevelopment agencies and others were against.

Chris Norby, as the only Republican to vote in favor of eliminating redevelopment agencies, challenged both Mike Madrid and Julie Spezia for their pro-redevelopment views. More specifically, Norby’s views are truly neoliberal and he takes issue with taxpayer money being given to corporations in the form of government subsidies. Norby also sees a certain futility in providing a form of corporate welfare to businesses that can simply relocate if another city lures them with a more lucrative deal. Norby reinforced his points by citing that no credible studies have demonstrated that funding redevelopment actually produces a net economic gain. If they do provide economic benefits, he challenges them to return some of the property tax revenue that they have seemingly created. Finally he called the fact that roughly 12% of property taxes go to redevelopment, “unsustainable” and believes that the financial crisis exposed this fact. Since cities are heavily reliant on sales tax revenue because of Proposition 13; Norby believes that the term “economic development”, as used in the present context and as promoted by redevelopment agencies, is just a code word for “more sales tax”.

Julie Spezia and Mike Madrid sat on the other side of the ideological spectrum. Spezia insisted that the elimination of redevelopment agencies would mean that building affordable housing in urban areas would prove impractical. She believes that without direct subsidies for affordable housing development, the housing crisis will get worse; with a growing percentage of the “new homeless” being composed of families. Her determination to keep redevelopment agencies open has to do with the fact that homelessness has grown 17% in Sacramento alone in the past few years; even necessitating the establishment of the nation’s first “tent city” in modern history. Spezia also mentioned that redevelopment funding for housing creates 13,000 jobs annually in the state (this was refuted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, however). Mike Madrid’s take on the matter had a lot to do with accountability to voters. Madrid was indignant that the Governor proposed to eliminate and “steal” redevelopment funding although voters have expressly sought to “firewall” local funds through the initiative process in recent years. To make his point he mentioned Proposition 22; which prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for redevelopment, transportation, or local government projects even during fiscal hardship. Madrid adamantly believes that the voters do not trust government at the state level and added that cuts to redevelopment agencies will only mean greater hardship for California residents at the local level. Madrid’s is a Keynesian approach whereby the projects generated through redevelopment become even more critical in mitigating the effects of this “Great Recession”.

Finally, Darrell Steinberg’s representative chimed in at the end of the political bickering to acknowledge that the Governor’s proposal will most likely pass; despite challenges brought on by the passage of Proposition 22. Steinberg’s office insists that redevelopment plans in the future, however they take shape, must take into account our goals with regard to: climate change, transportation efficiency, affordable housing, as well as the population growth that we expect in the coming decades. Steinberg’s office agreed with Julie Spezia that public funding is needed to make infill development more economically viable- as opposed to letting development continue, unfettered, in the hinterlands. Steinberg encouraged a regional approach to this problem and his office assumes the end of redevelopment as we know it but wants to be a part of preserving the successes of redevelopment while eliminating those excesses outlined by Norby.

The second panel “Follow the Money” consisted of: Ron Loveridge, Mayor of Riverside, President of the National League of Cities, and professor of Political Science at UC Riverside; Chris McKenzie, E.D. of the League of California Cities; Brian Wilson (for Terry Brennand, Senior Government Relations Advocate for SEIU California); and Marianne O’Malley, Director of General Government for the office of the Legislative Analyst.

In the beginning of the panel, Mayor Loveridge immediately attacked the notion that redevelopment agencies should be eliminated. He cited his own experience as well as the experiences of several mayors who have used redevelopment to improve parts of their city that have been given over to crime and other forms of vice. He adamantly disagreed with Norby from the last panel and sees redevelopment funds as a flexible pot of money in an era where mayors have decreasing amounts of money that they can leverage. He sees the primary job of the city to be economically prosperous and, therefore, sees redevelopment as a tool to accomplish that aim. Chris McKenzie agreed with Mayor Loveridge and Mike Madrid wholeheartedly on the issue and reinforced the idea that Proposition 22 was a referendum against the state’s practice of raiding local government coffers to address its budget shortfalls. McKenzie added that past raids on gas taxes and other funds instigated the need to put such a measure on the ballot and that the spirit of Proposition 22 should be honored in order to change the relationship between the state and local government from a “command relationship” to a “collaborative relationship”. If Mayor Loveridge and Chris McKenzie propose any changes it is to standardize state paperwork for redevelopment agencies in order to standardize the form and practices of those agencies. So too, they would consolidate some of the 425 agencies as this sheer number implies severe governmental fragmentation.

Brian Wilson, a last minute invitee for the panel, disagreed with both Loveridge and McKenzie. Wilson is a representative of the Firefighter’s Union and his disagreement with both men had to do with the fact that redevelopment agencies regularly take money from the general fund that is almost never returned. His second disagreement was a conceptual one; he does not believe that the city’s primary function is to be economically prosperous but, instead, to guarantee the social welfare of its inhabitants. He was outnumbered 2:1. With this dynamic, the argument over which should come first: economic prosperity or social welfare, ensued for several minutes.

At the end of this emotionally intense exchange, Marianne O’Malley weighed in on the Legislative Analyst’s Office’s perspective on the matter. The LAO, as a bipartisan, objective, research-oriented body agreed more with: Brian Wilson, Chris Norby, and Darrell Steinberg. Their research has indicated, according to O’Malley, that 12% of all property taxes have been going to redevelopment agencies in recent years and that this percent has been climbing as more and more properties come under the jurisdiction of redevelopment agencies. This translates into $5.2 billion annually. In looking at the research, the LAO disputes the numbers of jobs that proponents have claimed that redevelopment  creates, and they dispute the $2 billion per year in tax money generated from these projects, based on a CSU Chico study, on methodological grounds. In short, they do not agree that redevelopment is a job-creator nor an economic engine for the state. The LAO maintains that investments in human capital (education, vocational training and the like) and basic infrastructure are more lucrative for cities in the long-term than any spatially located investments. Being above the political and ideological fray, O’Malley met with no opposition from other members of the panel.  At the end of her address to the panel and audience, O’Malley then explained how elimination of the agencies would work and how funds would be freed up for local government. Of the $5.2 billion that redevelopment agencies receive, $2 billion will be needed to pay off incurred debts. Additionally, “pass-through agreements” (deals with schools, counties, or special districts to offset property tax gaps) will total $1.3 billion annually and what’s left is $1.9 billion annually. The governor proposes to take $1.7 billion of that this year to fill holes in Medi-Cal and trial court funding. In subsequent years, the entire $1.9 billion would be given to local government entities.

At the end of the panel, I asked both Mayor Loveridge and Chris McKenzie (as President and Executive Director, respectively, of the National League of Cities and League of California Cities) about lobbying efforts at the Federal level to secure more funding for the State of California. McKenzie answered most eloquently by stating that even though Federal support to both states and municipalities has been plummeting for over three decades, efforts at that level primarily involve playing defense against future cuts to Community Development Block Grant funding. It seems the political economy is one that is increasingly favoring “small government”, which in the local context means “fend for yourselves”. In this context, the Governor’s proposal is just a frantic and contentious response to empty state coffers that used to be replenished by the Federal Government. However, local governments have no funds to raid and will inevitably have to make do with one less economic development tool (or crutch depending on who you ask) at their disposal.

 

Posted by: serinac0 | March 16, 2011

The Long Haul – A Site For Social Justice

(Adapted from The Long Haul site)

In The Long Haul, Tracy Perkins reflects upon best ways to make change in the world and how to sustain these efforts over the long haul. Her site intends to be a place to reflect on and share ideas about working for social change; the serious, the humorous, the practical.  It’s also intended to be a place to start a dialogue on particular ways she tries to make a difference.  In her case this means teaching, research, writing, taking photos and consulting for non-profits. She hopes this site will be a place to incubate ideas that turn into articles, books, exhibits and other creative projects in the future, as well as to meet fellow travelers along the way.

Check out The Long Haul site here: http://willworkforjustice.com/

Posted by: serinac0 | March 9, 2011

Next Generation Labor

Community Development Associate Professor, Chris Benner, is leading up a Next Generation Labor site that seeks to understand new forms of labor and labor organizing, economic democracy and economic justice while also creating a place for researchers, workers, activists, and everyone in between.

About the Next Generation Labor site:
(Adapted from http://nextgenerationlabor.wordpress.com/about-2/)

In the last ten years, the Internet and other digital Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools have been used to organize dozens, if not hundreds, of social movements. From the WTO protests in Seattle in 2000 to the “viral” text for Haiti mobile-phone-driven fundraising drive of 2010, organizers have employed digital technology tools to catalyze and propel their campaigns.

Contributors to the Next Generation Labor site believe that these tools can be instrumental in mobilizing labor movements as well. Unions have traditionally been at the forefront of advocating for productive, secure, employment opportunities, which are essential for reducing poverty and advancing sustainable economic and social development. Though labor organizations are beginning to integrate ICT components into their mobilization strategies, many useful lessons in effective ICT use for organizing can be learned outside the labor community.

Visit the site here: http://nextgenerationlabor.wordpress.com/

Nobody said that the solutions to the California Budget Crisis would be painless. One group of people poised to feel that pain could very well be those who work inside the 425 redevelopment agencies within the state. Under Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal, these agencies would be phased out by July 1st, 2011 as just one way of helping to close California’s looming $25.4 billion budget deficit. The governor’s proposal has invigorated a debate about the effectiveness of redevelopment agencies in light of the budget situation. Specifically, the governor is concerned about the fact that redevelopment agencies are funded by property tax assessments; assessments which could  be diverted to schools, counties, and cities. These school districts and local governments are then forced to rely on state funding to make up for the loss of these property tax dollars.

According to the California Department of Finance, the phasing out of redevelopment agencies could potentially free up as much as $1.7-$1.9 billion after fiscal year 2011-2012 and even more as these agencies gradually pay off previously incurred debts. In effect, the governor is changing the funding scale at which school districts and local governments operate. In theory, a greater share of property taxes in local areas would be available for local needs.

While freeing up money for local needs and simultaneously reducing the amount of cuts that need to be made in other state-funded programs (health and social services, education, and public safety to name just some) seems like a win-win for some, many are adamantly against the idea of eliminating the redevelopment agencies altogether. In fact, mayors from nine of California’s largest cities recently lobbied the governor to save their redevelopment agencies. In their eyes, redevelopment is a way of creating jobs in the state by acquiring and developing land for commercial and residential use.  They pointed to data that illustrated that in a given year, redevelopment projects support roughly 304,000 jobs in the state and contribute over $2 billion in state and local taxes.

Critics argue, however, that redevelopment agencies have long since abandoned their original mission to rebuild blighted areas. Instead, redevelopment agencies are believed to be the vehicles by which cities shelter revenue and encourage developers to seek subsidies in the name of growth and inter-city competition. According to Steven Frates, Director of Research at the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, the money invested in these agencies is simply money that is not being made available to school districts and localities. In fiscal year 2008-2009, that translated into nearly $5.7 billion.

This debate has pitted various interest groups against each other as Californians come to realize just how zero-sum these budget negotiations will be. In order to bring some empirical data to the debate, the governor has tasked State Controller, John Chiang with auditing 18 of the state’s redevelopment agencies including those of the cities of: Richmond, Los Angeles, Pittsburg, Fremont, and Hercules. The stated goal of the audit is to  “obtain facts on how … funds are used and the extent to which they comply with laws governing their activities”. The completion of the audit has been slated for early March, which will coincide with the time when Governor Brown and lawmakers should be finalizing roughly $12.5 billion in state cuts.

It is almost guaranteed that this issue will not be the only issue to define this year’s rounds of budget negotiations. California seems to have a perennial budget crisis and has been late passing a budget 23 times in the last 24 years; with the last breaking all previous records at 100 days late. After years of cuts to state services the situation is becoming ever more dire. There is the very real possibility of the virtual elimination of social services for California’s  most vulnerable populations and of further gutting California’s entire educational system. Indeed the future of the state rests on what strategies will be employed this year to balance the budget. In these zero-sum times, in which critical decisions must be made, redevelopment agencies are on the table and may soon find themselves on the chopping block.

Posted by: serinac0 | December 15, 2010

Maps tell stories of pollution, health impacts

The Harvesting Health Blog reported on the CRC’s San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impact Project (SJV-CHIP).  SJV-CHIP brings together local environmental and health organizations with the CRC to map cumulative health impacts in socially vulnerable Valley communities.  Below is a reproduction of the Harvesting Health blog post which can be found at: http://blogs.vidaenelvalle.com/health/2010/11/15/maps-tell-stories-of-pollution-health-impacts/

Maps tell stories of pollution, health impacts
November 15th, 2010 from the Harvesting Health Blog

“How many people live in communities burdened by multiple sources of pollution?”

That was a question Sarah Sharpe, director of Fresno Metro Ministry’s environmental health program, asked the approximately100 people who attended the Central California Environmental Justice Network conference last Saturday afternoon in Wasco.

Across the room, hands shot up in the air. People then listed off the sources of pollution in their San Joaquín Valley communities: superfund sites, incinerators, municipal waste facilities, slaughterhouses, diesel emissions, and hazardous waste sites.

Now, a new initiative is striving to formally document those multiple pollution sources, in order to prevent further pollution in these communities.

Through the San Joaquín Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project, local environmental and health organizations are partnering with the UC Davis Center for Regional Change to map cumulative health impacts in socially vulnerable Valley communities.

The maps document the local pollution sources, and are layered with social data, like the percentage of young people without a high school degree, the percentage of people of color in the community, the percentage of people living below the federal poverty level, and the percentage of people who don’t speak English at home.

The resulting maps, which were revealed Saturday at the conference, prove what many community residents already know: San Joaquín Valley communities suffer from polluted air, dirty water and unsafe unhealthy environments, and lower-income communities of color are often hit hardest.

The maps can now be used to build community’s advocacy capacity, and ultimately influence regulatory decision-making, by the San Joaquín Valley Air Pollution Control District and other entities.

“This is a tool to document and support what you already know,” said Tara Zagofksy of UC Davis. She said the project utilized publicly available information about pollution and health issues, “to tell your stories in a different way.”

Sometimes a regional scale is the best scale at which to solve the problems that cities face. One example of how a regional approach can help cities deal with crime, in particular, is the example of how the City of Oakland is working to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.

In Oakland on any given day, at any given time, one can find a number of underage girls selling sex along certain commercial corridors. Their customers come from far and wide to pay for sex with these girls. Often the girls have a history of molestation and other forms of abuse in the home. Many of the minors are also wards of the state who have “fallen through the cracks” for one reason or another. Pimps pick these girls out by driving around local middle and high schools, finding them on the streets, or finding them online. From there, girls are often either abducted or manipulated and subsequently coerced into prostitution. Drug addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system become reality for many of these girls.

Oakland, unlike many cities, has developed resources and support for these girls and has become a national leader in efforts to prevent this form of sexual exploitation. Specifically, funds from Oakland’s 2004 “Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act” (also called “Measure Y” and coauthored by Jean Quan) have been used since 2006 to pay for programs that target these girls. With this funding, Oakland has partnered with Alameda County’s Interagency Children’s Policy Council and other Alameda County-specific organizations. They work with police and others to develop a comprehensive strategy to not only remove these girls from the streets, but also to help them find their way out of a cycle of abuse and exploitation. As a member of the City Council, Jean Quan helped to spearhead many of these efforts and to assist local agencies and the police department in this work. As a former Policy Analyst in her council office, it was my job to attend the monthly SEM Network meetings and act as a liaison between her office and the stakeholders that made up the network. In this collaboration, we also worked with the office of Assemblymember Sandre Swanson around AB 499 (which was the first of its kind legislation to view these “prostitutes” as victims in the criminal justice system and to mandate training for law enforcement and also established a pilot diversion program for these youth).

Through the systematic efforts of these stakeholders, augmented by AB 499,  many things have been accomplished. They have: opened and funded a “Safe Place Alternative” where girls can come and receive drop-in counseling and resources; created a diversion program; trained police officers on how to deal with SEMs; trained residents in Jean Quan’s council district on the issues that SEMs face and how to report exploitation; and created a working group that shares resources, information, and practices used to assist SEMs. With all of this work, about a third of the girls are able to leave the lifestyle. There still remain a myriad of issues for why these minors remain with pimps even after incarceration and physical abuse. One explanation, of course, would be Stockholm Syndrome whereby hostages develop positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims.

The work, however, is incomplete. At the county-level, systems are working in such a way that the nation is taking note. Police departments across the country look to the county and to the Oakland Police Department in particular as models to replicate. At the regional scale, this work is a drop in the bucket. Pimps who become aware of the coordinated efforts of the county or begin to notice increased police stings can simply pack up and take their girls to other Bay Area hotspots; namely San Francisco and Richmond. These areas represent the two counties adjacent to Alameda County, San Francisco and Contra Costa counties. Without work in the other Bay Area cities aforementioned, pimps are given a chance to “wait out” the enforcement and other campaigns waged by Alameda County and Oakland in particular. When efforts seem to die down, they can come back into Oakland and continue their operations as usual. It works like a “whack-a-mole” game where hitting the problem with a metaphorical mallot in one area causes it to appear instantly in another area.  The goal, as Alameda County continues to develop its long-term strategy is to partner with both Contra Costa and San Francisco counties in order to coordinate and streamline their efforts to make the greatest impact.

With Jean Quan’s leadership as a Councilmember on this issue, and with her continuing political career as the Mayor of Oakland, it is expected that this regional collaboration will begin. This issue is one that negatively impacts the quality of life for everyone in the Bay Area region. Whether it is affecting: the actual victims, those who live and work in the neighborhoods in which they work, those who are affected by the guns and drugs that this exploitation buys, and those who are affected by the ever-encroaching gangs that use these girls as a form of capital. Further, it is expected that the work being done in Alameda County will contribute to the creation of best practices that can help other regions that struggle with this issue including: Las Vegas, New York, Miami and the like.

For a personal story of one girl who was rescued from the streets, visit:  http://measurey.org/index.php?page=samantha-story

For information on a program that works with SEMs in Oakland,visit:   http://www.misssey.org/

To read accounts of actual teen girls trapped in this lifestyle from YouthRadio reporters on the NPR News website, visit: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131757019/youth-radio-trafficked-teen-girls-describe-life-in-the-game

Sacramento-

On September 30th, 2010 Mayor Kevin Johnson; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman; and Senator Darrell Steinberg (author of SB 375) held a public meeting to discuss the mayor’s Greenwise Sacramento initiative.

The initiative has five policy focus areas including: water and nature, energy use, waste and recycling,  urban design and green building, and green technology. Every focus area has an individual, appointed by the mayor, who is tasked with working in that specific area.  The initiative calls for a regional action plan that will include six counties and 22 cities. While the mayor concedes that working at a regional level will be considerably more difficult because of community fragmention, he is motivated to make it work and to turn Sacramento into an “Emerald Valley”.

Past meetings have featured the mayor’s key messages as well as celebrity endorsement, including the endorsement of Van Jones, former advisor to President Barack Obama. Community input is highly encouraged and hundreds of people have been in attendance at Greenwise Sacramento meetings.

This particular meeting focused on changing the public mindset, changing the culture, and changing our policy direction to deal with sustainability and the reality of climate change. The connection was made between the rapid growth of green technology, the current economic slump, and our need to fuse the two into a policy direction that promotes equipping students with the skills that will be needed for a green economy. Mayor Johnson expounded on the idea that Sacramento’s economy, which is heavily reliant on public sector employment and the real estate industry, could be further diversified by becoming a leader in green innovation.

When Tom Friedman took the stage he electrified the crowd. He described the financial crisis of 2008 and the ongoing (worsening) environmental crisis as connected by the same systems of production and waste that favor fossil fuels for cheap energy. He called these collective crises our “warning heart attack”  and stated that “that’s why Bear Stearns and the Polar Bear faced extinction at the same time”.

While worrying about our inability to enact policies like mandatory recycling of electronics at the manufacturer’s expense (like China and the EU), Friedman also explained the magnitude of our environmental problems in plain English. One of the best being his analogy of the body as it relates to slight increases in temperature:

“If your body temperature goes from 98.6 to 100.6, you don’t feel good.  If it goes from 100.6 just to 102.6, you call the doctor.  If it goes from 102.6 to 104.6, they take you to the emergency room.  Same with our planet.  Small changes in global average temperature have huge climate effects.”

The next phase of his commentary stressed the need to solve a great many problems, including energy poverty in the global south, by building industries around cheap, clean, and renewable forms of energy. California and Sacramento were lauded as leaders  in this field.  The idea of a price signal was central to his commentary and explained that there is no such thing as a painless revolution. We can choose between a green revolution brought to us by BP and Hummer or a green revolution that will lead to short term price increases that are mitigated by time and advances in clean technologies.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s comments were more geared toward encouraging people to resist the lure of “creating jobs” by voting yes on Proposition 23 (which would suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act-AB32). He attacked the oil companies’ intent for putting the measure on the ballot and challenged participants to examine the oil companies’ real interests in creating jobs by destroying legislation that has helped to create so many of them. The governor further commented on the fact that smog -related air pollution is killing 19,000 Californians per year and roughly 100,000 Americans. Indeed Proposition 23 could turn out to be both a job and a people killer. Tom Friedman agreed and stated that California’s new standards are a challenge and, as such, are a potent source of new innovation and, ultimately, employment.

Events like this, coupled with celebrity backing and a push for citizen participation seem to be potent galvanizing forces; not just against regressive legislation like Proposition 23, but also for a collective vision of Sacramento as a leader in green technology in a state that has already built a reputation for environmental stewardship and advocacy. I would highly encourage anyone reading this to become a part of this movement as it could be our regional and global “saving grace”.

If you would like to learn more about the Mayors Greenwise Sacramento Initiative, please visit the website below for details and information on how you can get involved.

http://greenwisesacramento.org/

Sacramento-

Nearly two years after Lisa Ling from the Oprah Winfrey Show interviewed residents at Sacramento’s “Tent City”, citizens, activists, homeless advocates, and elected officials turned out for the Sacramento Community Homeless Forum on October 12th, 2010.  The four hour forum featured presentations from City Council Member, Rob Fong; Mayor Kevin Johnson;  UC Davis Community Development Professor, Jason MacCannell; formerly homeless individuals and nonprofit directors who work around issues of homelessness.

One of the most well-represented groups was SafeGround, a collaborative organization that was formed partly in response to the Oprah Winfrey Show’s portrayal of the conditions inside the Tent City. Their goal is to establish a simple and legal place for homeless people to stay and sleep.  Sacramento’s “camping ordinance” has made their work quite difficult as the police have the right to evacuate residents from these “illegal” communities. The group routinely scouts out safe locations and sets up grounds where homeless individuals can set up tents if they agree to keep: drugs, alcohol, violence, and harassment out of the camps. So far they have been very successful in their work. They collaborate with older, more established homeless advocacy organizations in the area including: Loaves and Fishes, Francis House, and Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee.

Sandwiched between a panel presentation of formerly homeless individuals and a panel of organizational leaders was Mayor Johnson’s presentation in which he made a few key commitments to ending homelessness in Sacramento.

On what has already been done, the mayor stated that roughly 1,350 units of permanent affordable housing has already been created by leveraging Federal funds. In addition to this, the City of Sacramento is poised to have 200 winter shelter beds available for homeless individuals later this year. He also anticipates creating 3,000 permanent housing units in 3 years targeting low-income individuals.

The mayor’s goal to end homelessness is truly a regional goal. He mentioned the enormous waste of resources that fragmentation in homeless policies and programs has created. With this in mind, he created an advocacy board made up of diverse voices and organizations within the field. The board is called “Sacramento Steps Forward” and he anticipates this board will become a  nonprofit agency that can respond to homeless issues using funds from government, the  private sector, and various foundations. He also indicated that he is in support of SafeGround camps and will work with the organization to find appropriate sites for tent cities as transitional spaces to get people out of homelessness for good.  In addition to having a zero-tolerance for drugs, alcohol and violence, the mayor also wants to limit a person’s stay to 12-18 months and provide on-site case managers to help people transition out of homelessness.

All of this, of course, is supposed to take place by November, 2011. The reaction to this deadline was cheerful and the mayor announced that he would need the continued support of the organizations present, and also need citizens to hold him accountable to this promise. Judging by the energy in the room and the seemingly tireless work of the activists and organizations present, the mayor is going to get just what he asked for; and this could mean not only the closing of a chapter in Sacramento’s history but also an opening of a new chapter for cities that later follow in Sacramento’s footsteps.

To see a clip of the original footage from the Oprah Winfrey show, please visit the link below

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Lisa-Ling-Goes-Inside-a-Tent-City

Older Posts »

Categories