Amid wildfires and bankruptcy, PG&E retreats from its long philanthropic legacy

San Francisco Business Times
By Hannah Norman


In January, as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. grappled with its impending bankruptcy filing, the Oakland Museum of California received a notice that California’s largest utility would be dropping its corporate giving for the foreseeable future.

“PG&E has been a great supporter of the museum for many, many years, as far back as my database goes,” said Rehana Abbas, OMCA’s director of philanthropy. “Anytime you lose funding, it’s hard.

The $38,000 that the museum received from PG&E in 2018 – a little under 10 percent of OMCA’s corporate annual support – was part of almost $28 million in donations the utility contributed that year, much of which landed in its Bay Area backyard. Hundreds of organizations both big and small have reaped the benefit of the utility’s support and partnership over the years, including local food banks, advocacy groups, community centers, arts organizations and more. 

On the hook for billions of dollars in wildfire liabilities and facing hundreds of lawsuits following the Camp Fire, which barreled through Butte County last November, killing 86 people and destroying almost 19,000 structures, the company is now in the hands of the bankruptcy court. In June, PG&E reached a $1 billion settlement with the city of Paradise and over a dozen other local public agencies for losses due to the wildfires sparked by its equipment. The utility has also created a $105 million housing assistance fund to aid those displaced.

This year, PG&E said its charitable giving will focus solely on those organizations “helping our communities prepare for and respond to emergencies.” It declined to say how much it will donate.  

Meanwhile, PG&E’s philanthropic leadership is hollowing out, with top executives leaving for posts elsewhere. In May, Allen Fernandez Smith, who headed up PG&E’s low-income programs and strategies for five years, joined JPMorgan Chase’s global philanthropy team; a week later, Travis Kiyota, a 17-year PG&E veteran and most recently executive director of the PG&E Foundation, found a new role at East West Bank. Both declined to comment. 

The San Francisco-based company’s decades-long philanthropic legacy – and the hole it’s leaving – have not gone unnoticed by the community it has served for well over a century. 

“So many groups over the years have counted on PG&E as a key supporter of their nonprofit initiatives, us included,” said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “Clearly, the bankruptcy and the public perceptions around PG&E are changing things. For a lot of different organizations, it’s an unfortunate thing.”  

For some nonprofits, PG&E’s focus on wildfire resilience and safety has simply meant a realignment of where funding is allocated. Charitable fundraiser United Way Bay Area was in the middle of a massive multiyear, philanthropic corporate gift of $1.5 million from the utility when news of the bankruptcy broke. Only $500,000 into the spending, the nonprofit had no idea whether they’d receive the rest, said Anne Wilson, CEO of United Way Bay Area.

Ultimately, PG&E confirmed the company would fulfill its commitment. “It was a relief,” Wilson said. The utility’s giving within United Way’s network, however, has shifted to focus on emergency services, such as 211, the three-digit number for a 24/7 phone line for community resources. 

Ellen LaPointe, CEO of Northern California Grantmakers, noted that dramatic dropoffs in corporate giving are not entirely uncommon. During the 2008 recession, for instance, as companies’ bottom lines took a hit, so too did their charitable contributions. Many corporate philanthropy departments also regularly undergo shifts in strategies or focus areas, she added.

“It underscores how important it is for funders to be thinking about the sustainability of the nonprofits they support,” LaPointe said. “And the importance of diversifying – not being overly dependent on one source.”

The Oakland Museum of California has found new pockets of funding to make budget, with its most recent new corporate partner being Google. Still, Abbas said they’re staying in touch with the utility so that if PG&E begins giving again, the museum can be top of mind.

Yet not all former beneficiaries are so steadfast on keeping up their relationship with the embattled utility, even if it means losing a major funder. The Greenlining Institute – a Berkeley-based research and advocacy group which said it received $195,000 last year from PG&E’s foundation – has taken a number of policy stances holding the state’s utilities to higher safety and accountability standards.  

The institute also chided PG&E for its new board of directors roster, saying it doesn’t “represent California’s best interests” when it comes to advancing the state’s climate and clean energy goals.

“The way we see it, nonprofit fundraising is always a challenge,” said Greenlining Institute spokesperson Bruce Mirken. “But more importantly, millions of people and nonprofits rely on PG&E to keep the lights on, and safely.”

All told, the utility’s bankruptcy reorganization is expected to last through 2021.   

Rejecting White House Claims as ‘Contrived,’ Supreme Court Blocks Census Citizenship Question… For Now

Common Dreams
By Jessica Corbett

Civil liberties and immigrant rights advocates celebrated Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court blocked—at least temporarily—the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, an effort critics had decried as a blatant attempt by Republicans to “weaponize” the national survey for political advantage.

“This ruling is a victory for immigrants and communities of color across America. It is a victory for democracy itself.”

“The Trump administration’s attempt to politicize and manipulate this fundamental pillar of our democracy has failed. Our communities will be counted,” tweeted the ACLU. “This ruling is a victory for immigrants and communities of color across America. It is a victory for democracy itself.”

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, argued the case before the high court. In a statement Thursday, Ho said that “this case has never been about a line on a form. It is about whether everyone in America counts. This ruling means they do.”

The Supreme Court heard arguments for the case in April, after federal courts in New York and California ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s attempt to insert a citizenship question into the next census—which will be used to draw political voting maps—violated the Administrative Procedures Act. Critics charged that Ross’s effort was an illegal attempt to intimidate immigrant communities and undercount people of color to create an electoral advantage for the GOP.

Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday joined with the court’s four liberal justices in the 5-4 decision, which denied a citizenship question for now while still granting the administration another opportunity to argue before a lower court its rationale for such an addition to the 2020 census.

“It’s unclear whether the administration would have time to provide a fuller account,” The Associated Press noted. “Census forms are supposed to be printed beginning next week.”

“The court should have ruled more forcefully against a citizenship question on the census, but a compromise to block it for now is a step in the right direction that protects our democracy,” Patriotic Millionaires chairperson Morris Pearl said in a statement. “While this comes on the same day on a disastrous and anti-democratic decision on political gerrymandering, the Supreme Court got at least one major decision right today.”

Roberts wrote in the majority opinion (pdf) that Ross’s move to add a citizenship question to the census “cannot be adequately explained” in terms of a request from the Department of Justice (DOJ) for data to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The chief justice explained:

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision. In the secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived. We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decision-making process.

The ruling comes just weeks after the Supreme Court and district courts in New York and Maryland were made aware of “explosive” evidence—left behind by Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting strategist who died last year—which shows that the GOP fought for a citizenship question to create an electoral advantage for “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

In a statement from Common Cause that acknowledged Hofeller’s documents, redistricting and representation director Kathay Feng said, “The last-minute effort to add the question was clearly a cover-up to mask their true motives—to rig redistricting for partisan and racial gain.”

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, expressed gratitude that the court “has seen through the charade perpetrated by Secretary Ross, evaluated the record which was replete with examples of lies underlying the justification for adding the citizenship question, and has stopped this travesty from affecting the 2020 census.”

“The census is too important to become a toy for government officials to use to achieve political ends. This is particularly so when those ends are discriminatory and would depress participation rates among on communities of color,” Clarke said in a statement. “While the issue is remanded to the Commerce Department, time is of the essence, and our government should now turn to the important business of ensuring a fair count in 2020.”

Greenlining Institute interim president Preeti Vissa Kristipati, in a statement, welcomed the ruling but also highlighted that “today’s Supreme Court ruling doesn’t finally settle the issue.”

“And even if the citizenship question is kept off the 2020 census,” Kristipati said, “at best this is just one step in what will be a long battle—both to stop voter suppression and to end the Trump administration’s relentless war against science and accurate data.”

A quick shift to electric vehicles could drive the Green New Deal forward

Fast Company
By Adele Peters

The transition could keep the U.S. competitive with countries like China but also radically improve the country’s own transportation sector—currently the most polluting of the economy—while creating jobs and improving equity.

There are now 486 electric vehicle startups in China, where electric car sales topped 1.1 million last year. That’s three times more than sales in the United States.

While American automakers slowly add new electric cars in the U.S. market, the Chinese market is a different story: GM, which has committed to an all-electric future, plans to introduce 20 “new energy” vehicle models there by 2023—including electric cars and plug-in hybrids—and 10 of those within the next year. In the U.S., the company only offers one electric car (the Chevy Bolt) and one plug-in hybrid. It’s planning to release electric SUVs and pickups but has not disclosed when those will come to market.

It’s an illustration of the difference that policy can make. China, through national policy, has aggressively supported a shift to what it calls “new energy” vehicles, at the same time the Trump administration works to roll back clean car standards. What’s happening in China helps make the case that the Green New Deal—which calls for a transition to zero-emissions vehicles amidst a full decarbonization of the economy—isn’t just about climate change but opportunities for businesses and jobs to grow. The shift is already underway but could happen more quickly with the right policy, says Hal Connolly, senior vice president of programs at the nonprofit Climate Reality Project. “I think the transition’s inevitable,” he says. “But in order to get it as fast as we want, we really are going to need to pull some policy levers. And it’s not just about addressing the climate crisis, which is, of course, paramount and critical, but it’s also about American competitiveness.”

That’s true not just for cars and passenger trucks but across the transportation sector, from the airline industry to public transportation to the millions of trucks that deliver goods. As companies work to reduce emissions—whether they’re building electric planes or electric scooters—they also have an opportunity to address inequality. The changes that the Green New Deal spell out would create a vast array of new and well-paying jobs that could help even out the economy. And rapidly scaling up clean transportation options can create better access for people currently underserved by transportation options. Under the Green New Deal, decarbonizing transportation could function as a lever to address so many other issues facing the U.S. today.


To tackle climate change and avoid its worst impacts, a UN report last year said that the world needs to radically transform to a zero-emissions economy by mid-century, meaning that every industry needs to begin to change now. By 2030, global emissions need to be 45% lower than 2010 levels (as of 2018, they were at an all-time high). This is the science that underpins the urgency of the Green New Deal and makes it clear that the time for incremental tweaks and changes is long past.

In the U.S., transportation is now the leading source of emissions. Within transportation, the vast majority of those emissions come from passenger cars and trucks, followed by larger trucks and semis and then airplanes. The Green New Deal doesn’t outline specific policies but sets out a general goal to “overhaul” transportation to eliminate emissions “as much as is technologically feasible.”

The largest part of the problem—cars and light trucks—could already feasibly change now. The shift is already beginning. “I think we are actually closer to the electrification of transportation than a lot of people think we are simply based on cost,” says Geoff Eisenberg, a partner at Ecosystem Integrity Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in companies working on environmental sustainability. Batteries, the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, have fallen in cost at least 85% since 2010. Deloitte predicts that the total cost of owning an electric car will be as cheap as a gas or diesel car by 2022 even without subsidies.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that the sticker price of larger electric vehicles in Europe will be as cheap as other cars by the same year. Electric cars also have other advantages for drivers, including the fact that their fewer moving parts means less need for maintenance. If a network of EVs can double as storage by attaching their batteries to the electric grid when they’re not in use—something that’s needed as the grid shifts to renewable energy like solar that isn’t available all the time—it’s possible that car owners could eventually also get paid for that service by utilities. A shift to autonomous cars could also force a shift to electric cars, because all of the controls (from electric steering to brake by wire) can be controlled through a single source, making it most efficient for an autonomous “brain.” Autonomous cars could drive costs down so much that people choose to use electric robo-taxis instead of owning cars in a decade.


Automakers, too, believe that future vehicles will be electric. “General Motors believes in a world of zero emissions with a vision for an all-electric future, driven by battery electric and fuel cell electric technologies,” says Doug Parks, vice president of autonomous and electric vehicle programs at GM. Ford is spending $11 billion over the next few years to launch 40 new electric and hybrid models—though most of them will launch in China. The company also invested in Rivian, a startup making an electric pickup, and plans to make an electric version of the F-150 truck. Toyota plans to bring 10 new electric vehicles to market over six years. Volkswagen is planning 70 new electric models over the next decade. Referring to Volkswagen’s pledge, which will bring 22 million all-electric vehicles to the market, Green New Deal coauthor Senator Ed Markey says, “that wasn’t on the scorecard last year.” He adds that the framework, though not yet policy, is already spurring manufacturers to make changes.

Still, fully electric cars make up less than 0.05% of new car sales now, and in a recent survey, only 20% of Americans said that they’d be interested in buying an EV in the future—more than ever before but still a minority. By 2030, the International Energy Agency predicts that electric vehicles could account for more than 30% of sales in the U.S., but again, most cars would still run on fossil fuels. Stronger policy could speed up adoption by supporting a larger network of electric chargers or new incentives for manufacturers and buyers.

It could also help ensure that the transition happens equitably. “When we talk about electric vehicles, we’re always thinking about how can we leverage those as tools for social justice,” says Joel Espino, the environmental equity legal counsel at the nonprofit Greenlining Institute, noting that low-income communities suffer from the worst air pollution from cars and are also hardest hit by fuel costs. One program in California pays low-income drivers in the most polluted areas up to $9,500 to replace old cars with electric cars (a used Nissan Leaf can sell for $10,000); another is bringing shared electric cars to a redesigned housing project in the low-income neighborhood of Watts. Both are examples of the type of policy that could help speed EV adoption nationally and support equity for low-income communities of color—one of the principal aims of the Green New Deal.

For car companies, strong policy could help ensure that American jobs grow, another aim of the Green New Deal. If the transition is inevitable, the countries that move fastest can lead globally, and those that are slower risk losing jobs, from engineering and design to manufacturing, to other locations. Connolly points to what happened with the solar industry, where China made a concerted effort to dominate. “We have over 200,000 solar jobs now in the United States, and that’s incredible,” he says. “But China has 2.2 million solar jobs, and that’s an opportunity that we missed out on by not competing. My concern is that we could be facing the same sort of situation with vehicles.” In fact, he argues, the situation could be worse. “Unlike solar, where we were going from zero jobs to 200,000, we’re talking over seven million U.S. jobs that could be threatened if we don’t take the lead.”

Related companies, like battery manufacturers, could also create new jobs; if electric vehicles are sold in meaningful numbers, we’ll need far more factories making batteries. Right now, Tesla is the only company making batteries in the U.S. In 2018, the company reported that it had supported more than 50,000 jobs in California in the previous year and contributed more than $5 billion to the state’s economy.


The Green New Deal could also help grow businesses and jobs in parts of the transportation sector that are more difficult to transition to zero emissions, like air travel. “It gets harder the heavier the vehicle, just based on physics,” says Eisenberg. Large jets are especially challenging, but a handful of startups are already working on electric or hybrid-electric technology for small planes that could make regional flights. “I think that that’s something that could get a five-year head jump from something in the Green New Deal,” he adds, referring to government support or subsidies that might be included once the policy is more fleshed out. Something similar could happen for large trucks; electric semis are already poised to make shorter trips. Other startups are working on solutions for longer-distance travel, including systems that would let electric trucks swap batteries en route so they don’t have to stop to charge and new designs that use hydrogen fuel cells to avoid some of the challenges of battery electric trucks.

High-speed rail, which the Green New Deal mentions as an important part of the transition, could help address the problem of long-distance passenger trips as airplanes improve. Here, too, China has pushed faster: by the end of the year, it will have 20,000 miles of high-speed rail, two-thirds of the total that exists in the world. The U.S. has none, if high-speed rail is defined as trains that can travel faster than 155 miles per hour. (In the Northeast, the Acela train travels 150 miles per hour for a short distance.) A robust high-speed rail network would also impact businesses. “If you’re a business in Philadelphia and you had high-speed rail lines where people from Pittsburgh and Boston and D.C. could get to Philadelphia in 40 minutes by train, think of how much more talent you’d have access to,” says Connolly. “It really is a competitiveness issue, too.”

Within cities, the Green New Deal also calls for better public transportation as another key way to reduce pollution from cars by helping people drive less. That will involve massive investment—even in New York City, with arguably the best public transit in the country, the MTA needs to spend $60 billion to get to a state of good repair. Buses are already shifting to electric because the long-term cost of electric buses is cheaper; companies like New Flyer, founded in 1930, now believe that it’s possible all buses could be electric in a decade. Companies like California-based Proterra are quickly growing. But they could grow faster with more policy support. Connolly notes that Washington, D.C., has a single electric bus now; Shenzhen, China, has an entire fleet of 16,000.

Building better public transit infrastructure, from bike lanes to subways, can also create more jobs and transform neighborhoods. “It’s a huge spur for economic development in cities that do it right,” says Sonia Aggarwal, vice president of the nonprofit Energy Innovation. It also directly benefits companies like Lyft and Uber that are investing heavily in urban scooter and bike-share systems. Policy could help ensure that transportation improvements are prioritized in communities that currently lack access, or those in which people struggle most with the cost of commuting to work. Often, these are low-income communities of color, and ensuring they’re brought into the fold of benefits created by decarbonizing the economy is a core tenet of the Green New Deal.

For companies, she says, the changes that can come from the Green New Deal—or some variation on it—can offer meaningful benefits. “I think they should be thinking about it, preparing for it, and also looking for ways to take advantage of it,” she says. “It’s actually a huge opportunity to remake our entire transportation system from the ground up. That’s a huge business opportunity. If I were working at a car company or a public transit company right now, I’d be pretty excited about the opportunity that lies inside this.”

Greenlining Institute Relieved as Supreme Court Temporarily Stops Census Citizenship Question

Ruling Means Issue Will Likely Come back

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute expressed relief over today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that at least temporarily delayed the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census. Experts overwhelmingly believe that such a question – which has not been asked since 1950 – would reduce response rates among immigrants. Greenlining Institute Interim President Preeti Vissa Kristipati made the following statement:

“The Trump administration sought to use the Census as a partisan tool. A citizenship question would hurt every state and every community where immigrants live, because when immigrant communities are underrepresented and underfunded, all communities suffer. It would lead to an undercount of immigrants, reducing congressional representation for communities with large numbers of immigrant residents and impacting funding for well over 100 federal programs, which base funding levels in part on Census data. Here in California, where over one quarter of our population is foreign-born, we would see major and lasting damage.

“But today’s Supreme Court ruling doesn’t finally settle the issue. And even if the citizenship question is kept off the 2020 Census, at best this is just one step in what will be a long battle – both to stop voter suppression and to end the Trump administration’s relentless war against science and accurate data.”


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute


The 2019 GreenBiz 30 Under 30

Green Biz
By Jen Boynton

Emi Wang, 29

Environmental Equity Senior Policy Manager, Greenlining; Oakland, California

LinkedIn | Twitter

Emi Wang is a change agent for the marginalized at the Greenlining Institute, an NGO that “uplifts and provides economic opportunities for communities of color in California.”

A member of its policy team, she works on coalition-building to support legislation and its implementation. For example, California’s landmark cap-and-trade policy directed some of the funds collected to local community development. Wang’s team at Greenlining managed to increase the portion of the funds from 25 percent to 35 percent — and to direct the money to programs that have a climate or quality-of-life benefit, such as urban tree projects, bike lanes, affordable housing (which can reduce commuting) and solar installations.

Wang grew up in Brooklyn, the child of Japanese and Chinese parents, understanding “the general unfairness of the world,” as she puts it, without having the language to describe the structural inequality she witnessed.

She came to work at Greenlining from a background in community development and realized that climate justice is a key component of equity. For Wang, people who have been the most sidelined, living in the most polluted neighborhoods, have to be at the center of the solutions and the decision-making. And every day, she works to encourage their participation.

Trump Wants to Make Redlining Easier

The Progressive
By Preeti Vissa Kristipati

The administration is moving to cut public access to information on how, and to whom, banks loan money.

Redlining – the practice of denying loans to home buyers and others based on their race or ethnic background – has been illegal for decades.

But, last year, the investigative news outlet Reveal published a massive investigation strongly suggesting that redlining continues today. Now, the Trump Administration is moving to cut public access to the information that helped Reveal produce its report.

Reveal’s reporters spent a full year analyzing 31 million records collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), a law passed in 1975 to give policymakers the information needed to identify and combat lending discrimination. Under HMDA, banks and other mortgage lenders must report information like the type of property, the loan amount, and the sex, race and ethnicity of borrowers.

Reveal found that African Americans and Latinos—and in some locations Asian Americans and Native Americans, too—were far more likely to be turned down for conventional mortgages than white borrowers. That pattern remained even after controlling for factors like household income and the amount of the loan in relation to that income.

Reporting requirements under HMDA were updated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act and again by the Obama Administration to give regulators a clearer picture of what’s happening. The updated rules required lenders to report every loan’s interest rate and the relationship between an applicant’s income and total amount of debt the would-be borrower was taking on. They also required more detail on ethnicity—like whether an Asian American borrower, for example, was of Chinese or Cambodian heritage.

Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—formerly a tough consumer watchdog that’s fast becoming a bankers’ lapdog—has proposed new rules that would roll back the information requirements added by the Obama Administration. The bureau says it will close a web portal that has allowed easy public access to this information, giving vague promises to eventually develop a new tool for this purpose.

The proposed updates would exempt some lenders, such as smaller banks and credit unions, from having to report at all—even though some of them make more loans to low-income borrowers than do major banks. The administration claims these changes will provide “much needed relief” from supposed regulatory burdens.

But this makes no sense. Banks had already begun collecting and reporting the data that was required under Obama. The systems and procedures to do it are in place and working. Changing the rules now won’t relieve any regulatory burdens; it will make lenders rewrite their procedures yet again.

Redlining produced an enormous racial wealth gap, in which the median white family has roughly twenty times the wealth of the median black family. While lenders no longer draw red lines on maps to mark off non-white neighborhoods as no-mortgage zones, Reveal found they often still either declined loans entirely to black people and Latinos or steered them into the sort of high-cost subprime loans that sent millions of people into foreclosure a decade ago.

If the Trump Administration succeeds, that discrimination will continue and be much harder to detect.

White Supremacy and Tech: Panelists Discuss Bias in Data and Algorithms

The Daily
By Thelonious Goerz

Often, data and algorithms are seen as a beacon of objectivity and fairness. But panelists in fields spanning data science, education, social justice, and policy challenged the notion with thoughtful examination last Monday.

At the event, panelists described how gender, trans, and racial biases are being perpetuated in tech, despite the popular myth that algorithms are completely objective.

The event, titled “Connecting the Dots: Racism in Algorithms and Tech,” was moderated by Haleema Bharoocha, a tech equity policy fellow at the Greenlining Institute from Oakland, California. Bharoocha co-hosted the event with the Greenlining Institute, the Critical Platform Studies Group, and UW’s Information School.

Panelists included Nikkita Oliver, a case manager and former Seattle mayoral candidate; Shankar Narayan, director of the ACLU of Washington Technology and Liberty project; Anna Lauren Hoffmann, professor at the UW Information School; and Pedro Perez, co-founder of Geeking Out Kids of Color (GOKiC).

“Technology, often framed as apolitical, reaches into the lives of anyone whose lives are mediated by networks or data analysis,“ Bharoocha said. “Algorithmic bias goes beyond big data concerns: facial recognition technology … can replicate racial bias by reproducing historical injustices from the data sets they are built from.”

While it may seem that data doesn’t “lie,” Hoffmann commented on the nature of asking the right questions when collecting and using data. For Hoffman, bias in data comes from the way we collect our data sets, which are often exclusionary, and make people “data invisible.”

This was most recently apparent in Amazon’s hiring practices. Using artificial intelligence, Amazon created an algorithm to compare and review the resumes of prospective employees against the resumes of their current employees.

Because the majority of Amazon’s employees are white and male, the data set produced a pool of prospective employees that reflected that demographic. According to an article in Business Insider, the algorithm discriminated against women, going so far as to exclude any candidates that went to certain women-only colleges.

The same type of discrimination and bias can be seen in more extreme situations as well. Notably, panelists discussed the predictive policing tactics that the Seattle Police Department (SPD) had used until recently. According to Oliver, SPD uses the crime data to determine the “hot spots” for crime, and as a result, determine where to increase police presence.

Oliver also spoke about a group of community organizers in Seattle that used the same SPD data to determine where to perform outreach and community engagement, which led to a reduction in crime. In this way, Oliver characterized data as a tool that could be used to either criminalize a population or help a population through outreach.

In terms of surveillance, technology does not stop with predictive policing; it also extends to facial recognition. Narayan argued that the way tech is marketed as being neutral is actually misleading, as it can actually have detrimental impacts on communities of color.

Narayan called facial recognition a “supercharging of racism,” as it determines propensities for violence, anger, and whether someone is a terrorist. The problem with these algorithms, according to Narayan, is that these technologies are not able to be evaluated by third parties before use. Some of this is due to the nature of black-box and proprietary technologies, which are often kept secret so as not to expose novel technology to competitors.

Narayan pointed to the need for regulation and policy surrounding these systems, especially when they claim to be able to predict certain traits.

While this characterization can seem grim, Perez offered some positivity about the emerging future of technology and algorithms.

Perez is the co-founder of GOKiC, an organization that provides children of color with more access to computer science and tech. Through after-school resources and workshops, Perez teaches young children about coding in an inclusive and socially conscious environment. According to Perez, GOKiC uses examples to teach computer science that engage kids culturally, material which he finds to be more resonant.

Perez further explained that a lot of youth have limited access to technology. Many of the children that GOKiC serves don’t have a computer at home, which impacts their school performance, according to Perez. These barriers further disadvantage children of color and contribute to maintaining inequality.

At the panel’s conclusion, Hoffmann noted that data and algorithms should be used to challenge white supremacy and the status quo. Rather than asking how we can modify the algorithm to be fair, Hoffmann urges tech workers to also look at the system that the algorithm represents, to look beyond what is already on the surface.

“All of the Tools in Our Tool Belt.” A Community Foundation Steps Up its Impact Investing

Inside Philanthropy
By Alyssa Ochs

Impact investing is one of the hottest topics in institutional philanthropy right now. And while private foundations have tended to be on the leading edge of this movement, a growing number of community foundations have been jumping into impact investing or ramping up existing efforts. The latest example is the San Francisco Foundation, which last month announced a $50 million commitment for an investment pool aimed at generating positive social and financial returns. That sum represents 6.3 percent of the foundation’s $800 million endowment.

We’ve written often in recent years about TSFF’s move to put racial and economic equity at the center of its work. It has emerged as an early adopter of a strategy that’s been gaining traction across the foundation world. TSFF Vice President of Programs Judith Bell told us last year that the foundation is “all in” on equity and is looking to expand its civic leadership and elevate the foundation’s voice on key equity issues.

That commitment has been clear in TSFF’s work on housing affordability. The foundation and its president, Fred Blackwell, have been playing a critical role is galvanizing a stronger public-private response. (Which is why IP named Blackwell “Foundation President of the Year” in our 2018 IPPYs).

Given its ambitious equity agenda, it’s not surprising that TSFF is putting aside some serious new cash for impact investing. As we’ve often discussed, the daunting scale of key equity challenges—especially the affordable housing crisis—requires far greater resources than what’s available through traditional grantmaking. The momentum behind impact investing, which has been growing for years, is further fueled by a mounting sense of urgency among funders grappling with entrenched equities in top metro areas like San Francisco. Dipping into the “other 95 percent” of capital that foundations control is one way to step up the fight.

“The scope and complexity of the issues that we are trying to address in the Bay Area require us to use all of the tools in our tool belt,” said Blackwell in announcing TSFF’s new investment fund. “We see investing in a values-aligned manner as part of how we achieve our overall mission, and we don’t think we have to sacrifice returns.”

TSFF is no newcomer to impact investing—in fact, the funder’s first loan program kicked off in 1989, before impact investing was even a thing. Yet recent surveys show that only about 17 percent of foundations are pursuing impact investing strategies today, which means that funders like TSFF are still in the minority. Meanwhile, there remain serious questions about whether it’s really so smart for foundations to use their endowment capital in this way.

The term impact investing can be fuzzy, describing a range of approaches by foundations looking to align their endowments more closely with their missions. That’s clear in the way TSFF describes impact investing on its website, and in its March announcement of the new fund—which it says will be composed “of a diversified portfolio of managers using a variety of impact investment and socially responsible strategies, including social screens and environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.” It’s not clear yet how much of the $50 million fund will be available for, say, investing in affordable housing projects.

But the new commitment comes on the heels of TSFF’s move last year to put aside $10 million for the Bay Area Community Impact Fund for loans to local nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. Before that, TSFF approved a $500,000 program-related investment loan to the Greenlining Institute to renovate its downtown Oakland headquarters in 2015 and set aside $5 million to make other loans to nonprofits in the Bay Area in 2009.

Reflecting a growing push among foundations, TSFF also said in its March announcement that it’s looking to work with investment firms owned by people of color and women. And it’s steering clear of controversial investments, such as fossil fuel companies, tobacco companies and private prisons. Donors who have set up donor-advised funds at TSFF also have the opportunity to grow the new impact investing pool. According to foundation estimates, the targeted risk-adjusted return for the investment pool is between 7 and 8 percent.

Together with its donors, TSFF gave $154 million to nonprofits last fiscal year to serve Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.

CA Bill Aims to Boost Insurance Contracts for LGBT Firms

Bay Area Reporter
By Matthew S. Bajko

California leaders are pushing legislation aimed at boosting insurance companies’ contracts with LGBT-owned firms and other certified minority-owned businesses. It comes as lawmakers are also seeking to increase hospital contracts for such businesses.

Under Senate Bill 534, introduced by state Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), the state’s $310 billion insurance industry would be required to biennially report how much it is contracting with businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, and LGBT individuals.

Gay Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, a former state senator who will be the commencement speaker May 24 at City College of San Francisco, is a co-sponsor of the legislation. It revives the state agency’s Insurance Diversity Initiative that expired in January and would expand its scope to include LGBT- and veteran-owned businesses.

“California’s nation-leading insurance industry can be an engine of prosperity for diverse businesses, benefiting our communities and the customers they serve,” stated Lara, who took over leadership of the California Department of Insurance in January. “SB 534 will continue to leverage the rapid growth of the insurance sector’s role in contributing to vibrant local economies.”

When the state insurance agency was collecting data on insurers’ contracts with certain diverse-owned firms, it saw procurement between insurers and such businesses increase by 93% over a five-year period. It went from $930 million in 2012 to $1.8 billion in 2017.

“California is a diverse state and becomes more diverse with each day,” stated Bradford. “Ignoring that fact also ignores the proven value diverse businesses have and the importance of making our economy more inclusive. Insurance spending on diverse businesses increased 93% over the few years the supplier survey was administered. I think that difference speaks to the enormous impact this measure will have.”

The bill passed out of the Senate’s judiciary committee last Tuesday, April 23, and will now be taken up by the chamber’s appropriations committee. In 2017 Bradford had introduced a similar bill but it died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it remains to be seen if this year’s bill will survive.

Hospital contracting bill waits review

Similar legislation pending in the state Assembly would require California hospitals with annual operating budgets of more than $25 million to publicly disclose how much they are contracting with LGBT-owned businesses as well as those owned by women, minorities, and other disadvantaged groups.

As the Bay Area Reporter’s Political Notes column reported April 8, the transparency requirement is aimed at seeing more such companies benefit from the estimated $230 billion the state’s hospital industry spends annually. It mirrors recent efforts to encourage other industries in the state, from public utilities to transportation agencies, to also increase their contracts with minority-owned firms.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) co-authored the legislation, Assembly Bill 962. It currently is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s suspense file, as it needs to be reviewed by California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

According to a fiscal analysis of the bill, AB 962 would result in “one-time contract costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to OSHPD for an information technology solution that will collect, store and make available supplier diversity reports (Health Data and Planning Fund).” The statewide office also noted that it could “necessitate an increase in the current level of assessments on hospitals and long-term care facilities to support the increased costs.”

The California Hospital Association, United Hospital Association and Sharp Healthcare have expressed opposition to the bill unless it is amended. The lobbying groups contend that “manufacturing of specialized products is extremely limited and there are virtually no diverse suppliers for hospitals to consider in many cases.” They have also argued that hospitals, in order to secure cheaper prices, participate in group purchasing organizations that have diversity policies.

The analysis by Assembly staff suggested that the bill’s July 1, 2020 deadline to comply “seems aggressive” since it could take longer for the state to create a standard form that hospitals can use to submit the required information.

The Senate bill is also facing opposition unless amended by a coalition of organizations representing insurers doing business in California. It would require as of July 1, 2020 that each admitted insurer with California written premiums of $100 million or more submit a report in even-numbered years to the state’s insurance commissioner on its minority, women, LGBT, veteran, and disabled veteran-owned business enterprise procurement efforts during the previous two years.

The bill would also require insurers to report on the diversity of their governing boards and set goals for supplier and board diversity. But that provision of the bill has raised objections from the insurer groups, which argued that asking and publishing information about a board member’s sexual orientation or gender identity, for example, “may violate laws and is problematic,” according to a Senate staff analysis.

Based on those concerns, the bill was amended to state that the board members would be asked to voluntarily disclose their personal demographic data and that “no adverse action” would result in their choosing not to. The bill was also amended to specify that only “the aggregate data collected for each demographic category will be reported.”

Data collected by the Department of Insurance in 2017 showed that men held 80% of major insurers’ governing board seats, with people of color holding just 12%. Of nearly 2,400 total board seats, only 14 members self-identified as LGBT, while 13% of insurance companies reported zero women and 35% reported zero persons of color on their boards.

“SB 534 will ensure that California’s insurance providers think about diversity when they make procurement decisions and choose their boards of directors,” stated Greenlining Institute Health Equity Director Anthony Galace. “California leads the nation in diverse-owned businesses, which creates the ideal environment and opportunity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion among insurance companies and other large businesses.”

The Oakland-based institute is co-sponsoring both of the bills requiring insurers and hospitals to report out on their diversity contracting.

TOMORROW: Boots Riley, Aimee Allison, Rep. Barbara Lee Headline Greenlining Institute Economic Summit

Event Also Marks Greenlining’s Official Farewell to Longtime President Orson Aguilar

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute’s 26th annual Economic Summit, “Reclaiming Our Time,” happens Friday, April 26 in Oakland and features a stellar lineup. With a theme inspired by Rep. Maxine Waters’ iconic 2017 “reclaiming my time” moment, this year’s Summit will highlight the leaders — especially here in California — who refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice. Highlights include:

  • An opening discussion moderated by She the People founder Aimee Alison examining how communities are “reclaiming their time” through the Me Too movement, environmental advocacy and more
  • A “fireside chat” featuring acclaimed rapper, activist, producer, screenwriter and film director Boots Riley in conversation powerhouse poet and playwright Chinaka Hodge
  • A luncheon awards ceremony with a keynote address by Lifetime Achievement Award recipient U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee
  • In-depth panel discussions of the racial equity aspects of critical issues such as tech, transportation and banking – including a rare appearance by Aaron Glantz of Reveal, whose landmark reporting on modern redlining just won a Peabody Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist
  • Equity Lab – a unique, interactive workshop in which participants will learn and apply practical tools for advancing racial equity
  • An art sale featuring the work of local artists Dignidad Rebelde and Francis Mead
  • Greenlining’s official farewell to longtime President Orson Aguilar, under whose leadership the organization grew dramatically

Each year Greenlining brings together powerful voices for change—grassroots community leaders, nationally known advocates, artists, elected officials and more—for a unique event focusing on how to build a more equitable, just society. More than a conference, Greenlining’s Economic Summit is a unique gathering where innovation, art and activism align. See Greenlining’s Economic Summit web page for detailed information on the day’s program.

Journalists wishing to attend are asked to RSVP promptly to Bruce Mirken at

WHAT: The Greenlining Institute’s 26th annual Economic Summit

WHO: Speakers and awardees include rapper/filmmaker Boots Riley, Rep. Barbara Lee, Dream Corps President Vien Truong, She the People founder Aimee Alison, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo and many more.

WHEN: Friday, April 26, 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (registration opens at 8)

WHERE: Oakland Marriott, Oakland City Center, 1001 Broadway, Oakland, California, 94607


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute