Seeking to help people at greatest risk from climate change

CalMatters
By Amee Raval and Sona Mohnot

Californians have faced droughts, heat waves, wildfires and other climate-fueled crises that seem to break records every year. But while climate change impacts everyone, the experience can feel dramatically different depending on who you are and where you live.

Consider a severe heat wave. In an affluent suburb with tree-lined streets and an abundance of air conditioning, most residents might experience a little inconvenience but will largely stay out of serious danger. In an economically struggling farmworker community in the Central Valley, that same heat wave could be deadly

In the aftermath of wildfires in Ventura County, many undocumented farmworkers could not take paid leave and instead continued working in the fields amid dangerous air pollution levels without protective masks.

Power outages present health risks for people who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, not to mention serious mobility challenges for wheelchair users during evacuation orders.

We could go on with examples all day. But simply put: climate change acts as a threat multiplier that magnifies differences in income, race, health, zip codes, immigration status, housing, and other factors that determine whether a community can access the resources needed to cope and recover from climate disasters.

As we work to increase our climate resilience–that is, the ability of communities to adapt and thrive in the face of impacts from climate change–we need to be able to identify the communities that face the biggest threats. And then we need to make sure they have the resources they need. That takes conscious effort.

California is starting to make important decisions about climate resilience, but we’re doing it without the tools we need to identify and assist those most at risk. So our two organizations, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and The Greenlining Institute, have come together to jumpstart the process of creating those tools while we still have time to prepare.

New research from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, “Mapping Resilience: A Blueprint for Thriving in the Face of Climate Disasters,” points to a critical need for applying an interactive mapping tool that layers all the various social, health and environmental factors that can contribute to, or add protections from, climate threats.

Such a  framework can provide essential information for state and local leaders tasked with making important decisions and appropriately prioritizing communities that face the biggest threats.

The good news is that the climate threat assessment tool we need is well within reach, with many of the needed indicators already in use across dozens of existing frameworks. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together in a streamlined, usable form.

But once we’ve identified the people and places facing the biggest threats, then what? We want to help them prepare, but how do we turn those good intentions into reality? That’s where Greenlining’s research can help.

Greenlining reviewed over 30 California policies and grant programs and spoke to dozens of experts, distilling the findings into “Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Grant Programs and Policies: A Guidebook.”

The Guidebook lays out step-by-step instructions for building climate resilience policies that focus on equity, policies designed to ensure that communities can survive and thrive, even when faced with limited resources.

Greenlining’s framework shows policymakers how to consider not just physical threats like heat and sea level rise, but the factors that make them worse, like income levels and access to health care. And it provides guidance for addressing them while making sure policies center the experience and wisdom of our frontline communities, recognizing that community members have real expertise that even well-intended outsiders lack.

Climate change is here. How we prepare for its impact will determine whether we survive, or even come out thriving. California’s policymakers will need all the help they can get. We offer our research as a humble start.

Amee Raval is Senior Policy Researcher at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, amee@apen4ej.org. Sona Mohnot is Environmental Equity Senior Program Manager at The Greenlining Institutesonam@greenlining.org. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

Opinion: Donald Trump vs. the Statue of Liberty

Newsday
By Anthony Galace

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

— Plaque inside the Statue of Liberty

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

— Update proposed by Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

———

The Trump administration has literally declared war on the Statue of Liberty and everything it stands for. Its new “public charge” rule — which Cuccinelli announced during the same Aug. 13 radio appearance in which he offered his rewording of the Statue of Liberty poem — aims to make the idea of the United States as a “land of opportunity” a relic of the past.

Set to take effect Oct. 15, the rule would deny the issuance of green cards granting permission to live and work in the United States to legal immigrants deemed “more likely than not” to receive public benefits. Those benefits include things like food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers and Medicaid.

Implementing this rule will not just punish legal immigrants who use public benefits. It’s written so broadly that it can even bar green cards to those judged “likely” to use them for a total of 12 months or longer during a 36-month period. Essentially, it’s a “No Trespassing” sign aimed at anyone who isn’t wealthy and educated, particularly for those coming from what President Donald Trump has called “s — -hole countries.”

This is not the America I grew up believing in. I was raised by immigrants and am proud to work with immigrants every day. Throughout history, millions of people have immigrated to the United States with nothing, sometimes needing help with housing or medical care to get started before going on to build successful lives, careers and families.

Immigrants are often entrepreneurial, attracted to this country by the idea that you can succeed if you have a good idea and a strong work ethic. A few years ago, researchers calculated that more than half of all startup companies worth $1 billion or more were founded by immigrants. They also estimated that, as of 2015, the nation was home to 2.1 million immigrant entrepreneurs who had less than a bachelor’s degree.

How many of these budding job creators will we now turn away?

Sadly, even though it hasn’t officially taken effect, the updated public charge rule has already done damage. After the idea was first floated in 2017, public health leaders found it had a chilling effect, causing immigrants to avoid seeking services, including nutrition programs for children and pregnant women.

In one survey of California health care providers, more than two-thirds noted an increase in parental concerns about enrolling children in Medicaid or food stamps, and 42% saw an increase in patients missing scheduled health care appointments.

Administration officials deny that this policy change, which the Migration Policy Institute estimates could affect up to 27 million people, is fueled by racism or xenophobia, arguing it’s just about “self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.” But these are also the same people who take migrant children from their parents and lock them in cages.

It’s been said that when it comes to Trump’s immigration policy, “the cruelty is the point.” This new policy to punish legal immigrants drives that point home yet again.

Anthony Galace is health equity director of The Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Opinion: Consumers suffer under California broadband deregulation

Mercury News
By VINHCENT LE and SEAN MCLAUGHLIN

 

In 2012, California decided to deregulate the broadband internet industry until 2020 with the aim of encouraging greater consumer choice, economic growth and innovation. Eight years later, these benefits have not materialized.

Instead internet providers have taken advantage of deregulation to increase prices and evade oversight. Now internet providers are pushing Assembly Bill 1366, which would extend this disastrous policy for another decade.

While the telecom industry would have you believe that big government is after your internet, in reality, California needs to do much more to promote broadband competition, internet affordability and availability. Failing to do so means California will be left behind in our increasingly connected global economy.

A decade ago, Verizon, AT&T and Google were rolling out next-generation 1000 Mbps fiber internet to homes across California. Today, despite promises of increased choice under deregulation, Google and Verizon have pulled out of the market and AT&T has focused its fiber buildout on only the highest-income neighborhoods.

What’s more, half of Americans are stuck choosing between one or two internet providers. Meanwhile, in countries like Sweden or states like Utah, families can choose from ten different providers that deliver 1000 Mbps fiber internet for less than $50 a month.

A recent study showed that fiber buildout has actually slowed in the United States, a baffling trend given that fiber internet unlocks economic development by attracting high-paying jobs and increasing property values. Unlike California, other developed economies like China and the EU have realized that universal fiber connectivity is a key economic advantage and have embraced ambitious plans to make this crucial service affordable and ubiquitous. In other words, they’ve taken an approach that’s the exact opposite of California-style deregulation. Without pro-competition policy and oversight, Californians will suffer economically.

Nearly one-third of low-income students lack access to home internet, and the primary barrier to internet access in California is cost. This lack of access translates to a lack of job opportunities and poor academic performance.

However, providers have no incentive to lower prices or improve services if they don’t have any competition or oversight. AB 1366 would prohibit nearly all regulatory oversight of broadband internet services. In fact, the internet industry claims that current law — which AB 1366 would extend — limits the state’s power to even measure the affordability of their services.

AB 1366 also limits California’s ability to protect public safety. In 2018, Verizon cut data service to firefighters working to combat one of California’s largest-ever fires. Verizon’s actions meant our firefighters could not effectively coordinate and plan their efforts. AB 1366 would limit California’s ability to prevent this from happening again.

Similarly, AT&T plans to take taxpayer dollars to build an internet-based 911 system but is suing the state, claiming that California’s deregulatory policy bans any oversight over how they spend taxpayer dollars on this system. Opposing AB 1366 is crucial to ensuring that AT&T is not allowed to build such a critical service without any oversight.

In our view, California needs to be able to guide critical public investments in our broadband infrastructure and our agencies need to have the power to protect public safety, prevent price gouging and implement state and local policies to promote faster speeds and increased availability.

If AB 1366 passes, California’s broadband policy will continue to be dictated by internet providers and their shareholder interests — and consumers will suffer.

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.

9 Major Opportunities for Electric Buses & Trucks

Meeting of the Minds
By Joel Espino

When most people think of electric vehicles, we think of cars, like Teslas, Chevy Bolts and Nissan Leafs. But trucks and buses are going electric, too, and the impact on both our air and our economy could be huge.

In 2016, we at The Greenlining Institute joined forces with The Union of Concerned Scientists to analyze the growing electric truck and bus industry, producing the report “Delivering Opportunity: How Electric Buses and Trucks Can Create Jobs and Improve Public Health in California.” While we focused on California, where electric buses and trucks are taking off rapidly, what we found has major implications for the whole country. Especially at a time when many transit agencies across the country are committing to 100 percent electric, many states are increasing their efforts to get more electric cars, trucks, and buses on the road, and The Green New Deal is generating buzz and conversation on climate change.

Here are nine things we found.

1. Transportation is the largest contributor to global warming in California and nationwide.

Including carbon pollution from refining petroleum products, transportation accounts for more than 50 percent of global warming emissions in California, and the transportation sector recently overtook power plants as the largest contributor to climate change nationwide.

2. Trucks and buses form a major part of our air pollution problem.

Heavy-duty vehicles are the single largest source of smog-forming pollution in California. They also emit more particulate matter than all of the state’s power plants. And they make up seven percent of the state’s global warming emissions—an amount projected to increase as freight shipments grow.

3. Air pollution from transportation discriminates, hitting poor communities of color the hardest.

Poor communities suffer disproportionately from exposure to traffic-related pollution because they are more likely than wealthier neighborhoods to be near busy roads and highways. Breathing lung-damaging exhaust from vehicles on a daily basis leads to higher rates of pollution-related diseases such as cancer and heart attacks. Race matters, too: even for people in the same socioeconomic class, people of color are more likely than whites to be exposed to pollution from cars, trucks and buses.

In fact, a recent Union of Concerned Scientists analysis that quantified pollution from on-road sources reinforces this finding.

4. Electric trucks and buses are cleaner than diesel and natural gas vehicles.

Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, meaning you won’t have to gulp pollution while waiting for the bus or walking down the street. In terms of global warming emissions, smog forming emissions, and particulate matter; electric vehicles powered by clean electricity have the lowest emissions compared to any other vehicle technology, including natural gas. The clean air benefit continues even when you look at “life cycle” emissions from electricity generation and hydrogen production.

And these clean vehicles will only get cleaner: California will get at least half of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, has virtually no coal power in the state, and will end contracts for coal power imported from other states by 2025. California also requires that at least 33 percent of hydrogen must be produced using renewable energy, a standard the state already exceeds. Bottom line: We’re blazing a path toward clean power that other states can follow.

5. Electric trucks and buses are far more energy efficient.

Depending on the type of vehicle, electric trucks and buses are up to four times more efficient than diesel and natural gas vehicles. This means that for the same amount of energy used to power a vehicle, the electric vehicle will travel up to four times as far. This can lead to significant savings in fuel costs.

6. Electric truck and bus technology is here and ready to clean the air today.

This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky future dream. Battery-powered electric trucks and buses have ranges over 100 miles. One company recently announced a transit bus with a 350-mile range. Fuel cell trucks and buses have long had ranges over 200 miles. While these vehicles may cost more to purchase, reduced fuel and maintenance costs mean the total cost of ownership of electric trucks and buses is becoming competitive with traditional technologies. Electric trucks and buses can accelerate and climb hills as well or better than diesel and natural gas vehicles. They’re quieter, too.

7. The heavy-duty EV industry is creating good jobs.

Some of the leading electric bus and truck manufacturers in California pay assemblers $13-$20 per hour for entry level jobs, which is considerably above typical pay for assembly jobs in California. These jobs can also lead workers into higher-skilled, well-paid occupations. When we asked representatives of heavy-duty EV companies what jobs were likely to grow the most if demand for heavy-duty EVs increases, they unanimously identified assembler positions. Increased investment in this technology should spur growth of good, well-paying jobs—especially if unions and community benefits agreements like the one BYD struck are in the mix.

8. This industry can be a great source of jobs for underserved communities—if workers get the training and skills they need.

Leading electric bus and truck companies in California typically require one to three years of related experience for assemblers, a higher standard than assembly jobs in general manufacturing. Jobs in EV manufacturing, charging and maintenance require significant electrical skills. These requirements can be barriers to employment for people from low-income communities. But good, readily accessible training programs can overcome this barrier and make sure those most in need of good jobs will get a fair shot.

9. It will take conscious effort to bring workers from marginalized communities into the electric truck and bus workforce.

We don’t currently have enough training programs accessible to those who need them. Manufacturers can help fix this by partnering with workforce training organizations and community colleges to establish pathways for training and certifying workers from these communities and placing them in quality jobs. This emerging industry needs effective, equitable workplace policies, programs, and practices to ensure opportunity for all.

You may not hear much about electric trucks and buses, but they’re here and growing. We have to put the policies and actions in place now so that we can leverage the clean air and economic benefits of this technology to fight environmental injustice and give an economic boost to people most in need.

The proposed Green New Deal has already begun to stimulate new discussions of the role of transportation in fighting climate change and strengthening communities. Electrification of trucks and buses should be part of plans going forward to fight climate change, clean our air and – with help from the right policies — bring new opportunities to underserved communities.

California Blazes a Trail for a Green New Deal

The Progressive
By Alvaro Sanchez

While politicians and activists debate the idea of a federal plan to fight climate change and boost our economy, the Golden State is quietly showing how it could actually work.

While politicians and activists debate the idea of a Green New Deal to fight climate change and boost our economy, California is quietly showing how it could actually work. The state has a successful model program that could be used by any community that wants to make itself cleaner, more livable and more prosperous.

It’s called Transformative Climate Communities, or TCC, and it focuses on ways that different agencies can work together with communities to make neighborhoods better.

As it is, most governments put each of its various functions in separate buckets. One agency approves transportation projects, another deals with housing, and so on. Often no one considers how their agencies affect each other or what residents need.

But TCC puts communities in charge of pulling these various pieces together, with a goal of reducing carbon emissions.

This might mean replacing old, smoky diesel buses with clean electric buses or light rail, building affordable housing near those transit stops, and connecting it all with improved pedestrian and bicycle pathways. It might mean planting trees that shade those new bikeways and sidewalks even as they take climate-damaging carbon out of the air. It could mean outfitting those new, affordable homes with solar power and designing them to be energy efficient.

And instead of applying to a dozen different bureaucracies for a dozen separate grants, TCC gives communities a “one-stop shop” where they can get the whole package funded.

The result: A community that’s cleaner, greener and easier to get around, with less air pollution and traffic and lower energy bills for residents. And hundreds of people are put to work making it all happen.

This isn’t a fantasy. It’s happening right now in five California communities.

Consider Fresno. This medium-sized city in the middle of the state’s Central Valley agricultural heartland has long suffered from poverty and air pollution. As required by TCC, Fresno’s plan was put together by the residents themselves – who are, after all, the real experts in their community’s needs.

The plan funds about two dozen projects with dollars collected from polluters through the state’s cap-and-trade program. These include affordable housing close to transit, bike paths, a community garden, home weatherization for low-income families, electric car, vanpool and bikeshare programs. Taken together, the projects will make life better for thousands of low-income residents, clean the air, and put people to work in a region with chronically high unemployment.

There are also full-fledged TCC plans in Ontario, Sacramento, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Watts and the northeast San Fernando Valley.

My organization, the Greenlining Institute, worked with state legislators to create the TCC program and has been able to offer technical assistance to several communities seeking to apply for funds. But we’re the first to admit that we’ve barely scratched the surface. This sort of comprehensive, community-led effort should happen nationwide and on a much larger scale.

What’s needed is a commitment to community-driven transformation and reliable funding.

The proposed Green New Deal offers the opportunity to do that. The idea that we can fight climate change, improve our neighborhoods and build prosperity for struggling communities isn’t some fantasy. California is showing how to do it right now.

How Self-Driving Cars Could Harm Marginalized Communities

EcoWatch
By Hana Creger

Everyone’s talking about self-driving, autonomous vehicles these days. Late last year General Motors announced that it will shut down production of several conventional car lines, partly to pour resources into its self-driving car unit, and GM is just one of many companies ramping up such efforts, alongside Google, Tesla, Uber and a slew of others. But what kind of transportation future will this autonomous vehicle revolution bring? And who will it benefit? In a country with an increasing divide between rich and poor, what will this whiz-bang technology mean for marginalized groups such as the poor, people of color, the elderly and those with disabilities?

Some observers have imagined a sort of transportation heaven—no more space wasted on parking, less smog, easier commutes and cleaner air as the autonomous fleet electrifies. More realistically, other writers have argued we face a heaven or hell choice, with many possible downsides. While the spotlight has been fixated on the shiny new technology itself, what has been largely hidden in the shadows is how self-driving vehicles will impact our most marginalized people. Depending on how self-driving cars are deployed, we could see a growing mobility divide between haves and have-nots—an alarming prospect in places where soaring housing prices are already pushing low- and moderate-income residents farther away from their jobs and into long, punishing commutes. But this mobility divide has enormous implications beyond just commute times.

Access to mobility is the key that unlocks economic opportunity, education, health care and a better quality of life for Americans, so we should all be concerned. A Harvard study found that a person’s commute time is the single greatest factor in their ability to pull themselves out of poverty and up the economic ladder. And for low-income households, a chronic lack of affordable and reliable transportation options remains an insurmountable barrier to improving their lives.

Our car-centric culture and infrastructure contribute to economic inequality. While survey data have varied over the years, available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do. Those who can’t afford their own vehicles struggle to get around on underfunded public transit or unsafe sidewalks and bike lanes. It’s a strong possibility that the rise of driverless vehicles will only widen these disparities: Those with lots of money will lounge in the comfort of their personal self-driving cars while everyone else is stuck in increasing gridlock or on deteriorating public transit. If we make it too easy for people to own self-driving cars, this will only further entrench everyone in a transportation hell of bumper-to-bumper traffic. And while congestion is an irritating inconvenience to all of us, marginalized people will be hurt the most by deteriorating public transit, a loss of driving jobs and a transportation system that prioritizes cars over people. We need to get this right.

At The Greenlining Institute, we’ve just done the first analysis to look in detail at the social equity implications of the coming transportation revolution, especially for those who are too often ignored in transportation planning, like people of color, low-income folks and residents of rural communities. The best answer, we found, lies in what are sometimes called FAVES: fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared. FAVES lets us connect self-driving technology to the two other big changes now revolutionizing transportation: electrification and the proliferation of shared-mobility services, including Uber and Lyft, as well as many alternatives.

FAVES, deployed correctly and in tandem with increased walking, biking and public transit, can be the “magic bullet” that improves mobility for people at all income levels, cuts pollution and greenhouse gases, and helps make cities more livable. This isn’t some futuristic fantasy; FAVES are already here. A multitude of companies are operational, such as Transdev, which has transported 3.5 million people in their electric self-driving shuttles.

But even FAVES won’t have these positive social equity and environmental effects if we leave essential decisions to the marketplace. Left alone, companies will do just what you’d expect: cater to customers with disposable income and ignore the broader implications for communities and for marginalized folks. We’ve already seen glimpses of what a “hell” future might entail, with evidence suggesting that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have cut into transit ridership and increased traffic congestion in some urban areas. Without oversight, what would prevent transportation companies from ditching their drivers for robots to double their profits? We can’t allow the private sector to dictate the terms of this transportation revolution. We have to demand that self-driving vehicle technology fits into a vision of a fair transportation system that reduces pollution and contributions to climate change, and doesn’t just leave those with driving jobs in the dust.

For the coming transportation revolution to truly benefit all, we’ll need strong regulations to, among other things:

  • Discourage personally owned autonomous vehicles and encourage FAVES fleets. We can do this with equitable “road pricing” that waives fees for low-income people. The “heaven” scenario of cleaner air, less space wasted on parking, and reduced traffic simply can’t happen without FAVES.
  • Ensure affordability for people at all income levels, and guarantee availability of autonomous ridesharing services in low-income communities and other places the market might neglect, like rural areas—with fleets that are right-sized to meet local needs.
  • Guarantee equitable access to FAVES for those with disabilities, people who lack a smartphone or high-speed internet access, or who do not speak English.
  • Ensure a just transition and retraining programs for the millions whose jobs will eventually be eliminated by automation, such as bus and truck drivers, and guarantee fair labor standards for the new jobs created in this emerging industry.
  • Protect, enhance and prioritize the healthiest and most environmentally friendly transportation options, such as biking and walking.

We must demand that government at all levels increase investments in walking, biking and public transit infrastructure. Building more car-oriented infrastructure has never been the solution to our congested, polluted and unjust transportation system. Self-driving cars are only the latest distraction from what real innovation would look like in American transportation. A real transportation revolution would transform our cities into clean, vibrant places that are designed for people to live, work, and thrive—not de facto parking lots for their cars.

We have a unique opportunity to create a transportation system that prioritizes moving people over cars. If we get it right, the coming transportation revolution can be a vehicle to help fix transportation injustices while contributing to better mobility, more livable communities and greater economic prosperity for all.

Hana Creger is Environmental Equity Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute. She is lead author of the 2019 report “Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution that Benefits All.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

California Must Address a Statewide Latino Physician Shortage

California Health Report

Despite California’s leadership in expanding health coverage to a record number of Californians, we have a crisis that hardly anyone is addressing: Our state still fails to provide the quality—and quantity—of care needed by our largest ethnic group.

According to research from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, Latinos represent over 40 percent of California’s population but make up less than 12 percent of graduating physicians from the state’s medical schools. At the current rate, it will take 500 years to reach a point where the number of Latino physicians is proportional to the number of Latino patients.

On January 15, The Greenlining Institute, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative hosted a policy briefing to discuss solutions to address California’s Latino physician crisis. This discussion came hours after the California Future Health Workforce Commission released its formal recommendations to modernize the state’s health workforce delivery system.

Despite an extensive analysis, the commission’s report did not adequately highlight the gravity or scale of our Latino physician crisis. To put this into context, there are approximately 405 non-Hispanic white physicians for every 100,000 non-Hispanic white patients, but only 46 Latino physicians for every 100,000 Latino patients.

It’s no coincidence that communities of color—who are underrepresented in almost all health professions—are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. According to the federal Office of Minority Health, Latinos suffer from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases at much higher rates than whites. Furthermore, they are less likely to have health insurance and are twice as likely to live at or below the poverty level.

This health vulnerability means Latinos urgently need access to culturally and linguistically appropriate care.

Increasing the number of Latino physicians across the state will benefit all Californians. Having diverse physicians who are culturally and linguistically competent improves the quality of health care for everyone.

How can we address this crisis? For starters, the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative recently released a series of landmark policy briefs outlining the various challenges Californians face in accessing health care and the reforms needed to address the lack of Latino physicians. We need to increase medical school admissions for Latino students and Spanish speakers, incentivize Latino medical school graduates who are trained out-of-state to practice in California, certify more physicians trained outside of the United States to practice in California, and increase the number of California residency slots. One key proposal urges state legislators to appropriate at least $100 million to expand residency slots. In addition, medical schools must ensure their admissions programs robustly recruit Latino students.

So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has followed through on his promises to make health care a priority. He released a budget expanding health coverage to undocumented young adults up to the age of 26, appointed California’s first surgeon general, and threw his support behind a flurry of proposals aimed at increasing affordability, access and quality of care across the state—all in his first week in office. This bodes well for California’s future, but it’s not sufficient to address the health needs of California’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

If the state continues to turn a blind eye toward the Latino physician crisis, we risk perpetuating or worsening health disparities that harm the Latino population and other disenfranchised communities. Action on this issue requires policymakers, educational institutions and health employers to prioritize racial equity and move boldly to address our critical shortage of Latino physicians.

Sonja Diaz is the executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative. Jeffrey Reynoso is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Anthony Galace is the director of health equity at The Greenlining Institute.

My Turn: Self-Driving Cars Must Not Leave the Rest of Us Behind

CalMatters
By Alvaro Sanchez and Susan Shaheen

Starry-eyed predictions aside, critical issues are missing from the discussion about how self-driving cars will revolutionize  transportation.

Low-income Californians cannot lift themselves out of poverty if they lack reliable transportation. Without it, they cannot gain access to jobs, education and other opportunities.

Too often, transportation decisions prioritize the movement of personal vehicles that are often out of reach of low-income households. We must break this cycle.

Available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do, and a Harvard study found that a lengthy commute impairs a person’s ability to escape poverty.

People who drive increasingly get stuck in traffic. No wonder many people see the coming age of driverless cars as just the sort of magic bullet that will solve these problems. They are wrong.

Self-driving vehicles won’t fix these problems. The problem is not one of technology. Rather, the problem stems from a failure to prioritize people over cars.

Many supposed transportation revolutions, from buses and streetcars, to interstate highways and Uber, have led to increased segregation and growing wealth gaps between the rich and the poor.

Self-driving technology could exacerbate entrenched social and environmental problems, if we don’t make deliberate policy choices, especially for marginalized groups.

We can easily imagine a dystopian scenario in which people with money purchase personal self-driving cars, while the rest of us are mired in congested streets, with reduced mobility as public transit gets short-changed due to ridership loss.

We could have a society of transportation haves and have-nots even worse than what we see today: The affluent few whisked around effortlessly in self-driving cars, while the less well-off struggle to get around.

Unregulated, we could see a driverless car future that increases inequality, as high-income people become the natural early adopters, with companies catering to them and leaving poor people and people with disabilities behind.

Further contributing to the wealth inequality associated with the deployment of self-driving vehicles is the potential job loss associated with automation. Our research shows this will particularly impact African-Americans and Latinos, who hold a high percentage of transportation-related jobs.

So how do we make this technological revolution work for all Californians?

  • We must seize this opportunity to create a transportation system that is rooted in people and promotes vibrant, healthy, and clean places for people to live, work, and play—places that prioritize  the movement of people over the movement of cars.

When The Greenlining Institute reviewed the issues in depth, we found that part of the answer lies in what some call FAVES–fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared–if governments guide their development with smart policies designed to meet the needs of all users, including marginalized populations.

  • Second, equity must be a central focus in the research, development, and deployment of fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared, and other forms of driverless vehicles to ensure that these emerging mobility services meet the needs of all marginalized groups.

Money saved by having driverless trains and buses can be used to lower fares for low-income riders and improve service. We might also require fleet operators to not limit their services to high-profit areas but also provide mobility in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods.

We could also mitigate job loss associated with automation by guaranteeing a just transition for impacted workers, with training programs that have real jobs at their conclusion and a strong social safety net for people who can’t find new employment.

And we should consider requiring fair labor standards for the new jobs this emerging industry will create, in addition to prioritizing the hiring of marginalized populations.

  • Third, we must embrace mobility equity. Automated vehicle technology should support and contribute to creating a just and fair transportation system that provides mobility options for underserved populations, reduced pollution, and enhances economic opportunities.

With focused policy interventions, we can create a clean transportation system that works for all, bridging the divide between rich and poor rather than worsening it. A transportation revolution is arriving. This is one time we can’t be asleep at the wheel.


Alvaro Sanchez is environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, alvaros@greenlining.org. Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley and is co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, sshaheen@berkeley.edu.

Why Don’t We Riot Over Wealth Inequality?

Common Dreams
By Alvaro Sanchez

Tell people their gas taxes are going up and they will riot, literally.  Tell people that 62 individuals hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population and we don’t blink an eye. Okay, maybe we do a hard blink but we certainly don’t riot. Or perhaps gas tax riots are actually severe wealth inequality riots in disguise?

France has been embroiled in mass and violent protests to proposed diesel and gas tax increases that have forced France’s government to suspend its plans to increase taxes and to also immediately freeze prices on electricity and home heating fuel. The proposed taxes, meant to curb climate change by weaning motorists off petroleum products and to generate funding for renewable energy projects, were received negatively by several sectors of the French population. Their message carried out by the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) movement resulted in violent protests in Paris and caused four deaths.

A number of U.S. publications chimed in on the French protests claiming they show a Global Carbon Tax Revolt, claiming that people from Washington to Ontario to France are saying no to taxing carbon. But what they conveniently portray as a revolt on carbon taxes (which happens to match their ideological opposition to climate action) I see as a sign of frustration and impotence over massive wealth inequality.

Let me explain.

Wealth inequality has widened all over the world, leaving many people struggling who previously enjoyed more secure prosperity. In the U.S. and France the cost of living continues to increase while wages and earnings stagnate for most. At the same time the top earners seem to accumulate all the wealth: in 2017 Oxfam reported that the top one percent secured 82 percent of all wealth while the bottom 3.7 billion who make up the poorest of the world saw no increase in their wealth. Favorable tax policies for the rich in the U.S. and France’s recently approved budget show signs of exacerbating wealth inequality in those countries, leaving people with scarce resources contributing greater amounts of their income to basic necessities like housing, food, health care, education, and transportation. And when government needs to step in to rescue someone from economic collapse, it seems to only bail out corporations like banks, automakers, and utilities.  Regular citizens do not seem to enjoy the same level of concern from decision makers about our economic well being.

But why do people riot over gas taxes and not massive wealth inequality? Because we feel the economic pain from a gas tax increase more intensely and immediately than structural systems that help a very small set of people to accumulate wealth. All people can understand a gas tax increase.  Very few people can explain the income ramifications from the 2017 tax reform approved in the U.S., the largest tax reform of last 31 years.

In my opinion, the French gas tax riots stem from the same place as growing resentment towards immigrants globally, increased scrutiny over social welfare and entitlements, and growing right wing populist movements: scarcity. People wouldn’t riot over a gas tax if they could afford it. Instead, people in France are rioting and some media outlets in the U.S. blame it on the French elite supposedly pushing their climate agenda on the people. They are wrong.

My proof is California. In the world’s fifth largest economy, residents of California have made it abundantly clear that we want our state government to act on climate.  We’ve been pricing carbon since 2013, collecting over $8 billion from polluters to invest in our state to fight climate change.  In our most recent election we also soundly defeated an effort to repeal a gas tax approved by the California legislature in 2017, which has invested almost $10 billion to improve the state transportation infrastructure. And there is no sign of our residents slowing down our ambition and urgency to combat climate change, having recently approved an effort to generate 100% renewable energy by 2045.

And while all these actions are good news for climate policy and California, there are warning signs from France’s gas tax riots. California has not been able to address our own income inequality challenges, and while our residents continue to support ambitious government action to fight climate change we have to be very intentional about implementing strategies that fight poverty and pollution at the same time. In fact, we are not pricing carbon nearly high enough to ramp down our use of fossil fuels; so if we want California residents to continue to support our fight against climate change we must address income inequality.  We must do this not so people can afford to pay higher taxes on fossil fuels but so that people can afford to live, work, play, learn, and prosper in a world that is healthy, resilient, equitable and thriving. Meaning a world free of fossil fuels.