Fighting the Housing Crisis by Attacking Climate Change

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

While the presidential candidates continue a disheartening debate about whether or not climate change is real, my home state of California has taken the discussion to a whole new level: We’re showing that smart policies to protect our climate can help address other critical challenges, like housing, traffic and smog.

For those of you in other states, California’s housing situation is insane. Affordable housing has become so scarce in lots of areas that many families struggle with unaffordable rents or substandard living conditions because that’s all they can afford. For many – even responsible, working families with stable incomes and some savings – purchasing a home is simply out of the question (indeed, the homeownership side of the picture is so worrisome I’m going to write a whole column about it next time).

West Sacramento resident Esther Roberts and her four children know all about housing struggles. Without access to the affordable housing development where she lives, she says, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”

What does this have to do with climate? Everything, if you connect the dots. Affordable homes don’t just help families like Esther’s. They can also make a big dent in smog, traffic and the greenhouse gases that are disrupting our climate – if we put those homes near public transportation and include other amenities that encourage walking and biking.

As the transportation experts at TransForm have documented, lower-income households who live near transit drive less than half as many miles as wealthier households. Creating 15,000 new affordable homes near good public transportation would keep over 1.58 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (and lung-damaging smog) out of our air. Smart policies can help fix several problems at once: cleaning the air, boosting our economy and helping the communities of color and low-income neighborhoods typically hit first and worst by both pollution and economic difficulties.

In California, we’re doing just that, with a climate program that’s helping build more affordable homes near public transportation in communities statewide. Under laws called AB 32 and SB 535, fees paid by polluters who put carbon into our air go into a variety of projects to help clean the air and save energy, including transit-oriented affordable homes for low- and moderate-income Californians.

This isn’t some hypothetical future dream. California has already funded over 30 such projects in all regions of the state from carbon auction proceeds, with many more on the way in future years. One of these, West Gateway Place, is now underway not far from Esther’s West Sacramento home and will provide 77 affordable homes for more families like hers. In many cases, construction either has already started or is about to get going.

This represents one of the great untold stories or our era, while California’s climate effort – and Big Oil’s relentless efforts to kill it – have gotten some attention, the news media have paid little attention to where those dollars go and what good they do. It’s a part of the story that needs to be told, because some politicians continue to cynically peddle a false choice: that we must pick between protecting our climate and helping working families. In fact, we can do both and California is proving it.

In addition to helping families find safe, affordable homes, California’s climate investments have already begun to help cut traffic, reduce smog, shrink families’ energy bills, create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and much more – all while combating the climate crisis that threatens us all. But don’t take my word for it.

To learn more about affordable housing and climate, you can read about Estherand watch a short, informative video at UpLiftCA.org – where you can also learn about other Californians already reaping the benefits of forward-looking climate policies. And to get a fuller picture of what these climate investments do and where these dollars go, search for climate investments throughout California and using TransForm’s searchable online map and database at ClimateBenefitsCA.org. California has built an amazing model that other states and the U.S. government should follow.

Meanwhile, there’s much more that needs to be said about housing and homeownership. Watch this space for an update on some disturbing numbers we found in federal home mortgage data and ideas for what we can do about them.

Affordable Housing: A Tool to Fight Smog, Traffic

Capitol Weekly
By Ryan Wiggins and Alvaro Sanchez

We generally think it a big success when public policy successfully fixes a serious problem. Right now, smart California policies are effectively tackling three major issues at once: housing, traffic, and climate change.

Anyone not living under a rock knows that California faces an unprecedented crisis in housing affordability. Skyrocketing rents force working families to choose between spending more than half their income on housing, squeezing into inadequate or unsafe homes, or moving away from their communities. Similarly, we all see traffic get worse each year. Amazingly, our efforts to fight climate change are bringing real progress on both these issues.

Over 30 affordable housing projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside.

West Sacramento resident Esther Roberts and her four children know all about housing struggles. Without access to the affordable housing development where she lives, she says, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”
But what many don’t know is that affordable homes can also make a big dent in smog, climate pollution, and traffic – if we put those homes near public transportation and include other amenities that encourage walking and biking.

Lower-income households living near transit drive less than half as many miles as wealthier households. Creating 15,000 new affordable homes near good public transportation would keep over 1.58 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (and lots of plain old smog) out of our air.

That’s why money from California’s climate program is helping build more affordable homes near public transportation in communities statewide. Under laws called AB 32 and SB 535, fees paid by polluters who put carbon into the air go into a variety of projects to help clean the air and save energy, including transit-oriented affordable homes for low- and moderate-income Californians.

One such project, West Gateway Place, now underway not far from Esther’s West Sacramento home, will provide 77 affordable homes for more families like hers. Over 30 such projects have already been funded from carbon auction proceeds – from Stockton and Richmond to San Diego and Riverside – with many more coming in future years.

And that’s just one of many ways climate funds are enhancing communities throughout the state. Sometimes we hear from people who say they don’t see these investments at work in their communities, but the truth is that over 400 projects have been awarded more than a billion dollars to strengthen public transportation, reduce energy costs through home weatherization, create urban green spaces, and more. Some projects may take a little while to build, but they’re coming – and more are on the way.

California’s climate program is making a real, positive impact on people’s lives, particularly in communities hit first and worst by pollution and economic difficulties. California’s climate investments help families find safe, affordable homes, cut traffic, reduce smog, shrink families’ energy bills, and much more – all while combating the climate crisis that threatens us all.

We’re frustrated many don’t know about these benefits, even as big oil continues to spend millions trying to weaken or kill California’s climate program. To level the playing field a bit, we’ve created several tools to help Californians understand how these policies work and how they’re uplifting our neighborhoods.

To learn more about Esther, affordable housing and climate, you can watch a short, informative video at climatebenefitsca.org/stories. You can read about Esther and other Californians already reaping the benefits of California climate policies at UpLiftCA.org. Finally, search for climate investments throughout California and see the benefits for yourself using TransForm’s searchable online map at ClimateBenefitsCA.org.

Ed’s Note: Ryan Wiggins is Climate Policy Manager for TransForm, and Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Director for The Greenlining Institute.

Tech & Wealth Inequality: The New Wall Street that Bernie and Hillary Are Ignoring

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Years ago, when people talked about the “digital divide,” they meant that the less wealthy lacked access to broadband and other digital technologies. Now, that digital divide – which still exists – has broadened into a chasm that threatens to engulf our whole society.

Tech threatens to become the new Wall Street: a massive engine of wealth accumulation for the few at the expense of the many. And while presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders energetically debate how to regulate the old Wall Street, they’ve mostly ignored the new one. That’s a mistake
.
The piece of this that’s gotten the most attention is Silicon Valley’s ongoing diversity problem. In 2014, major tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple reported startlingly weak diversity figures. Facebook, for example,reported that 15 percent of its tech workforce was female, three percent was Latino and just one percent was African American. The higher you go into company management and executive levels, the worse these gaps tend to get. And the news hasn’t gotten any better, either for people of color or for women, who continue to suffer from a serious gender gap. Astonishingly, Apple management recently opposed a fairly mild shareholder resolution calling on the company to boost its diversity.

But the problem goes well beyond diversity in employment. Technology has the power to transform lives and communities, but – as a high-powered group of academic, business and technology leaders recently declared in an Open Letter on the Digital Economy — “the benefits of this technological surge have been very uneven.” They explain, “The majority of U.S. households have seen little if any income growth for over 20 years, the percentage of national income that’s paid out in wages has declined sharply in the U.S. since 2000, and the American middle class, which is one of our country’s great creations, is being hollowed out. Outsourcing and offshoring have contributed to these phenomena, but … the recent wave of globalization is itself reliant on advances in information and communication technologies.

The tech boom has increased this growing divide. Silicon Valley Rising notes, “A third of the population in the most prosperous region in the America struggles to make ends meet. For every tech job created in the Silicon Valley, four service jobs are needed to support it.” Too often, those jobs pay minimum wage or just slightly more – not nearly enough to cover a family’s food, rent and utilities in a region where the price of everything, especially housing, keeps skyrocketing.

Affordable housing has become a crucial problem. Many more jobs are created in Silicon Valley than there are homes built, sending housing prices far out of reach of most workers. As a result, cities with a growing tech workforce are also some of the fastest gentrifying cities in the U.S. – and not just in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cities like Denver with growing tech work forces feel the same pressures. And again, with a few exceptions (Cisco has invested in a housing trust fund in the Silicon Valley, while some tech leaders backed a San Francisco housing bond), tech companies have mostly been missing in action when it comes to developing affordable and workforce housing.

And what about jobs? Some experts believe that the old adage that technology creates more jobs is over. For example, observers predict that the rise of driverless cars will bring massive job loss, especially in the blue collar sector. One expert notes that “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people–truckers, cabbies, and delivery people–drive for a living in the USA,” arguing that corporations will jump at the chance to replace these workers. That would cut labor costs, benefits, workers compensation claims, etc., while vaporizing a huge number of middle class jobs.

Finally, it appears that tech companies spend more dollars lobbying to expand their H-1B visa pool than they do in addressing the development of their future U.S. workforce. As Debra Watkins pointed out in a piece entitled, “Diversifying the STEM pipeline? Don’t Believe the Hype,” “When pundits claim that the black community makes no efforts to help itself, they fail to acknowledge programs that were short-lived because funding either trickled in or never came at all.” She argues that strong STEM programs targeting people of color are severely underfunded, especially when compared to the enormous wealth in tech.

Imagine if Bill Gates called a few of his wealthy friends and said, “Hey guys, we have a huge workforce problem and I need to you to pitch in to create a multi-billion-dollar fund to address the problem.” It’s possible, as we saw this week with the launch of a new fund to fight climate change. To its credit, Intel put up a $300 million fund for diversity across the tech sector and tech entrepreneurs Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein pledged at least $40 million to bring more diversity to tech. We need more leaders in the field to step up.

These are just a few of the economic equity issues the tech boom raises. Business and political leaders in California and nationwide, including the presidential candidates, need to address this 21st century economic crisis. We must go beyond just “diversity in tech” and have a robust discussion about how the technology boom can be harnessed to produce real economic equity, in Silicon Valley and across the U.S.

Climate Change, Poverty and Pollution: It’s All the Same Fight

CoLab Radio
By Alvaro Sanchez

Have you ever felt desperate? Today, I notice desperation in the faces of my neighbors in Oakland, California. Our world feels and looks unhealthy. Our communities carry a heavy burden and I share in their pain.

Low-income communities are hit first and worst by climate change, and now in the U.S. those same communities are also getting hit even worse by income inequality, poor access to healthcare, poor education, state sanctioned violence, housing insecurity, discrimination and hate. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years working on climate change policy, it’s that the fight against climate change is directly connected to the battle to end these other hardships.

As we have shown in California, we can have a clean energy future that leads with equity and invests in improving the living conditions of the most impacted communities.  We are building that future now.California’s climate policies clean the air and invest in projects that will save families money, improve health outcomes, create economic opportunity, promote community development, and educate thousands about the benefits of renewable energy.  California is leading the fight against pollution and poverty, and I want everyone around the U.S. to know about it.

One story that inspires me, is that of Jesus (Jesse) Magallanes, a young man I met on a solar installation project in Central California.

Born in Los Angeles, Jesse has lived in Visalia, a small town in California’s mainly agricultural Central Valley, since age 17, working in construction most of that time. But with the construction industry taking a big hit after the economic downturn, Jesse did odd jobs to get by – at packinghouses, driving a forklift, whatever he could get. The jobs were always part-time, at or near minimum wage, and he often had to juggle four or five small jobs at a time to barely make ends meet.

Now things are different for Jesse, because of smart California policies that charge polluters, put that money to work promoting clean energy, and guarantee that at least one quarter of those funds must go to projects benefitting disadvantaged communities. Jesse now has a new career as a solar installation crew leader, and thousands of low-income families have clean, affordable solar power.

Thanks to climate investments generated by AB 32, SB 535, and the Charge Ahead initiative (SB 1275), California is putting clean, electric vehicles in the hands of low-income families and generating millions in revenue for tree lined streets, efficient public transit, bike lanes, and housing near transit. That means reduced carbon emissions, cleaner air and more attractive, livable neighborhoods.

I could go on much longer than I have space to do here, but I urge you to learn more. The Greenlining Institute in partnership with the SB 535 Coalition has put together a website, UpLiftCA.org, that tells the story of California climate policies and how they bring opportunity and investment into neighborhoods that too often were used as toxic dumping grounds. This is the future, and we invite you to join us.

OPED: Some Assurances for America’s Anxious Majority

Tribune News Service
By Orson Aguilar

If the Republican presidential primary campaign has done anything, it’s confirmed that an awful lot of white Americans feel threatened by the increasing visibility and influence of people of color in our society.

It’s gotten so bad that Politico, that bastion of conventional Washington Beltway wisdom, recently published a column arguing that “white America, fast becoming a minority, needs to hear reassurances.”

In that spirit, I offer this note of reassurance to my white neighbors:

You are still the most privileged group in U.S. society. While too much in our economic system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, whites as a group still benefit from an enormous residue of perks and privileges built up over the years.

Do you have any savings? Or assets (like a home) you could sell if times got tough? Most white Americans do, and most black and Latino Americans have little or none. That’s not accidental; it stems from deliberate policies.

For decades, the Federal Housing Administration insisted on redlining neighborhoods, refusing to approve mortgages for people of color moving into white areas. Racial minorities who could manage to buy a home were relegated to neglected neighborhoods with terrible government services, underfunded schools and stagnant property values.

The original Social Security Act specifically excluded two occupations — agricultural workers and domestic servants — most associated with African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans. Labor unions helped build the American middle class in the 20th century, but the 1935 Wagner Act let unions bar non-whites, and many did — denying them access to better paid jobs, health care and pensions.

Yes, most of those overtly racist policies are gone now, but their effects linger.

You see, most private wealth in the United States is inherited, with roughly 80 percent of a family’s assets coming from transfers from prior generations. After a parent dies, whites are about five times more likely than people of color to receive an inheritance — and on average that inheritance is nearly three times the size of inheritances received by people of color.

Meanwhile, minority communities continue to suffer from worse air pollution and other environmental problems thanks to getting stuck with a disproportionate share of polluting facilities like freeways and oil refineries. That further depresses property values and leads to higher rates of illness. Communities of color still often have underfunded, dilapidated schools.

Law enforcement remains wildly unequal, leading to disproportionate arrest rates — totally unrelated to the rates at which different groups actually commit crimes — that can cripple a person’s job prospects for life.

None of this means that poor and working class whites don’t face serious challenges. They do. But the root problem isn’t people of color making small gains; it’s a changing economy that can outsource or automate jobs.

Our president recently said, “America has been through big changes before. … Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future.” But we overcame those fears and emerged stronger as a nation. We must do so again.

The State of Our Fragmented Union

The Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

This evening, President Obama will give his final State of the Union address. These addresses often have an optimistic spin, and particularly so as a president nears the end of his term and seeks to cement his legacy, so let me say a few things that Mr. Obama surely knows but may be reluctant to put into words.

For Americans of all colors, the state of our union is not good, both economically and politically.

Officially, the U.S. economy has been in recovery since 2009, when our GDP stopped shrinking and started growing. But for the majority of working Americans it doesn’t feel like a recovery when wages are stagnant and a growing number of jobs are part-time, temporary or otherwise insecure.

It’s even worse for communities of color, the nation’s fastest growing groups. The racial wealth gap isn’t getting any better, and it persists even among those with a college degree. While many white families still feel like we’re still in a recession, for too many black and Latino families, it feels like a depression. The unemployment rate for African American men age 20 and up, for example, remains stuck at 9.9 percent, compared to 4.0 percent for whites in the same age bracket.

This, mind you, is after six years of a recovery that at some point must slow down. Economic forecasts are notoriously imperfect, but growing numbers of economists see a slowdown coming in the next year or two.

Meanwhile, the politics of racial resentment keep getting meaner, louder and more overt. With Donald Trump leading the way, appeals to xenophobia and prejudice have transformed from dog whistles to air-raid sirens. And while economic insecurity may explain part of the appeal of such tactics, it doesn’t seem to explain all of it. Pondering Trump’s appeal to white voters without a college degree, Eduardo Porter recently wrote in the New York Times,

Such voters are nostalgic for the country they lived in 50 years ago, when non-Hispanic whites made up more than 83 percent of the population. Today, their share has shrunk to 62 percent as demographic change has transformed the United States into a nation where others have a shot at political power.

Their fear is understandable. In general, the concerns of Hispanic and black American voters are often different from those of white voters. But the reaction of whites who are struggling economically raises the specter of an outright political war along racial and ethnic lines over the distribution of resources and opportunities.

These fears and resentments cause significant numbers of working class whites to vote against their own economic interests. As Greenlining Institute board co-chair George Dean put it to me recently, “Racism and bigotry are more important that economics — and for what?”

Asian Americans, often put on a media pedestal as a successful “model minority,” face a different problem. The model minority myth makes it easy to ignore shockingly high poverty rates of as high as 38 percent in some Southeast Asian immigrant communities.

There is a path forward. We can create a rising tide the does in fact lift all boats — for real, not the illusion peddled by so many post-Reagan Republicans who sold the snake oil that deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy would magically produce prosperity. Smart policies can lift wages, protect workers and use growth industries like the exploding clean-energy economy to channel investment and opportunities into communities where the recession still looks like a depression.

But this requires leadership. It requires those seeking the presidency or seats in Congress to ignore nearly all of the political advice they get from consultants and pollsters. Don’t pander to resentments. Don’t try to cobble together small groups of aggrieved voters into a narrow majority that can squeak you though the election at the cost of leaving the country increasingly fractured and ungovernable.

More than ever, we need those who seek to lead us to be bold and to think big. Sketch out a vision for an America that gains from its diversity, where success isn’t a zero-sum game in which your growth means my loss and vice versa, where anyone from any background can climb the ladder of opportunity and know the game isn’t rigged against them.

It’s possible, but only if our leaders have the vision and courage to give it a try.

Sentencing Reform is Only Half the Battle

San Francisco Chronicle
By Orson Aguilar

Ingrid Archie recently had been promoted at her job of six years when she was let go. The reason: Her employer had re-evaluated its hiring policies, laying off anyone with a criminal record, no matter how minor. Out of work, with no source of income and a baby who needed clothes, Archie — who as a young adult had been convicted of drug possession — felt she had no choice but to shoplift. She was arrested for petty theft, violating her probation, and was sentenced to spend three years in jail. There are countless more stories like Archie’s.

As a society, we imprison a staggering number of people: 2.3 million Americans, disproportionately black and Latino, are behind bars. Yet even after they are released, they’re imprisoned again by lack of work opportunity. Sixty percent of people leaving prison still can’t find work a year later.

Barred from working, individuals convicted of minor offenses once or twice are often left with very few ways to support themselves and their families. Millions of people are deeply affected by a broken system and desperately need lower barriers to economic opportunity.

Archie’s story concludes with a note of hope: After two years in prison, she successfully petitioned for release under Proposition 47, a California ballot initiative passed in 2014 that reclassified certain minor, nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors.

Sentencing reforms such as Proposition 47 are important, but they are not enough. If Archie and the nearly 1 in 3 Americans with a criminal record can’t find work after their release, they will likely end up back in a vicious cycle of incarceration and unemployment. Sentencing reforms, important as they are, can’t solve this problem by themselves.

More than 680,000 individuals were released from prison in 2011, and many more have been released since then. These people need work, so we need a bigger conversation: one that addresses both the pipeline to prison as well as how to best reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society.

This is particularly important for communities of color, which face incarceration rates many times higher than whites and thus face more barriers to work.

We need our state’s policymakers — from San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón to Gov. Jerry Brown — to lead this conversation. Their support for sentencing reform is not truly meaningful unless they support efforts to break the cycle of recidivism as well. They need to show that a person’s past doesn’t define them for a lifetime.

So today we’re calling on all state and local policymakers in California to commit to evaluating every piece of proposed legislation or regulation for unnecessary discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. Two years ago, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directed all parts of the federal Justice Department to conduct specific reviews of new regulations and policy guidance to “avoid imposing an unnecessary burden on individuals re-entering society.” California policymakers should do the same.

Research shows that being able to work and engage with society is critical to successful re-entry for individuals with a criminal record. Our leaders should do everything they can to make that happen.

Paris Climate Talks Should Look to California

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Leaders gathering in Paris to hash out an international agreement on fighting climate change should look to California for examples. My home state not only leads the way in attacking global warming, it’s doing it by keeping the focus on people, communities and equity for all.

California’s multi-pronged effort charges polluters for the climate- and lung-damaging garbage they put into our air, but that’s just the start. It’s what we do with the money raised that truly changes the game.

We know which communities get hit first and worst by air pollution and climate change: Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. That didn’t happen by accident. For generations, communities of color were redlined and used as toxic dumping grounds for facilities like oil refineries and freeways that wealthier neighborhoods didn’t want in their back yards. It’s only fair that those communities receive the benefits of the growing clean-energy economy, from good jobs to healthier air.

This isn’t a dream, it’s real. Funds raised by charging polluters under California’s cap-and-trade program go into a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that pays for projects to further clean the air and produce clean energy. California law requires that at least one quarter of those funds must go to projects that benefit the most polluted and economically struggling communities, as identified by a sophisticated tool created by the state Environmental Protection Agency. At least 10 percent must go to projects directly located within those communities.

Recently, Greenlining Institute Environmental Equity Director Alvaro Sanchezanalyzed 10 projects being funded under this program, and what he found was remarkable. In California’s heavily agricultural Central Valley, dollars raised from polluters are helping low-income families replace their old, gas-guzzling clunkers with clean, efficient hybrids or electric cars. Nearby, over 1,200 low-income families are receiving solar power systems that they otherwise could never afford to install. And in Los Angeles, two low-income neighborhoods will receive 1,120 trees, removing 1,986 tons of greenhouse gases from the air, improving air quality, enhancing long-neglected neighborhoods and reducing heat island effects.

Similar stories have begun to unfold all over California.

And up and down the state, people are being put to work making these projects happen – people like Denny Sysaknoi, who grew up in a rough neighborhood in Fresno and very nearly fell into a life of gangs, crime and violence. Now he’s able to support his infant son with a new career as a solar installer.

California’s decision to fight climate change head-on while keeping a focus on equity has helped fuel an economic boom. It’s no coincidence that in the latest federal employment stats, California led the nation in job growth. Over 368,000 Californians now work in clean economy jobs, and the number keeps growing every year. My state is proving that we don’t have to choose between protecting the planet and providing good jobs in thriving communities. If we lead with equity and ignore the false choices presented by the oil lobby, we can do both.

These smart, successful policies didn’t happen by magic. They exist because communities of color got organized and demanded them. Those voices often got left out of decision-making in the past — indeed, for too long the environmental movement has been plagued by a lack of racial, ethnic and gender diversity – but we’re seeing progress.

California has set an example for the world to follow, but diverse voices must be at the table to make sure the progress being created here becomes real for people all over the globe.

Presidential Candidates Must Address Racial Wealth Gap

The Californian
By Orson Aguilar

It’s encouraging to see presidential candidates of both parties talking about economic inequality, but they’re missing something important. To fix America’s economy, they must address the huge economic disparities between racial and ethnic groups.

For every dollar of wealth a white family has, the median Asian family has about 81 cents, the median Latino family has 7 cents and the median black family has less than 6 cents. And that comparatively strong overall figure for Asian-Americans masks pockets of severe poverty, particularly among Southeast Asian immigrant communities.

These gaps are not coincidental. They stem from policies such as redlining (officially supported by the U.S. government in the past), environmental racism and disinvestment that suppressed wealth and property values in communities of color. The racial wealth gap didn’t happen accidentally and won’t be fixed without a conscious, determined effort, but so far the candidates have shown little understanding.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, has made the “gap between the very rich and everyone else” a centerpiece of his campaign. Yet his website page addressing income and wealth inequality doesn’t even mention the racial wealth gap. His proposed solutions, from raising the minimum wage to free public higher education, can help, but don’t address the specific issues of disinvestment in communities of color and the myriad racially skewed policies that stifle entire communities.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton’s economic proposals include lots of language about supporting working people and promoting small business and job training, but fail to address the specific issues underlying the racial wealth gap.

Republican candidates are also discussing economic disparities. Jeb Bush has talked about an “opportunity gap,” and Donald Trump takes an occasional break from bashing immigrants to call the special tax breaks for hedge fund managers “a total and complete joke.” But they’ve addressed the underlying racial chasm even less than the Democrats, who at least mention it now and then.

We need answers from our leaders. For example, The New York Times recently reported that redlining, theoretically banned decades ago, is back, and keeping African-Americans from getting mortgages. Candidates should be asked what they will do to stop this, and what their plan is for enforcing and strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act to ensure that banks don’t neglect low-income communities.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform act created Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion in the federal agencies that regulate banking. In doing this, Congress sought to ensure that the financial system respects the needs of the communities of color that were exploited during the bubble. Candidates should be asked their proposals to make certain the promise of these offices is fulfilled.

The racial wealth gap ultimately hurts our whole economy. Presidential candidates from all parties should say clearly what they will do about it.

Another View: Oil Industry Doesn’t Speak for Low-Income Californians

Californians aren’t buying the notion that the oil industry cares about low-income communities most impacted by pollution and poverty. (Collaboration needed, not harsh fuel limits”; Viewpoints, Oct. 4). Their deceitful campaign to weaken Senate Bill 350, the state’s newest, historic clean energy law, is more than enough evidence that the only thing the oil industry cares about is its bottom line.

The Western States Petroleum Association waged an unprecedented, no-expenses-spared effort to remove the provision in SB 350 to cut petroleum use. When all the lobbying reports are in, I suspect we will see record spending this year by those threatened by a clean energy future.

The petroleum association’s leader claims, “The voice of the people was heard.” Yet a recent Latino Decisions poll found 81 percent of Latinos in California strongly supported the exact goal the oil industry killed. There is nothing arbitrary about wanting to reduce our dependence on petroleum.

Fortunately, many lawmakers were not swayed by the oil industry’s familiar scare tactics and persevered to ensure that the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday moves our state forward toward meaningful action on clean energy and climate change. While the petroleum association and its oil company members were successful in removing the petroleum-reduction component of SB 350, the final bill is a huge achievement for California and a model for other states and nations.

If you want to see how climate leadership is uplifting the most disadvantaged Californians, look no further than The Greenlining Institute’s new report profiling the neighborhood-level climate investments made possible by our state’s signature climate change law, Assembly Bill 32.

Through AB 32, California has generated close to $3 billion for projects that cut carbon pollution, and each year at least 25 percent of funds go to the most polluted parts of the state. These climate investments are making a difference. Take Roy Rivera of Sacramento, who is disabled and lives on a fixed income. He will save more than $800 this year from new solar panels he received at no cost. Or the Mendoza family of Stockton, who exchanged an inefficient 1984 Ford Ranger and got rebates to help them afford a Prius plug-in hybrid.

If the Western States Petroleum Association had its way, we would cease these investments in disadvantaged communities across the state. That would be reckless.

The next time the oil industry seeks “collaboration,” it should stop lecturing us and start listening to Californians, who support cutting poverty and pollution by any means necessary.