In 2019, the California Legislature put a stop to the police use of facial recognition. Although law enforcement agencies view the ability to unmask people as a valuable investigative tool, the technology is imperfect. Research suggests that the algorithms are good at identifying White people but less effective when it comes to people of color. Indeed, there’ve been plenty of stories showing how Black men were falsely identified and accused of crimes.
But because the state’s ban was temporary — it began in 2020 and lasts three years — you’re likely to hear a lot more about biometric surveillance in the Capitol going forward. The debate over its usefulness and potential harms will only intensify because it draws on two competing values: privacy and public safety.
Earlier this year, the Greenlining Institute, a progressive advocacy group, released a report about how algorithms were replacing decision-making at all levels of society, not just policing but health care, housing, finance, education and more. The purpose of the report was to provide policymakers with a baseline understanding of how bias infiltrates even the most well-intentioned, seemingly neutral tools.
Part of the issue is the quasi-religious faith that officials place in the digital authority of computer programming to see the things that we, as mere mortals, can’t see. In 2018, the Little Hoover Commission warned that California, though home to Silicon Valley, was falling to prepare for a future dominated by artificial intelligence, one that might, say, predict where a wildfire will occur.
Transparency in this space is increasingly important. The interest in facial recognition extends well beyond California and hits close to home.
As I reported earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform once reached out to San Diego with a request for documentation about the city’s use of facial recognition, but the picture it got was less than complete. The response was missing a number of key documents expressing internal concern over some of the same issues I described above, as early as 2011.
Unpaid Utility Bills Threatened Hundreds of Thousands with Shut-Offs
Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell) Hodan Hassan, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy Communication Specialist, 206-676-2010 (cell)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – With utility shut-offs looming for hundreds of thousands of California families struggling with COVID-19-related economic hardships, The Greenlining Institute praised Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement today. The California Comeback plan outlines the Administration’s commitment to relieving families burdened by mounting water and energy bills.
“With millions of Californians either unemployed or with greatly reduced incomes due to the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of households face having their electricity, gas or water shut off June 30 without bold state action,” said Carmelita Miller, Greenlining’s Senior Director of Climate Equity. “This proposal, along with vitally needed help for renters, will help keep struggling families afloat as our economy revives. We’re glad the governor listened to LAANE, Greenlining and other advocates who pushed for this help, and it’s critical that the legislature move quickly to adopt these proposals in its final budget.”
The RePower LA Coalition, anchored by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and SCOPE, has been working with leaders on the ground in Los Angeles on issues of energy justice. Utility debt has long been a concern for low-income ratepayers, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities. As of November 2020, residential customers of LADWP had over $469 million in arrearages for water, power, and sewage bills. This is impacting over 500,000 customers in Los Angeles, the majority of them being low income ratepayers. Similar scenarios have been playing out up and down California with more than 800,000 thousand households at risk of service disconnection statewide.
“LAANE and our coalition partners have been uplifting the issue of utility debt since the beginning of the pandemic. Low-income communities and communities of color are most impacted by utility debt,” said Agustin Cabrera, the Director of RePower LA, “We heard from our partners on the ground that utility debt was a growing concern for many low-income Angelenos, and that’s why we started our campaign. We realize that there are limitations on publicly-owned utilities, like LADWP; additional resources are especially important. We are eager to work with the State Legislature and the governor to move this proposal quickly.”
THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE works toward a future when communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy LAANE is an advocacy organization committed to economic, environmental, and racial justice. We bridge community and labor power to win policies that improve the lives of working families in Los Angeles and in Long Beach.
About twice a week, the $9.99 per month internet connection falters. It’s often as Mario Ramírez finally wrangles his kids into their seats — the fourth-grader studies in the bedroom he shares with his 12 year-old sister, who studies in her parents’ bedroom — in time for virtual class. The screens freeze — sometimes during online tests. At times the little one bursts into frustrated tears as they wait for their connection to resume, precious class time slipping away.
Though he hides it from his kids, Ramírez’ frustration spikes too, along with fear: What if this is the year that his kids lose interest in their education? In Ramírez’ view, it’s their ticket to a life unburdened by the monthly rent panic that Ramírez has often faced since immigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.
“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Will my kids be unable to get ahead?’” Ramirez said in Spanish.
Depending on a student’s access to reliable internet, the last year of virtual school has ranged from enriching to impossibly discouraging.
Which kids have access follows a stark pattern: Across urban and rural areas alike, public schools with more students in poverty were far more likely to serve households that lacked a basic broadband connection at home in the months before school went online, according to an unprecedented CalMatters analysis. For the vast majority, the barrier to access was not a lack of internet infrastructure — indicating that the more common obstacle was affordability. But for the state’s small population of rural students, those two obstacles unite, leaving three in ten households without a reliable connection.
Though schools have scrambled to deliver laptops, tablets and hotspots to students, and promoted low-income internet plans offered by telecom companies like AT&T and Comcast, one in five California households with K–12 students told the Census Bureau in late March they don’t always have the internet access needed for virtual school. Interviews with over 30 students, teachers, researchers, advocates and education leaders revealed that hotspots and discount broadband are often unreliable, leading to a year of education disrupted by screen freezes, distorted audio, and getting booted out of Zoom classes.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought California’s digital divide out of the shadows and to the forefront of public policy. Families sued school systems and the state for failing to provide poor, Black and Latino students equal access to high quality education online. Education leaders argued that logging on at home will be part of a 21st century K-12 education. Lawmakers are now calling internet access a basic civil right.
“We need to envision being able to provide affordable, reliable internet for all like we provide water and electricity,” said Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance, during a recent webinar about closing the broadband divide.
The Ramírez family had neither broadband nor computers until schools shut down last spring. Their charter school loaned them two laptops, but they never received a hotspot, so Ramírez signed up for their current $9.99 Internet Essentials plan with Comcast for low-income households.
“If we had to pay the regular price, we wouldn’t get it because it’s too expensive,” said Ramírez, who receives Social Security because of a kidney illness for which he must do dialysis five times a week. His wife cleans houses, though fewer clients call since the pandemic.
But the $9.99 plan still cuts out too frequently, Ramírez said. The kids’ grades are slipping, especially his son, also named Mario. Before the pandemic, little Mario was a buoyant kid whose afternoons and weekends brimmed with soccer, swimming, karate, and track and field. Now Ramírez struggles to unglue his son from video games or his cell phone, sometimes baiting him with ice cream just to get him out of the house. Ramírez’ son has put on weight, which his mom attributes to anxiety.
“I feel more bored. I feel like there’s no world left and it’s only me and my sister because there’s no one here,” the fourth-grader said.
Little Mario’s teacher has suggested he may need to repeat fourth grade.
Meanwhile, in the attendance boundaries of schools with the most affluent students, 88% of households had a connection.
The 20% of schools with the greatest proportion of students getting free and reduced price lunches were compared to the 20% of schools with the least.
“This is just going to have a ripple effect for generations,” said Jamey Olney, a Modesto middle school teacher who teaches English to students who are mostly recent immigrants, live in deep poverty, and lacked a home internet connection before the pandemic.
Affordability is a main barrier to access, agreed Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable & Telecommunications Association.
“I don’t think that the providers have received enough recognition for their voluntary efforts” to provide discounted programs, McIntyre said. But she added, “clearly, as long as we have unserved families that could be connected to the internet, more needs to be done.”
Representatives from Comcast Corp., one of the largest internet service providers in the state, contended that a lack of digital literacy, lack of interest, tech skills and devices, as well as language barriers, were more common obstacles than affordability.
Sena Fitzmaurice, a senior vice president at Comcast, said the Ramírez’ connectivity problems could be due to the devices they are using to connect, where their router is placed or problems like rusted wiring outside the home. She said the speed shouldn’t be a problem, citing a study by a research lab funded by the global cable industry as proof. The study said that at a speed of 50 Mbps download, 5 Mbps upload — the theoretical speed of the Internet Essentials plan the Ramírez family uses — 10 laptops should be able to do video conferencing simultaneously with no problem.
After being contacted by CalMatters, Comcast offered to reach out and send a repair person to the Ramírez family free of charge.
Affordability at root of divide
Barriers to home broadband access generally boil down to two main factors. Has an internet company connected the household to its complex above- and below-ground network of high-speed fiber, copper wires, cables, towers and antenna? If so, is the household able to afford the plan?
Efforts to solve California’s digital divide have often focused on the former: funding broadband infrastructure in remote parts of the state. If only we could get telecommunications companies to build out the last miles of high-speed fiber to California’s remote communities, we could close the gap, the thinking went.
“Before the pandemic… there’s been more attention to deployment issues,” said Hernan Galperin, a University of Southern California professor who researches internet policy and digital inequality. “But much less attention to the affordability gap.”
A 2021 survey by the California Emerging Technology Fund and Galperin confirmed the pattern: 68% of households that didn’t have an internet connection cited cost as a principal reason, while 34% said it wasn’t available where they lived. Language barriers and limited digital skills also contributed. Nearly a quarter of households that spoke Spanish at home lacked an internet connection.
The average monthly cost for a residential broadband connection plus router in Los Angeles is $59.83, according to research by the New America think tank. That’s not including the average one-time installation and activation fees of $104.75. Nor the fact that most plans offered for under $50 per month increase after the first year or two.
The researchers found that low-income plans, usually priced at $10 per month, tend to be so slow that they cost significantly more for each bit of data than do high-speed plans. Households without Wi-Fi usually don’t know about them. And many COVID-19 broadband promotions only lasted a few months or expire after the pandemic.
There’s no standard definition of what constitutes affordable broadband, unlike housing, which is considered affordable if it costs less than 30% of your income. A December report from the California Broadband Council, a 12 member committee formed in 2010 under then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote broadband deployment in underserved areas, cited research finding that low-income consumers tend to be able to afford $10 to $15 per month plans. New York state just capped the cost of broadband at $15 for low-income people.
There’s also no statewide program to help families pay for their internet, unlike electricity. That could change. Two California lawmakers have proposed a fund to help low-income families cover the cost of high-speed broadband. To pay for it, the state would charge internet service providers 23 cents per month per broadband connection.
In the same vein, the Federal Communications Commission will soon offer $50 per month vouchers to low-income families, including any with kids who qualify for subsidized lunch. But the program will end when it runs out of funds and depends on internet service providers to sign on.
Multiple advocates, though, said these subsidies reward telecom companies for their high rates.
“For the pandemic to just be a windfall for those that provide digital devices and internet connectivity — there’s something that feels very immoral about that,” said Angelica Jongco, an attorney with Public Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights law firm.
Telecommunications companies can charge unaffordable rates because they face little competition, said Galperin, who found that just over half of Californians had more than one high-speed Wi-fi option, in a January policy brief.
“The most urgent and widespread problem is lack of competition in the provision of high-speed broadband,” Galperin and coauthors wrote.
That’s especially true in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, according to a report from the progressive Greenlining Institute last summer. The study found that telecommunications companies compete to provide the fastest connections in high-income neighborhoods, while bypassing neighborhoods with a large percentage of poor and Black residents, which the researchers called “digital redlining.”
In response to the criticism that government subsidies reward companies for charging high prices resulting from little competition, McIntyre, representing the cable industry, contended that such programs don’t cause internet service providers to stop offering discount programs — and that the telecommunications market already is competitive.
An urban and a rural issue
The pandemic revealed that California’s K-12 digital divide is as much an urban issue as a rural issue.
“COVID really showed how wide the crack can be due to poverty,” said Tim Taylor, executive director of the Small School Districts Association of California. “It got the leaders together to say this is an issue that is not just rural, but it is about poverty and connectivity.”
CalMatters’ analysis backs that up. Most students who go to the schools with the lowest neighborhood broadband access live in urban and suburban areas, especially Los Angeles, where UC Los Angeles researchers estimated that 29% of Hispanic students and 27% of Black students didn’t always have internet last fall, compared to 20% for white students.
But rural school neighborhoods — especially where poverty and a lack of infrastructure layer on top of each other — have much lower broadband adoption rates overall.
CalMatters identified nearly 400 school attendance boundaries spread across California’s far North, Sierras, Central Valley, Inland Empire and borderlands in which at least half of households lacked a basic broadband plan. Of those households without, about one in three had no broadband options to choose from.
Take Evelyn Flores and Katya Velasco, two ambitious graduating high school seniors who faced similar challenges to connecting to their classes in very different places.
Flores attends Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School, nestled between the Los Angeles River and Highway 101. Here, just 59% of households have broadband.
Velasco attends Desert Mirage High, an aptly named school in the Coachella Valley, where broadband infrastructure is available to about 76% of households and just 32% had a home connection.
In one sense, Flores was one of the lucky ones. Her family already had a $14.99 per month home internet connection with Spectrum for low-income families. But it wasn’t fast enough for Flores and her three sisters to do virtual school and work at the same time — especially when Flores’ parents quarantined for three weeks in the family’s one bedroom after both contracted COVID-19.
Flores and two of her sisters slept, studied and worked in the living room, competing for connectivity. In virtual classes, classmates told her that her voice warped like a robot when she spoke. She got in the habit of turning her video off to free up bandwidth. Upgrading to a faster internet plan was out of the picture: Her dad lost his supermarket job after his bout with the virus.
Velasco’s family can’t afford a broadband plan, she said. So for the first month of virtual learning last spring, she relied on the overburdened internet connection of her neighbors. She used her phone hotspot to take her AP exams, hoping she wouldn’t run out of data during the hours-long tests.
Then both of the families received multiple Verizon hotspots from their school districts.
The hotspots from LAUSD worked intermittently and only during school hours. The batteries drained quickly. They also wouldn’t let Flores connect to certain sites, like some college application websites.
Velasco and her classmates noticed that, in some areas, the Coachella Valley Unified hotspots seemed to grab a weaker connection from nearby cell towers. Velasco’s neighborhood was one of them. Oppressive heat and wind often drive local power shutoffs, compounding her connection issues.
Both students described painful class periods trying to keep up with their subjects. On days when Velasco gets kicked out of class repeatedly, she texts her friends to keep her updated, but their summaries are never as good as listening to the teacher.
Despite the challenges, both girls kept their grades up, applied to colleges and got in. Flores is leaning towards CSU Los Angeles, so that she can live at home while saving up for her own place. Velasco will head to UC Irvine, where she wants to study computer science.
But many of Velasco’s peers couldn’t muster the drive to get through a year of fragmented education, she said. She watched some friends “just completely give up.”
Not fast enough
Tenth-grader Kiki Hall lives in a Southeast Fresno home where she often vies for bandwidth with as many as eight other people — four other K-12 students, her mom, her dad and two grandparents.
“Sometimes I just want to throw the computer across the room because it doesn’t work,” said Hall, who attends Roosevelt High School, which serves neighborhoods in which three in 10 households lacked broadband before the pandemic. Over 90% of students qualify for subsidized lunch.
The family’s $43 per month AT&T broadband connection frequently buckles, kicking everyone out of remote classes at the same time. Once, Hall was disconnected from English class 17 times in 80 minutes. By the time the connection stabilized, her teacher was saying goodbye.
Broadband internet, as defined by the FCC, constitutes any connection exceeding 25 megabits per second, or Mbps, to download content online, and 3 Mbps for uploading. California agencies generally use a threshold of 6 Mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed — the standard used in CalMatters’ analysis.
“There is no one-size-fits all” speed for remote learning, said Greer Ahlquist, program director for EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit focused on bridging the K-12 digital divide. More people using a connection requires more bandwidth, as does streaming.
The California School Board Association has urged a new FCC fund for K-12 connectivity to adopt a standard of 25 Mbps for download and 12 Mbps for upload for each student .
For Hall’s family that would mean download speeds of at least 125 Mbps. Their current plan is 100. Hall’s mom, Samantha Phillips, said she’s thinking about switching to a faster $100 Xfinity plan when their AT&T contract ends in September. “We’re just going to have to eat the bill,” said Phillips who worked with disabled preschoolers before losing her job to the pandemic.
“If it’s a necessity, it shouldn’t be an unreasonable amount to afford internet so your child can attend school,” Phillips said.
Remote school exhausts Hall, who wants to become a professional cosmetologist after college. She seesaws between lacking motivation to log onto another day of remote school riddled with Wi-Fi challenges, and reminding herself it’s important to do her best. Sometimes she’ll stay up until 2 a.m. to finish an assignment, only to wake up bleary-eyed the next morning for a class that she can’t log into.
“It’s so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to keep up with my grades enough as it is and these Wi-Fi issues do not help one bit,” Hall said. Her grades in math, already her toughest subject, have dropped below C’s.
According to CalMatters’ analysis, those speeds are nearly universally available for households that attend suburban and urban schools, though they may not be able to afford it. But in rural school neighborhoods, just 68% have access to broadband with download speeds exceeding 100 Mbps.
Many students work with far less, whether through hotspots, discount plans or old technology.
Stan Santos, a splicing technician with AT&T and a representative for the Communications Workers of America union, has tested hotspots issued by school districts in multiple small farmworker communities in Fresno County. Most don’t get above download speeds of 5 Mbps.
Driving across the Central Valley’s vast expanses of farmland, sometimes he happens on a stand of trees and a cluster of concrete brick buildings and trailers that house the families who work in those fields. The concrete blocks cell signal so children will sit outside with hotspots to log onto classes.
Telecommunications companies often don’t build out to these areas, Santos said. When they do, they provide copper-based Digital Subscriber Line connections, an older, slower broadband technology. On one splicing assignment, he visited a man living in a trailer in Coalinga, whose discount $10 per month DSL connection wasn’t fast enough for both him and his son to go online at the same time, Santos said. So AT&T offered him a faster option, for $40 per month. Still DSL, it didn’t top 6 Mbps download speed.
“…I can do nothing to help them.”
Even before the pandemic, students without internet at home consistently scored lower in science, math and reading — something education leaders called the homework gap.
With the internet at their disposal, curious students are able to continue learning on their own, said Imperial County Superintendent of Schools Todd Finnell, while those without one “get behind in all areas of life.”
Even after the pandemic, students who can log on at home will have a big advantage. The pandemic has accelerated the integration of technology into K-12 education. In a recent national survey, 15% of school districts said they will continue virtual schooling after the pandemic. Another 10% planned to continue hybrid learning.
Remote learning may be especially important in disaster-prone California. Before the pandemic, fire and smoke often interrupted school days in San Mateo County, said County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee.
Having online options makes schools resilient to future COVID-19 flare-ups, natural disasters, or even the next pandemic, so “you’re not just sending kids home and canceling school for the day.”
It’s too early to quantify the ripple effects of distance learning on student learning, but early research shows alarming trends.
A January study of test scores in 18 California school districts found significant learning loss in both English and math, with low-income and English learner students falling behind faster than others.
Olney, the Modesto English teacher, says that for her middle schoolers, distance learning has included little learning.
She has students who never got a hotspot, or live in households with three families all sharing a single one. She teaches middle schoolers who live between multiple relative’s homes, often accessing classes from a cell phone in a car, and migrant students unable to log into classes from Mexico. She can only guess at what’s going on with the handful of students who log on for just 15 minutes each week with their cameras and mics turned off.
Sometimes she feels like a nurse trying to triage students in a warzone, she said. “They’re bleeding out, but I’m behind the fence and I can do nothing to help them,” Olney said.
One thing is clear: Having a quiet workplace and a stable internet connection makes a big difference. In December, a cohort of around a dozen of her highest-needs students began physically coming to the school to log onto Zoom classes in the morning and get one-on-one homework assistance in the afternoons.
Those who came to school improved their GPAs by at least 1.5 points within two months, on average. Among those who stayed home, most continued hovering around D’s and F’s.
But Olney warns that getting all kids internet access isn’t nearly enough. Not for her students who watch over five younger siblings and cousins also doing distance learning while their parents hold down multiple jobs, nor for the students who log in from unconditioned trailers in 110 degree heat — yet “they continue to show up,” Olney said.
“I think we have a lot to make up to these students.”
CalMatters data reporter Jeremia Kimelman contributed to this story.
PITTSBURGH, April 27, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE: PNC) today announced a Community Benefits Plan to provide $88 billion in loans, investments, and other financial support to bolster economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income (LMI) individuals and communities, people and communities of color, and other underserved individuals and communities over a four-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
The Plan – developed in connection with the anticipated regulatory approval and closing of PNC’s pending acquisition of BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA – covers the geographies currently served by PNC and the new geographies PNC will expand into through the BBVA USA acquisition. The Plan incorporates, builds on and expands the pledges and plans previously announced by PNC and BBVA USA to help meet community needs, advance economic empowerment and address systemic racism.
Specifically, over the Plan period, PNC expects to:
Originate at least $47 billion in residential mortgage and home equity loans to LMI and minority borrowers and in LMI and majority-minority census tracts.
Originate at least $26.5 billion in loans to small businesses in LMI communities, majority-minority census tracts, businesses with less than $1 million in revenue and small farms.
Provide at least $14.5 billion in community development loans and investments across all markets, including at least $400 million for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that help meet the banking and financial service needs of traditionally underserved communities.
Increase to at least $500 million PNC’s charitable giving, including sponsorships and philanthropic grants. This includes the continuation of BBVA USA’s existing multi-year grant and charitable sponsorship commitments with nonprofit organizations, and a commitment to maintain or increase the current levels of philanthropic support provided to community groups in Birmingham in recognition of the history of the city as the headquarters city of BBVA USA and its predecessor bank.
“As a Main Street bank, we believe that our success will be proportional to the prosperity we help create for our stakeholders,” said PNC Chairman, President and CEO William S. Demchak. “This plan reflects that belief and builds on our longstanding commitment to provide economic opportunity for all individuals and communities we serve, as reflected in PNC Bank’s and BBVA USA’s overall ‘Outstanding’ Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) ratings in each of our organizations’ most recent evaluations.” PNC Bank has consistently earned an ‘Outstanding’ CRA rating in every performance evaluation issued since enactment of the CRA more than 40 years ago.
PNC’s Community Benefits Plan was developed by PNC, in consultation with BBVA USA, and was informed by numerous community listening sessions that PNC held with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) that included representatives from more than 150 NCRC member organizations from across the combined PNC and BBVA USA footprint. PNC also held listening sessions with the National Diversity Coalition, the Greenlining Coalition, the California Reinvestment Coalition, Faith and Community Empowerment, and members of their respective organizations.
“We appreciate the leadership and commitment of PNC Bank to collaborate with us and our members to develop the largest-to-date community benefits plan,” said NCRC CEO Jesse Van Tol. “This plan is a significant commitment by one of the largest banks in the nation to increase investments, services and loans for low- and moderate-income communities and neighborhoods of color. It’s rewarding and makes me hopeful when institutions and communities can come together like this to make a meaningful commitment that’s intended to have a lasting impact on lives, families and neighborhoods.”
PNC’s Regional President and Community Development Banking teams will serve as key points of engagement in their local communities for identifying impactful local community development initiatives and acting as liaisons with local organizations. PNC will extend this model to the new markets it enters through its pending acquisition of BBVA USA.
“As we consulted with numerous groups across the country, we learned the concerns that are top of mind to our communities: focusing on home ownership as a foundation of wealth creation for current and future generations; finding solutions to help the unbanked and underbanked who have suffered disproportionately during this pandemic; and supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs by providing access to capital and credit on par with the access enjoyed by more affluent segments of our society,” said Richard Bynum, chief corporate responsibility officer for PNC. “We believe that our strategic focus on fostering economic empowerment, education and entrepreneurism in traditionally underserved populations and communities truly reflects the concerns of our communities and addresses each of these areas.”
“For over three decades, I have been fond of saying, ‘Banks are our neighborhoods’ best hope.’ The PNC plan directly responds to that hope,” said NCRC President and Founder John Taylor. “It will provide a much-needed influx of investment into critical programs that improve affordable housing, mortgage lending, small business development and economic development projects for low- and moderate-income people and neighborhoods coast-to-coast. This plan would have been impossible without the clear and unwavering commitment of PNC CEO Bill Demchak and other executive leadership at the bank, as well as the critical role our local community members played in our discussions with the bank.”
The Community Benefits Plan builds on PNC’s commitment to providing economic opportunity for all individuals and communities, including LMI and minority individuals and communities, as well as women, veterans and LGBTQ+ individuals and businesses. In addition, the Plan reflects PNC’s commitment to addressing systemic racism, promoting social justice and advancing diversity and inclusion, not just within PNC, but within the broader financial system and its communities.
In 2020 the PNC Board of Directors formed a Special Committee on Equity and Inclusion in order to provide oversight of these important issues. The Board’s Special Committee will also be responsible for oversight of PNC’s execution of the Plan.
PNC’s plan to better meet the needs of the unbanked and underbanked includes the addition of 20 new branches and 25 remote automated teller machines in LMI communities across PNC’s expanded footprint, and 10 mobile banking units primarily dedicated to servicing LMI communities. PNC also expects to increase its spending with diverse suppliers by at least 20% over the plan period.
PNC also plans to expand the reach of its innovative banking products and initiatives designed to meet the needs of LMI individuals, underserved communities and the elderly. This includes the company’s recent announcement of its groundbreaking Low Cash Mode℠ digital offering, which addresses the $17 billion that some studies estimate U.S. consumers pay each year in overdraft fees. Low Cash Mode℠ helps PNC’s Virtual Wallet® customers avoid overdraft fees and remain in the banking system through unprecedented account transparency and control to manage through low-cash moments or mis-timed payments. Low Cash Mode℠ launches nationwide in June and July. Pending regulatory approval and the anticipated close and conversion of BBVA USA customers to PNC’s systems later this year, it will be available to BBVA USA customers with Virtual Wallet accounts.
In addition, PNC will expand into its new BBVA USA geographies its SmartAccess and Foundation Checking accounts—two products that meet the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund’s Bank On national certification. Bank On’s 2021-2022 Standards require low cost, no overdraft, and full-functioning features. PNC is the only bank with two Bank On certified products.
“PNC is committed to continuing to reduce barriers to banking, increasing access to financial services and capital, and implementing financial solutions that position LMI and minority-owned businesses for effective growth, development, and sustainability,” Bynum said.
Under the Community Benefits Plan, PNC also will create a Community Advisory Council that will meet semi-annually to discuss the bank’s progress toward the goals and objectives of the plan, as well as emerging areas of community need. In addition, PNC will host an annual Community Leadership Symposium for members of the Council, key representatives of its member organizations and other invited guests to discuss broader developments affecting community development needs and how financial institutions, like PNC, can best help to meet those needs.
Finally, under the Plan, PNC will increase recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities while also exploring opportunities to increase its recruitment from higher education institutions primarily serving Latinx students.
PNC will use its best efforts to meet and, where possible, exceed the goals included in the Plan, assuming regulatory approval and consummation of the planned acquisition of BBVA USA.
In Nov. 2020, PNC and the Spanish financial group, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (NYSE and MAD: BBVA) announced a definitive agreement for PNC to acquire BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., including its U.S. banking subsidiary, BBVA USA, headquartered in Houston, Texas, that operates 637 branches in Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. When combined with PNC’s existing footprint, the company will have a coast-to-coast franchise with a presence in 29 of the 30 largest markets in the U.S.
The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. is one of the largest diversified financial services institutions in the United States, organized around its customers and communities for strong relationships and local delivery of retail and business banking including a full range of lending products; specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real estate finance and asset-based lending; wealth management and asset management. For information about PNC, visit www.pnc.com.
Measure by Assemblymember Gipson Would Fill Gap in Analyzing Legislation
Contact: Brenda Contreras, Legislative/Press Aide for Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, Brenda.Contreras@asm.ca.gov Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)
SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson), joined by Assemblymembers Adrin Nazarian, Mark Stone, Luz Rivas and Cristina Garcia, has introduced HR 39, designed to address a major gap in the analysis of new legislation proposed in Sacramento. HR 39 would encourage the California Assembly to explore methods to integrate equity more formally into its daily activities, including the potential adoption of equity impact analysis into the existing committee and floor bill analysis processes.
“Communities of color and other marginalized populations have been disproportionately harmed by poor government decisions, even if unintentional,” said Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson).“ I can think of no better time to reflect and make sure we don’t repeat those mistakes and to guarantee that we bring a new level of transparency and analysis to the legislative process. We must ensure that all Californians have an equal opportunity to benefit from policies that profoundly impact them, such as education, housing, employment, health care, etc. Right now, each new bill gets an analysis examining things like related legislation and fiscal impact, but nothing about its impact on low-income Californians or historically marginalized communities. The equity impact assessment would update the existing government process and identify gaps in our policy-making decisions.”
All levels of government have begun to embrace the need for such analysis. President Biden recently issued an executive order requiring all federal departments and agencies to “recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.” Five states — Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Oregon, and New Jersey — have adopted and implemented policies requiring racial equity impact statements for certain types of proposals.
“As the Biden administration works to build a serious federal approach to racial equity, it’s already receiving hostile responses claiming that equity must mean racial quotas and is bad for America,” said Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of The Greenlining Institute, which sponsored the resolution. “California must not be intimidated, but instead must help lead the effort to commit to equity. We cannot capitulate to white grievance that is rooted in white privilege and a false sense of superiority. It is time to be bold, proactive and center racial equity to build an inclusive country, and HR 39 will help get us there.”
Sammy Nunez, executive director of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin said, “As the most diverse city in America, Stockton’s 2020 election served as a barometer to measure and forecast the socio-political realities of people of color across the United States. The political landscape is indicative of racial injustice, and the overt oppressive forces that have permeated every aspect of our country since its inception. However, this also presents an opportunity for investments that can transform our struggles into solutions to transcend and heal the racial divide that has kept us from meeting our full potential as a state and nation.”
The Greenlining Institute believes that applying racial and social equity analytics to understand the complexities and harsh realities imposed on people of color represents the minimum California must do to ensure a future devoid of neglect and abandonment and undo the social, political, and institutional traumas perpetuated by the state. This resolution would illuminate the benefits for all Californians of legislating through an equity-based lens that builds opportunities for all Californians.
Greenlining Institute Virtual Summit Expands to Two Days of Programming
Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – With recent events propelling racial equity to the top of the national agenda, The Greenlining Institute’s annual Economic Summit will bring together an array of world-changing advocates and thinkers to examine where we stand and what possibilities lie ahead. Momentum: A Virtual Summit on Racial Equity expands to two days of online programming, May 5 and 6.
The keynote speaker will be Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the bestselling books Caste and The Warmth of Other Suns. After her talk, Wilkerson will engage in an in-depth discussion with Alexis Madrigal, staff writer at The Atlantic and co-founder of the COVID Tracking Project.
In a year that has brought both a renewed sense of hope but also extraordinary challenges, Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, will join New Georgia Project Chief Executive Officer Nsé Ufot for a fireside chat highlighting the extraordinary efforts of Georgia voting rights organizers and, the enormous power our movements have built, and the continuing threats to the right to vote.
In another timely session, Black Lives Matter co-creator Alicia Garza will join Cat Brooks, co-founder of Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project, Alex Tom of the Center for Empowered Politics and Dulce Garcia of Border Angels to discuss how we can sustain and grow multi-issue and multi-racial organizing efforts to address the crisis in policing, the rise in anti-Asian violence, and broken immigration policies.
On the Summit’s closing day, Michael Tubbs, Special Advisor for Economic Mobility and Opportunity to California Governor Gavin Newsom — who as Mayor of Stockton pioneered that city’s guaranteed basic income program — will join PolicyLink Founder in Residence Angela Glover Blackwell to examine how we can reimagine a society that is truly built upon principles of justice and equity, moving beyond incremental reforms to dream big and lay the groundwork for real transformation of our systems.
Additional panels and discussions will examine a wide variety of issues, from algorithmic bias to reparations and the growing movement to eliminate use of fossil fuels from homes and other buildings. There will also be music, interactive opportunities and an Expo. Tickets are available through 11 a.m. on May 6.
Members of the media wishing to attend should email Bruce Mirken as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary pass.
That was the widely shared sentiment contained in a tidal wave of reaction Tuesday after a jury in Minnesota found Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, guilty of murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis last year.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He will be sentenced in eight weeks. His conviction follows more recent instances of police violence that have sparked outrage.
Floyd’s death led to a global wave of protests demanding racial justice, an end to police brutality—particularly against people of color—and sweeping reforms in law enforcement. The verdict Tuesday prompted more demonstrations and calls for deep and lasting change from a diverse range of racial justice campaigners, progressive advocacy groups, and elected officials.
What follows is just a small selection of those comments and perspectives:
Center for Constitutional Rights:
“Despite today’s guilty verdict, true justice for George Floyd and the other Black lives snuffed out by police has yet to be done… Derek Chauvin will now serve a penalty for acts deemed exceptional. But his behavior was not exceptional, and treating George Floyd’s murder as a consequence of extraordinary acts neither protects Black people nor captures the unreformable depravity of our system of policing. His murder is the predictable outcome of policing’s origin in slave patrols and the ongoing, constant threat to Black people of arrest, incarceration, violence, and death.”
Communications Workers of America:
“Today’s verdict finding Derek Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd is a step toward justice for Floyd, his family members, and all those who have been affected by his brutal murder. But it is not enough. As we have seen in the past few weeks, the threat of police violence continues to be a constant presence in the lives of Black and Brown people in our country. We’ve heard all the pretexts and excuses and promises to do better, but the fact remains that there has been no reduction in the racial disparity in fatal police shootings over the past five years.”
Vera Institute of Justice:
“The verdict is an important step toward police accountability for a brutal act of violence. While the outcome of this trial was just, it won’t bring George Floyd back, lessen the suffering of his family, or keep our communities safe from racism and police violence. A system rooted in racism and white supremacy won’t deliver the accountability or safety we deserve. There is more work to do.”
Lindsey Allen, Greenpeace USA:
“While this is a milestone, there is so much more work to be done to dismantle white supremacy and overhaul the systems that allow for racist police and vigilante violence against Black and Brown people in the first place… The verdict falling during the week of Earth Day connects our movements in protest and reminds us that there is no climate justice without racial justice. As an environmental community, we must speak out in the face of white supremacy, systemic injustice, and their fatal consequences. Fighting for a green and peaceful future includes speaking out against the unjust, racist, and systemic violence facing Black people in the U.S.”
Stosh Cotler, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action:
“Derek Chauvin will still have his life, while the families of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and so many others continue to mourn… We rise in solidarity with Black and brown people—including Jews of color—resisting in the Twin Cities, in Brooklyn Center, in our Jewish communities, and across the country. At the same time, Republican-led state legislatures across the country are moving forward legislation that would criminalize Black and brown-led protest, from the recently passed H.B. 1 in Florida to bills introduced in Minnesota just this month. We condemn these anti-democratic measures and call on leaders and elected officials to protect the rights of protesters.”
Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice:
“This conviction must mark the beginning of true change in our country, where the criminal justice system has consistently failed to hold police officers accountable for the unwarranted killings and brutality that have disproportionately taken the lives of Black people and other people of color in traumatized communities… Although today’s verdict marks an important step forward, we call on leadership at every level of government to advance urgently needed policing reforms that bring about true racial justice and equality.”
Rahna Epting, MoveOn:
“The Derek Chauvin verdict is a welcome measure of accountability. Yet, the truth is that Chauvin being convicted for killing George Floyd is, unfortunately, the exception in this country, not the rule. In order to truly achieve justice, we must fundamentally transform public safety. We must reimagine a society that truly protects and takes care of one another, and treats one another with dignity and respect. And we certainly must ensure that no police officer ever again is empowered to brutally inflict harm upon anyone and callously take their life.”
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Lawyers for Civil Rights:
“No one is above the law. Yet time and time again, officers engaging in unlawful misconduct are spared from legal consequences simply because they are part of law enforcement. At LCR, we are committed to bringing civil rights lawsuits on behalf of people of color affected by police misconduct. Today, we call on prosecutors to similarly do their part by holding police officers responsible for misconduct. Prosecutors across the nation—including here in Massachusetts—must stop shielding officers who act beyond the bounds of their authority and rain violence upon communities of color. Prosecutors must track, expose, and prosecute officers and police departments that engage in brutality, racial profiling, and other civil rights violations.”
Kassandra Frederique, Drug Policy Alliance:
“Over the course of the trial, the defense brought in one witness after another not to prove Derek Chauvin didn’t kill George Floyd, but instead to prove that George Floyd was under the influence of drugs at the time of his death and in previous law enforcement encounters… This verdict, for once, gives us hope that the days of this excuse still working are numbered. But the fight is not over. Make no mistake, this will happen again and there will be other officers who try to escape all accountability. We must work to end the drug war, so that drugs can never again be used as an excuse to rob people of their dignity, their humanity, or their lives.”
George Goehl and Bree Carlson, People’s Action:
“No verdict will bring George Floyd back, or deliver justice to his family and others who have suffered state-sanctioned police violence. Today, we breathe a sigh of relief as the Floyd family and the people of Minneapolis are offered some shred of accountability. We have a long road ahead, and we know that convicting one guilty person cannot bring justice for generations of oppression. True justice begins with defunding the Minneapolis police department and diverting that funding to programs to make communities healthy and whole, and it will be complete only when our country finally and permanently ends state-sanctioned murders of Black people.”
John Gordon, ACLU of Minnesota:
“While this verdict brings a certain rare form of accountability for police, achieving this outcome for Mr. Floyd is only one step in addressing police abuse of power, disparate treatment, and excessive force against Black and Brown communities. We still must radically change policing in Minnesota and across the country, increase accountability and transparency, and create policies that combat racism in policing. The jury’s decision to convict Derek Chauvin does not negate the fact that Mr. Floyd’s tragic murder is part of a horrifying local and national pattern of officers using excessive force against people of color.”
Debra Gore-Mann, Greenlining Institute:
“Today we experienced a small measure of justice… But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights, and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start. Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.”
Massachusetts AG Maura Healey and Nevada AG Aaron Ford, Democratic Attorneys General Association:
“Today, there was accountability for George Floyd’s murder. But the work for justice continues… Today, we recommit to working to end the injustice of police killings without consequence—disproportionately affecting Black, Brown and other communities and families of color. We applaud our colleague AG Keith Ellison and his team for their leadership and commitment to justice for George Floyd and his family. To those marching in the streets for continued justice and progress, know that we stand with you in the fight for reforms, and are working to make sure systemic change happens at the state and federal level.”
Shanene Herbert, the American Friends Service Committee’s Healing Justice program in Saint Paul:
“The brutal murder of George Floyd is the consequence of a racist system that disproportionately targets people of color for violence, imprisonment, and premature death… No matter the outcome of the trial, young people of color are living every day with the ongoing trauma of police violence, the militarization of our cities, tear gas invading their homes, and brutality against protestors. Instead of this constant dehumanization, we need resources to help us heal and rebuild the beloved community we all deserve.”
Margaret Huang, Southern Poverty Law Center:
“Today’s verdict is an acknowledgement that police officers cannot get away with murder, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the justice demanded by so many protesters in the last year… The fact that justice was done in this case cannot allow us to forget about the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, among many others. But this case galvanized a movement for justice that has expanded across the country, rooted in longstanding demands for a reimagining of a criminal legal system built on anti-Black racism and white supremacy. Lawmakers at the state and federal level must begin holding officers accountable for police violence.”
Farhana Khera, Muslim Advocates:
“The jury’s guilty verdict is a long-overdue measure of justice for the Floyd family… Now, all the other officers involved in Floyd’s killing must also be held accountable. And we must hold accountable all the other officers involved in the killings of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Breonna Taylor, Muhammad Muhaymin, Jr. and the many, many other Black people and people of color who have been harmed and killed by the police. Further, we must all take drastic, immediate action to overhaul the law enforcement and justice systems that have allowed this violence to continue for so long.”
Karissa Lewis, Movement for Black Lives:
“George Floyd should still be alive, full stop. Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict doesn’t fix an irredeemable, racist system of policing rooted in white supremacy that will continue working against and harming Black people just as designed… This repeat cycle of police killings, trials, and no real substantive systemic change has to stop. Now is the time for a complete reimagining of public safety in the United States, so that no more fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, children, siblings or loved ones are lost to the hands of state violence.”
Miski Noor, Black Visions:
“We know that true justice would be served only if George was still here with his family, loved ones, and community. We believe in a world where Black people don’t have to feel this pain and wonder why these things keep happening… It is both individuals and institutions that bear responsibility for the loss of George’ s life and the pain his family experiences, so we feel a guilty verdict is an important step for the community and we know that Chauvin is not the exception but the rule. No one conviction, training, or reform can interrupt the rotten foundation of the institution of police and policing.”
Becky Pringle, National Education Association:
“While the jury reached the right decision and did in fact convict former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of George Floyd’s murder, we are again joining together to make sure all of us feel safe in our schools, neighborhoods, and communities… As the one-year mark of George Floyd’s murder approaches, we must continue to come together to demand accountability and justice for all and to demand that our elected leaders—especially those who have taken an oath to serve and protect us—to respect our rights, no matter our race, background, or where we live.”
Roxana Rivera, 32BJ:
“As a union representing mostly Black and Brown workers, our members cannot escape a dangerous reality that they too could become a victim of police brutality, even as they risk their own lives keeping us safe on the frontlines as essential workers who clean and secure buildings. Many must travel to and from work during off-hours and fear being harassed and brutalized by the police… We must ensure this ruling signals an end to the cycle of violence against our Black and Brown communities, and the beginning of long overdue reform of our broken policing and criminal justice systems.”
Rashad Robinson, Color of Change:
“Nine minutes and 29 seconds will forever be supplanted in our hearts and memory. Now we must look at the road ahead. Our fight for racial justice continues as we fight to fundamentally alter a system that continues to threaten, harm, and kill Black people. So we use this moment to push for real change because the fight for accountability and justice in America is far from over. The Chauvin trial may be over, but what comes next will be the consequential moment in our history. We need to do more than raise our voices; we must demand action now… Color of Change is all in for the fight for justice and will continue to advocate for systemic change.”
Kristina Roth, Amnesty International USA:
“Of course, true justice for George Floyd would require him to still be alive… Not only did Derek Chauvin deny George Floyd his human rights, he also showed utter disregard for George Floyd’s humanity. We must acknowledge the racist roots of law enforcement in this country if we are to address the systemic failures of policing and bring about meaningful public safety for those that have been historically overpoliced. This must include shrinking the size and scope of law enforcement in daily life, eliminating qualified immunity that creates a barrier to redress for victims of unlawful policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, and enacting strict limits on the use of force altogether.”
Linda Sarsour, MPower Change:
“Today’s verdict might come as a relief, but to act in solidarity with Black communities, we must remember that it is decidedly the exception, not the rule. And we must continue to take action in honor of the life of George Floyd, and all lives lost to white supremacy, policing, and incarceration by fighting for a world without these roots of injustice.”
Lee Saunders, AFSCME:
“We cannot let today’s verdict allow us to become complacent about the challenges we face. We have to do better. Black people in America are exhausted with fear and anxiety every single day. Today’s verdict is appropriate punishment for a single crime. But to honor the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo, and so many others whose only ‘crime’ was being Black, we must work with greater effort and urgency than ever to bend the arc toward racial justice.”
Shari Silberstein, Equal Justice USA:
“Today, so many people are exhaling with relief for the thousands who cannot: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Duante Wright, Adam Toledo, and so many more. A legal system that has been over-applied to Black and brown people and dramatically under-applied to law enforcement has now convicted one police officer. The verdict is deeply meaningful for being so rare. But we cannot mistake this for a transformative moment. We still pour billions more dollars into policing than into proven health-based violence prevention. Black people are still not safe when they’re pulled over, jogging, even surrendering. And our nation has not been accountable to the harm of centuries of racist policies embedded in our justice system and far beyond it.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.):
“While today’s conviction is a necessary condition of justice, it is not sufficient. For centuries, Black people have faced violence at the hands of the state in our country. For centuries, systemic inequalities in the form of housing, income, education, and criminal justice have plagued our country—holding us back from our creed of liberty and justice for all. Let this be a turning point, where we finally create a society that reflects the belief that all men and women are created equal. Let this be the moment where we implement a broad anti-racist agenda to root out the inequalities that continue to plague us.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):
“The jury’s verdict delivers accountability for Derek Chauvin, but not justice for George Floyd. Real justice for him and too many others can only happen when we build a nation that fundamentally respects the human dignity of every person. The trauma and tragedy of George Floyd’s murder must never leave us. It was a manifestation of a system that callously devalues the lives of Black people. Our struggle now is about justice—not justice on paper, but real justice in which all Americans live their lives free of oppression. We must boldly root out the cancer of systemic racism and police violence against people of color.”
Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner (D):
“This needs to be a turning point for America. It does not end here—far from it, but it’s a damn good feeling to exhale and feel that some semblance of justice was served. My heart is with the Floyd family. If you ever doubt the power of movements, please remember today.”
Officer’s Conviction Necessary but Not Sufficient, Greenlining Institute Says
Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – In response to the announcement of the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd, Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann released the following statement:
“Today we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.
“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.”
THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE works toward a future when communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change. www.greenlining.org @Greenlining
Urges Sustainable, Equitable Support for Pioneering Programs
Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Associate Director for Media Relations, 415-846-7758 (cell)
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – California has an array of pioneering programs aimed at promoting clean mobility in a way that also enhances racial/economic equity – issues that have just been highlighted by President Biden’s infrastructure plan. But to truly make a difference, such programs need long-term, stable funding, a new report from The Greenlining Institute argues.
The new report, Sustaining Clean Mobility Equity Programs, seeks to answer a critical question: How do we take these small, pilot projects and reliably fund them and bring them to scale, even after any hoped-for federal help runs out? And how do we fund them equitably, without burdening the very communities they seek to help?
The report looks at specific funding strategies that can be used by any state or community, from congestion pricing and road charging to taxing ride-hailing companies, user fees, advertising and sponsorships, weighing their advantages and disadvantages. It also highlights how to deploy other strategies to strengthen and stabilize equitable clean mobility programs, including community partnerships and improvements to the way governments administer grants.
“Many of these California pilot programs have been exclusively funded through the state’s cap-and-trade system, but that mechanism has significant drawbacks,” said report author Hana Creger, Greenlining’s Climate Equity Senior Program Manager. “Low-income, disadvantaged communities and communities of color need clean mobility, and that means identifying stable, equitable funding that allows these programs to grow. And we first need to prioritize the development of community vision, priorities and partnerships so that we can sustain these programs over the long haul.”
THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE works toward a future when communities of color can build wealth, live in healthy places filled with economic opportunity, and are ready to meet the challenges posed by climate change. www.greenlining.org @Greenlining
In the summer of 2019, the city council in Berkeley, California, made a bold and unprecedented move: They banned natural gas hookups in most new building construction.
Councilwoman Kate Harrison, who sponsored the new ordinance, had been on a hunt for ways to reduce the city’s carbon emissions. “We looked at where our emissions were coming from and found that natural gas in buildings played a significant role,” she says—they accounted for a whopping 37 percent of the city’s total. Cars are another big source, but the city has no authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. But buildings? “This is an area we can tackle,” Harrison says.
Berkeley’s pioneering ordinance spurred a wave of similar efforts. Since 2019, more than 40 cities in California have passed similar measures. Proposals to ban gas hookups are now under consideration in Colorado, Washington State, and Massachusetts.
Climate experts have long said that buildings old and new will need to wean themselves off fossil fuels. Today, buildings account for more than a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—a number that will have to drop rapidly if the country hopes to hit the emissions reductions goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
But the growing movement to restrict natural gas hookups has also unleashed an aggressive campaign by the natural gas industry to preemptively ban the bans.
The American Gas Association, an industry trade group, vowed in an email statement to “absolutely oppose any effort to ban natural gas or sideline our infrastructure anywhere the effort materializes, state house or city [hall] steps.” So far, six states, including Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah, have passed legislation forbidding such bans. Similar legislation is being considered in 14 other states.
Buildings are carbon hogs
Because buildings use so much energy, they have the potential to be a big part of any solution to the climate crisis.
Globally, buildings account for nearly 30 percent of all energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Program—and nearly 40 percent if emissions during construction are included. Their contribution is growing as construction soars in both developed and developing countries. Some projections suggest that building emissions could double or triple by 2050 if major efforts to build better don’t materialize.
The 95 million residential and commercial buildings in the United States account for about 28 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Two-thirds of that total are “indirect emissions”—the carbon actually comes out of the stacks at power plants that generate the electricity used for the buildings’ lighting, air conditioning, and electric heating. The remaining 12 percent—about as much as the entire country of Brazil or slightly more than all of Germany—are “direct emissions,” primarily from natural gas and heating oil burned in the buildings themselves to heat them and their water.
The challenge is to clean up both kinds of emissions. The U.S. electricity sector is already getting greener: Its emissions have dropped by nearly 30 percent from a 2005 peak, largely as a result of renewable energy sources like wind and solar replacing coal and natural gas in power plants. That trend will only accelerate in coming years as more renewable energy sources come online.
To fully decarbonize the nation’s buildings, though, direct emissions will need to be addressed—and the best way, experts say, is to convert buildings to run only on electricity. If all new construction in the U.S. were built all-electric starting in 2022, the building sector’s overall emissions would drop by 11 percent by 2050, according to analyses from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit that specializes in energy efficiency and sustainability issues.
RMI also found that retrofitting existing buildings with all electric components, starting in 2030, would push the sectors’ emissions down by 90 percent by 2050, says RMI’s Mike Henchen. In what may be the most ambitious effort to address building emissions, New York City passed a 2019 law requiring most of its bigger buildings, both commercial and residential, to reduce their emissions 40 percent by 2030. (The Empire State building has already hit that target.)
Although climate gains from new construction alone are relatively small, because few new buildings are constructed each year, ending the use of fossil fuels in new construction will change the landscape in ways that will pay big climate dividends far in the future, experts say.
“We’re already very deep in the hole, and we can’t just keep digging it deeper,” says Sara Baldwin, a buildings expert at Energy Innovation, a climate and energy research center.
Natural gas losing ground
Natural gas was once marketed as a clean alternative to coal and oil, touted as a “bridge fuel” that could help reduce overall carbon emissions while still providing reliable, cheap energy. But its role in a lower-carbon future is now in question.
Natural gas is primarily made up of methane, or CH4, but when it is burned, it mostly converts to CO2, contributing—albeit less than coal- or oil-burning—to the long-term atmospheric buildup of that principal greenhouse gas. But on top of that, methane is itself an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas, one that, in the decade or two it takes to convert naturally to CO2 in the atmosphere, is 84 times as good at trapping heat near Earth’s surface.
Thus when natural gas escapes from a leaky stove or from somewhere along the three million miles of pipeline that criss-cross the U.S., it can contribute powerfully to warming. Many of the lines along the vast distribution network are old and in need of maintenance or replacement. Some recent studies suggest that natural gas pipeline infrastructure is leaking up to five times more than previously estimated. Those leaks may have potentially dangerous health and safety as well as climate effects.
What’s more, since 2009, the costs of maintaining gas distribution systems has tripled, according to analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute, and maintenance costs will likely to continue to rise. Those costs get passed along to consumers. In California, the state energy commission projects consumers could expect to pay more than double for their gas by 2050.
Today, natural gas is supplied to nearly six million businesses and 180 million people, providing heat to about half the homes in the U.S., according to figures from the American Gas Association. By comparison, about 12 percent of all U.S. homes are heated by heating oil, and the rest with electricity, primarily by heat pumps.
On average, one new natural gas customer gets hooked up every minute, the gas association said in a 2018 report. That means about 500,000 new hookups per year that could be avoided with electrification, says Baldwin.
“Once you build new homes, and put in natural gas pipes, people tend to stick with that,” says Ken Gillingham, an environmental and energy economist at Yale University.
“Taking [gas] away would have devastating impacts without the environmental benefits some claim,” the gas association warned in its emailed statement.
The revolution could be complicated
Today, one in four Americans lives in an all-electric home, mostly in the South, where air conditioning is more of a concern than heating. But all-electric construction is expanding in cooler climates, as installation and construction costs decline and technology improves. The performance of electric heat pumps has improved so much that Maine, which depends more on heating oil than any other state, passed a law in 2019 calling for heat pumps to be installed in 100,000 homes by 2025.
One of the most complicated challenges in converting from gas to all-electric is maintaining affordable utility costs. For example, 70 percent of residents of low-income communities are renters who could get slammed on several fronts. If their housing converts to all-electric, utility bills will go up if the renovation leaves out necessary changes like upgrading insulation or adding efficient appliances. Upgrading housing, in turn, can encourage gentrification, driving low-income people out of their neighborhoods. And in the long term, as more gas customers end their gas service, those who remain could find themselves saddled with larger bills, because the fixed costs of the distribution system are borne by a smaller pool of customers.
“The issue of electrifying a building leaves the realm of building performance and puts it right in the middle of environmental justice,” says Carmelita Miller, an energy and legal expert at the Greenlining Institute. The institute says that an equitable transition to all-electric can only be achieved by including communities of color in planning and policy design from the beginning of the process.
Personal preferences can also get in the way of the conversion to all-electric. “People get really emotional about their gas stoves,” says Fei Wang, a buildings expert at the energy analytics firm Wood Mackenzie. Some professional chefs in particular have expressed their love of gas flames— though others have embraced magnetic induction stoves, the vanguard of electric cooking technology. The California Restaurant Association sued the city of Berkeley six week before the new ordinance took effect last year, and some cities like Denver have specifically carved out exceptions so people can keep their stoves.
All of these issues contribute to slowing the transition off gas. Although local ordinances have the advantage of allowing cities to tailor their climate goals to their constituents’ willingness to accept change, the resulting patchwork move to all-electric isn’t happening fast enough, says Ted Lamm, an expert at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment.
The Washington State legislature is considering an ambitious bill to prevent fossil fuel use in new buildings after 2027, and California is in the process of updating building codes that will likely require all new construction to be “electric-ready” by 2023. But without more sweeping state or federal legislation, Lamm says, the pace will not pick up enough to achieve the benefits that all-electric promises.
“It’s great to iterate. It’s not so great when we have a very hard deadline on the other end that we need to meet,” he says, referring to the urgency of the climate problem. “It’s just not fast enough for what needs to happen.”
Already, some cities’ gas-hookup bans have run headlong into conflict. The city of Windsor, in Sonoma County north of the Bay Area, repealed its ban after it was sued. In Brookline, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that passed a rule covering both new construction and gut renovations, the state put the ban on hold, saying the city couldn’t set standards that were different from the state’s own.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
…if you’re thinking of switching from gas to electric
When Berkeley began considering its ban, the city had already been looking hard for new ways to shrink its carbon footprint. It had already installed LED light bulbs in the city’s 76,000 street lights and added bike paths and charging stations for electric vehicles. But it was far from hitting the emissions-reductions goals it had set for itself in 2009.
Harrison, the city council member, knew that the urgency to address the problem was only growing, as residents found their homes blanketed in smoke from climate-intensified wildfires and sweltering in record-breaking heat waves. After reviewing the city’s building code, council members concluded they could legally adjust it.
Harrison, who had already converted her own home to all-electric after her gas boiler failed, gave a demonstration of an induction stove to bolster the case for giving up gas. By July, the measure passed unanimously and with popular support, including from Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s fifth largest distributor of natural gas and electricity.
The new ordinance leaves for another day the question of how to get all of Berkeley’s existing buildings off gas. But to Wang, the Wood Mackenzie analyst, it’s much better than nothing.
“It doesn’t have to be everything,” she says. “Just start somewhere.”