Banking is Changing. Its Lack of Diversity Must Change, Too, and Congress Can Help

By Rawan Elhalaby

In Nicetown, a North Philadelphia neighborhood that was redlined in the 1930s, banks and mortgage brokers largely stay away. Lenders have been particularly stingy when it comes to home improvement loans. CREDIT: SARAH BLESENER FOR REVEAL NEWS

The financial industry is evolving quickly, but unfortunately it has remained static in one major way: Its leadership looks nothing like America.

That’s bad for communities of color, who will be the American majority in roughly 20 years, but it’s also bad for our whole economy.

At The Greenlining Institute, we regularly look at board and workforce diversity in agencies and private institutions across multiple sectors of the economy, including banks. In 2019, we studied the boards of directors of the ten largest banks operating in California, where we are based, and found that on average, people of color made up 30 percent of bank board composition, despite making up over 67 percent of California’s population.

Gender diversity was equally lacking, with women making up only 29 percent of bank board members. None of the 10 huge banks that we studied had more than 36 percent women board members.

These executive boards are the top decision-makers in financial institutions and drive the policies that ultimately impact our communities. Boards are accountable for the actions and behaviors of their institutions. They set the direction those institutions will go.

And those institutions often still don’t go in directions that help communities of color. My organization’s name, The Greenlining Institute, came from our founding purpose as the answer to redlining, the longstanding practice of denying loans and investment to communities of color. While long illegal, recent investigations by the investigative news organization Reveal found that redlining has not gone away; it persists in more subtle but still destructive forms.


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On an annual basis, we request data from national institutions that operate in California. We track and rank banks on indicators that impact communities of color.

We consider transparency to be critical because data gives the public a full picture of the diversity and inclusion — or lack of it — within financial institutions, helping to keep them accountable to communities of color and inform data-driven policymaking.

Unfortunately, we regularly experience difficulty in obtaining such data, making it much harder to produce fair and thorough research and hold banks accountable. We believe that such data should be disclosed voluntarily by financial institutions, but Congress has a role to play as well.

We’re concerned about regulatory barriers that prevent banks from effectively serving low and moderate-income communities and communities of color by preventing banks from collecting and disclosing race data to the public. We urge lawmakers to look to existing regulations that require government agencies and private institutions to disclose data on diversity and inclusion practices.

Section 342 of the Dodd Frank Act created Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion in eight agencies. These OMWIs have worked to build up a robust infrastructure that includes internal assessments, crafting strategic plans, and increase diversity in their large agencies. This represents a good beginning, but we need more transparency from the banking industry itself. And we definitely need to look at the largely unregulated Fintech industry, which appears to be even less representative of our country’s diversity than conventional banking.

Ultimately, America’s economy cannot prosper if communities of color don’t prosper. A more diverse financial sector can help make that happen.

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

Bloomberg once blamed end of ‘redlining’ for 2008 collapse

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) — At the height of the 2008 economic collapse, then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the elimination of a discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining” was responsible for instigating the meltdown.

“It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” Bloomberg, now a Democratic presidential candidate, said at a forum that was hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008. “Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods are poor, they’re not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don’t go into those areas.’”

He continued: “And then Congress got involved — local elected officials, as well — and said, ‘Oh that’s not fair, these people should be able to get credit.’ And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn’t as good as you would like.”

Bloomberg, a billionaire who built a media and financial services empire before turning to electoral politics, was correct that the financial crisis was triggered in part by banks extending loans to borrowers who were ill-suited to repay them. But by attributing the meltdown to the elimination of redlining, a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers, Bloomberg appears to be blaming policies intended to bring equality to the housing market.

The term redlining comes from the “red lines” those in the financial industry would draw on a map to denote areas deemed ineligible for credit, frequently based on race.

“It’s been well documented that the 2008 crash was caused by unethical, predatory lending that deliberately targeted communities of color,” said Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit that works for racial and economic justice. “People of color were sold trick loans with exploding interest rates designed to push them into foreclosure. Our communities of color and low income communities were the victims of the crash, not the cause.”

Campaign spokesman Stu Loeser said that Bloomberg “attacked predatory lending” as mayor and, if elected president, has a plan to “help a million more Black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis.”

The campaign also pointed to efforts by Bloomberg’s private philanthropy to help other cities craft policies that will help reduce evictions. He promised in a January speech to do a version of the very thing he criticized in 2008: Ask lenders to update their credit-scoring models, “because millions of black households don’t have a credit score which is needed to get a mortgage.”

After this story was published, Loeser added: “He’s saying that something bad – the financial crisis – followed something good, which is the fight against redlining that he was part of as Mayor.”

Bloomberg’s 2008 remarks stand in contrast with the decades-long positions some of his rivals have held.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s work as a professor and attorney has been devoted to the study of bankruptcy and the disastrous impact it has on the financial well-being of families. As a young Delaware senator, Joe Biden held hearings on unfair lending practices and sponsored legislation to ban discrimination in lending and crack down on industry figures who did.

On Thursday, Warren criticized Bloomberg for suggesting the end of redlining caused the crash.

“Out-of-control greed by Wall Street and big banks, and the corruption that lets them control our government, caused the crash,” she tweeted.

“I’m surprised that someone running for the Democratic nomination thinks the economy would be better off if we just let banks be more overtly racist,” she said. “We need to confront the shameful legacy of discrimination, not lie about it like Mike Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg’s redlining remarks are the latest instance of his past comments by him that have resurfaced in recent days that make him appear racially insensitive.

On Tuesday, an audio recording ricocheted around social media of Bloomberg defending the police department’s use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” tactic during a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute.

Full Coverage: Election 2020

Under the program, New York City police officers made it a routine practice to stop and search multitudes of mostly black and Hispanic men to see if they were carrying weapons.

Although he has since apologized for his support for the policy, in the recording Bloomberg said that “95%” of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops.” To combat crime, he said, “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

Bloomberg’s resurfaced comments about redlining come as he’s in the midst of a two-day tour of the South that in part is focused on building relationships with black voters who are the backbone of the Democratic Party. On Thursday, he plans to launch “Mike for Black America”

Speaking to reporters in Tennessee on Wednesday, he refused to directly apologize for the 2015 comments. In response to repeated questions, he said, “I don’t think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in the nation.”

“I apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused,” he said Wednesday. “It was five years ago. And, you know, it’s just not the way that I think, and it doesn’t reflect what I do every day.”

Introducing Bloomberg at an event in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the city’s NAACP chapter, said he would be a tireless fighter for economic justice for black Americans.

“Look, I know what racism looks like. I know what it looks like, and that’s not Mike Bloomberg,” she said.

House subcommittee scrutinizes diversity at biggest banks

By Meghan McCarty Carino

Has Wall Street really become more diverse since the 2008 recession? Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The banking industry is coming under scrutiny on Capitol Hill Wednesday. A House Financial Services subcommittee is holding a hearing on diversity, or lack thereof, at the biggest banks in the country.

After the 2008 financial crisis and the reforms that followed with the Dodd-Frank Act, banks were supposed to become more accountable to the public, and part of that was by becoming more diverse.

“Because when people that are representative of our nation actually are in these positions, then communities of color get served better,” said Rawan Elhalaby, who was set to testify at the hearing on behalf of the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit focused on economic justice.

She pointed to predatory lending that disproportionately hurt borrowers of color in the run-up to the Great Recession. Since then, she said, the industry has paid lip service to diversity and inclusion, “but we’re not seeing the data to really back that up.”

While Dodd-Frank reforms require monitoring of diversity at the biggest banks, it’s not clear how much has changed.

“Indeed, progress has been slow. It’s been glacial,” said Ronald Parker, president and CEO of the National Association of Securities Professionals, which advocates on behalf of women and minorities in the financial sector.

Parker points to a report by the House Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee last year that showed banks’ senior leadership and boards of directors are still mostly white and male, while not one of the biggest banks is led by a woman or person of color.

Greenlining Institute to Push for Bank Diversity at House Hearing Feb. 12

House Financial Services Subcommittee to Consider Diversity & Inclusion at Large Banks  

Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell),
Rawan Elhalaby, Greenlining Institute Senior Economic Equity Program Manager, 619-339-7955 (cell),

WASHINGTON – At a rare congressional hearing on diversity and inclusion (or in, many cases, the lack thereof) at America’s largest banks, Rawan Elhalaby of The Greenlining Institute will present her recent research on bank boards of directors, call for greater transparency, and argue for more aggressive efforts to promote diversity in the financial sector.

“Banks and other financial institutions often claim to make diversity and inclusion a high priority, but when you look behind the buzzwords, you often find far too little real progress, “said Elhalaby, author of Greenlining’s October 2019 report, 2019 Bank Board Diversity.

WHAT: House Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion Hearing, “A Review of Diversity and Inclusion at America’s Large Banks

WHO: Rawan Elhalaby, Senior Economic Equity Program Manager, The Greenlining Institute; Kenneth Bentsen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Diversity and Inclusion Council; Dr. Naomi Mercer, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, American Bankers Association; Subha Barry, President, Working Mother Media; members of the committee

WHERE: 2128 Rayburn House Office Building

WHEN: Wednesday, February 12, 10 a.m.

Elhalaby will be available for media interviews after the hearing.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

Greenlining Institute Disappointed at Judge’s OK of T-Mobile/Sprint Deal

Advocates Say Merger “Will Harm Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities Across California” 

Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director 415-846-7758 (cell)
Paul Goodman, Greenlining Institute Technology Equity Director, 831-325-8600 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute today expressed profound disappointment at a New York judge’s ruling that the controversial merger of T-Mobile and Sprint can go ahead. Greenlining Institute Technology Equity Director Paul Goodman made the following statement:

“We are profoundly disappointed that the judge approved a merger that will harm communities of color and low-income communities across California. T-Mobile’s tepid promises to offer low-cost services were contradicted by T-Mobile’s own experts, and T-Mobile’s commitments are too vague and full of loopholes to ensure that the merger is in the public interest. The Greenlining Institute will continue to fight the merger at the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that communities of color have access to affordable, high quality service.

“The fact that information regarding the judge’s ruling leaked before the judge issued his decision is highly unusual and raises serious questions about a merger review process that has already been tarred by T-Mobile’s backroom dealings at the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. We are saddened that the judge decided to reward such behavior.”

The lawsuit was filed in June in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by attorneys general from 13 states and the District of Columbia. They argued that the merger would harm low-income customers by reducing competition in the telecommunications industry, leading to higher cellphone bills.

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

‘This Merger Is a Monopolistic Disaster’: Consumer Groups Decry Approval of T-Mobile/Sprint Deal

By Jessica Corbett


Consumer advocacy groups on Tuesday sharply condemned a federal judge’s decision to approve the planned merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers, warning that the $26.5 billion deal could lead to higher prices and worse service.

The group Public Citizen declared on Twitter that “this merger is a monopolistic disaster” and told consumers to “expect prices to rise and service to suffer.”

The ruling (pdf) Tuesday from Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan came in a lawsuit filed by the attorney generals of 13 states and the District of Columbia, which is the merger’s final hurdle. Critics have long denounced the deal as “blatantly anti-competitive,” but federal regulators signed off on it last year.

The U.S. Department of Justice approved the merger in July on the condition that Sprint sell off some parts to the satellite television provider Dish Network Corp. and Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of the deal in October—after Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, spent months advocating for it.

“From the start, this merger has been about massive corporate profits over all else, and despite the companies’ false claims, this deal will endanger wireless subscribers where it hurts most: their wallets.”
—New York Attorney General Letitia James

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the suit with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, said in a statement that the coalition challenging the merger is considering its next step, including a possible appeal. She also urged Americans to hold the wireless providers accountable and expressed concerns about severe consequences if the deal goes through.

“Today’s decision marks a loss for every American who relies on their cell phone for work, to care for a family member, and to communicate with friends,” said James. “From the start, this merger has been about massive corporate profits over all else, and despite the companies’ false claims, this deal will endanger wireless subscribers where it hurts most: their wallets.”

“There is no doubt that reducing the mobile market from four to three will be bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for innovation, which is why the states stepped up and led this lawsuit,” she added. “We disagree with this decision wholeheartedly, and will continue to fight the kind of consumer-harming megamergers our antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

Becerra echoed James’ comments in a statement, vowing that “our coalition is prepared to fight as long as necessary to protect innovation and competitive costs.”

Consumer advocates thanked the attorneys general for, in the words of Free Press vice president of policy and general counsel Matt Wood, “working so hard to stave off this terrible result.” Since news of the judge’s decision leaked late Wednesday, Wood has responded with a pair of statements.

“People already pay way too much and have hardly any choices in a consolidated mobile and broadband marketplace,” he said. “It’s hard to believe a sitting federal judge could be so unaware of the realities of this industry and the track record of phone and cable companies, but here we are.”

Wood accused Marrero of “showing a stunning lack of awareness and attention to the facts when he credits the claims of T-Mobile executives that their company will compete just the same as ever, even after swallowing its biggest rival for lower-priced service.” However, “the judge was not alone in willfully ignoring or failing to grasp the harms caused by removing a competitor from this already highly concentrated market,” he added, calling out Trump’s DOJ and FCC.

“The judge is showing a stunning lack of awareness and attention to the facts when he credits the claims of T-Mobile executives that their company will compete just the same as ever, even after swallowing its biggest rival for lower-priced service.”
—Matt Wood, Free Press

Ultimately, Wood warned, “this deal will be most harmful to the two carriers’ poorer and more urban customer base, who will pay dearly for this combination after yet another failure by our nation’s antitrust enforcers.”

In a statement, Greenlining Institute technology equity director Paul Goodman also expressed disappointment “that the judge approved a merger that will harm communities of color and low-income communities.”

“The fact that information regarding the judge’s ruling leaked before the judge issued his decision,” Goodman added, “is highly unusual and raises serious questions about a merger review process that has already been tarred by T-Mobile’s backroom dealings” at the DOJ and FCC.

Former FCC Commissioner and current Common Cause special adviser Michael Copps highlighted that “all of the evidence in this proceeding shows that this merger is inherently illegal under antitrust law” and “even evidence presented at the trial revealed the companies’ executives acknowledged prices for wireless service would rise if the merger was approved.”

Copps reiterated concerns that “low-income and marginalized communities who rely on more affordable services from T-Mobile and Sprint may find themselves displaced from wireless access” and commended the coalition of attorneys general.

“Robust and affordable broadband and voice services are essential to a 21st century democracy. A marketplace where Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile are allowed to call of the shots will only serve to widen the digital divide,” he said. “Our antitrust laws were designed to block blatantly anti-competitive mergers like this one. If our laws are no longer sufficient, then Congress must step in to improve them. Otherwise, we can expect to see more industry consolidation where consumers will pay the price.”

Open Markets Institute legal director Sandeep Vaheesan warned that Marrero’s ruling has broader consequences because it “empowers all corporations seeking dominance through mergers and acquisitions.” The judge’s decision, he said, “underscores the need for bright-line rules that deter harmful consolidation and channel business strategy toward product improvement and investment in new capacity.”

Meanwhile, T-Mobile CEO John Legere celebrated Marrero’s ruling as “a huge victory for this merger” and repeated his company’s claim that “the New T-Mobile will be a supercharged Un-carrier that is great for consumers and great for competition.” Sprint executive chairman Marcelo Claure said that “Judge Marrero’s decision validates our view that this merger is in the best interests of the U.S. economy and American consumers.”

The Hill noted Tuesday that “one judge and a California panel still need to sign off on the merger, though it’s unlikely either of those will kill the deal.”

Why does the Sierra Club oppose affordable housing?

By Sasha Perigo
Curbed SF

The Loma Prieta chapter of the environmental organization says no to a Moss Beach development due to sustainability concerns.

AnAn affordable housing development on the Peninsula has an unlikely detractor: the local Sierra Club.

The development in question, a 100 percent affordable housing plan proposed by nonprofit developer MidPen Housing, is at Cypress Point in Moss Beach, a coastal community seven miles south of Pacifica.

The project would add 76 homes for individuals and families making between zero and 80 percent of the area median income, which comes in at $134,435.

The developer has held dozens of community meetings over four years about the project. But the debate raged on January 20 before the San Mateo Planning Commission. After hours of public comment, the planning commission decided—once again—to delay a decision on advancing the development of the critical homes.

Perhaps not at all surprising, the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club has opposed the Moss Beach project since its inception.

The Sierra Club’s views on housing development have been a thorny issues for years now.

The San Francisco chapter came under fire in 2015 for opposing three downtown developments, because they cast a shadow on nearby parks. Pro-density critics decried this move as blatant NIMBYism. Infill development has a positive environmental impact since it reduces the need for increased car use downtown.

Since this controversy, the California Sierra Club has gotten more vocal about supporting housing density; in 2018, the organization published a letter in support of affordable housing. But local chapters still remain autonomous over the projects under their jurisdiction.

Housing is one area of focus for the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter, which has a rubric that incorporates affordability, transit access, and energy efficiency, among other factors, to decide whether or not to support a project.

The Sierra Club has penned letters of support for housing developments in the past, but when it comes to the Moss Beach project, the environmental outfit continues to have concerns. For example, it says the site is too far from community services like supermarkets, schools, and medical offices.

Also of worry? The development would have poor access to public transit. While the SamTrans route 17 runs along the coastline, from Pacifica down to Half Moon Bay, it only runs once an hour.

The chapter also says the project’s proximity to Highway 1, which the groups says is a safety hazard, is yet another concern.

“In response to concerns from Club members who live in the area we have visited the site and our initial impression is that there could hardly be a much worse location for affordable housing in the urbanized Mid-Coast,” the Sierra Club chapter said in 2016, noting that the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) required by residents of the development “would be significant.”

Affordable housing advocate Jordan Grimes, from Peninsula for Everyone, offered another perspective, arguing that the project could actually reduce vehicle miles traveled.

Job growth has far outpaced housing construction on the Peninsula, and the coastal region is no exception. Though the nearby town of Pacifica added 5,000 jobs between 2010 and 2019, it only added 67 new homes, according to the California Employment Development Department and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Grimes points out these workers must all commute from somewhere.

“I really am surprised that the Sierra Club is against this,” he said. “The way we see it is the VMT created by people having to live in Tracy and Gilroy and having to commute to their job is worse … It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the status quo.”

Peninsula Regional lead at the Sierra Club Loma Prieta chapter Mike Ferreira told Curbed SF that Peninsula for Everyone misses the point.

“That’s specious,” said Ferriera. “Vehicle miles traveled are not only when you’re traveling to a job. It’s going to schools and libraries and doctors and boys and girls clubs.”

Grimes also mentioned that the affordable housing might appeal to an existing constituency in Moss Beach: homeless people living in recreational vehicles along the coast.

Sonja Trauss, a San Francisco-based housing advocate who attended meetings in support of the project, agrees with Grimes. When there’s job growth without home growth in a region, people end up doubled up in homes or living out of their cars.

“It’s already the case that there are more and more cars in each driveway,” said Trauss. “You guys are against density, but it’s happening anyway.”

The bulk of the homes at Cypress Point would be available to renters classified by HUD as extremely low or very low income. These renters make between zero and 50 percent of the Area Median Income, or up to $62,000 for a family of four.

“Those units are extremely hard to come by in San Mateo County,” said Grimes.

MidPen Housing corroborates numbers about local job growth. The developer notes there are 11,000 local jobs along the Peninsula coast. Forty-five percent of these workers commute 10 miles or more to work, and 68 percent make less than $40,000.

A majority of the homes in the project will be reserved for applicants with jobs in the area.

MidPen says it selected the Cypress Point site for affordable housing due to its proximity to low-wage jobs; hospitality, food service, construction, and manufacturing jobs are common on the coast. Plus, its options were limited when choosing a coastal site.

San Mateo County has only designated three regions along the coast as available for affordable housing development. MidPen reviewed the other two sites, but determined that they were not “viable for development.”

Not all environmental organizations take the same approach to evaluating housing development as the Sierra Club.

The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit focused on racial justice, promotes sustainable and equitable housing development.

Greenlining’s environmental equity director, Alvaro Sanchez, said he takes a holistic view towards evaluating new development rather than taking a stance on individual developments.

“I see obviously merit on both sides,” he said. “From our perspective, there’s a severe housing shortage. I would encourage the Sierra Club to try to figure out a win-win situation in order to … build more housing and to reduce pollution.”

Developers can address sustainability concerns without abandoning a planned development.

In other areas where transit service is less than adequate, the Greenlining Institute has advocated for the inclusion of electric vehicle chargers in affordable housing developments.

While advocacy to increase bus service in the Moss Beach community has stalled in the past, an influx of new residents could reignite calls for more public transit. Increased ridership makes bus lines more economically feasible.

The next step in advancing the Cypress Point project is for the San Mateo County Planning Commission to update the county’s planning documents to allow for the construction of the project. This is the decision that they delayed last Wednesday.

This rezoning alone would not be approval of the project. The county would have to separately approve the project in a future planning meeting before construction could start on the project.

The Sierra Club is pressing on in its opposition to the project.

“There’s a lot of ego around this project,” said Ferreira, referring to MidPen leadership. “Someone needs to say that the emperor has no clothes.”

If the Sierra Club gets its way, MidPen would have to start the planning process from scratch at a new site—and residents in need of affordable housing would have to wait.

Delaying affordable housing construction could also have ramifications for the county. State law mandates that each community constructs a certain amount of affordable housing, as determined by the Bay Area’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

If a community that has failed to meet their target denies qualifying projects, they are subject to legal action.

The California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, led by Sonja Trauss at the time, sued the city of San Mateo for similar reasons in 2017. The lawsuit has put San Mateo County officials on high alert and could influence their decision on Cypress Point.

“It’s not at all surprising that it takes five years to build housing,” said Trauss. “It’s tragic.”

The problem with the Sierra Club’s opposition is not only that it delays construction, said Peninsula for Everyone’s Grimes, but that it bolsters NIMBY opposition.

A local group called Resist Density has joined the Sierra Club in opposition to the project, but unlike the Sierra Club, they are opposed to high-density development altogether. Other “projects of concern” on their website include the designation of two RV parks.

“The anti-density group is hammering hard on the Sierra Club’s opposition to this,” noted Grimes.

“It’s greenwashing,” added Trauss. “This is it.”

Still, Ferreira said at last Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting that it’s “premature” to move forward with the project given outstanding concerns.

“We can’t fall into the trap of [building] anything anywhere,” Ferreira said. “Because you’ve got to live with it.”


Uber’s new policies could encourage discrimination, advocates fear

By Carolyn Said
San Francisco Chronicle

Advocates for minorities and low-income people fear that Uber’s recent overhaul of its ride processes could lead to discrimination against people traveling to neighborhoods some drivers perceive as less desirable.

Drivers can now decline to take passengers to San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point or East Oakland, for instance — areas already underserved by transportation.

Uber last week gave California drivers much more autonomy, including the ability to know every ride’s destination in advance and to reject ride requests without penalty. The changes are Uber’s attempt to shield itself from being forced to reclassify drivers as employees under the state’s new gig-work law, AB5, but some outside groups say the overhaul creates conditions for prejudicial treatment.

“We fear this new system could only exacerbate discrimination,” said Hana Creger, environmental equity program manager at Oakland’s Greenlining Institute, which promotes racial and economic justice. “Drivers could refuse to go to certain neighborhoods they deem as unsafe.”

Uber is aware of the increased potential for bias and said it will closely monitor trips for destination discrimination.

“Rejecting requests for discriminatory reasons, including rejecting trips solely to avoid particular neighborhoods, violates Uber’s Community Guidelines and California law,” it wrote in a blog post to drivers announcing the new ride processes.

Lyft has not matched Uber’s change, so Lyft drivers still cannot see their riders’ destinations.

Despite Uber’s assurances, advocates for minorities remain concerned.

“We have well-developed patterns of racial exclusion in the U.S., whether housing, land use policy or transportation,” said Bob Allen, director of the transportation justice program at Oakland’s Urban Habitat, a nonprofit advocating for historically disenfranchised communities. “Folks of color, particularly black folks, are not able to get a taxi pickup as often in their neighborhoods. I think it would also be an issue” under Uber’s new policies.

A related issue is that drivers might reject less-lucrative short-hop trips, something that seniors and others with mobility issues rely upon. However, that might be mitigated since Uber provides incentives for drivers to complete a certain number of trips within a certain time frame. Uber said it has not seen high rejection rates for short trips since the changes.

Clarrissa Cabansagan, new mobility policy director at TransForm, an Oakland nonprofit working on climate and mobility justice issues, said that independent analysis would be the best way to track destination discrimination.

San Francisco required applicants for its scooter and bike street-rental permits to explain how they’d serve communities of concern and provide ongoing data on that, she noted. (TransForm worked with bike-rental company Motivate, now owned by Lyft, on its inclusion plans and with Lyft on its unsuccessful scooter application.)

But while the city has the authority to regulate bikes and scooters on its streets, it lacks jurisdiction over Uber and Lyft. They are regulated at the state level by the California Public Utilities Commission. That agency requires the companies to provide annual reports on ZIP codes served, but spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the data are not used to track changes in service by areas.

The agency “is always focused on ensuring nondiscriminatory practices by the entities it regulates and utilizes all of its tools and resources to meeting that end,” Prosper said.

Uber has started its own studies.

Because the changes were phased in starting in December, the company could compare drivers who knew destinations with those who didn’t. It said it looked at acceptance rates for trips going to Bay Area locations identified as communities of concern by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and did not find any differences in acceptance rates or arrival times.

“So far, we have seen no indication that drivers are accepting trips to disadvantaged areas any less frequently than other areas because of this change, but we are keeping a close eye as these changes roll out more fully across the state,” Uber said.

Passengers who want to complain about discrimination or other ride-hailing issues can contact the state agency at or 800-894-9444. They should also contact Uber via the app so it can track their complaints with their accounts, Uber said. While passengers are aware when a driver cancels an accepted trip, they won’t know if a driver rejects their ride request because it will get passed on to other drivers until the company finds someone who accepts it. The rejections would manifest in longer wait times, which could best be tracked by Uber or outside observers monitoring control groups.

Cabansagan said the issues could be nuanced — drivers might reject ride requests because they’re tired and don’t want to drive too far, for instance.

“As a person of color who understands sensitivities about white folks feeling the hood is dangerous, you can’t just automatically assume that cancellations/rejections equal racism, but you can do digging,” she said.

Access to timely, affordable transportation is a lifeline for people who need to get to school, work, stores and doctors. In outlying neighborhoods with fewer public transit options, ride-hailing has improved residents’ mobility.

“We see a lot of our communities in disadvantaged neighborhoods use Uber and Lyft because transit is so infrequent,” Cabansagan said. “That benefits people who otherwise might spend more than a third of their income on a vehicle.”

Ride “redlining” by taxi drivers is already well documented nationwide.

Hansu Kim, owner of Flywheel Taxi, San Francisco’s second-largest fleet with 300 cabs, said that is no longer an issue.

“In the past, without a doubt, neighborhoods in lower-income areas were not served as well,” he said. “Today that’s nonexistent. The loss of rides for the taxi industry (due to Uber and Lyft) has been so extreme that any ride a taxi driver gets, they’re going to take. Even in the worst parts of the city where traditionally there was discrimination in the past, (passengers are) getting picked up very quickly.”

In contrast to taxis, Uber and Lyft have long promoted that ride-hailing reduces discrimination because drivers don’t know passengers’ names or destinations.

“New transportation options like Uber add a reliable and affordable option to the transportation ecosystem for low-income neighborhoods,” the company wrote in a 2015 blog post touting a study it financed that found that its rides in underserved areas cost less and arrived faster than taxis.

But some researchers have found that ride-hailing still suffers from racial profiling, even before Uber’s recent changes.

Passengers with names that sounded stereotypically African American were more likely to have rides canceled and to have longer waits for pickups than people with white-sounding names, according to a 2018 UCLA doctoral dissertation based on a three-year study in Los Angeles. (Drivers don’t see passenger names until after accepting trip requests.) Cancellation rates and wait times for black riders were even higher on taxi rides.

“I think there’s a very real chance of (Uber’s new policy) potentially increasing discrimination,” said thesis author Anne Brown, now an assistant professor of planning, public policy and management at the University of Oregon.

“The taxi industry is the best way to see consequences of a very similar policy: Taxis can see destinations of riders before accepting trips and we’ve seen that low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color are very poorly served by taxis,” she said. “In interviews, drivers say, ‘We don’t want to serve those neighborhoods, they’re dangerous, we won’t get a trip back.’”

She’s also concerned about a potential “snowball” effect — if drivers won’t accept trips going to neighborhoods of concern, then there will be a lower supply of drivers for outgoing trips from those areas.

Brown agrees that monitoring is one way to safeguard against bias.

“People change their behavior when they know someone is watching,” she said. “That element is important to retain.”


Community Rejuvenation Project and The Greenlining Institute Announce Mural Project

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — The Greenlining Institute and the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) announced today a large-scale mural project in downtown Oakland. Over the next few months, CRP will design and install the Greenlining mural on the west-facing exterior wall of Greenlining’s 360 Center at 360 14th Street. in downtown Oakland. Additionally, CRP will be hosting a series of free community engagement events and public activities throughout the mural production process, including design workshops, a panel discussion, an art exhibition, and an artist talk.

The mural will incorporate themes related to Greenlining’s equity policy issue areas, along with content developed directly from community engagement events. Born from a multi-ethnic coalition that first came together in the 1980s to fight redlining, Greenlining works to expand economic opportunity for communities of color. Its work now embraces a wide variety of policy areas, including banking and economic policy, health, tech, energy and the green economy. The Greenlining 360 Center, opened in January 2017, has become a center for organizing and education, hosting hundreds of community events, meetings and trainings.

The project is a follow-up to CRP’s beloved “Universal Language,” also referred to as the Alice Street Mural, a tribute to the cultural history and resilience of the Afro-Diasporic and Chinese American communities centered around the intersection of Alice Street and 14th Street, which is no longer visible due to a new development at that location.  CRP founder and Director Desi Mundo, the lead artist for both “Universal Language” and the Greenlining Mural, said in a statement, “As the new development at 14th and Alice eclipses our ‘Universal Language’ mural, we’re heartened by the opportunity to re-engage in an in-depth dialogue with our community around our local cultural heroes and Oakland’s resiliency as a whole. Collaborating with The Greenlining Institute feels like a beautiful partnership because so much of their work has been creating systemic equity that will protect vulnerable communities from the forces of displacement. While we intend to continue the previous project’s reflection of our shared values and heroes, we need to be clear that this is a new piece that requires an equally thoughtful approach. This presents the opportunity to build on our past work, while evolving with Oakland.”

”We created the Greenlining 360 Center to be much more than an office building for nonprofits, but a true community hub,” said Greenlining Institute President Debra Gore-Mann. “As Oakland fights to maintain its identity in the face of gentrification and economic inequality, we hope this mural will not only add beauty to our city, but will also be a source of connection to the history and soul of Oakland.”

In addition to Mundo, artists selected for this project include Dave Young Kim, Marina Wong,  and Rachel Wolfe. Kim, an alumnus of CRP, has gone on to become a prolific muralist in his own right. Wong, a member of Twin Walls Mural Company, is one of the Bay Area’s rising stars in mural arts. Wolfe is the co-founder of the Bay Area Mural Program, a non-profit organization which combines public art with education. Funding for this project was made possible by Creative Work Fund (a program of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation), the California Arts Council, and a contribution from Bay Development.

Specific activities include:

  • February 5, 2020 at The Greenlining Institute: State of the Arts, a panel discussion with Francisco Sanchez, Dave Young Kim, and Dan Fontes, moderated by Eric Arnold;
  • February 11-14, 2020 at Oakland Asian Cultural Center (OACC), Malonga Casquelourd Center and Greenlining: community listening and input sessions;
  • March 11, 2020 at the Malonga Center:  Mural design and feedback session;
  • April 8 at OACC:  Mural design and feedback session;
  • April 15 at The Greenlining Institute: Mural design and feedback session;

Additional events at The Greenlining Institute:

  • May 1, 2020 Opening reception for art exhibit;
  • May 14, 2020:  Artist talk;
  • July 25, 2020: Mural dedication ceremony.

For a complete list of events, activities, dates, times, and locations click here.

Media contacts:

Bruce Mirken, The Greenlining Institute, (510) 926-4022 or

Eric Arnold, CRP: (510) 681-8213 or; Desi Mundo, CRP: (510) 551-1096 or; For more information on The Greenlining Institute, please visit For more information on CRP, please visit


Newsom’s Budget Omits Some Key Priorities for Communities of Color

Budget Strong on Health, Homelessness But Weakens Climate Efforts in Underserved Communities

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

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – The Greenlining Institute expressed great concern about important programs left unfunded in the proposed state budget released today by Gov. Gavin Newsom, while applauding proposals that can help preserve and enhance economic opportunity for California’s communities of color.

Greenlining applauded the governor’s proposed infusion of capital into the fight against homelessness. “Affordable housing and homelessness represent critical challenges for California, and particularly for communities of color,” said Greenlining Institute Economic Equity Director Adam Briones. “Black Californians represent about six and a half percent of our state’s population, but nearly 40 percent of California’s homeless. We look forward to seeing more bold leadership from the governor and legislature on this issue.”

Briones added, “Greenlining also applauds the Governor for addressing some pressing needs of small businesses, especially those owned by people of color. We are especially excited about his decision to propose an LLC fee waiver and look forward to assisting him in passing that legislation.”

Greenlining has long argued that addressing poverty and pollution at the same time must be core to the state’s fight against climate change. Unfortunately the proposed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund allocation eliminates funding for the most comprehensive, equitable, and transformational program, the Transformative Climate Communities Program, as well as for other programs critical to low-income communities. This follows a troubling pattern of underinvestment in programs known to deliver the most measurable, direct, and assured benefits to California’s disadvantaged communities.

“We are deeply troubled by the Governor’s decision to eliminate funding for the Transformative Climate Communities Program,” said Greenlining Institute Environmental Equity Director Alvaro Sanchez. “We call on the governor and the legislature to reestablish funding for this important program and to invest more, not less, in programs that deliver real climate solutions to low-income communities of color that are hit hardest by climate change.”

Greenlining urges that these key programs be funded at the following levels:

  • $100 million for Transformative Climate Communities (zeroed out in Gov. Newsom’s proposal)
  • $100 million for Low Carbon Transportation Equity Programs  ($75 million in Newsom’s proposal)
  • $5 million for Regional Climate Collaboratives (also zeroed out in Newsom’s proposal)
  • $75 million for Low Income Weatherization (also zeroed out)

In addition, the governor proposes a $4 billion Climate Resilience Bond.  “Unfortunately,” Sanchez said, “this includes insufficient funds to build the resilience of the populations most vulnerable to climate change, so we will strongly urge more funding for communities most at risk.”

Greenlining’s Health Equity team applauded Gov. Newsom’s inclusion of funding for full-scope Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented seniors as well as his $695 million proposal to transform Medi-Cal to provide comprehensive, coordinated physical and mental health services, especially for Californians lacking secure housing. “Coordinating funding to address housing as a health intervention is an important example of working across sectors to improve health outcomes for the most vulnerable. We want to see more investments in jobs and economic opportunities as a health intervention as well,” said Greenlining Health Equity Program Manager Kelsey Lyles.

In light of the Jan. 1 expansion of Medi-Cal to cover all low income Californians under age 26 regardless of immigration status,  Greenlining emphasized the need for investments in health workforce and loan forgiveness programs so that providers are equipped to serve the diverse needs of communities of color.

Greenlining’s Technology Equity Team applauded the governor’s inclusion of resources to map the state of broadband connectivity in California. “These maps are critically needed and will finally provide the state the data necessary to ensure that everyone has access to a robust, open internet at reasonable prices,” said Greenlining Technology Equity Director Paul Goodman. “More accurate data, combined with the Governor’s commitment of $900 million over five years to improve California’s broadband infrastructure, will ensure that all Californians see the benefit of a robust, competitive market for internet service.  We are especially encouraged that governor acknowledges that California can include the construction of broadband infrastructure as part of other state projects.”

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute