The ‘war on coal’ is over. The next climate battle has just begun

By Sammy Roth
Los Angeles Times

The night Barack Obama claimed victory in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008, he predicted future generations would look back and say, “This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

That turned out to be wrong. Earth kept getting hotter, the oceans kept rising, and Donald Trump spent four years undoing many of the clean energy policies adopted by his predecessor.

Tackling the climate crisis will once again take center stage under Joe Biden, but with an important shift. Although the energy politics of the last dozen years were defined by coal — with President Obama working to accelerate its decline and President Trump trying and failing to revive it — the fiercest battles of the Biden era are likely to revolve around another fossil fuel, natural gas.

Read more at Los Angeles Times.

What Does it Take to Meet State Climate and Equity Goals?

By Melanie Curry
Streetsblog Cal

This week, three state agencies that make policies and funding decisions about transportation, air pollution and climate change, and housing – the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) – met to find ways they could work together and align their programs so they don’t conflict.

It’s the second time the three agencies have met. The joint meetings are required by legislation, with the goal of forcing the agencies to talk, so that their policies and actions stop undermining state goals that are larger than any of their individual mandates. Wednesday’s meeting was a demonstration of the progress the agencies have made since that first awkward joint meeting between CARB and the CTC two years ago.

It was also remarkable for what was said. That is, there was general agreement that, in order to align the work of the three agencies, a change in investment priorities will be necessary. That is, investments that continue to encourage reliance on single occupancy vehicles and fossil fuels need to end, and the agencies must focus state investments away from business as usual and onto equitable, sustainable projects.

How to make that shift – especially how to shift investment away from highway expansions that have been long in the planning stages – was not so clear.

Still, that there was general agreement on this notion is a pretty big change.

There’s a serious reckoning taking place at California state agencies at all levels, from the court system to these agencies themselves. Longtime movements for racial equity and environmental justice are gaining new traction and momentum. California’s present and historical inequities worsen problems like bad air quality, reliance on fossil fuels, climate change, wildfires, and this global pandemic.

The many ways these issues intertwine makes it difficult to think about them and talk about them, let alone sum them up succinctly. Many injustices are baked into the ways that California plans and regulates housing, transportation, and air quality. The necessary retooling of these processes will be difficult.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of people and organizations who have been doing that work for a long time.

And they have a lot to say.

Two such organizations spoke at Wednesday’s joint meeting. ClimatePlan and The Greenlining Institute have both conducted analyses of the effectiveness of state plans and policies, on whether they are helping meet state climate goals, and on whether they are benefiting the Californians most in need of help. Maybe the state agencies themselves should be be doing this analysis, but they are not required to. In the past few years, ClimatePlan and its partners completed two analyses of Southern California’s Sustainable Communities Strategies, several detailed reports on ways to plan a California transportation system that serves everyone and reduces emissions and traffic, and principles for integrating planning for land use and clean water.

The Greenlining Institute has released numerous reports on health, environmental, economic, and energy equity, completing detailed analyses of California programs aimed at clean energy and transportation.

Representatives from both of these organizations told the jointly assembled agencies that solutions to these interconnected problems already exist. The Greenlining Institute’s Hana Creger pointed to three existing programs that she said could set standards for equitable investments while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled. They could all be models for aligning program goals, and should be supported and invested in by all three agencies, she said.

But currently between all three they receive only a small portion of overall funding available.

The Clean Mobility Options Program (CMO), the Sustainable Transportation Equity Project (STEP), and the Active Transportation Program (ATP) all help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase mobility, and they do so in ways that help build community capacity. Each have requirements around involving community members from the beginning in planning projects that will meet program goals, but are flexible enough that they leave room for the communities to come up with the projects that they want. They do this by providing technical assistance and guidance, for example, and money for local organizations to conduct meaningful public outreach.

All three programs are also very popular, but only a portion of the applications to them can be funded. That is, only about 18 percent of the STEP applicants will get funding, and maybe sixty percent of the CMO projects will. The ATP usually funds around a quarter of the projects that apply. This is true even though the efforts that goes into applying, including collecting community ideas, creating and prioritizing projects to meet program goals, are considerable.

That means that “detailed, community-centered plans have been formed and are ready to go,” according to Creger, but they cannot be funded unless these programs are increased.

Nevertheless, they receive only a small portion of the overall funding that is available. The clean transportation equity incentives only receive a total of twelve percent of the funding for the Low Carbon Transportation Program, which itself is only a portion of total Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funding from cap-and-trade. “These programs are only scratching the surface of what they could do,” said Creger. Yet they more than pull their weight in terms of results, producing not only community-centered plans but communities that are engaged and interested and ready to work.

For example, while the ATP has seen steady growth in the amount invested in it – and work is being done to increase the funding available for active transportation in other transportation funding programs – California is still spending billions of dollars every year on projects that increase single-occupant vehicle use, reliance on fossil fuels, and that destroy homes to make highways ever wider and, in the end, more crowded.

But all state funding programs need to both encourage community engagement and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We need to move funding away from programs that continue our reliance on cars and fossil fuels,” said Creger, and her words were echoed throughout the afternoon.

When asked by CalSTA Secretary David Kim to also analyze programs that need improvement, Creger agreed that it was needed, and had one quick answer: the Clean Vehicle Rebate program, which offers rebates on the purchase of electric cars and is pretty much limited to people who can afford these expensive vehicles. Not only does that program not do anything for equity, she said, it furthers dependence on cars instead of increasing options for everyone, especially those who need them most.

There was much, much more to glean from the day-long meeting.

Nailah Pope-Harden from ClimatePlan made everyone hungry with an extended metaphor about equity, which cannot just be “sprinkled like salt” onto programs but must be marinated and basted into programs to ensure those programs are nourishing communities. UC Berkeley Professor Karen Chapple offered ideas on the need to realign state policies to support infill, preserving housing affordability and avoiding displacement, and the eventuality that, one way or the other, “the conversation about reparations is going to happen, and it would be good to get out ahead of it.”

In the afternoon, Darwin Moosavi, Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at CalSTA explained the ongoing work on a Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure being formulated by the California State Transportation Agency. CalSTA recognizes that the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and that the huge emission reductions needed mean that vehicle miles traveled must be reduced in addition to other work like increasing the portion of zero emission vehicles.

That means, for one, funding infrastructure that encourages transit, walking, and biking. It also means focusing on a “fix-it first approach” that prioritize projects that do not increase vehicle travel.

What the next steps are, and what the concrete actions in the “Climate Action Plan” are, was left for another day, as was the question of what to do about highway expansion projects that are already in the pipeline.

It was a start.

Greenlining Institute Joins Call to Count Every Vote

“Americans of Color Know What It’s Like to Be Disenfranchised”

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

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – With the Electoral College outcome still in doubt as vote-counting continues, The Greenlining Institute has joined the national call to count every vote. Greenlining President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann made the following statement:

“Every legally cast vote must be counted, period. Americans of color know too well what it’s like to be disenfranchised, and we must not let that injustice repeat itself. When we hear politicians claim that simply counting votes somehow equals ‘cheating,’ it brings back memories of poll taxes, literacy tests and other deceptions that kept Black Americans from voting for generations. Our democracy must be built on the idea that each American gets a vote and each vote must be counted.

“Let’s also remember not to assign too much significance to today’s rising stock market, which isn’t an indicator of anything except the fact that this form of American capitalism is built to protect its own corporate self-interests, which requires the exploitation of labor and working-class folks. The only thing that matters today is:

“Count the votes.

“Count the votes.

“Count the votes.”

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

Racial Justice on CA Ballot Brings Victories, Uncertainty

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

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA –  While still waiting for clarity on the presidential election, Californians voted on a variety of issues with racial equity implications and produced a mix of encouraging results and disappointments, with several races still in doubt, The Greenlining Institute said today.

In a huge win for criminal justice reform, Voters approved Prop. 17, which will allow persons convicted of felonies who are on parole to vote in California elections, and rejected Prop. 20, which would have rolled back recent, successful reforms. As the racial inequity of the criminal justice system has finally become more apparent, Californians faced a choice between advancing reform or returning to failed policies of mass incarceration, Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann noted.

“Our old felony disenfranchisement law was a remnant of the 150-year old effort to keep Black and Brown citizens out of the voting booth, and kept citizens from having a voice in this democracy,” Gore-Mann said. “We’re heartened that voters got rid of this repugnant holdover from state and local laws that enforced racial segregation, and that California took a decisive step towards rejecting a return to the disastrous days of mass incarceration. Black and Brown communities, and indeed all of California, will be safer because of these votes.”

Other results were mixed, and in some cases still uncertain. Proposition 16, a key priority for racial and gender justice advocates, continues to trail although the outcome has not been called.  “Whatever the final outcome, California needs to restore affirmative action and rebuild our efforts against systemic racism and sexism,” Gore-Mann said. “We are working hard to create a more just society that spends its public dollars to create equal opportunity for women and people of color. You can’t solve problems rooted in race and gender by ignoring race and gender, which is what the law now requires. However this finally turns out, you can count on Greenlining to fight the good fight.”

Greenlining was also disappointed by the passage of Proposition 22. While Prop. 22 wasn’t always characterized as a racial justice issue, Greenlining noted that over three quarters of ride-hailing drivers are people of color.

“We’re disappointed that voters were persuaded by the massively financed and devious campaign by wealthy companies designed to permanently keep their most essential workers in a status comparable to sharecroppers,” Gore-Mann said. “This terrible new law continues to allow corporations to relegate their workers into categories that service their financial bottom lines. We must continue fighting to protect our gig workers to be sure they are not exploited, and we will continue to work in solidarity with this workforce.”

As of Wednesday morning, Proposition 15 remained too close to call. “Despite a grossly dishonest campaign against Prop. 15, millions of Californians made clear they want to fix an unfair corporate tax break and provide critically needed funding for schools and other priorities vital to California’s communities of color,” said Gore-Mann. “We’re still hopeful for passage, but whatever the result we won’t give up working to shift the burden from low income working families to wealthy corporations so that they pay fair share to support vital public services.”

To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit


A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute

The Biggest Fight Over Cap and Trade Isn’t About What You Think It Is

By Nathanael Johnson

Imagine Joe Biden is wrapping up the first year of his presidency, and long-awaited legislation to address climate change is just shy of the finish line. It’s been a slog, with swing-vote conservatives bargaining to water down the bill, protect their pet industries, and add pork-barrel projects. Then, before the final votes, a batch of progressives, who had hoped Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, threaten to sink the legislation: They argue that Democrats have given away too much to win over a few centrists — and hate that the bill puts a price on carbon.

This isn’t just speculative fiction. It’s exactly how politics played out in California in 2016 as the state struggled to reauthorize its keystone climate-change law. The legislature managed to pass the reauthorization the following year, amid a furious debate that didn’t end when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill.

It’s a debate over priorities, global versus local. California’s system for capping and trading greenhouse gases is aimed at a global crisis, climate change, but the argument over the scheme centers on a local issue: dirty air spreading within neighborhoods surrounding polluting factories and power plants. On one side are advocates for climate action. On the other side are activists for environmental justice, the movement to reverse the historical trend of dumping pollution on poor people and Black and Hispanic communities. At the surface, the struggle is over facts — over whether pricing carbon makes local air pollution worse — but there’s also a deeper and much more significant disagreement: Most environmental justice advocates aren’t fundamentally opposed to putting a price on carbon; they are opposed to the political pattern, repeated several times over, where politicians trade away working local air pollution laws to tackle the global problem of climate change.

This struggle could easily repeat itself at the national level if Biden wins in November. After all, the term “environmental justice” was a term relegated to environmental circles until the recent Democratic primary, when it was on the lips of nearly all of the major candidates.

“If a Democrat is headed to the White House in November, environmental justice concerns are going to be front and center,” said Meredith Fowlie, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “There is something that we can learn from California, and it’s crucial that we learn it.”

A similar story to California’s has already played out in Washington state, where three efforts to put a price on carbon have failed in recent years. The first was a ballot initiative that didn’t muster enough support from environmental justice activists or voters; the second effort died in the legislature; and the third, in 2018, was led by justice advocates and would have directed money to vulnerable communities. Voters still rejected it.

The fissure over cap and trade in California started with a distrust of markets, said Alvaro Sanchez, the environmental equity director at the nonprofit Greenlining Institute (and a member of the 2019 Grist 50). The idea behind cap and trade, as well as carbon taxes, is that putting a price on carbon emissions will allow the market to do work that would normally be reserved for government regulators; in this case, cutting pollution. But the market doesn’t care about protecting the vulnerable. So activists and experts expected cap-and-trade programs would turn many Black and Latino neighborhoods into dumping grounds.

“It’s hard to trust the market when the market has never brought justice to these communities,” Sanchez said.

There’s some evidence that smokestacks pumped more pollution into the lungs of people living in gritty industrial areas after cap and trade went into place. A preliminary study of the program — coauthored by Grist board member Rachel Morello-Frosch — found that in the first couple of years under cap and trade, localized greenhouse gas emissions had increased in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

In 2018, when the same team that conducted the preliminary study of California’s cap-and-trade scheme’s early years published an updated and peer-reviewed version, it seemed to further confirm the fears of environmental justice advocates. The researchers examined how pollution had changed from 2013 to the end of 2015, the first three years of cap and trade. Some activists called it the “I told you so report,” because it again showed that pollution had gone up in poor and non-white neighborhoods near smokestacks.

While this 2018 study found that the air quality had gotten worse, according to the paper’s lead author Lara Cushing, it didn’t actually show that cap and trade had made it worse. There was no evidence of cause and effect. Several changes could have been responsible — the economy was booming and polluting gas plants ramped up sharply when San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shut down in 2013.

“It’s really hard to disentangle whether changes can be attributed to a program or not,” said Cushing, an environmental health professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There are all these other things going on. We had a huge recession in 2008 so emissions were down relative to where people thought they would be in 2013 — so the cap greatly exceeded the amount of pollution that was being emitted because the economy was still recovering.”

Meredith Fowlie says the bulk of studies on cap and trade doesn’t support the conclusions of environmental justice advocates. “The weight of the evidence contradicts the idea that cap and trade hurts Black and brown people,” she said.

Back in 2012, Fowlie and two other researchers published a paper showing that an early pollution-trading scheme in Southern California — think of it as a proto-carbon price — lessened pollution across all neighborhoods, regardless of who was living there. A few years later, another study critiqued Fowlie’s research and refined the methods, but largely came to the same conclusions.

A new addition to the research Fowlie mentioned is a working paper (which means it hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed) in the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tackled the question of cause and effect directly. “We don’t know from an empirical point of view whether cap and trade was helping or hurting,” said Danae Hernandez-Cortes, an economics graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, or UCSB, and lead author of the new paper.

California polluters have been spewing less grit into the air in recent years, but it’s hard to tell if that’s due to changes in the weather, the economy, or cap and trade. To zero in, Hernandez-Cortes and Kyle Meng, who researches environmental economics at UCSB, compared the giant refineries and power plants — which have been regulated by cap and trade since 2013 — to small factories that aren’t constrained by the state’s scheme.

They found that, as soon as cap and trade kicked in, the big emitters began polluting less. But who benefited from that improvement — everyone, or just those who lived further away from point sources of greenhouse gas emissions? Meng and Hernandez-Cortes figured out where the wind was blowing dirty air by plugging their pollution data into a weather model. After the computers did a lot of high-powered number crunching, they had their result.

The model suggested that California’s cap-and-trade program had decreased pollution and distributed it more equitably throughout the state. But models are never spot on — they return a spread of outcomes of various likelihoods. And just under half of those results suggested there might have been some concentration of emissions in poorer parts of the state under cap and trade. In other words, Meng and Hernandez-Cortes think it’s most likely that cap and trade reduced pollution more in poorer, browner locales than in richer, whiter neighborhoods, but they can’t be certain. And according to the research, no one can.

This paper has its critics. Danny Cullenward, an energy economist at Stanford, was scathing in his assessment, calling it a “hit job” designed to “dunk on” environmental justice activists. He had big problems with the paper’s methods, but the thing that really made him angry was the framing. It’s not surprising that cap and trade is better than nothing, he said, but the choice was never between cap and trade and nothing. In California, when lawmakers passed the cap and trade law, they bartered away more direct regulations on sooty smokestacks.

Meng and Hernandez-Cortes said their focus wasn’t tied to a political agenda; they were simply looking where they had data. The pollution policies pre-empted by cap and trade never happened, so there’s no data on how they would have cleaned up the air. The economists could only compare what happened before and after the scheme was implemented.

“If you want to call it a weakness of the paper, it’s something we totally own up to,” Meng said

Katie Valenzuela, the policy and political director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, had a front-row seat in the statehouse in 2016 and 2017, as the top advisor to the politicians hammering out California’s climate change policies. She watched as the lawmakers scrapped pollution controls, including a new law about to go into effect, and a rule to force Bay Area refineries to slash emissions by 20 percent to get cap and trade reauthorized.

“If we had chosen a path of more prescriptive, direct emissions reductions, we likely would be seeing far more emissions reductions at the source, and far more improvements for EJ communities than we’re seeing under cap and trade,” Valenzuela said.

Even some of the people who supported continuing California’s cap-and-trade package now think it might have been a bad bargain. Back in 2016, David Pettit, a lawyer with the National Resources Defense Council who sues polluters, cheered the reauthorization because it came packaged with another bill, AB-617, aimed directly at curbing local pollution and stopping polluters from dumping on poor people. But that legislation hasn’t turned out as well as he had hoped.

“While there have been a lot of community meetings, nothing has happened in terms of strengthening local regulations or helping to clean up polluting facilities,” said Petit, who explained that he’s still glad to have cap and trade to address the global climate crisis — even though the jury is still out on how effective it is.

Pettit holds out some hope that AB-617 is just a late bloomer. So does Berkeley’s Meredith Fowlie, who argues that it relies on grassroots organization: A key element of AB-617 is that it empowers people living near polluters — and that’s starting to happen. For instance, the priorities of community members in San Bernardino are guiding the law’s crackdown on idling Amazon warehouse trucks and providing funding for air filters at schools. That bottom-up approach takes time.

Step away from the squabbles over what might have been or the merits of one study over another, and it’s clear that almost no one thinks that putting a price on carbon is inherently evil. The real concern of environmental justice advocates is that carbon pricing efforts like cap and trade just aren’t as effective as straightforward laws that restrict pollution — especially for the communities they represent.

So what does California’s experience teach us about federal climate policy? Let’s return to our speculative future where AOC and The Squad are deciding if they should kill Biden’s climate bill. Texts fly across Washington, D.C., and a frazzled posse of staffers meets on Zoom to see if there’s any way to salvage a deal.

If the aides were paying attention to what was going on out West, they’d know that the problem with California’s approach, Fowlie said, was that it promised to do everything through carbon pricing. “It was trying to address two fundamentally different issues with one instrument.” That instrument, cap and trade, is simply not a good way to control local pollution.

A better path, Fowlie said, might be to bundle cap and trade with other policies in one legislative package that gives local communities more authority to regulate air pollution. That way, all these different tools can complement each other. “Carbon prices are a great way to raise revenue, which could be earmarked for those fenceline communities,” Fowlie said.

For Stanford’s Cullenward, the devil’s in the details: “Is it carbon pricing and all the other things that are going to do most of the work? Or is it carbon pricing instead of some of the things we really need to do the work? If carbon pricing is on top of everything else: Do it, do it, do it! If it brings in extra voices and political support, you grab anything that does that.”

In the end, the lesson from California may be a cautionary one: If you have to trade away regulations that are already driving down emissions in exchange for an industry-supported price on carbon, it’s probably a hard pass. If, on the other hand, the carbon price is just part of a larger omnibus bill that maintains and strengthens existing pollution laws, progressives and environmental justice advocates might come around to support it.

Whatever the solution you recommend, if you start with the history and evidence from California, you’ll be a lot more likely to save the day, and maybe the world.

AT&T’s Move to Disconnect DSL Customers Shows Harm of Deregulatory Agenda

By Public Knowledge

October 14, 2020 – Today, Public Knowledge, Communications Workers of America, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Next Century Cities, Common Cause, and Greenlining Institute filed an ex parte warning the Federal Communications Commission that its deregulatory agenda leaves consumers vulnerable to losing broadband service during the pandemic.

The ex parte follows AT&T’s recent decision to discontinue national DSL broadband service. By disconnecting its 469,000 DSL customers — including many without access to another AT&T wireline internet service — the company abandons consumers without any broadband alternatives. Worse, this number could grow as more providers follow AT&T’s lead. The FCC filing stressed that this is just the beginning of legacy carriers phasing out DSL, potentially leaving millions of rural customers with no reliable broadband connection.

As explained in the filing, this demonstrates the flawed reasoning in the FCC’s draft net neutrality Remand Order. The Order would affirm the 2017 decision to reclassify broadband as a Title I information service on the grounds that whatever harms this might do to public safety, or how it might impact access for rural and poor Americans, are “outweighed” by the benefits of deregulation. But as AT&T’s action shows, deregulating broadband actually reduces the availability of broadband to the poorest and most rural Americans. The Chairman should withdraw the Order and restore the FCC’s oversight authority over broadband.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“As Public Knowledge and others have repeatedly stressed, the ‘net neutrality’ proceeding is about more than paid prioritization. This proceeding goes to the very basis of FCC authority over broadband. Under the current ‘information service’ classification, the FCC cannot even tell how many broadband subscribers are losing their subscriptions daily because of the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, let alone stop these disconnections.

“The FCC’s stubborn insistence on protecting corporations from oversight — rather than protecting subscribers from harm — reaches its natural conclusion in the agency’s draft Order reaffirming its classifying broadband as a Title I ‘information service.’ Repeatedly, the draft Order affirms that whatever harms happen to the American people, this FCC considers it acceptable to keep the current broadband monopoly deregulated.”

You may view the ex parte for more information.

Public Knowledge is a Washington D.C.- based public interest group working to defend consumer rights in the emerging digital culture. More information is available at

Opinion: Prop. 16 gives equal opportunity a much-needed do-over

By Debra Gore-Mann and Eva Paterson
East Bay Express

In November, California voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 16, which will allow state and local governments to use equal-opportunity policies to promote good jobs, good wages and quality schools for everyone. California has needed this for some time, but the Covid-19 crisis made it urgent, and the police killing of George Floyd this spring Minneapolis illuminated the necessity of dismantling systemic racism.

Read the rest at

When legislators delay housing reform, people of color lose the most

By Adam Briones

At the start of the last legislative session, Californians were assured that 2020 would be the year our representatives addressed our extreme housing shortage.

Early on, both houses introduced 15 bills in packages that were promising, if not the bold reforms needed to fully solve the crisis or close the racial wealth gap. But instead of even these modest fixes, in the end only three bills, each offering important but minor changes, made it to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk due to fierce opposition.

Patricia McCloskey addressed the Republican National Convention months after she and her husband waved guns at Black Lives Matter protesters. She echoed recent comments by President Donald Trump saying that Democrats “want to abolish the suburbs all together by ending single-family home zoning” and that this would bring “crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into now thriving suburban neighborhoods.”

McCloskey’s comments are alarmingly similar to those from affluent California neighborhood associations and advocates who have opposed policies that would even incrementally impact single-family zoning.

Fear of people of color moving into white neighborhoods is nothing new in California. In light of court rulings and federal bills that invalidated racial housing zoning and redlining, white communities and NIMBY activists began imposing codes that restricted the construction of multifamily housing in most neighborhoods starting in the early 1970s. Many still exist today.

Single-family zoning laws hold people of color and low-income families back by making homeownership cost-prohibitive. A recent Sacramento Bee headline: “California’s median home price just broke a record. Here’s how much it is” underscored the urgency of housing reform and went on to point to a new median of $700,000. The inability of all but the wealthy to access good schools or accumulate wealth through homeownership has kept generations of Californians in poverty.

Likely the biggest disappointment this year was the death of Senate Bill 1120 in the final moments, despite passing both the Assembly and Senate. The premise of the bill was simple: allow homeowners to turn their single-family lots into duplexes and or split into two parcels. The bill did not remove anyone’s ability to purchase or own a single-family home. It simply ended  the bans on smaller housing units that exist in two-thirds of residential communities in California.

SB 1120 fell victim to the end of session clock, but it never should have been controversial to begin with. The intense opposition campaigns against SB 1120 and other modest reforms demonstrated that any change that allows more working families, who are likely to be people of color, to live in wealthy, exclusive neighborhoods is too much for affluent homeowners in California’s “progressive” cities.

Their excuses are weak tropes claiming that the bill “crushes single-family streets and directly attacks homeownership;” “steals yards from children;” “destroys backyard vegetable gardens” and creates “unhealthy surroundings for children and the elderly.”

Again, these are the comments that came not from far-right actors, but from those in affluent cities that are happy to put a sign in their window supporting racial justice while at the same time employing the same, albeit watered-down, rhetoric to uphold discriminatory single-family zoning.

By blocking the construction of new housing in wealthy areas and preventing affordable housing options in white communities, single-family zoning laws make it disproportionately harder for people of color to own, or even rent homes.

If our Legislature wants 2021 to be the real year we tackle housing, elected officials must reckon with our state’s ugly history of discriminatory zoning and aggressively pursue policies that enable our state’s housing stock to grow and meet the needs of all families.

Until we can abandon the racist attitudes that have underpinned policies and undermined people of color for decades, we will continue to see failures at the state level to pass meaningful housing reform.

Environmental equity expert weighs the strengths and weaknesses of Newsom’s executive order

By: Danielle SmithKimia RahbarChichi Valle-Riestra, and Isabelle Odgers
USC Annenberg Media

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on Sept. 23 requiring all new cars sold in the state to be zero-emission by the year 2035.

This announcement served as evidence of Newsom’s pledge to do more on the climate-front, as California is currently suffering from wildfires exacerbated by the harmful effects of climate change.

“Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state … none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis,” Newsom said at a news conference in Sacramento. “What we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that crisis head-on, to be as bold as the problem is big.”

Newsom’s executive order would make California the first state to issue such a ban with the intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a direct cause of global warming.

“Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air,” Newsom said. “Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

The executive order can only achieve so much if not supported by legislation, according to Alvaro Sanchez, environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit. Sanchez spoke to Annenberg Radio News about Newsom’s order and what further steps need to be taken.

“We need additional pieces of legislation from our legislature so that the executive order doesn’t change just with a change in executive office,” Sanchez said. “If we’re going to get all vehicles in California to be electric by 2035, we need to ensure that all Californians, and particularly those that have the biggest barriers to gaining access to these technologies, for them to actually have an opportunity to benefit from the executive order and to alleviate any burdens that that executive order might generate for them.”

While many details about how the order will be implemented are still being worked out, Sanchez said gas vehicles will still be operational in 2035.

“It’s only a signal that starting in that year, all vehicles will have to be electric that are sold brand new,” Sanchez said. “All the other [gas vehicles], we’re still going to have to work with. So in some ways, it’s a transition. It’s not a stop and go.”

“What the governor did is a really good step,” said Sanchez. “It’s a meaningful step, but not nearly enough related to the problem that we’re facing.”

Though Newsom’s executive order is among the most significant actions taken by a state government to address climate change, the push towards electric vehicles and renewable energy is not new.

A similar goal is mentioned in USC’s 2028 Sustainability Plan, which “will include specific long-term sustainability goals, and provide a ‘greenprint’ for achieving them.”

USC Transportation, along with USC Sustainability, is working towards a fully electric fleet of trams and campus cruisers by the year 2028 — seven years before Newsom’s executive order would take effect.

In addition to electric campus vehicles, several other goals include increasing the electric vehicle charging infrastructure, creating an e-scooter/bicycle-share program, offering incentives to decrease single occupancy vehicles and increasing tram frequency.

The Environmental Student Assembly has made efforts to reduce carbon emissions directly on campus. Established in 2014, the assembly is striving to create a “green culture” both at USC and in the surrounding neighborhood.

One initiative outlined in the Environmental Student Assembly’s “Sustainability Goals by 2020” plan seeks to “reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles traveling to and from the USC campuses” and “increase student, faculty and staff participation in alternative transportation programs.”

‘Property More Valuable Than Human Life’: No Charges Against Officers for Killing Breonna Taylor

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

Declarations of “true justice denied” went up Wednesday afternoon after a Kentucky grand jury indicted former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison on three counts of first-degree “wanton endangerment” related to the no-knock raid in which Breonna Taylor was killed—with no charges for the murder itself—when three officers burst into her residence and shot the 26-year-old emergency medical technician multiple times earlier this year.

“There will be no justice until all of the officers who killed Breonna are held accountable for her murder.”

Critics of the grand jury’s decision were outraged that Hankison’s indictment was not based on the killing of Taylor, who was asleep in her bed when police entered her apartment, but on the firing of bullets into the homes of the victim’s neighbors during the raid.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) described the decision as another manifestation of a legal system in which property is considered “more valuable than human life.”

Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly—who on Tuesday described protesters as “thugs” and lamented that “the good guys are demonized” in an email sent to approximately 1,000 law enforcement personnel in Louisville—and detective Myles Cosgrove, the two other officers present at the time of the shooting, were not charged.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office shared the findings of its investigation with the grand jury earlier this week. Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, officials in Louisville prepared for additional protests and possible unrest.

In response to the decision in the Breonna Taylor case, Kristina Roth, the senior program officer for Criminal Justice Programs at Amnesty International USA said: “We call on police to facilitate the right to peaceful protest in the wake of this news.”

“Everyone has the right to take to the streets and make their voices heard,” Roth said. “And police must meet their obligation under international law to enable that right.”

In response to the grand jury’s decision, Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, put the “horrific killing” of Taylor—which occurred during a “baseless no-knock warrant in a drug investigation”—into the context of the drug war and “its parasitic relationship with police and racism.”

“Breonna Taylor should be alive today,” said Frederique. “But instead, the systems we have in place… failed her” and “robbed her of the bright future she was just beginning.” Frederique placed blame on the drug war, “which provides the military-grade equipment to local police departments through military weapons transfer and earmarked federal funds” and “incentivizes drug arrests.”

“Had it not been for the drug war… the police likely would have never gone to her home to begin with,” Frederique added.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, the city of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million dollars—believed to be the largest settlement ever reached for a black woman killed by a police officer in the U.S.—and to implement several police reforms as part of the wrongful death lawsuit.

At the time, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said: “No amount of money can bring justice. It’s time to move forward with the criminal charges that Breonna Taylor’s family has called for.”

Following Wednesday’s announcement, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, said in a statement:

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and a local grand jury have failed to bring murder charges in the brutal killing of Breonna Taylor. In fact, they have declined to charge officers for her death at all; just one of Bre’s killers faces a minor charge completely unrelated to her murder. Officials have flatly denied justice to Bre and her loved ones, as well as the brave allies and activists calling for justice.

Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of the Greenlining Institute, said that the limited nature of the charges—”wanton endangerment” for only one of three officers—means that “true justice” has been “denied” to Taylor and her family.

UltraViolet characterized the grand jury’s decision as an “insult to the idea of justice,” saying it reflected “the pervasiveness of white supremacy and the need to continue to demand justice.”

“There will be no justice,” the women’s rights group added, “until all of the officers who killed Breonna are held accountable for her murder.”

“Breonna Taylor’s life mattered,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on social media. “This result is a disgrace and an abdication of justice.”

“Our criminal justice system is racist,” Sanders added. “The time for fundamental change is now.”

Amnesty’s Roth stated that Taylor’s “case must serve as a wake-up call to our elected officials” about the need for “a bold agenda for police reform, one that brings about meaningful accountability, reimagines public safety, and provides justice for all.”