California leaders have no more excuses for their inaction on housing reforms

By Brian Hanlon and Adam Briones
The Sacramento Bee

From city government actions to President Biden’s infrastructure plan, the momentum to end exclusionary zoning and land use policies that contribute to both our housing crisis and neighborhood segregation is mounting. While local and federal government leaders are responding to growing distaste for embedded racist and exclusionary housing policies, our California legislature has yet to pass legislation with the scope needed to address these problems.

In the American Jobs Plan, Biden follows the example of city governments who have taken action to end unfair housing laws that make neighborhoods unaffordable and inaccessible for people of color and low- and middle-income families. The plan calls on Congress to incentivize local governments to “eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws, which drive up the cost of construction and keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids.”

Biden’s plan sets the national stage for housing policy reform that will make neighborhoods more equitable by encouraging local governments to end widespread local rules that prevent smaller, more affordable housing from being built, such as multi-family housing bans and excessive minimum lot size requirements for new housing.

These policies are the result of decades-long efforts to keep people of color from moving into traditionally white neighborhoods. When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, in an attempt to keep neighborhoods white, cities nationwide enacted bans on multifamily housing, which were more likely to be occupied by people of color and immigrants. In most cases, these are the same single-family only zoning laws that are in effect today.

Multi-family housing bans ensure that only the most expensive form of housing, single-family homes, can be built in wealthy, often white neighborhoods. Most first-time home buyers, including low- and middle-income Californians and essential workers, cannot afford the $700,000 statewide average single-family home, let alone the million-dollar homes in job-rich, coastal metropolitan areas. Today, for every dollar of wealth held by white families, African American and Latino families have about 15 cents, which is mostly due to a dramatic gap in home ownership.

Cities like Sacramento and Berkeley have taken the lead in recent months passing resolutions to end certain exclusionary zoning laws in their jurisdictions. The impetus for these reforms is a movement led by grassroots YIMBY groups, fair housing advocates and racial equity organizations who want to make it legal to build smaller, naturally affordable multifamily housing in more high-opportunity neighborhoods near transit and jobs — making them accessible to more people of color and low- and middle-income families. The impact of this movement is cascading to other cities throughout the state, with OaklandSan JoseCulver City and San Francisco all reviewing similar proposals.

While activism and leadership on the local level is encouraging, the problem is statewide and systemic. Solving it will require action from our legislature.

It’s not that the California Legislature lacks vision. Both houses have considered proposals that would take steps to end local zoning practices that ban multifamily homes in the state. It’s whether these proposals were bold reforms like SB 50 in 2019, or permitting duplexes that fit within their existing neighborhood contexts like SB 1120 in 2020, our legislators were not able to push these bills through to the governor’s desk. They lost traction despite the avalanche of public support for just this type of common-sense housing reform.

Indisputably, more than 90% of Californians, according to the latest PPIC poll, agree that housing affordability is a problem. Sixty-two percent of Californians supported changing state laws to allow more multifamily homes in a 2019 PPIC poll, and support is only growing stronger. A recent poll found that 79% of Los Angeles residents think allowing fourplexes is a priority. Nonetheless, the loudest voices in the room — NIMBYs — have drowned out the majority and pushed deserved legislative support for recent bills and reform packages off the track.

These Sacramento-area roads could get bike upgrades

While actions by local cities and now President Biden have increased awareness about the need for zoning reform, our state legislature is best positioned to address the issue with the urgency and scale necessary. Statewide reforms are needed to address these systemic problems and make housing more affordable and inclusive for all Californians. The tide change is here and there is no longer an excuse for inaction at the state level.

Brian Hanlon is the CEO of California YIMBY and Adam Briones is the senior director of economic equity at the Greenlining Institute.

California Leads the Fight Against Trump

The Progressive
By Orson Aguilar

At the beginning of May, California, joined by 16 other states and the District of Columbia, sued the Trump administration over its attack on auto fuel efficiency standards. It was just the latest in a long list of California lawsuits against the administration. For people wondering why the Golden State fights Trump so much, I have a simple answer:

We’re fighting for you.

California’s actions focus on values we care about, and standing up for those values will make life better and safer for every American.

For decades, California has led the fight for clean air, creating standards that have helped save the lungs of all Americans. Rolling back fuel-economy mandates will increase air pollution and accelerate climate change, raising everyone’s exposure to ruinous storms, floods and droughts, from the Rocky Mountains to Texas and Puerto Rico.

But this goes far beyond the environment. Led by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California—followed by the NAACP and a large group of other states—has also sued to keep the administration from distorting the 2020 Census by adding a new question about citizenship.

Many experts, including six former Census Bureau directors, believe such a question will discourage immigrants from responding, as stepped-up raids spread fear in immigrant communities.

The Census is not some abstract exercise. Census data is used to shape everything from congressional and legislative districts to where federal funds go. Whatever state you live in, the dollars your community receives for transportation, health care, school lunches, unemployment insurance, assistance for rural areas and much more, depends on Census data.

Much of this money goes to programs that help poor and working-class Americans, who will suffer most from an undercount.

Another battle lawsuit involves the administration’s effort to force California and other states to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws by withholding funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” whose police don’t actively join in immigration enforcement. The state of California sued the Trump administration over this issue last year, and the administration is now suing back.

A study last year examining county-level data found that “crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties.” Many police chiefs support sanctuary policies, knowing that forcing local cops to enforce federal immigration laws makes immigrants fearful of talking to police, hurting their ability to solve and prevent crimes.

Beyond the courts, California’s legislature is moving ahead with net neutrality legislation to counter rollbacks of federal protections. In plain English, net neutrality means you get to pick what websites or information you want to access with whatever device you choose, without your internet provider playing favorites. Without such rules, corporations can create “fast lanes” for content they prefer or for those who can afford to pay extra. (Comcast, for example, could do this for shows from NBC, which it owns.)

California’s protections will create a model for the whole country and send ripples nationwide.

All of these issues involve fundamental American principles like fairness, public health and safety—all under threat from the Trump administration. California is fighting for us all.

California Leads the Fight Against Trump

The Progressive
By Orson Aguilar

At the beginning of May, California, joined by 16 other states and the District of Columbia, sued the Trump administration over its attack on auto fuel efficiency standards. It was just the latest in a long list of California lawsuits against the administration. For people wondering why the Golden State fights Trump so much, I have a simple answer:

We’re fighting for you.

California’s actions focus on values we care about, and standing up for those values will make life better and safer for every American.

For decades, California has led the fight for clean air, creating standards that have helped save the lungs of all Americans. Rolling back fuel-economy mandates will increase air pollution and accelerate climate change, raising everyone’s exposure to ruinous storms, floods and droughts, from the Rocky Mountains to Texas and Puerto Rico.

But this goes far beyond the environment. Led by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California—followed by the NAACP and a large group of other states—has also sued to keep the administration from distorting the 2020 Census by adding a new question about citizenship.

Many experts, including six former Census Bureau directors, believe such a question will discourage immigrants from responding, as stepped-up raids spread fear in immigrant communities.

The Census is not some abstract exercise. Census data is used to shape everything from congressional and legislative districts to where federal funds go. Whatever state you live in, the dollars your community receives for transportation, health care, school lunches, unemployment insurance, assistance for rural areas and much more, depends on Census data.

Much of this money goes to programs that help poor and working-class Americans, who will suffer most from an undercount.

California’s protections will create a model for the whole country and send ripples nationwide.

Another battle lawsuit involves the administration’s effort to force California and other states to assist in enforcing federal immigration laws by withholding funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” whose police don’t actively join in immigration enforcement. The state of California sued the Trump administration over this issue last year, and the administration is now suing back.

A study last year examining county-level data found that “crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties.” Many police chiefs support sanctuary policies, knowing that forcing local cops to enforce federal immigration laws makes immigrants fearful of talking to police, hurting their ability to solve and prevent crimes.

Beyond the courts, California’s legislature is moving ahead with net neutrality legislation to counter rollbacks of federal protections. In plain English, net neutrality means you get to pick what websites or information you want to access with whatever device you choose, without your internet provider playing favorites. Without such rules, corporations can create “fast lanes” for content they prefer or for those who can afford to pay extra. (Comcast, for example, could do this for shows from NBC, which it owns.)

California’s protections will create a model for the whole country and send ripples nationwide.

All of these issues involve fundamental American principles like fairness, public health and safety—all under threat from the Trump administration. California is fighting for us all.

Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute, based in Oakland, California. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

California Must Address a Statewide Latino Physician Shortage

California Health Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California regains its power to regulate internet service providers. Here’s why that’s good news for consumers

By Debra Gore-Mann and Paul Goodman
CalMatters

 

Eight years ago, major internet service providers convinced the California Legislature to deregulate their industry.

It was a bad decision that, mercifully, came to an end Jan. 1 when this ill-conceived law sunsetted. The California Public Utilities Commission’s power to protect consumers has been restored.

Let’s be honest: Communities of color suffer the most harm from un- or under-regulated industries. We could list examples all day, but here are a few:

For the past three decades, internet service providers, and their predecessors, phone companies, have successfully waged a war to deregulate their industry.

Regulation, they argue, will stifle innovation. That may have been true 30 years ago. But now, the only innovation we see is ISPs coming up with new ways to charge you more while delivering less, even as they find new ways to discriminate against people of color.

That’s why we, as advocates for communities of color, joined with other consumer advocates in opposing the deregulation push.

But legislators have generally bought the providers’ argument hook, line, and sinker.

California’s Legislature may be a leader in environmental justice and clean energy, but it has repeatedly done the bidding of internet service providers, which in 2012 convinced the lawmakers to essentially deregulate broadband services until 2020—all in the name of “innovation.”

Over the past seven years, internet service providers have come up with quite a few “innovations”:

So it’s no surprise that ISPs are consistently rated the worst companies in America, worse than airlines, banks and insurance companies.

The good news is that Californians are tired of this behavior and sent a clear message to legislators: Stop doing the ISPs’ bidding. This time, the legislature listened, and we stopped an industry-sponsored bill that would have extended the deregulation of internet services permanently.

Now, the California Public Utilities Commission has regained its authority to enforce service quality standards, require that internet service functions during power outages, and ensure that every household has access to high-speed, robust, and affordable internet service.

California needs to hold ISPs accountable, because the Federal Communications Commission—the federal agency that is supposed to regulate them—is being run by a chairman bent on eliminating every consumer protection he can get his hands on.

With the California commission’s authority restored, it can finally take actions critical to California’s consumers.

For years, providers have refused to provide detailed pricing data to the commission. Now, the commission has the power to force them to do so and to protect consumers from being gouged.

Similarly, the commission can enforce California’s new law on net neutrality, which is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Maybe most urgently, the California Public Utilities Commission can address how the companies ensure that internet services, including internet-based phone services, work during natural disasters.

While broadband providers claimed that they were prepared for Pacific Gas & Electric’s recent northern California power shutoffs, those claims were wrong.

Many households that lost power also lost their broadband and phone service. The commission can now take swift action to require that broadband providers have sufficient backup power to keep services running for at least 72 hours.

Public safety is at stake. When you dial 9-1-1, should you need to worry about what type of technology you are using? No. You just want to know that you can reach someone on the other end when there’s an emergency.

Internet service providers don’t give up easily.

We’ll see them back in Sacramento, making their same, shop-worn, baseless claims that they need to operate free of regulation. We need to maintain pressure on legislators to ensure that every Californian—not just ISP shareholders—benefit from everything a free, open, and affordable internet has to offer.

_______

Debra Gore-Mann is president and chief executive officer of The Greenlining Institutedebrag@greenlining.org, and Paul Goodman is Technology Equity Director, paulg@greenlining.org. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

California Remains a Beacon of Hope

The Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

Last Tuesday’s election results are real, and they mean we have a fight on our hands. Still, California remains a ray of light amid the darkness. More than ever, we need a strong offensive and defensive strategy for California and the nation. Some take-aways from the election:

1. “White-lash” and sexism are real.

Too many voters simply couldn’t accept a woman as their next president. Divisive appeals to white voters by targeting people of color clearly worked. We always knew that a backlash would come as we get closer to 2044, when whites will become the minority.

2. Scapegoating only works when people feel real pain.

Just as we shouldn’t believe the polls, we shouldn’t believe the rosy economic reports issued by Washington. Our changing economy isn’t working for most Americans. Reports claiming that unemployment is at an all-time low should come with a giant footnote stating, “African-Americans not included.” Communities of color have been the canaries in the coal mine, but unfortunately our leaders didn’t listen. Will they listen now that white communities have joined us in the birdcage?

3. Let’s be proud of California.

Californians passed housing bonds, rent controls, taxes on cigarettes, soda and the wealthy, and continued the path to criminal justice reform. In the Bay Area, the soda industry’s massively financed attempt to use merchants of color as a shield backfired. We overturned a ban on bilingual education left over from previous years of immigrant bashing. But we didn’t win it all: Big pharma still won and we didn’t repeal the death penalty. But overall, our plan in California is working and we should feel proud of what we’ve done and where we are going. We no longer fear the initiative process as we once did. We have learned to play the game.

What’s Next?

We need a savvy combination of offense and defense.

On offense, we need to push California to lead on issues of civil rights, economic opportunity, and racial justice. Now is NOT the time to stop. We need to keep pushing to show the country that we have proven solutions — and they work. Let’s be bolder with our ideas. Too many Californians still live in poverty and we still lock up too many people in our prisons.

But we also have to play defense. Millions of Americans are rightfully living in fear. Draconian budget cuts could further exacerbate poverty and inequality. Women’s rights will be attacked and as women they will simply be told to “move to another state.” A Giuliani broken-windows approach could bring racial profiling back to the mainstream. Millions of undocumented people and Dreamers fear deportation regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Muslims are not sure when somebody will attack them or burn their places of worship. The LGTBQ community worries that the tide of recent advances will start to reverse. Hate and harassment could go mainstream as witnessed by several recent incidents around the country.

We have to be ready to play some strong defense and stand by all of our communities when the attacks come. We must hold our state leaders accountable to fight even harder against sexism, racism, homophobia, and inequality. Now is the time to build stronger partnerships with national networks as they prepare themselves for the onslaught. Let’s not be surprised when the attacks come, and let’s remember that an attack on one is an attack on all.

More than ever, we must stand together. In this moment of challenge, let’s not underestimate the strength of our communities.

Tired but ready,

Orson

California Shows How to Fight Climate Change and Help Underserved Communities

Alternet
By Emi Wang

Something amazing is happening in California. The Golden State has taken bold steps to act on climate change, including regulations to cut carbon consumption and charging polluters for the carbon that they emit. The money from polluters is placed into a fund called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), where it goes to work promoting the clean energy economy in communities across the state.

Of course, California isn’t the only place to put a price on carbon. A group of northeastern states, as well as Ontario and Quebec, have taken similar action, generally using some form of cap-and-trade mechanism like California.

But California took its effort a step farther, recognizing that poverty and pollution go hand in hand—and that smart policies can help tackle both.

Thanks to the work of the California Climate Equity Coalition, of which my organization the Greenlining Insitute is a part, 35 percent of those resources must be invested in the state’s most polluted and economically disadvantaged communities, communities that have experienced decades of disinvestmentredlining and heavy pollution.

As of 2016, this has meant $419 million invested directly in projects in neighborhoods to help families save money on their energy bills, get solar panels or purchase an electric vehicle. Grants to community groups and local governments help them transform concrete city blocks with tree-lined streets, create community gardens, build permanently affordable housing close to public transit and more.

These investments don’t just reduce carbon emissions. They help ensure that even poor Californians enjoy the savings and health benefits of the clean energy economy, while creating jobs in the communities that need them most. This remarkable achievement can be a model for other states and nations fighting climate change.

What’s not so amazing is that the infrastructure that California has created is enormously complex and hard to understand, even for someone like me whose job it is to track this stuff. And for the everyday renter, community-based group or local city planner, it can be dizzying to try to understand what resources are available to you and your community. So we’re trying to solve that problem.

The Tool: UpLift Resource Finder

These resources can’t help people and communities fight climate change or embrace clean energy if they don’t know about them. That’s why we created the UpLift Resource Finder, to help folks navigate through the complicated world of California Climate Investments. The Resource Finder contains a comprehensive database of over 40 grants and rebates that individuals, families, community-based organizations, schools, municipalities, tribes and businesses can use to act on climate locally.

Whether you’re a community group looking to plant trees or a family wanting to find electric car rebates, the Uplift Resource Finder makes it easier to find out how California’s climate investments can help you. It also has an interesting story for non-Californians. We offer the tool in two views:

  1. Guided Tour: Don’t know where to start? We’ll walk you through four questions to get you to your results.
  2. Full Database: Want to look at the full database? Skip ahead to the full listing and filter your results manually.

We hope that this tool will make it easier for anyone to see what grants and rebates are the best fit, so that all California communities can participate in our fight against climate change. But even if you’re not from California, it’s still worth a look to see all the ways dollars collected from polluters can make life better for people and communities. We’re showing that the fight against climate change isn’t something distant and abstract; it can change lives for the better and make a real difference in neighborhoods that have suffered from decades of neglect.

California’s Broken Ballot Initiative System Endangers Civil Rights

Race, Peace, & the Environment
By: Michelle Romero

Ballot initiatives play an increasingly important role in setting policy in California on every issue from healthcare and the environment to same-sex marriage. In 1911, when wealthy special interests had corrupted politics in Sacramento and crippled the people’s ability to hold government accountable, California established the initiative, referendum, and recall to give the people the power to make or unmake their own state laws and to remove their elected officials. But today, that system is not functioning as it was intended, especially for California’s new majority.

Continue reading “California’s Broken Ballot Initiative System Endangers Civil Rights”

California’s Climate Revolution: Could It Change the National Conversation?

The Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

Largely under the radar of national and even local media, California has begun a quiet revolution in climate policy that could change the whole national conversation about curbing global warming.

Advocates of strong climate change policies have had an immense political challenge that goes far beyond debunking the antiscientific rants of global warming deniers. That political dilemma was summed up in a May 20 New Yorkmagazine article by Jonathan Chait, who contrasted the politics of climate change with another recent controversy:

The grimmest contrast between power-plant regulation and health care is that regulating carbon emissions creates almost no winners. There will be no equivalent of the millions of people newly granted access to medical care, no heartwarming stories of long-suffering patients seeing a doctor for the first time in years. Climate regulation doesn’t create a benefit. It doesn’t even prevent a loss. Its only goal is to mitigate the extent of the damage.

Until now, that’s been mostly true. The costs of converting from fossil fuels to less polluting forms of energy are real and short-term, but the benefits have been more distant and harder to see. A lot of those benefits, even in the best-case scenario, involve things that won’t happen: droughts that don’t occur, coastal cities not flooded because sea levels don’t rise as much as they might, etc.

And that’s what California is beginning to change. California’s climate policy is about to bring real benefits — not in distant decades but starting this year — to our state’s cities, towns and rural areas, including economically disadvantaged communities with the worst pollution.

California began tackling climate change in 2006 with law called AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, committing the state to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. To carry out this objective, California began charging polluters for their carbon emissions under a cap-and-trade system. Those carbon auctions are starting to produce serious money: $872 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in this year’s budget alone, a number that will only increase over time. That money, all from fees paid by polluters, can now be harnessed to do real good.

AB 32 contained general language indicating that the benefits from climate change policies should reach disadvantaged communities. Advocates like my colleagueVien Truong helped put teeth into that provision by successfully lobbying for followup legislation, SB 535, guaranteeing that 25 percent of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund moneys go to projects benefiting disadvantaged communities, with a minimum of 10 percent going to projects actually located within those communities.

That money, $218 million this year alone, will now start flowing to projects that will do real good in neighborhoods that have too often been neglected — or worse, used as environmental dumping grounds where politicians thought it was safe to locate freeways, oil refineries and other polluting facilities that affluent communities didn’t want in their back yards. The money will help low-income families make their homes more energy efficient, improve public transit and create affordable housing close to transit.

These investments will save consumers money, clean the air, and — perhaps most important — create thousands of new jobs. And many of those jobs will be in areas where the unemployment rate is still in double digits and the economic recovery feels like a figment of someone’s imagination.

These investments, which will only grow as proceeds from California’s carbon auctions continue to roll in, will begin to demolish claims from the fossil fuel industry that we can’t afford to address climate change. And they can start to change the grim political calculus that Chait warned about. California is showing that efforts to stop global warming are a net plus — not in the distant future but here and now — cleaning the air, helping families and creating good jobs in communities that urgently need them.

California’s Smart Climate Policies Righting Historic Wrongs in Oakland: Part I

Oakland Local
by Vien Truong

Let’s start with one undisputed reality: Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods have long been used as environmental dumping grounds, sites for the sorts of facilities that wealthier communities don’t want. It’s not an accident that there are no oil refineries in Mill Valley or Beverly Hills, or freeways running through Pacific Heights. Those sorts of things usually end up where people have less money and less political clout.

Oakland is no exception. If you look at the maps generated by CalEnviroScreen – the state of California’s tool for identifying communities with the worst pollution and greatest economic needs – the orange and red colors that designate the most troubled areas slice right through the heart of our city. These include neighborhoods located along International Boulevard and the 880 freeway to the east and in the sections of West Oakland surrounded by the 880, 980 and 580.

That’s not a surprise. A few years ago, the California Air Resources Board examined pollution in West Oakland and identified a number of major sources of smog in the area, and they’re pretty much what you’d expect: Trucks, cars and buses – especially diesel trucks and buses — traveling the freeways and heading toward the port, locomotives coming in and out of the Union Pacific Oakland Railyard, other diesel equipment at the port and railyard, and ships in the port. As you might guess, diesel particulates from these facilities are a major problem for our air.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that help is on the way – not just for Oakland, but for polluted and economically struggling neighborhoods from San Bernardino to Fresno to our own back yard. That help is coming from smart, sensible policies to combat climate change, charge polluters for the garbage they put into our air, and use that money to promote clean energy and bring both cleaner air and good jobs to neighborhoods hit first and worst by pollution and global warming. There are lots of potential projects in Oakland that need some of this funding – projects that could help clean our air, bring jobs to our city and make our neighborhoods more attractive.

This isn’t pie-in-the-sky, it’s real. A few years ago the California Legislature passed AB 32 (Nunez/Pavley), officially dubbed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which limits the amount of junk that can be put into our air and charges polluters for the pollution the produce. The Greenlining Institute joined with other advocates to sponsor follow-up legislation, SB 535 (de Leon), that guarantees that one quarter of those funds go to projects that benefit highly polluted and economically challenged communities, with a minimum of 10 percent going to projects actually located within those communities.

This is serious money — $272 million in the current fiscal year, with much more to come – and these dollars will start to roll out in the coming months. But the struggle isn’t over.

Big Oil – via its trade organization, the Western States Petroleum Association, and assorted front groups pretending to represent consumers – is still fighting to kill California’s climate change and clean energy laws. They’re leaning hard on our legislators to weaken the law even as I write this.

But we’re fighting back. In part II next week I’ll explain more about how California’s clean energy policy is already helping California neighborhoods, the potential benefits for Oakland, and the campaign we’re launching to protect these life-saving laws from Big Oil.