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CCRL California Center for Regional Leadership
Connecting California's Regions to the State and Each Other
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CalRegions Email Newsletters Archive
CalRegions Volume VI, Issue 4 - June 2005

I.   The Case for Regional Strategies to Advance Economic and Social Opportunity and Environmental Justice

II.  Examples of Effective Strategies from California's Regions -- Precursors to State Policy Leadership

III. Related Resources

Regional Strategies for Improved Access to Economic and Social Opportunity and Environmental Justice: why it matters -- what we can do about it.

Nick BollmanIn prior issues of CalRegions we've referred to the goal of social and economic opportunity, as part of CCRL's overall approach to the sustainability of California's regions.  Inspired by a recent national conference, we'd like to devote this entire issue to that goal, and to offer current information and practical suggestions on:

  • How new region-based alliances are forming to advance toward this goal, and
  • What new state policies can lead and support the regions toward this goal.

Seth Miller and I recently returned from a remarkable national event: "Advancing Regional Equity…the Second National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice and Smart Growth," cosponsored by PolicyLink and the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. (See www.policylink.org/Summit2005). A wide array of community- and philanthropy-based advocates for economic, environmental and social justice (more than 1300 in all) came together in Philadelphia to share and examine regional strategies to increase affordable housing production; link jobs and transportation; promote healthy communities and families; strengthen rural economies; and achieve more equitable public investment patterns, among many other issues.  The first national Summit had been held in Los Angeles in 2002, and it was heartening to see in Philadelphia that not only did the number of participants from the prior event more than double, but we can report that the sophistication of ground-level strategies has taken a quantum leap in a very short period of time.

Even so, the major challenge continues to be: how can this work to "advance regional equity" reach a scale of impact that ensures that massive numbers of low-income people and communities are positively affected.  To reach that end, this idea should become a norm by which we judge our success as government agencies, private companies, and nongovernmental organizations. But it is essential that we be strategic and optimally efficient in deploying resources to make progress in this direction.

Unfortunately, at the moment national policy appears to be heading in the opposite direction -- that is, when national political figures even bother to address the subject.  Does anyone recall a major "urban policy debate" in the last Presidential election?  And states have yet to weigh in -- certainly in California the heated debates have been more about the cost, quality and extent of tax support for government policies and services, not so much on the goals and purposes for which these policies were adopted.  And though there are many examples of local policy and program advances (some California examples are cited in this CalRegions), they are achieved one policy and one neighborhood or community at a time – far short of the scale we need.  Still, the National Summit was an inspiring reminder of the many dedicated organizations and individuals who are committed to achieving economic opportunity and social and environmental justice for all.  We here at CCRL count ourselves as partners in that struggle, and we're pleased to offer a few modest ideas of how we can "advance regional equity" right here, in the regions of California.

Nick Bollman, President
California Center for Regional Leadership

 

 


 

I. The Case for Regional Strategies to Advance Social and Economic Opportunity and Environmental Justice

Everyone likes to talk these days with moral certitude, using the language of asserted values.  "Assisting the poor" is a moral ideal that easily passes the lips of those across the political spectrum.  It's an idea that is as old as all of our religions.  But in spite of all the rhetoric, it's also as unfinished a business as any we've got.  Beyond platitudes and statements of good intentions, however, it couldn't be clearer that global conditions, including our interdependence with the world's communities, requires that we be effective in reducing poverty and creating new social and economic opportunity.  To compete in the global marketplace, all Californians must be given opportunities to participate in the mainstream economy, to share in our prosperity and to benefit from an improved quality of life.

CCRL, the California Regional Network and the 3E's.

We and our Regional Collaborative partners espouse the values captured in the language of the "3 E's" – a strong Economy, a well-protected Environment, and social and economic Equity.  Not everyone is comfortable with the word "equity" because it can be interpreted to suggest a zero-sum game, or a simple redistributive approach, without considering economic impacts.  Of course there are always important trade-offs in policy or market decisions, but ultimately the only pragmatic approach is one in which all benefit, whether coming from privileged or disadvantaged circumstances.  We believe that, over the long-run, strategies that attend to the interests of low-income communities and individuals, particularly those that enable them to become fully participating members of the middle-class, redound to the benefit of the whole economy and the entire community. [N.B.  This was an important agreement reached among the members of Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's Commission on Regionalism in its 2002 report.]

Following the Los Angeles National Summit on Regional Equity, and with support from the Ford Foundation, CCRL embarked on a project we called "ASPIRE," which stands for Advancing State Policies that Improve Regional Equity.  Through a series of meetings and consultations, we have developed what we believe to be a strong case for advancing economic and social opportunity and environmental justice in California through the leadership and support of state policy.  We'd like to share our findings.

Finding: we are interdependent.

1.  Jobs and the Economy. Starting several years ago with the groundbreaking work of Manuel Pastor and his colleagues (see Growing Together: Linking Regional Community Development in a Changing Economy, 1997), we began to understand that regions that specifically target economic and community improvement programs on low-income individuals and neighborhoods, also are more competitive in the global marketplace.  For example: business leaders understand that to compete they need a skilled, increasingly productive workforce -- and community advocates understand that to promote economic opportunity for the under-skilled and under-employed they need new alliances with business leadership.  From this common ground, together they can advance regional strategies that enable workers, through workforce training programs, to take entry-level jobs and pursue career advancement strategies in emerging economic sectors.  This common purpose can be found not only through training for jobs in sectors of comparative economic advantage (such as information technologies) but also in productivity improvements in all industry sectors (such as the use of information technologies for back-office, retail, or customer service jobs).

2.  Growth, Planning and the Land.  Mainstream environmental advocates have been losing the battle with land-inefficient sprawl and the subsequent loss of farmland, open space, and habitat.  Urban revitalization advocates have been looking for allies to help repopulate, reinvest in, and improve the economic vitality of inner cities and older suburbs.  Now they can find common ground in regional strategies that encourage the "return to the cities" movement – but only if gentrification doesn't lead to involuntary displacement of low income people living in those neighborhoods.

3. Politics and Governance.  This new understanding of regional interdependence creates opportunity for new regional alliances.  Perhaps the most potent example: even though voting patterns are changing more slowly than demographic shifts (because of a lag in voter registration and participation rates), the growing significance of the Latino vote in particular creates the opportunity for new cross-cultural alliances between the emerging Latino plurality and the progressive White, African-American and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.  In this regard, the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as the Mayor of Los Angeles is the political equivalent of a shifted tectonic plate.

Finding: the way is blocked.

Even so, the impact of this new understanding and the potential for these new alliances has been realized only at a localized scale, and in California the idea has yet to achieve large-scale application.  The path is blocked in three important ways:

  • There are remarkable examples of community advocacy innovation and leadership on these ideas (as described in the next section), but we need more capacity among community advocates to shape and pursue program and policy reforms through such alliances.
  • Business and environmental leaders find it difficult to focus on long-term opportunities, because short-term challenges require constant and intense attention.  We need more opportunities for mainstream business and environmental organizations to explore such new alliances.
  • State policy leadership could increase the pace of change at the local level, but thus far (in California at least) state policy support is minimal at best, and often contrary to the kinds of strategies mentioned above.  Why?  First, local and regional California policy and politics is dominated by statewide "structural" decisions (many of them through the initiative process, such as Proposition 13), which are barriers to the kind of policies that would support innovative regional strategies.  Second, elected officials and the "influencers" around them in Sacramento tend to derive or shape their ideas and support from an "interest group" perspective, rather than from place-based and cross-interest perspectives.  The distinction is between representing the interests of business or labor and representing the economy itself, in whose success both business and labor are stakeholders.  It's the difference between representing environmentalists or developers and representing the community, in whose success, again, both groups are stakeholders.  We need a new politics of accountability that focuses on the cross-cutting economic, environmental and social needs of regions

CCRL's Theory of Change: what we need to succeed.

To break through these barriers to change, we believe the following is necessary:

  • Expanded program innovation and increased community leadership and organizing capacity among local and regional "equity" advocates.  California and national philanthropy has provided essential support, but we need to build tax dollar support for this work.
  • Proactive leadership from the regional business community, regional public agencies (led by their local government members) and regional environmental organizations.  Support from private philanthropy has partially met this need, as has place-based corporate philanthropy (such as financial institutions and utilities).  Public support should follow their lead.
  • Advancement of selected state policies that can demonstrate the truth of the interdependence of regional and low-income community interests and enable local efforts to "go to scale."  These state policies should be advanced if they are authentic, well-informed by research, broad-based and scalable, capable of "reshaping the debate" and ripe for action with state policymakers.

Conditions for State Policy Leadership to Advance Regional Strategies for Social and Economic Opportunity and Environmental Justice

 


 

ii. Examples of Effective Strategies from California's Regions -- Precursors to State Policy Leadership

To illustrate the kinds of state policy strategies that could lead to larger successes, we present briefly three examples.  In each example broad-based coalitions have come together on a regional basis to fashion a regional solution and have achieved local successes.  The examples also represent issues on which state policy leadership could be an essential next step in taking the local success to statewide "scale." And these are issues (protection of natural resources, the affordable housing crisis, and economic development) on which state policymakers themselves have begun to call for fundamental reforms.  We could be on the verge of state reforms that would not only break state policy gridlock but also enable these successful local innovations to "go to scale."

Issue: Urban parks as community development   

Advocate: Center for Law In the Public Interest

Los Angeles is a terribly park-poor city, with fewer acres of parks per resident than any major city in the country. In the inner city, which is dominated by low-income communities of color, there are .3 acres of parks per thousand residents, compared to 1.7 acres in disproportionately white and relatively wealthy parts of Los Angeles.          

Established in 1971 as one of the nation's first nonprofit, public interest law firms, The Center for Law In the Public Interest (CLIPI) is leading efforts to change this situation. CLIPI is working to implement a vision of a comprehensive and coherent web of parks, playgrounds, schools, beaches, wilderness, and transportation that serves the needs of diverse users and reflects the cultural urban landscape of Los Angeles.

Through the City Project, CLIPI engages in coalition building, strategic advocacy, and impact litigation to develop urban policies that are equitable, protect human health and the environment, and promote economic vitality for all communities. One of the key elements of the Center's vision is the Heritage Parkscape, a plan to unite the rich cultural, historical, recreational, and environmental resources in the heart of Los Angeles. The footprint of the Heritage Parkscape coincides closely with the Center's founding vision of parks and greenspace for downtown and along the Los Angeles River. The Parkscape would link Taylor Yard, the Cornfield, the Los Angeles River Parkway, the Zanja Madre (mother trench) that provided water for early Los Angeles, El Pueblo Historic Park, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Elysian Park, and over 100 other sites. The City Project calls for public transit to take people from the Heritage Parkscape to the beach, mountains, and other wilderness and recreation areas. Transit is a critical element because 29 percent of households in the areas surrounding the Parkscape have no car. The Heritage Parkscape, like the Cornfield, illustrates the power of place: "the power of ordinary urban landscapes to nurture citizens' public memory, to encompass shared time in the form of shared territory…"

Another key project the Center supports is the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, a two square mile area that is slated to become the nation's biggest planned natural urban park in over 100 years, bigger than Golden Gate Park and Central Park. Within a three mile radius of the Baldwin Hills, the population is 52 percent African American, 22 percent Latino, six percent Asian and 20 percent White. Easily accessible to millions of people, and with stunning views of the Los Angeles basin, the Pacific Ocean and surrounding mountains, the Baldwin Hills offer an extraordinary opportunity to create a world class park and natural space. More than 160 bird species have been found in the hills and fox, raccoon, and other wildlife thrive within sight of downtown Los Angeles.

Broad-based support:The following organizations have committed to the work of the City Project and represent a broad cross section of the Los Angeles civic and business community: Taylor Yard, Los Angeles River Parkway, Baldwin Hills Conservancy, Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association, California League of Conservation Voters, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, Chinatown Cornfield, Southern California Council on Environment and Development, Trust for Public Land, and United Homeowners Association.

State Policy Opportunity: Over the years, the focus and prioritization of State Parks and Recreation has not kept up with California's major urbanization and city-centered population growth and the correspondent need for park and playground facilities.  The purchase of Taylor Yards to become part of Rio de Los Angeles State Park, the proposed Los Angeles Historic State Park at the Cornfields site, and the continued protection and advancement of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy bespeak a change in the right direction.  To the extent that this leads to State Parks and Recreation embracing the value of urban parks to local communities and to the quality of life for residents of the entire state, it could be codified in a revised mission statement and strategic plan for the agency.  In addition, some have proposed a 2006 statewide bond measure that could incorporate substantial state funding for urban parks.

California voters have been very generous in voting for parks and water conservation measures at the state and local levels, and I think that's going to continue. We may see movement toward putting another statewide park bond measure on the ballot in 2006, which would be very timely and very important. We hope Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature will support and embrace a 2006 statewide bond measure.  --Robert Garcia, CLIPI Executive Director

Issue: Funding for affordable housing

Advocate: many Los Angeles organizations (see "Broad-based support" below)

The City of Los Angeles is a region unto itself confronting an acute shortage of decent, safe and affordable housing. Low and middle income families struggling with the widening gap between wages and housing costs feel this shortage most profoundly. Recognizing that Los Angeles' housing crisis poses significant challenges to the local economy, transportation infrastructure, education system, health care delivery system, and basic quality of life, in 2002 the City committed to allocate an unprecedented $100 million to the city's Housing Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was created to provide resources to alleviate Los Angeles's severe affordable housing shortage. The city's 2002-03 budget included $42 million for the first phase of the funding plan.           

In 2003, Los Angeles Housing and Development (LAHD) made commitments to 21 projects including five through for–profit developers and 16 through non-profits/joint ventures.  The project types include:

  • 11 Family
  • 6 Special Needs
  • 2 Senior
  • 2 Preservation

In 2004, LAHD made commitments to 19 projects, including nine through for–profits and ten through non-profits/joint ventures.  The project types include: 

  • 11 Family
  • 2 Special Needs
  • 4 Senior
  • 2 Preservation

Unit total: (2003-2004) 1342 + 1254 = 2,596

Funds used:

    2003:

    $37,866,478

      2004:

    $39,285,091

      Total:

    $77,151,569

By providing the Trust Fund with meaningful resources, city leaders have taken the first step toward aggressively tackling Los Angeles' immense housing crisis. Concentrating Trust Fund allocations on a defined set of fundamental needs and implementing steps to assure that the Trust Fund is administered effectively and accountably are imperative as the City continues to make an impact on one of its most pressing challenges.

Broad-based support: The Housing Trust Fund is supported by business leaders, government, housing champions, and a host of social and neighborhood organizations, including: Los Angeles Department of Housing & Community Development, Multi-Family Housing Program, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Housing Trust Advisory Committee, Affordable Housing Commission, Little Tokyo Service Center, Haverford Capital, Valley Economic Development Center, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Los Angeles Conservancy, The Lee Group, Los Angeles Family Housing, Fannie Mae, People in Progress, United Food and Commercial Workers, 770 Century Housing, and ACORN.

State Policy Opportunity: In 2002 the state's voters adopted Proposition 46, the nations' largest general obligation bond measure dedicated solely to a range of affordable housing and homeless uses.  However, these funds will be exhausted in early 2007, and because of the current debt load carried by the state to deal with its budget crisis, another General Obligation bond seems unlikely.  Voters and interest groups alike have spoken loud and clear that they expect the state government to solve the state's housing crisis.  Therefore, and because localities across the state such as Los Angeles have adopted local housing trust funds with broad-based support, it seems reasonable for the state government to try to adopt a permanent, dedicated source of state funding for a state housing trust fund, to match and "leverage" local housing trust funds as well as a variety of other federal and private sources.

Issue: Comprehensive, Integrated Strategies for Economic Vitality in Disadvantaged Regions

Advocate: Regional Jobs Initiative

Though advocates for economic opportunity and social and environmental justice often focus on a neighborhood or a city, in this instance, a whole region is at risk: the San Joaquin Valley. The Valley has:

      • The highest levels of poverty and unemployment and the lowest per capita income of any region of comparable size in the nation. In 2002 the Central Valley's unemployment rate was more than twice the State average and almost four times that of Orange County.
      • A geography that entraps pollution, making it among the most polluted regions in the country.
      • The lowest access to health care in the state.

This is a regional problem that cannot be solved at the political boundaries of just one city in the Valley. Local leadership in the Fresno metropolitan area has begun a project, the Regional Jobs Initiative (RJI), whose purpose is to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at creating 25,000 to 30,000 net new jobs within five years at an average annual salary of $29,500.  The additional jobs would create an annual economic impact of over $885 million to the Fresno Area region.  The RJI has targeted high-growth industries in the health care, trades, and manufacturing sectors.  It has undertaken a comprehensive assessment of human capital in Fresno County and the current and future workforce needs of Fresno County employers.  It will identify appropriate training needs and identify and apply resources to fill any gaps that may exist between employer needs and available human capital.

Broad-based support: The RJI has developed partnerships with the Center for New Americans and the West Fresno Coalition. Both organizations are focused upon cultures and racial groups that have barriers to both education and employment. The Center for New Americans was created to assist South East Asians and the West Fresno Coalition focuses largely on the African-American and Latino communities in low income areas of town.  The RJI works through a dozen citizen-led task forces involving volunteer participants from all walks of life.  The RJI Leadership Council is comprised of a broad array of public and private sector partners: California State University, Fresno; Central Labor Council of Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings Counties; the cities of Clovis and Fresno; Fresno County Board of Supervisors; Madera County Board of Supervisors; Council of Fresno County Governments; Fresno County Office of Education; Economic Development Corporation Serving Fresno County; Federal Interagency Task Force; Fresno Area Non Profit Council; Fresno Arts Council; Fresno Business Council; Fresno County Workforce Investment Board; and Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

State Policy Opportunity: Economic development and structural poverty issues are challenges not just in Fresno but throughout the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley.  Because extraordinary access to state policymakers and resources is required for a successful strategy in a Valley that is at a competitive disadvantage with California's major coastal metropolitan regions, Valley leaders from business, local government, and community-based organizations have called for the formation of a State Interagency Task Force.  This Task Force, mirroring a similar federal task force now in existence, would provide an entry point for Valley issues and create an opportunity for a full and focused state partnership.  Through this partnership the state and Valley leadership can develop and implement comprehensive strategies to combat poverty in the Valley through strategic economic development and workforce preparation policies and programs.  It is in the state policymakers' interest not only to be responsive to the Valley's economic development needs, but in doing so to showcase that the state can lead on the economy, which is the number one concern of the state's residents.

Other state policy opportunities

Community, business and local government advocates have identified numerous other examples of regional strategies that have or could have broad-based support and that would be advanced significantly through state policy leadership:

Rural broadband: It has already been demonstrated (in the central Sierra Nevada, for example) that entrepreneurs and emerging growth companies often prefer (for quality of life reasons) to locate in rural communities.  This is a very important economic strategy for many rural regions.  But for those businesses that require efficient Internet connectivity, it is essential that broadband be available. Aggressive state action could assure broadband connectivity for all rural regions. 

Location-efficient mortgages: Because some many low and moderate income families are priced out of homeownership, new ways must be found to reduce the cost of borrowing.  A promising example is the location-efficient mortgage, for housing located near transit.  The assumption is that transit reduces the need for automobile ownership and/or the cost of operation and maintenance, and therefore enables a greater portion of the household budget to be used for a home mortgage.  Therefore the household can qualify for a larger mortgage.  State incentives and regulations could encourage financial institutions to offer this loan product in all transit-served regions of the state.

Transit-oriented development:  Because the efficient use of land is increasingly an imperative, not just an option, and because transit systems require a "break-even" volume of ridership to justify public subsidy, state law and programs could encourage compact development near transit nodes.  Indeed, plans for extensive and sufficient transit-oriented development could be a precondition for using transportation funds to expand transit systems.

Community co-generation: The demand for electricity continues to climb but the capacity for generating and delivering electricity is not keeping pace.  State law and programs could encourage the development of ubiquitous community-based co-generation capacity (through solar, wind and other renewable technologies).

Specific plans with community benefit provisions: Many community organizations have advocated and secured "community benefit" agreements, usually in connection with large private and public developments.  The agreements include provisions such as job training and placement support, minority business contracting, community amenities, and other community benefits.  The process itself and the ability to commit to these benefits is only possible because of the scale of the projects and a source of funding for the process and outcomes.  For communities that do not have such large-scale projects, specific plans are often the means by which public participation leads to such benefit agreements.  But funding for specific plan development is not readily available to all communities.  State funding for specific plans could help yield these results without putting an undue burden on development.

Regional growth visioning: Many regions have undertaken growth visioning projects in recent years, involving the public in determining the parameters for long term development and conservation in their regions.  Community activists have been somewhat leery of such exercises because the ability of low and moderate income residents to participate has been limited.  State policy could encourage and support broad-based participation, such as was the case with the Blueprint project in the greater Sacramento region.

What is to be done?

We hope this issue of CalRegions has made it evident that we need state policy leadership to support regional strategies that promote economic and social opportunity.  But securing such policy leadership will require new alliances among social equity, business and other community leaders, and a selected policy agenda to which state elected officials might enthusiastically respond.  CCRL is committed to continuing our work in this direction, and we welcome our readers' thoughts about how to pick up the pace and move forward together.


III. Related Resources

In order to learn more about how to advance economic and social opportunity and environmental justice through regional strategies, please consult these resources -- from which we at CCRL have drawn so much information and guidance.

Selected Publications

Alliance for Regional Stewardship, Regional Business and Civic Organizations: Creating New Agendas for Metropolitan Competitiveness. Monograph #9, October 2004.

Philip Angelides (California Office of the State Treasurer), The Double Bottom Line, 1999.

The Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy, Land Use and the California Economy, 1998.

Storm Cunningham, The Restoration Economy, 2002.

Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities - various publications

Pastor, Dreier, Grigsby, Lopez-Garza, Regions that Works: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together, 1999.

PolicyLink - various publications

Smart Growth Leadership Institute and the National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals, Smart Growth is Smart Business, 2004.

Speaker's Commission on Regionalism -- Final Report, 2002.

Recent Articles of interest

"Joining the 'Ownership Society' All Californians deserve the ability to save and invest in themselves," Sacramento Bee, April 10, 2005.

"Fresno County jobless rate falls: April's 9.3% figure hits the lowest level in 15 years of recordkeeping," The Fresno Bee, May 2005.

"Government Can Help Blighted Areas Recover," Los Angeles Daily News, May 5, 2005.

"Study Gauges Effect of Living Wage Law," LA Times, June 2, 2005.

"The Effectiveness of Urban Containment Regimes in Reducing Exurban Sprawl," Exurbanites, March 2005.

Initiatives/Organizations

ACORN

The California Endowment

Center for Law in the Public Interest

Environmental Council of Sacramento

Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative

Faithworks

Greenbelt Alliance

Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

Livable Communities Initiative (EBCF)

Mayfair Improvement Initiative

Neighborhood Funder's Group

Partnership for Public Health

PolicyLink - various publications

The Partnership for Working Families

Transportation and Land Use Collaborative

Urban Habitat