Urban Justice

Urban planning, housing, transportation, the privatization of public space and the criminalization of people of color and poor people.

Beyond Public/Private: Understanding Corporate Power

There never has been or will be an unregulated market.

By john a. powell and Stephen Menendian

Who inhabits the circle of human concern? Who counts as a person or a member of the community and what rights accompany that status? In a democratic society, there is nothing more vital than membership. Those who inhabit the circle of human concern, who count as full members, may rightfully demand such concern and expect full regard. It is they who design and give meaning to that society’s very structures and institutions; they have voice. This is the ideal of democracy. But there is an important question: Who inhabits this circle?

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Arise! Introduction by Jess Clarke

Dozens of U.S. cities erupted in direct action protests following the decision to grant impunity to police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. A new generation of organizers is arising, willing to take risks and break the rules to make social change. They are mounting effective action at street level and building broad coalitions, challenging existing institutions and creating new ones. (Garza, p. 66)*

Advocates Compel Facebook to Like Affordable Housing

By Rene Ciria-Cruz

From left to right, Evelyn Stivers, Richard Marcantonio, Annie Loya, and Vu-Bang Nguyen at the BCLI Issues Advocates SpeakersFacebook’s decision last year to relocate its corporate headquarters from Palo Alto to Menlo Park gave social justice activists a welcome opportunity to challenge the affluent city’s long-standing neglect of affordable housing.

City officials were eager to accommodate the social networking behemoth because it promised jobs, prestige, and millions of dollars in capital projects and taxes to the city of 32,000. But affordable housing advocates said, “Not so fast!” Menlo Park many not proceed with new development initiatives until it had rectified years of violations around state housing laws. And city officials stopped and listened. What compelled them was the 2010 Superior Court decision in Urban Habitat et al., v. the City of Pleasanton et al. “We essentially shut down Pleasanton’s planning powers until they met their legally required obligation to plan for affordable housing,” explained Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for Public Advocates who represented the affordable housing coalition that took Pleasanton to court. Now Marcantonio was poised to take on Menlo Park on behalf of a Silicon Valley-based coalition. Refusal to Permit Affordable Housing Challenged Like Pleasanton, Menlo Park at the eastern edge of San Mateo County has long been noncompliant with state housing laws.

All local governments have to zone for their share of regional housing needs at each income level. The requirement, known as the Housing Element in the local General Plan for development, is called for by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

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Racial Equity: New Cornerstone of Transit Oriented Development

By Rebecca Saldaña and Margaret Wykowski

It’s just after dawn when Naravisaya “Al” Les flips on the lights at his restaurant. There’s a rhythm to his routine— the same one he watched his father play out 15 years ago. First, he kicks off his rain-soaked shoes on the front mat and walks across to the cash register. Next, he presses his palms down on the laminate counter and sighs deeply as he looks out at the cool grey Seattle morning before starting to count his cash.

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Who Plans Our Cities?

By Marcy Rein

Traditionally, residents of Richmond, California have had little voice in planning their city; the process being dominated by Chevron, real estate developers, and other corporations. But in the past six years, a community-based coalition—Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI)—working with a constellation of community organizations and regional experts has successfully incorporated a solid set of community priorities into the new General Plan approved by the City Council in April 2012.

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The View from Havana

A few blocks from Havana's famed Malecon, another new joint venture waterfront hotel is on its way to completion. Across the street from the construction site a small wooden building draws in a trickle of Cubans searching for the latest available construction materials posted on a list on the front door. Despite the images and cliches of Havana as a city whose beauty is matched only by how rapidly it seems to be disappearing before your eyes, the city shows signs of being poised to take advantage of the Cuban government's new laws governing private property.

Even with the uncertainty over the impact and details of how Cuba's new property laws will be implemented, some residents of Havana appear to be convinced that the new reforms are worth investing in. But scarcity of resources— material and financial—as well as competing priorities seem likely to temper the enthusiasm of Cubans towards the reforms.

“I'm a child of the revolution, I believe in it and it has done many good things,” responded a resident of Old Havana when asked about how the new law that reforms how Cubans can buy and sell homes would impact his life. “But the problem is the way people in different neighborhoods live.” Tourism and related economic development may provide new employment opportunities but in areas like Old Havana they have not relieved crowded conditions or housing shortages, nor have they addressed differences between housing stock in Old Havana and areas like the suburb of Miramar in the west of Havana.

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Homeless Push Back-- Take Over Vacant Building in San Francisco

The numbers are alarming. In recent years, the federal government has cut 400,000 vouchers from Section 8—the program that provides housing subsidies for low income people—even as 300,000 units of public housing have been turned into for-profit developments, rendering them unavailable to low-income people. Meanwhile, 2.5 million foreclosures have worsened the housing crisis for the poor.

These big numbers are more than real estate figures; they are real people—families with children, people in ill health, the elderly. But rather than trying to help them, cities are issuing “sit/lie bans” and “public commons for everyone” laws, which make it illegal to “loiter” in a public space. Criminalizing these simple acts and making them subject to police harassment and arrest is an egregious violation of the civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by our democracy. Yet it happens to homeless people all the time.

In a survey of 716 homeless people in 13 different communities, the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) found that 78 percent reported being harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping; 75 percent for sitting or lying on the sidewalk; and 76 percent for loitering or hanging out. Only 25 percent said they knew of a safe place to sleep at night.

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