Case Studies

Coyote Valley: Building it Right

Ever wonder what it would be like to build a city from the ground up? To create a vibrant and diverse neighborhood with parks, schools, community centers, libraries, transit stations, businesses that serve every income level, and employment centers that are accessible to all? In the Coyote Valley region of San Jose, a community-initiated planning process is making this vision of equitable smart growth a reality.

City of San Jose, Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement

When You Deny A Voice, You Deny Equity
Traditional urban planning has usually excluded community members from any meaningful role. With little input from working-class residents, city councils have routinely ignored critical factors, such as living wage jobs, healthcare facilities, and affordable housing. A systematic failure to address these vital concerns has left many urban communities suffering from stagnant job growth and a lack of access to goods and services.
Yet, with the right coalitions, strategies, and ongoing commitment, community organizations can develop and advocate for a broad economic blueprint that puts social equity at the center of land use planning.

Raising Our Voices in Coyote Valley
Residents of San Jose, California have a unique opportunity to exert their influence on a city planning process in Coyote Valley, a largely undeveloped region of South San Jose. In 2002, the city council appointed a 20-member task force—comprised of developers, landowners, environmentalists, planners, local legislators, and labor leaders—to develop a Specific Plan for Coyote Valley, oversee the work of city planners, and serve as the council’s advisory body. The broad planning guidelines established by the city council call for 25,000 housing units and 50,000 jobs, providing for some 80,000 new residents of San Jose.
In an effort to fundamentally change the economic development and land use process, Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA)—a coalition of community groups, labor, and faith organizations seeking a solution to the widening gap between the rich and poor in Silicon Valley—created a series of objectives for incorporating social equity into the Specific Plan:

Build enough affordable housing for all income levels. WPUSA initially won approval to make 20 percent of all new housing affordable. Later, the coalition got city council to mandate that 60 percent of the affordable units—entirely funded through developer contributions—be reserved for those making less than 50 percent of the median income for the area.

Guarantee living wage jobs. Although the city council set a goal of 50,000 new jobs, it did not specify standards for job quality. WPUSA wants to ensure that every job that is counted towards the city’s goal pays a living wage.

Include healthcare services. WPUSA is working to incorporate two healthcare clinics in a land use process for the first time ever in San Jose. Most importantly, the clinics will be funded through the initial infrastructure financing of the project and not by a regressive tax on residents.

Provide access to public transportation. The Draft Specific Plan includes a fixed route transit system in Coyote Valley.
Protect open space and provide recreation facilities. Nine neighborhood parks and 3,600 acres of permanent open space have been incorporated into the Plan.

Shaping Your City Through Community Engagement
We hope that the social equity and environmental justice achievements of Coyote Valley—expected to have a profound impact on the lives of nearly 100,000 residents—will serve to illustrate how land use decisions can create extraordinary opportunities to design livable urban communities that avoid sprawl and congestion while integrating populations across race and class barriers.

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits
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Digital Infrastructure for the Community, by the Community

In East Palo Alto, we’ve realized that it’s not a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Just because technology is in place doesn’t necessarily mean people will find value in it,” states Dr. Faye McNair-Knox, executive director of One East Palo Alto—an organizational member of the East Palo Alto Digital Village Program. “Working alongside groups who provide essential services to local residents has helped us to partner with individuals who have not participated to become familiar with the technology and develop their own value for it. You really have to build that whole base of value within a community for people to access technology.”

Like water, gas, and electricity, access to the internet and other information technologies can no longer be viewed as a privilege, yet it remains out of reach to the disabled, communities of color, new immigrants, non-English speakers, the homeless, and low-income families (to name a few). The struggle to control broadband technology and the infrastructure that facilitates internet connectivity is contested by public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The rise and recent fall of municipal wireless ventures, such as in San Francisco, are examples of the tensions surrounding issues of sustainability, self-reliance, and ownership of broadband access. Broadband access involves a digital landscape that few city officials are willing to take direct responsibility for. Fortunately groups like the East Palo Alto Digital Village, a partnership of direct service providers and nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout East Palo Alto, are leading the way. They are showing that it’s possible to offer innovative approaches to building infrastructure that are locally determined by the stakeholders and residents they aim to serve.

Dr. Faye McNair-Knox speaks at the Oakland Digital Inclusion Conference
East Palo Alto
Known as the gateway to all highways in California, East Palo Alto, or EPA as termed by locals, has long lived in the shadow of Palo Alto. The highways that split these two communities have become representative of the multiple divides that keep them worlds apart. Aside from zip and area codes, both communities share little in common. The 10:1 income disparity between residents in both communities characterizes EPA’s historical disconnection from the affluence of Palo Alto and Silicon Valley. Even before its inception as an official city in 1983, EPA’s predominantly low income, immigrant, and Pacific Islander communities were isolated and removed from the social capital that borders its boundaries.

Fueled by the desire to close the social, economic, and technological gaps hindering EPA’s engagement in the digital age, local EPA groups, community leaders, educators, and organizers banded together, later forming the East Palo Alto Digital Village in 2000.

Originally designed to leverage the existing framework and programs of groups already serving EPA residents, the EPA wireless network is not only a pipeline for the usual Internet traffic, such as checking e-mail and downloading media, but a tool for the uploading and sharing of culturally relevant content that is determined and created by community members themselves. Exemplified in the creation of WiFi101, an initiative that utilizes the EPA wireless network to provide youth job training opportunities through emerging technology, the EPA Digital Village Program proves that a wireless network built by the people and for the people is possible.

But unlike East Palo Alto, many cities, instead of asserting the public interest in broadband access and ownership, have chosen comfortable dependence: relying on private, for-profit vendors to own, operate, and finance municipal broadband projects, wireless or otherwise. In the end, cities are left with lofty promises and scores of residents excluded from participating in the information superhighway.

Before pulling out of its municipal wireless partnership with San Francisco and Philadelphia, Earthlink appeared to be at the forefront of Wi-Fi arrangements that promised “universal” coverage at virtually no cost to the host city. By funding the deployment of a jursidiction’s entire wireless network, private vendors like Earthlink expected the pay off to come in the form of wireless service subscriptions from customers wanting faster and secure Internet service.

In San Francisco, the Earthlink ad-supported model appeared to solve all of San Francisco’s wireless woes. But in fact, once the details of the package were revealed it meant low-speed service, infinite advertisements, and potential privacy and security infringements.

In April 2007, after almost a year of contract negotiations, Earthlink discovered that their business model failed to attract enough citizen subscribers to make it profitable. San Francisco’s rush to mimic a private ownership model popularized by the promise of Philadelphia’s municipal broadband network, ended before it took shape. Not only did Earthlink leave an embarrassed San Francisco government and a floundering Google to pick up the pieces, but their decision resulted in the breakdown of Philadelphia’s highly publicized and much anticipated wireless network.

Grassroots Alternative Makes Some Headway
Instead of waiting years for the next municipal Wi-Fi proposal to be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the “Free the Net” program, a project launched by Meraki, a wireless start-up based in Mountain View, California, convened a broad coalition of community-based groups to provide free Wi-Fi to 40,000 people across two square miles of San Francisco, and are set to expand twenty-fold. By providing free wireless repeaters to city residents and installing solar-powered distribution points on the rooftops of privately owned buildings, the San Francisco Free the Net program has made universal access more of a reality—and for only a fraction of the cost of standalone Wi-Fi spots of municipal wireless models once spearheaded by private vendors like Earthlink.

Community driven solutions that counter-balance the top-down approach of for-profit marketplace broadband initiatives are being imagined and realized in neighborhoods across the country. Community ownership of digital infrastructure can take many forms, from the city department model of Burlington Telecom, to a cooperative network of organizations like the East Palo Alto Digital Village. Even when a network is on its last leg, as in Philadelphia, pockets of hope can materialize in the most unlikely places, inspiring seemingly disenfranchised groups to locally determine the content created and transmitted through broadband networks. As cities continue to close the acute divide that separates those who are linked into the digital universe and those who teeter on its periphery, community groups are forging the future of broadband from the ground up—no middlemen, no Earthlink, but a comprehensive approach to community internet that exceeds the limitations of existing network models, drawing strength from the people it aims to serve.

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

Democracy vs. Development Oakland Wins a Round

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Lake Merritt © Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau Oakland has always had a decidedly mixed relationship to its waterways. The city retains one of the largest working shipping ports in the nation but elsewhere along its extended waterfront, the East Bay’s gateway city has largely neglected its shoreline. That longtime neglect is more than made up by Oakland’s care for its most popular attraction, Lake Merritt. Created at the same time as the city itself, the lake was carved out of a fetid, marshy tidal pool. Today it is the home of a string of pleasant lawns, walking and jogging tracks, and the nation’s oldest wild bird habitat, the place where Oakland residents go to relax, and where they bring out-of-towners to show off. The lakeshore could be a prime spot for high-rise residential development butting up to the edge of the water. But over the years, the city and its public and politicians have fiercely protected both the view from the lake and public access to its environs, refusing to give in to the box-in builders. It is one of Oakland’s greatest success stories.

Six years ago, Oakland residents decided to extend that preservation success all the way out to the bayshore waterfront. But the initial aftermath of that effort showed that even where communities take affirmative steps to set aside open space parkland and waterways, the attempts to subvert that set-aside to private, commercial use can be both enormous and insidious.

Lake Merritt empties into the San Francisco Bay waters through the 3,000 foot long Lake Merritt Channel, a lovely but poorly-named little creek, much-loved by ducks and other waterfowl, bordered along some of its stretches by grassy banks and shadetrees. But many decades ago the channel was cut off from the lake by a high-speed throughway, so that only a spelunking adventure through an underground passage of uncertain safety makes it possible to walk from the lake to the channel.

Public Money from a Public Vote Expands Park Access
In 2002, in a $198 million municipal bond measure called DD, Oakland residents decided to correct that problem, voting to spend $80 million of the bond money in large part to dismantle the throughway, connect the lake to the channel through a series of bridges and pedestrian walkways, and landscape the channel banks into a more parklike atmosphere.

Construction on the channel is scheduled to begin this year and run through 2009.

Public access to the new Lake Merritt Channel lands seemed assured both by Oakland’s longtime protection of Lake Merritt itself, and by the fact that the channel was already bordered on both sides by public property—the city-owned Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, the administrative headquarters of both the Oakland Unified School District and the Peralta Community College District, and Peralta’s Laney Community College—eventually running down past Estuary Park as the channel waters emptied into the bay estuary. Extending public-access waterway parkland through such public territory seemed almost the perfect urban ecological fit.

Private Developers and Powerful Politicians
Some developers, allied with a handful of powerful local politicians, saw otherwise. Instead, they saw the opening of the Lake Merritt Channel as an opportunity to get Oakland taxpayers to foot the bill for opening lands that would then become prime commercial and residential real estate. And they came close to succeeding.

The community college district occupies arguably the most strategic spot on the channel, with holdings on the four property squares straddling the waterway at its midway point. One of those squares is occupied by the Peralta administrative offices, with the three others—athletic fields, a student-faculty parking lot, and classroom buildings—occupied by Laney College, one of the district’s four colleges.

In 2004, four of Peralta’s seven trustees opted not to run for re-election. On the agenda for their final meeting before the new trustees took office, Peralta’s governing board included a presentation by an Oakland-based developer, Alan Dones for a “Public, Private Partnership—Laney College Parking Lot and District Office Administrative Center Property.” The item was not listed on the “action” portion of the agenda, and when one of the concerned incoming trustees made an inquiry beforehand, he was assured by one of the outgoing trustees that the item was for information purposes only, and so he should not worry. He chose not to attend the meeting.

At the time, although Measure DD had been passed two years before, its plans to open up the adjoining Lake Merritt Channel were still only on the drawing board stage, the implications apparent only to a handful of the interested.

At the Peralta trustee meeting, Dones presented an ambitious plan to “design and build new facilities that will provide localized and centralized multi-governmental administrative buildings, enhanced civic, educational, commercial, residential, and recreational uses on the land currently occupied by the Laney College parking lot and [Peralta] district administrative center,” according to the official meeting minutes. In a PowerPoint presentation, Dones also said that his plans could include the development of lands currently occupied by the Laney College athletic fields.

Following the meeting, I reported in the Berkeley Daily Planet newspaper that “while Dones was vague about what the final plans might be, he told trustees that the development plan would be anchored by administrative offices built for unnamed government agencies, but he also mentioned the placement of a medical center and “up to 1,000 residential units” on the property. Trustees approved a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement with Dones to flesh out his plans into a formal development proposal despite a plea from the Laney College president to hold off until faculty and staff at his college could be brought into the discussion,

The Lake Merritt Channel development wars had officially begun. But the biggest blasts were not heard at Peralta or Laney, but across the street at the aging administrative headquarters of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

Act Two: Oakland Unified School District
In the spring following the passage of Measure DD, OUSD found itself in a severe financial crisis, caught between an unexpected drop in student attendance—leading to a resulting drop in state reimbursements—and the unanticipated effects of a teacher pay raise. Faced with the inability to meet its final payroll of the fiscal year, the OUSD school board was forced to request a massive state loan, triggering a state takeover of the district.

In the last frantic days before the 2003 takeover, board members called on the state to either lease or sell surplus district property to help pay off the state loan. The genesis of the request was so obscured that interviewed years later, board members were not clear on how it got introduced.

But someone was clearly interested in the issue


The California Education Code requires that when any public school district real property is sold, the proceeds must go into the district’s building fund. But early in the process surrounding the passage of the bill authorizing the state takeover of Oakland Unified, powerful California Senate President Don Perata, who represents Oakland, put in a provision that in Oakland’s case, the proceeds from such a sale could go towards paying back the state loan. Perata, or someone else, seemed very interested in that provision. Twice it got taken out in the legislative process. Twice, pointedly, it got put back in, including in the version that finally passed the legislature.

This obscure provision in the OUSD takeover legislation got no press coverage at the time, and no public notice until the spring of 2006, when California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell revealed that for a year, using the property sale provision, he had been in secret negotiations with developers for the sale of 8.25 acres of prime Oakland Unified area property just east of Lake Merritt. Included in that property was the school district’s administrative headquarters, as well as an elementary school, two alternative high schools, and two early childhood education centers.

The property sits on the banks of the Lake Merritt Channel.

A month later, O’Connell announced that he had signed a letter of intent to negotiate sale of the eastlake OUSD property to a well-connected East Coast development company. The team, TerraMark, proposed relocating the district’s administrative headquarters and five educational institutions, putting in their place five 27- to 37-floor high-rise towers, with luxury condominiums on the top and commercial space on the ground floors. A TerraMark official said they were planning to build an artificial waterfall from the top of one of the high-rises—an attraction that tourists would come to Oakland to see rather than travel to the natural waterfalls at Yosemite National Park.

Act Three: Oakland City Council
Shortly before the announcement of the OUSD property sale negotiations, the Oakland City Council had an announcement of its own. Due to budgetary problems, the Council voted suddenly to close the century old Kaiser Convention Center, which also sits on the Lake Merritt Channel, a block away from the OUSD administrative headquarters and the Laney College administrative building.

Thus, four years after Oakland residents passed Measure DD authorizing the Lake Merritt Channel renovations, the four public institutions which were to be the anchor of those renovations—Peralta, Laney, OUSD, and Kaiser—were all either closed or in active sale-and-development negotiations with private developers. Not surprisingly, TerraMark revealed that it was also in negotiations with the City of Oakland to include the Kaiser Convention Center in its development package aimed for the OUSD lands.

Act Four: Public Lands for Public Purposes
Unlike many modern development stories, this one has a happy ending, at least for those interested in maintaining the Lake Merritt Channel as public parkland. The furor against the development proposals was enormous, effective, and eventually, triumphant.

Opposition to the Peralta-Laney development proposal initially centered around the Laney College Athletic Department, whose members declared that they would fight any attempt to put condominiums or office buildings in the spot currently occupied by the Laney athletic fields. Developer Dones immediately declared that he had been misunderstood, and had no intention to develop the fields, but by that time Laney’s general faculty and staff had entered the struggle, aided by some of the district trustees who had taken office after the exclusive negotiating agreement had been authorized. Speakers lined up to talk against the proposed deal every time it appeared on the Peralta trustee agenda. Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris eventually suspended contract negotiations with Dones, saying that the controversy had grown too great, and after reports that one trustee had switched—under labor union pressure—from support of the development project to opposition, Dones himself voluntarily withdrew from the deal.

The Oakland Unified fight was considerably harder. The state takeover left the local school board powerless, and State Superintendent O’Connell was far away in Sacramento and seemingly impervious to local pressure.

But a group of Oakland parent and community activists, joined by several school board members, took their case to local elected officials, and their relentless agitation eventually led to a rare show of political unity in the city. Every member of the Oakland City Council as well as the Peralta Board of Trustees came out against the OUSD land sale, the City Council opposition being particularly important since they would have to eventually approve any development put on the property. Newly-elected Assemblymember Sandré Swanson came out publicly against the sale as well, and even outgoing Assemblymember Wilma Chan and Senate President Perata, who had co-written the takeover legislation that authorized the land sale, issued public statements that backed away from support of the deal. Incoming Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums took his case to O’Connell privately, reportedly to tell the superintendent in stark terms that the TerraMark deal should be dropped.

The pressure worked. In February of 2007, O’Connell announced that he was permanently dropping the TerraMark deal. Immediately afterwards, the district moved forward with plans to put a new administrative-education complex—complete with rebuilt schools—on the site.

As for the Kaiser Convention Center, it still sits vacant and boarded-up, the only public building visible from both Lake Merritt proper and the Lake Merritt Channel. But so far, the city has announced no new plans to sell, and so the building might yet be returned to public use.

For the time being, the Lake Merritt Channel renovations have been saved for their intended use—the enjoyment of the general public.

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor writes for the Berkeley Daily Planet, Alternet, and numerous print and web publications. He lives in Oakland.

Download or view a pdf of this article (451 KB).


Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits


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Removing the Poor through Land Use and Planning

In Texas, when they talked about “smart growth,” they said it would limit suburban sprawl but it was just gentrification. Sprawl hasn’t stopped. As they began to develop downtown, they pretended that there were no people of color downtown. Those people who were supposed to be our allies are running us out of our communities.

“I don’t want a seat, I want the table.
A person of color table. We need to have our own people writing the legislation. People from the most impacted communities.”

The passage of the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act of 1922, under the sponsorship of the United States Department of Commerce, gave authority for cities to regulate land use. Cities used the Act as a zoning tool to exclude or segregate the poor and people of color from certain areas. In many cities throughout the United States, people of color live on the other side of the railroad tracks and/or major highways. In 1928, the City of Austin’s Master Plan designated East Austin as the area where all industries, African Americans, and Mexican American communities would relocate and reside. Prior to that, there were African American and Mexican American communities throughout Austin.

Although Austin has an image of a progressive city, poor race relations and poor land use planning are at the heart of many issues. For instance, Austin is the only metropolitan city that has at-large elections for city council members. That is to say, we do not have districts, wards, or smaller units of representation on the city council where zoning cases and codes are finalized and formalized. In the 1960s there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” that designated one city council seat for an African American and one for a Mexican American, and whites usually decide who will be elected.

Fast forward to the “Environmental Justice” movement. Beginning in the 1990s, people of color began to challenge the siting of hazardous industries in their communities. We realized that hazardous and polluting industries were allowed to set up shop in residential areas and near schools and churches due to zoning. As hazardous and polluting industries began to shut down and/or be relocated, zoning changes also began to take place in many communities.

At the same time that people of color began to cleanup their communities, another national movement began to develop: Smart Growth. As we rid our communities of industrial and certain types of commercial zoning, which had allowed hazardous facilities, pawn shops, and liquor stores in our neighborhoods, the Smart Growth movement was inventing new zoning categories. Just to name a few, the new zoning included Commercial Mixed-Use, Vertical Mixed-Use, Mixed-Use Urban Center, and Neighborhood Mixed-Use. None of these zonings secured housing for the poor or the working poor.

The Smart Growth movement began to move toward high density development in the urban core of numerous cities in an attempt to curb urban sprawl. The Smart Growth movement was advocated by mostly white middle class people who felt that sprawl needed to be addressed and that high density development in the urban core was the answer. People of color, the poor, and the working poor were not at the table and thus, the impacts on these communities did not receive meaningful consideration. Urban planners and developers began developing the urban core as if people of color were not living in them. New zoning codes and policies were adopted to make room for the new urbanisism. Communities of color throughout the United States began to see condos, lofts, McMansions, and live/work buildings pop up in low-income and people of color neighborhoods. A tidal wave of gentrification began to engulf people of color communities.

“Affordable” Housing Unaffordable,
“Inclusionary” Zoning Excludes the Poor

All of the plans for neighborhoods of low-income people of color have included calls to increase the availability of affordable housing and to protect existing residents from gentrification. In November 2006, Austin voters passed a $55 million Affordable Housing Bond, but as of 2008 no clear plan has been presented to the community as to how this money will be spent.

Community residents are currently involved in discussions about Transit Oriented Districts (TOD), which call for high density development near transit corridors. Federal guidelines for funding TODs require 20 percent of the total number of residential units be “affordable.” The affordability is set at 60 to 80 percent of the Median Family Income (MFI).
Many East Austin residents live at only 30 to 50 percent of the MFI. The result is that federal housing money is being used to gentrify low-income communities.

The City of Austin has created an even lower standard—a Vertical Mixed Use zoning where only 10 percent of all units built would be affordable at 80 percent MFI.

All these standards don’t even begin to address the poor—those who live below 29 percent of the MFI. In most states, public housing for the indigent has not been built since the 1940s and 1950s, and many public housing contracts have expired and are in jeopardy of converting to market-rate housing. PODER and other housing activists recommend that housing funds be utilized to truly assist the poor and working poor of this country. Present MFI targets don’t represent the financial reality of many communities where there is a large gap between rich and poor. Lower levels of affordability must be instituted at the federal level or increased homelessness will be the inevitable result.

Environmental Issues Are Economic Justice Issues
PODER was formed in the early 90s by a group of Chicana/o East Austin activists and community leaders to increase residents’ participation in corporate and governmental decisions related to economic development, environmental hazards, and the impact on our neighborhoods. Our mission is redefining environmental issues as social and economic justice issues, and collectively setting our own agenda to address these concerns as basic human rights. We seek to empower our communities through education, advocacy, and action. To promote community empowerment, PODER has undertaken projects to educate the community so they may advocate for themselves and take the appropriate actions to become participants in decisions that ultimately affect their quality of life.

In the early 2000s, PODER produced a brown paper discussion that forced the City of Austin to put together a gentrification task force. PODER’s report included recommendations, such as a Community Land Trust where land is purchased and set aside for communities to decide the use—from parks to housing to small business development. In 2006, the City of Austin put a small amount of money in a Community Land Trust but so far, no land has been bought or put aside. PODER also recommended inclusionary zoning and housing/rent control. The Texas State Legislature passed a law prohibiting statewide inclusionary zoning in 2004. In 2005, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez passed House Bill 525—the Homestead Preservation Act. This law gives the City of Austin several unique tools that preserve housing affordability in Central East Austin, such as inclusionary zoning. The law is in place but no action has been taken by the City of Austin. The city refuses to hire a lobbyist to push for rent control at the state legislature. Another one of PODER’s recommendations was that community neighborhood plans be supported and their economic, social, and environmental visions implemented. The City of Austin did divide the city into 52 neighborhood planning districts but it continues to override the visions of low-income people of color.

PODER and other housing activists recommend that housing funds be truly utilized to assist the poor and working poor of this country. The present system of median family income does not capture an adequate financial reality of many communities where there is a large gap between rich and poor. Smaller units for financial determination of affordability should be instituted at the federal level. The federal government must provide adequate funds for low-income housing programs. We also feel that federal policy should be implemented to institute rent control nationwide.

Historically, communities of color, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by toxic contamination. At the same time, our communities have not benefited equitably from these industries. As we look into our own backyard, we see a power plant, fuel storage tank farms, refineries, lumber companies, and most recently, high tech industries which emit their pollutants into the air we breath, the water we drink, and the earth that sustains us.

In Austin, we saw communities living adjacent to industry, families living next to the power plants. We went door to door doing health surveys and found disparities in rates of cancer, learning disabilities, and asthma in impacted communities, compared to city averages. We launched the LUCA (Land Use, Community and Action) campaign to bring to light the fact that this was more than a community issue; it was a regional issue of health disparities. We said that Health and Human Services agencies need to look at the health of our communities, focusing at the federal level.

Go National, Go Global
What do we do? Research done by grassroots communities must be recognized. We can give living testimony on what our communities are putting up with. On city, county, state, and federal levels, we can frame how housing needs are being addressed. We can take it from the local to the state level, then up to the national level, targeting the department of Housing and Urban Development, like we did with the Environmental Protection Agency.

We have to fight and address the gentrification issue. In this period of globalization, there is a need to redefine national and international goals with a broader vision, which honors the sacredness of human life and the environment. We must, therefore, work to create economic and social juistice within our own communities and support the efforts of others to do so in communities around the country and the world. Only then can we restore global environmental harmony.


Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

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People Power In San Francisco: The Mission Coalition

"We had a sense of power. People saw they could make changes. People who got jobs through the Committee would come back to give something back to the community. People on the street knew… that this Committee was doing something for them. I learned things in the Mission Coalition Organization that I’d never have learned anyplace else. And they worked other places, too.” So said the late Rich Sorro, executive director of the Mission Hiring Hall, a nonprofit job placement agency in San Francisco’s Mission District, in a 1996 interview shortly before his death.

Over 25 years ago, Rich Sorro was a leader in the Mission Coalition Organization (MCO)—an important organization in the history of the neighborhood and the city. The MCO grew out of the Mission Council on Redevelopment (MCOR), formed in 1965 to either control or stop a plan to make San Francisco’s Mission District an urban renewal area. San Francisco’s low-income communities had already experienced the bulldozer approach of federally-funded urban renewal and had learned that early community action was the only way to halt the bulldozers.

When the city’s Redevelopment Agency began eyeing the Mission, organizers and activists were ready. The urban renewal proposal for the Mission was defeated in early 1967 by a slim 6-5 majority in a combined city council/county board of supervisors meeting. MCOR suffered the fate of single issue organizations—it won its victory and disbanded. But many of its leaders and organizers remained in the Mission.

Then in 1968, Mayor Joseph Alioto announced his intention to include the Mission District in San Francisco’s Model Cities application to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), if a broadly-based group of Mission District leaders came together and asked him to do so. Afraid that this might turn into a Trojan Horse for urban renewal, veterans of MCOR banded together early to provide leadership for the coalition, which was called the Temporary Mission Coalition Organization (TMCO) and recognized as the neighborhood’s voice in Model Cities planning. The leaders, however, agreed that the organization, unlike the MCOR, would be multi-issue in character and would not limit itself to participation in the Model Cities effort. After a founding community convention was attended by over 800 delegates and alternates, “Temporary” was dropped from the name.

How MCO Found Victory in The Unity of Diversity

Diversity of membership. An “organization of organizations,” it consisted of Catholic parishes, Mainline Protestant churches, Evangelical Baptists and Latino-immigrant Pentecostal store fronts; conservative and moderate homeowner and civic groups; militant Progressive Labor Party-led tenant and Latino nationalist organizations; newly formed tenant associations, block clubs, parent groups and youth clubs; community-based nonprofits; the merchants’ association; and some unions. Delegates from this diverse constituency met at a totally bilingual (Spanish/English) annual convention to elect officers and leaders, establish policy, and adopt or revise rules of governance.

Diversity in leadership. MCO’s weekly Steering Committee was a microcosm of its membership with 34 elected members representing about 16 nationalities (including, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Colombian, Cuban, Mexican, Italian, Irish, Puerto Rican, African American, Filipino, Native American, and Pacific Islander) and interest groups (including business, labor, clergy, block club, senior citizen, youth, and national organizations). It was a very effective strategy in terms of making everyone an “owner”of the organization and building people power.

A multi-issue approach with strategic concentration on big campaigns. People power requires involving the broadest base possible, which means working with different people with different agendas. However, by employing a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” approach to the smaller issues, MCO was able to create a “we need each other to win the big issues strategy.” MCO got groups that hadn’t talked with one another working together in a powerful organization.

A willingness to find the lowest significant common denominator. Through negotiation and compromise among members, the organization as a whole was able to tackle issues as a tight federation.

Mass participation in the various committees. This built people power as well as powerful relationships. In any given week, as many as 500 people would be meeting in the jobs, tenant-landlord, neighborhood improvement, or education committees. This was in sharp contrast to most organizations which operate with a small, dedicated activist core and a passive, nominal membership.

The MCO was a federation, or “organization of organizations,” including both previously existing and well-known organizations and newly formed tenant associations, block clubs, and youth groups. At its third Annual Convention in 1970, the 1,100 delegates from over 100 organizations adopted a platform of issues for the MCO and elected its leaders for the coming year. By this time, the organization had won control of the Model Cities program and was a well-known force in San Francisco. Its list of accomplishments was long and brought about through a combination of direct actions and negotiations with landlords, employers, local merchants, the school district, and other public agencies.

Hundreds of people were placed in jobs; dozens of buildings organized tenant associations and won improvements and rent decreases from landlords; education reforms were achieved in the school district; city services of all kinds improved; and a “plan for the Mission” was developed.

Rise and Fall of People Power
Two traditions—Saul Alinsky’s urban people power populism and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s pioneering grassroots organizing in Mississippi—blended to create the MCO. In The City and the Grassroots (University of California Press, 1984), radical sociologist Manuel Castells called MCO “…the largest urban popular mobilization in San Francisco’s recent history… showing a remarkable capacity to combine grassroots organization with institutional social reform.”

Until it took control of Model Cities, all MCO activity was based on a strategy of “institutional change.” People power was used to pressure business, government, and others to make changes in structures, policies, and practices, so that the community would be better served. As MCO’s people power grew (and its reputation with it), it was able to make demands that reached more deeply into the sources of social and economic injustice. But when it came to Model Cities, MCO’s membership rejected the “institutional change” strategy in favor of “community control.”

The year before he died, I had an opportunity to interview Rich Sorro about his thoughts and opinions and experiences as a majore leader in MCO. And he had this to say about the MCO’s past and present:

“The Mission Coalition fell apart over Model Cities. When MCO got started, it drove Model Cities [but by the 1971] convention… Model Cities was driving MCO. People were fighting for titles, positions on boards of directors, and administrative jobs in the funded agencies. The [MCO] rank-and-file didn’t care about any of that stuff, but the leadership got caught up in it. You had a whole pack of neighborhood people carrying brief cases around. People got divided up into different agencies [to receive] Model Cities [funds]. And it wasn’t all that much money to begin with.

“In the old Mission Coalition, it wasn’t competitive because there wasn’t a screening process. Employers took people as we sent them, and they got good people. [Now] We send four or five people to apply for one entry-level job. We [can] advocate for resident hiring, go through the legislative process, but we can’t raise hell. The leverage is gone. With all the [other] jobs programs in place, the situation is worse as far as the quality of jobs [for] Mission residents. It’s awful.”

The old MCO operated on a “point system” for jobs. People “earned” points by participating and jobs were allocated according to the number of points a committee member had. A member could take a job, refer it to someone else, or retain his/her points and “pass” the job to the person with the next highest points.

What Sorro said about people power then is true today, whatever the issue might be. Indeed, the Mission as a neighborhood for immigrants, struggling students, minimum wage workers, retirees, and others of low-to-moderate income may soon disappear.


ho Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

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Saving Community Gardens in NYC: Land Trusts and Organizing

Classie Parker in Five Star Garden in Harlem

In the late 1990s, the community garden movement was thriving in New York City. In hundreds of locations, community members had cultivated gardens of all kinds on city owned land. The gardens presented a cornucopia of vegetation—with flowers, vegetables, and fruits. Some gardens were only a sliver of land wedged between buildings, while others were contemplative or artistic, but all were social centers where life literally bloomed.

The Giuliani administration decided to sell off the 114 city-owned lots for development despite the protests of members who had created these oases of green and community. The Trust for Public Land (TPL), is a national nonprofit dedicated to conserving land for people. When it became unclear whether litigation could save the gardens, TPL stepped in and purchased a little over half of the gardens, with Bette Midler purchasing the remainder through the New York Restoration Project.

TPL’s 1999 acquisition of 62 community gardens slated for destruction was the single largest nonprofit initiative in America to preserve urban gardens. (Since then, other gardens were added to bring the total protected by TPL to 70.) Some of the gardens have been turned over to the city’s Parks Department, others needed to be taken over by the community to ensure that they would be adequately stewarded over the long term. (The deal provided that the land would revert to the city if it ceased to be used for gardens).

With their immediate future secure, during this holding period, TPL invested in physical improvements to make the gardens safer, easier to maintain, and more inviting for community use. TPL also set about helping to create the community infrastructure to care for the gardens over the long term.

“Many neighborhoods where we own gardens are predominantly low-income neighborhoods of color. The gardens are places to bring families and children, and where neighbors get together to socialize,” says Paul Coppa, director of TPL’s Garden Land Trust Program in Dig It! Magazine. “Gardens enhance civic pride, they really help people take ownership and an interest in their own community. If they are able to be responsible for the governance of a garden, there is greater involvement in taking pride in a neighborhood. This plays a very positive role in contributing to pride in a community.”1

The members of these gardens, representing an extraordinary group of racially, culturally, and economically diverse people, worked with TPL to establish independent land trusts that will ensure the gardens are protected as neighborhood resources for public use; and the volunteer groups managing each garden are open to accepting new members and are governed democratically through group decisions, including voting and elections.

Three New York City land trusts—together the largest urban land trust in the United States—are now established as the Bronx Land Trust, the Manhattan Land Trust, and the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust.

Gardeners lead each of the three new land trusts and make decisions about the governance and operation of each organization. Each land trust has a Board made up of a majority of member gardeners. The vision is local control of volunteer-managed neighborhood open space; with the land trust organizational structure, the work of protecting and maintaining the garden properties is shared. One of the most exciting aspects of these organizations is the new level of relationships of mutual help it has fostered among community gardeners. All three land trusts have developed extremely effective Maintenance and Operations committees that help each other take care of the gardens, including the very challenging maintenance of the city water systems. They have also helped each other recruit new members and set up events to encourage participation at gardens where more gardeners are needed.

Classie Parker, a founding member of the West Harlem Garden known as Five Star, describes how lives have been transformed by the garden: “One couple reunited in the garden. We grow herbs that help seniors with arthritis; we rub their hands and exercise. Three classes of pre-kindergarten came and drew plants on a mural featured in school for nine months. Students didn’t know where apples grew or where corn came from, so we got involved with an educational program called ‘Cook Shop.’ They bring children out to the garden and they get a chance to write about an urban farmer, of which I am one. I work with the special education kids at PS76. They calmed down when they came here. You wouldn’t believe how many lives we’ve affected through the years here.”2

Community Ownership vs. Public Ownership
One question that arises in talking about “community” ownership of land is whether it is always better to have community ownership vs. public entity (e.g., city, state, county) ownership. The best answer is that “it depends” on the circumstances. The Trust for Public Land does a great deal of public land conversion—private to municipal, county, state, or federal. Thousands of threatened properties have successfully moved into public ownership to benefit people for a host of reasons. However, public ownership may not always be best or an option in every case. In this case, the city was going to develop and demolish the gardens, so the best choice was to buy them, and then actually assist in the creation of land trusts to hold them. In other cases, land trusts exist and become logical landowners (there are over 1700 land trusts across the country). In some places, like New York, Newark, and the Bay Area—instead of changing ownership, we have found the best option sometimes is for us to take on the process of rejuvenating a city-owned park or playground and help the city fund the process, which includes extensive community engagement in the design process (e.g., Bayview Hunter’s Point or our New York Playground Program).
So, there is no set rule as to which is better—it depends upon the circumstances of the place and its community and institutional infrastructure. Regardless of technical ownership, however, the presence of an engaged community, interested in the stewardship of the land is a critical factor in its ongoing preservation—whether through physical stewardship, or through a watchdog or support role to a public agency.

1. Jasch, Mary. “In Land We Trust” Dig It! Magazine, October 1, 2003.
2. Ibid.

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Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits



PlaNYC: EJ Group takes the Inside Track to Advocate Sustainability

The explosive growth of urban centers worldwide has forced government and civil societies to grapple with the question of how to manage population growth without destroying the environment, while simultaneously ensuring economic prosperity. The quest for this balance is commonly captured by the phrase “sustainable development.” By any measure, achieving sustainable development is a significant challenge. However, when you try to make New York City—the world’s financial and entertainment capital—sustainable, you need more than chutzpah; you need environmental justice (EJ).Willoughby Street before street closure

Sustainable development is often presented as a traditional environmental issue, but the forces that led to its emergence are not the traditional “greens.” Any credible analysis of sustainable development will reveal that it was social justice movements that propelled the “greens” into thinking in terms of equity and justice for present and future generations. While several other “world cities” (London, Stockholm, and Singapore to name a few) beat New York to the punch in planning for sustainable futures, none can take credit for approaching sustainability from an EJ perspective, as New York has.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 is bold and ambitious in its effort to transform the way city government engages in long range planning. It is also the first sustainability plan, to our knowledge, that seeks to address the multiple public health challenges that communities face from the many noxious and polluting facilities they house. However, the process itself was not a community-driven planning process. The story that follows speaks to the need for an EJ voice in every phase of the development and execution of any sustainability planning process. We share it in the hopes that it will serve as a guidepost for future EJ workers.Willoughby Street after street closure

Planning a Greener, Greater New York
In the Fall of 2006, West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT) received a call from Rit Aggarwala, the new director of the mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Long Range Planning. The mayor, recognizing that the city’s aging infrastructure and antiquated policies could not withstand the immediate impacts of climate change and the expected influx of one million new residents by 2030, was embarking on a program to create a “greener, greater New York.” The purpose of the call was (a) to disclose that the mayor wanted to move quickly to form a diverse Sustainability Advisory Board to shape the plan that had been outlined by Aggarwala and his consultants over the past two months; (b) to elicit WE ACT’s top priorities regarding sustainability issues; and (c) to determine WE ACT’s willingness to serve on the advisory board and participate in the frequent work group meetings.

Board, which included environmental and civic groups, businesses, academics, and another EJ group (UPROSE), was based on the potential opportunity to influence the plan for the benefit of EJ communities, as well as our past positive interactions with the mayor and his agencies. One such interaction had resulted in the City’s agreeing to fund and build a waterfront park (set to open in Spring 2008) that was the product of a community-visioning process led by WE ACT and the local community board. Another involved the Mayor’s decision to keep a Harlem-based garbage marine transfer station out of the City’s Solid Waste Management Plan after WE ACT and groups in Northern Manhattan mobilized to keep it closed. The new plan called for transfer stations to be expanded and reopened in more affluent white neighborhoods.

At the first meeting attended by the mayor and chaired thereafter by the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Dan Doctoroff, a draft outline of principles and key issues was presented for the board’s consideration. Though the screen of public health raised by the two EJ groups did not immediately become part of the plan, the principle of equity was incorporated. The group advocated consistently for open space, land use, and affordable housing to be incorporated into the plan, but the mayor had been convening a number of other advisory boards that developed plans to address affordable housing, jobs, and poverty.

Environmental Justice and the City
It soon became clear that the long-term vision for the plan would focus narrowly on infrastructure needs and metrics that would enable the city to effectively track and evaluate its progress. PlaNYC was never envisioned as a broad-based planning process that engaged area residents. To achieve its goal of ensuring that New York’s growth over the next 20 years would benefit both the economy and local residents’ quality of life, the city is initiating measures that reduce its carbon footprint, update obsolete energy and water infrastructures, clean up contaminated land, increase access to open space, provide sustainable and affordable housing, and improve the regional public transportation system.

Eight work groups—focused on Solid Waste, Energy, Water, Open Space/Land Use, Financials, Transportation, Buildings/Infrastructure, and Sustainable Procurement/Best Business Practices—and staffed by more than a dozen city agencies, were established to support the advisory board in its effort to develop a sustainability policy. Advisory group members were able to discuss the issues with city agency officials, advance ideas for pilot projects, and make recommendations, some of which were incorporated into the plan. It was a challenging, intensive process that required the constant involvement of three WE ACT staff, as well as several meetings between Aggarwala and the EJ community to keep EJ principles, initiatives, and perspectives alive.
The mayor announced PlaNYC and its 127 initiatives on Earth Day 2007. Surprising to everyone was the inclusion of a congestion pricing proposal (to encourage a reduction in traffic pollution and generate revenue to enhance mass transit). The proposal—which would charge a fee for all vehicles entering or leaving a pre-defined congestion zone in midtown Manhattan during certain hours—ignited a media frenzy that lasted until the July recess of the state legislature, which passed a bill authorizing the city to accept a $400 million grant from the United States Department of Transportation’s congestion mitigation fund. The proposal continues to be controversial a year later. The mayor’s announcement also kicked off a process of public consultation that included community town halls, a round robin of city visits to community and civic groups, and an onslaught of public recommendations to the city’s PlaNYC website.

The Campaign for New York’s Future
In the days leading to the announcement, members of the Advisory Board had formed a coalition of 75 groups—the Campaign For New York’s Future—to ensure the plan’s feasibility and implementation through successive mayoral administrations.
City officials and campaign members helped secure significant funding for the campaign from several foundations and hired a campaign director. Trying to secure state legislation in the two months before the legislative recess required daily and overnight visits to Albany to lobby and educate legislators on congestion pricing and other key financing mechanisms needed to implement the initiatives. There were press conferences twice a week highlighting the support of city and state elected officials. Currently, the campaign is engaged in seeking city council legislation that would institutionalize both, the plan and the mayor’s office of Sustainability and Long Range Planning.

Some advisory board members hired staff to lobby elected officials and consultants to develop commercials highlighting the environmental health advantages of congestion pricing. One foundation held a funders’ breakfast to support the two EJ groups and help us maintain our participation in the project.

Countdown for PlaNYC
Mayor Bloomberg posts a countdown of the number of days left in his administration to institutionalize the plan and accomplish his goals. He has made it clear that it will be in the hands of the advocates to monitor the progress of the plan, which is posted on the city’s website and features two progress reports.

WE ACT has developed a scope of work that includes community education and consultation, briefings for elected officials, and the hiring of a policy staffer to coordinate campaign work, analyze the plan to assess opportunities and challenges, advise elected officials, and work to secure benefits and pilot projects for EJ communities. WE ACT has also partnered with the Earth Institute to conduct a study on the potential impacts of congestion pricing on Northern Manhattan communities. The final report of this study—a unique partnership between WE ACT and land use experts at Columbia University—recommends certain measures for the city to mitigate the potential negative impacts of congestion pricing.

Most importantly, the collaborative study has enabled WE ACT to consider concerns raised by community members and local politicians, and conduct an analysis of the scope of likely impacts and the feasibility of mitigation measures. In particular, the study has focused on the potential for an increase in park-and-ride activity by commuters seeking to avoid the daily congestion charge, and the capacity of buses and subways to handle the anticipated increase.

Environmental Justice—Five Boroughs Wide
WE ACT has also worked to increase community engagement in and knowledge of all aspects of PlaNYC by holding a town hall meeting in Central Harlem in conjunction with Manhattan Community Boards 9 through 12. The forum gave community members an opportunity to discuss with Aggarwala and other mayoral staff, those aspects of PlaNYC that will directly affect Harlem. WE ACT also released preliminary findings from its Earth Institute study, which included a determination that while park-and-ride activity is unlikely to significantly increase in Northern Manhattan where most neighborhoods are already near 100 percent capacity for on-street parking, congestion pricing may increase the price and demand for off-street parking.

The second portion of the report determined that the anticipated two percent increase (around 75,000) in daily riders would put many subway lines at or beyond capacity and necessitate significant investments in transit improvements and expansion. WE ACT hopes that its study will contribute to public dialogue on PlaNYC and encourage the city to put in place necessary measures to mitigate the impacts of congestion pricing prior to its implementation.

PlaNYC is designed to ensure that New York City grows sustainably over the next few decades. WE ACT has remained engaged in the process to ensure that the burdens and benefits of this sustainable growth are distributed in an equitable manner. Even though the Plan affects the city as a whole, the environmental, health, and social burdens historically placed on Northern Manhattan communities make the impacts of PlaNYC of particular concern to these neighborhoods. WE ACT and other community groups’ involvement and continued engagement with PlaNYC works to advance the goal of a liveable, healthy and environmentally just city.


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Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

Community Benefits: New Movement for Equitable Urban Development

The fight for the heart and soul of our cities and suburbs is being taken into communities all across America. In churches and synagogues, in union halls and other meeting places, powerful coalitions of diverse stakeholders have been creating a new approach to economic development. The result has been tens of thousands of middle-class jobs, thousands of units of affordable housing, and the creation of permanent avenues for public involvement.

These substantial gains for low- and moderate-income households are not the result of a newfound corporate conscience but a product of the growing community benefits movement. This movement—in which communities exercise their power to come together and develop a common agenda, and progressive city governments create policies that link development to community needs—is rapidly becoming an important force in addressing the needs of the marginalized and the underrepresented.

Over the past 10 years, metropolitan regions across the United States have seen a “back to the city” movement, with a concurrent growth in city populations, particularly among middle- and upper-income groups. Developments, such as sports stadiums, entertainment arenas, hotels, office parks, “big box” retail outlets, and upscale residential projects are being built more often in existing communities, generally inhabited by low-income, disenfranchised people of color. These projects have the potential to offer tremendous opportunities for low- and moderate-income neighborhood residents, but, absent intervention, can be devastating to them. Unchecked development can lead to large-scale displacement of residents, the diminishing of social services, and an increase in crime, traffic, and pollution.
Logo from the "Community Control and Benefits in Land Use" conference 2007
Birth of the Community Benefits Agreement
The typical public approval process for most urban economic development projects is superficial and quick with very little (if any) attention given to the potential impact of the project on the neighborhood and the people who will live or work there. Despite their extensive land-use and development powers and authority to withhold approvals and subsidies, city officials—in their quest for sales tax revenues—often are unwilling to change a process driven by developers.

The community benefits movement is a response to the widespread inequities of urban development. It involves organizing diverse interest groups—community groups, unions, housing and environmental advocates—around a common set of demands and convincing public officials to embrace them. Sometimes—especially in the early stages of a development project—residents can engage in direct negotiations with the developer to achieve a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). This legally enforceable agreement—proven in dozens of cities—provides residents with a more equitable development, while ensuring crucial community support for the project.

Undoubtedly, CBAs are a significant improvement over the traditional developer-driven process, but the approach needs to be institutionalized—with policy and practice—throughout all levels of local and regional government. Propelled by strong community and labor activism, some local governments—like the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency —have taken the lead in creating policies to orient all major developments toward public goals, such as increasing the number of good jobs, building more affordable housing, and improving environmental quality, in exchange for subsidies and development rights.

How to Create a Winning CBA
A successful community benefits program almost always starts outside of government, in community groups, environmental organizations, churches, and unions. They come together with other stakeholders to address such problems as working poverty, lack of healthy and affordable groceries, environmental pollution, and the proliferation of high-cost housing.

At the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), we began our community benefits program in 1998, after an analysis of prospective developments determined that the city’s future depended on improving the outcomes of publicly supported projects. In 2002, LAANE and others organized to successfully negotiate three major CBAs and I was appointed as a volunteer commissioner to the Redevelopment Agency. Since then, the city’s approach to economic development has radically (albeit gradually) changed, leading to significant improvements in the job quality, housing affordability, and environmental effects of hundreds of major projects.

Although change has been possible, it hasn’t come easy and we have learned that success depends, above all, on our having a comprehensive strategy. While the strategy may vary from region to region, the following approach has proven effective in communities around the country:

Research and Decision-Making: Research staff from the lead organization—often in partnership with local development officials—monitors development proposals in their region and identifies the ones with potential to offer important benefits to the neighborhood and the community. The broad outlines for a potential CBA are defined.

Community Organizing: Members of the lead organization go door-to-door or conduct phone surveys to ascertain the residents’ needs and desires around the proposed development. It is also an opportunity to identify community residents who may be trained in leadership, economic development, and communications.

Coalition Building: Success ultimately depends on a strong coalition. Building it requires outreach to a wide variety of stakeholders, and a real commitment to a demanding process of dialogue and compromise. Members must be given a real voice in the decision-making process and in turn, must pledge to support the entire program.

Getting the Developer to the Table: Once support is organized and the coalition is in place, a CBA campaign may have the capacity to bring the developer to the table. If the CBA approach is new to a city, the support of key public officials can help push developers into negotiations. Occasionally, legal action may be needed to initiate the process. But once the CBA negotiation process becomes routine in a city, developers usually are ready to negotiate—sometimes in advance of making a proposal to the city.

Negotiating Negotiations: The process of negotiating a CBA must be firmly based in the unity of coalition members, even if they differ over priorities. Absent a united front, developers will often use a “divide and conquer” strategy with community groups, making just enough accommodation to gain the support of one group (sometimes with a monetary payoff), while ignoring the concerns of others.

Agreement to Approval: A typical CBA must be approved by both, a government agency—such as the redevelopment agency—and by elected officials, either as an attachment to or as a part of the developer’s agreement with that agency. To win approval, coalition members and community residents must meet with the decision-makers and emphasize the CBA’s value. Favorable press reports will facilitate persuasion, as will large turnouts at public hearings, and the use of grassroots spokespeople.
Implementation and Enforcement: Gaining approval of a CBA is only half the battle. Without constant vigilance from activists, implementation of the agreement will be minimal or nonexistent. Ongoing community education and an open and transparent process are essential for regular oversight and reviews of reports necessary to hold the developer accountable.

From CBA to Economic Development Policy
Our experience over the past eight years in Los Angeles has shown that it is possible to turn a grassroots community benefits movement into an institutionalized public program that embraces the use of economic development to build healthier cities. But it’s a transformation that requires a lot of work and a relentless adherence to some core principles (explained below) by advocates of responsible development:

1. Impoverishment and a poor standard of living should not be a part of any economic development plan. Every development agency in the country has a mission to alleviate poverty and physical blight and improve the aesthetics of a community.

2. Most city officials are reluctant to impose requirements, such as good jobs, a healthy environment, and affordable housing on development projects in poor and depressed communities for fear that developers will walk away. Similarly, in the more vibrant economic areas they are afraid of “killing the golden goose” with community benefits requirements. However, history and experience have shown that developer threats are mostly empty, especially when there is money to be made from city subsidies, and it’s up to the advocates of responsible development to keep pushing their agenda.

3. The role and purpose of the public sector is to benefit the broader public. A “successful” redevelopment project, therefore, must create a better quality of life for everyone, not just nice buildings and big profits for the developer. To reorient a city’s redevelopment program, community benefits proponents must advocate for this higher public purpose.

4. To implement successful community benefits programs, public agencies have to function effectively and efficiently, which means having the following in place:

* a vision and a strategy for land-use planning for the entire city, which embraces public input and process;
* a staff that is mission driven—staff who “just do their job” should be reenergized or replaced;
* policies that clearly spell out community benefits requirements for developers who receive public subsidies or ask for discretionary approvals to change land-use or building density conditions;
* a very aggressive marketing program that strives to promote the area as a great place to do
business because of its amenities and the quality of its workforce and not because it’s “cheap”;
* a clear understanding of the community’s needs, which lead to the drafting of enforceable and well-written contracts for the best and most efficient use of scarce public resources;
* a strong and well-resourced program for monitoring and enforcing all policies and agreements made with developers;
* an ability to conduct real and regular evaluations of the development process to assess if stakeholders feel included and projects actually produce the promised good jobs, affordable housing, and quality environment.

A Movement That’s Here To Stay
Over the past several years, community benefits work has evolved into a bona fide movement, with an increasing number of organizations across the country using the CBA model as an integral part of their strategy. The growth of this approach is inextricably linked to the creation of new broad-based coalitions willing to embrace partnerships with both traditional (progressive groups) and nontraditional allies, while relying equally on the idea of empowering disenfranchised communities.
As advocates seek to advance an agenda of social and economic justice, they would do well to study the community benefits movement, which has offered a way to transcend the differences that too often have splintered community forces. Such alliances point the way toward a promising future in which the common aspirations of the majority are harnessed for social progress.

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

Community Planning for Power

Low-income communities of color have long struggled with racist, discriminatory land use practices that diminish health, safety, and quality of life. It is not uncommon to see residential areas opened up for industrial development, houses located next to freeways and toxic polluters, and new freeway development and truck routes targeted at these communities.

The question is: Do these communities have the power to change these zoning practices and revitalize their neighborhoods? How can they leverage their needs against developers and decision-makers seeking to gentrify their communities?

Empowering the Poor
The Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) has worked for nearly 30 years to empower poor communities to become meaningful participants in their neighborhood’s policy decisions and development processes to:

* ensure healthy neighborhoods
* maintain and create affordable housing
* preserve community character and culture
* promote sustainable communities.

Some of our most effective organizing tools have been developed through our work in two largely Latino communities of San Diego County—Barrio Logan in the City of San Diego and Old Town in National City.

San Diego’s Systematic Environmental Racism
The two communities of Barrio Logan and Old Town are plagued by the all-too-familiar problems prevalent in low-income communities of color: substandard housing, overcrowded schools, a lack of social services, and poor jobs. Also typical is the preponderance of polluting industries in residential and commercial neighborhoods—thanks to mixed-use zoning, which allowed auto body and chrome plating shops, chemical supply houses, and woodworking and painting companies to locate adjacent to homes, schools, and parks—and lead contamination in the aging houses.

Systematic environmental racism since the turn of the century has shaped the development in these communities, where asthma-related hospitalization rates are two or three times higher than those for the rest of the county. The problems have been exacerbated more recently by the growth in international trade, leading to a huge spike in the number of diesel trucks crisscrossing the neighborhoods as they transport goods and raw materials to and from the Port of San Diego.

Wanted: A General Plan for Neighborhoods
Under California law, all municipalities are required to create a General Plan, providing a blueprint and a vision for the city. And although not required by law, there’s no reason why General Plan standards should not be applied to determine matters of zoning, building density, and amenities for a neighborhood.

True, General Plans can be lofty and vague sometimes, but as a rule they are useful documents with clear objectives and we have frequently used them in EHC’s community-driven planning efforts for two reasons: (a) it enables residents to be proactive instead of reacting to inappropriate development proposals; and (b) it allows residents to self-determine their communities, using their own values and aspirations.

Strategies for Authentic Involvement
It’s obvious that authentic community involvement in every aspect of planning and visioning leads to better outcomes for neighborhoods and their residents. So, EHC has developed some core strategies, which combine community organizing and policy advocacy, with grassroots leadership development, research, and media communications to implement each strategic plan:

Community Action Teams: EHC’s first step is to establish a Community Action Team comprised of community leaders who help develop the community vision and priorities that direct EHC’s efforts. Team members serve as spokespersons for campaign meetings with elected officials and government agency representatives and on various planning committees established to oversee the plan development.

Salud Ambiental Líderes Tomando Acción (SALTA): a.k.a. Environmental Health, Leaders Taking Action, is an eight-session compulsory training program for all EHC leaders, providing them with the skills and knowledge to become effective advocates and community organizers. Another five-session SALTA focused on land use provides training on redevelopment, zoning, affordable housing, air quality, contaminated site clean-up, industrial pollution reduction, and sustainable building, including green building materials and renewable energy.

Community Surveying: EHC leaders use community surveying as a means for collecting and documenting the priorities and needs of their neighbors. In Old Town, National City, for example, leaders surveyed residents to discover that affordable housing, relocation of auto body shops, and a change in zoning laws to prohibit incompatible mixed-use were the highest priorities by far, and incorporated these priorities into the community plan.1

Community Visioning: When the leaders in Barrio Logan and Old Town, National City elected to develop their own neighborhood vision, EHC raised the funds to employ a land use planning firm, which worked with residents to develop detailed plans that included zoning changes, volume and affordability levels of new housing units, identification of industries for relocation, park acreage, and school requirements, among other things.
The Barrio Logan Vision is currently endorsed by over 1000 area residents, 28 community organizations, and 16 local businesses.2 EHC also secured $1.5 million from a neighboring downtown development agency to update and revise the official Barrio Logan Community Plan—which had not been updated since 1978—starting in early 2008.

Buffering Communities Against Pollution
For many years, EHC has promoted pollution prevention and the precautionary principle as the best solution for preventing toxic exposure. But the significant changes to industrial practices that are critical to environmental safety can take many years to accomplish. So, communities subjected to toxic exposure because of discriminatory zoning practices need to take immediate action to protect themselves.

In 1990, EHC proposed the Toxic-Free Neighborhoods Ordinance for the City of San Diego, which would have required a buffer between industries using or emitting hazardous materials, and residences, schools, and day care centers.3 But it was defeated by local polluters who spent thousands of dollars on lobbying against the ordinance.

EHC then tried to target polluters who chronically violated the law. One of them was Master Plating, which had over 150 violations on the books. Concerted organizing efforts by the community resulted in the California Air Resources Board (CARB) monitoring the air quality around Master Plating to reveal a cancer risk four times higher than that of a “typical urban area” because of hexavalent chromium emissions. Master Plating was shut down in 2002 and CARB developed the Air Quality and Land Use Handbook of 2005, which recommends buffers for many polluters—for the first time in state or local regulatory history.4 (The recommended buffer for chrome platers is 1000 feet—996 feet further than the distance between Master Plating and the house next door!) The Handbook also recommends the separation of housing from major roadways, which is more difficult given the popularity of “transit-oriented development”.

While rules for future zoning of sensitive areas are important, it is equally important that polluters currently situated adjacent to homes and schools be removed or relocated in order to restore the residential neighborhoods. In National City, EHC was successful in convincing the city council to adopt an amortization ordinance that will phase out industries currently allowed to operate near sensitive use areas. It also sets up a process for relocation of prioritized industries when the amortization period is triggered.

Environmental Justice: It’s All in the Planning
This article has provided a close look at EHC’s strategies for involving and empowering residents in their own community planning processes with particular focus on reducing and eliminating toxic pollution threats. A plan for truly achieving environmental justice, however, must go further and address the critical issues of affordable housing and preserving community culture. EHC is grateful for the tools that were passed on to us by others and in turn, we are developing our own tools for pursuing affordable housing overlay zones, community land trusts, and other strategies to ensure that community plans enable current residents to remain in their neighborhoods.

1. EHC, Toxinformer, Summer 2005.
3. EHC, Toxic Free Neighborhoods Community Planning Guide, 1993.

Download or view a pdf of this article (171 KB).

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits


Building Schools and Community

As the landscapes of our cities evolve, school buildings remain a constant. Desperately in need of repair, modernization, and beautification, especially in the urban areas, schools are frequently called upon to provide essential support services for the families and communities of the children they serve. To meet the new dual demands of education and social service programming, urban school districts are beginning to invest in neighborhood revitalization and modernizing school facilities.

School facility capital spending is a form of place-based community investment, so it’s not surprising to see school investment goals coalesce with city redevelopment and planning goals. Stakeholders in school facilities and program planning now include city officials, social service providers, and community residents, in addition to the parents, teachers, administrators, and students. These coalitions are formalized in some places and work in tandem without any institutionalized commitment, in others.

Such collaborations between public institutions are notable, as historically, school districts and city governments have often had antagonistic relationships. Furthermore, the process of participatory visioning and planning used in these projects represents a transformative moment in governance for both institutions. The result has been a nationwide emergence of a move towards “community-centered schools” that are more intimately connected to their physical surroundings and local communities.

Building Schools for the Whole Community
School districts, often perceived as isolated and bureaucratic entities, are forging partnerships, policies, and processes to revitalize or plan new school buildings that are more open, participatory, and often characterized by nontraditional school designs, such as joint use recreation and community service facilities, adaptive re-use of non-school buildings, and schools built on urban infill sites. The planning and construction of public school facilities is moving away from the 1950s industrial model towards one that integrates community services with educational programming.

Joint use schools, which first emerged in the 1990s, are schools that share one or more of their spaces with another public entity or community-based organization. Sometimes called “full service schools,” the advantages they offer their communities include:

* Services, such as on-site health clinics, counseling offices, recreation opportunities, and financial literacy information.
* Amenities, such as swimming pools, libraries, and computer labs.
* Savings on costs of construction and maintenance.

By bringing the benefits of recreational and health services to the broader community of residents, these multifaceted facilities expand the definition of “school stakeholder” beyond students and their caregivers. In other words, joint use developments can increase parental participation, raise general community support of schools, and provide new or improved infrastructure in the urban landscape, contributing to the beautification, safety, and vibrancy of our cities.

Community Integrated School Buildings
The new Helms Middle School building currently under construction in the City of San Pablo in the Bay Area, has evolved out of more than 10 years of work grounded in comprehensive programming and service provision. In 1994, the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) administration, as well as several elementary and middle school principals applied for a Healthy Start grant from the California State Department of Education. Among the schools selected to receive startup money to build a small learning center that included community services was Helms Middle School in San Pablo. Out of this funding emerged the Helms Community Project (HCP)—a school-community collaborative comprised of district and school staff, community-based mental health service providers, parents, and community members—and a partnership aimed at supporting the academic successes of the schoolchildren and their families.

Since its initial funding, the project has expanded to offer a growing list of programs that are a working example of how seemingly separate services can be integrated when housed in the same physical space. A student referred for counseling may receive a weekly appointment with an on-site therapist and/or be connected with a mentor or healthcare provider, recommended to participate in an after-school program, have his/her parents called in for an academic/behavioral appointment, and/or receive a home visit by an HCP parental outreach staff. Most importantly, having all of these resources housed in the Helms Middle School has made them easily accessible to the students and their families.

Although students are the core constituency of this school-community collaborative, they are not the only beneficiaries of HCP’s extensive programming. LaZena Jones, director of HCP, says that the project often functions as the eyes of the community. The staff has worked to familiarize faculty with the lifestyles of their students, the challenges they face in their communities, and the impacts on their academic experience. One recent example of such an effort was a school-wide community-mapping project for which the Helms faculty, staff, administration, and community members walked around the school neighborhoods, identifying challenges and assets. Such interventions enable teachers, parents, and community to develop the empathy needed to support students from a variety of perspectives and represent the school’s holistic approach to education.

City Council Member Genoveva Calloway calls Helms Middle School a mini-replica of San Pablo for the wide-ranging and integrative services offered by HCP. Recently, the City of San Pablo has begun to formalize its collaborative efforts with HCP. Vice Mayor Leonard McNeil is also one of HCP’s consistent champions. In recent years, the city has done everything from co-writing grants with the School District, to matching grant monies, to earmarking city funds for after-school academic enrichment programs, demonstrating that education is not just the bailiwick of school districts, but rather, a community’s shared responsibility.

With the new partnerships and processes at hand, the city now excitedly awaits the construction of the new Helms Middle School facility (funded by a bond secured by the WCCUSD in 2002), which will include San Pablo’s Community Center building—funded, in turn, by the city and situated on land granted by the school district. Now referred to as San Pablo’s Center of Community, the center is the product of a 10-year program needs assessment conducted among school service providers and stakeholders under the direction of former Principal Harriet McLean and with the collaboration of the city and the Helms Project. The resulting facility is designed to enable small learning communities to function within the larger school and also to include space for community service providers to work.

Currently, the City of San Pablo, HCP, and the WCCUSD participate in the PLUS (Planning and Learning United for Systems change) Leadership Initiative of the Center for Cities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley. Since last summer, the PLUS team has worked to institutionalize HCP partnerships that have been established over the years. Ultimately, the PLUS team hopes, the physical presence and ongoing utilization of the Center of Community will serve as a beacon of their vision of a transformative collaboration between school and community, in addition to being a landmark in the urban fabric of San Pablo.

Centers of Community Life, Emeryville
A few miles south of San Pablo, down San Pablo Avenue, the Emery Unified School District (EUSD) and the City of Emeryville have been cultivating their own vision for connecting community and educational programming. In this 1.2 square mile city, the school district, the city government, community members, and local businesses have been working together for seven years to craft a redevelopment plan that puts education for everyone at the center of community life in Emeryville. This vision of supportive services and high quality education is coupled with the creation of public spaces and buildings built to foster and enhance a collective learning environment. As school board member Josh Simon puts it, “We don’t want to just build the Center of Community Life. We want to be the center of community life and then build a building around what we are.”

In 2001, following poor student performance and an impending fiscal crisis, EUSD was taken over by a state administrator, setting in motion a series of changes, which included the election of an entirely new school board whose members were keen on re-thinking the school-community connection. A broad coalition of stakeholders—made up of city officials and staff, school district representatives, teachers, residents, and other community members—came together under the Emery Youth Services Advisory Committee (EYSAC) to craft a vision for turning the schools around. In 2002, it was recommended that the city and district work together to redevelop the schools and other city parcels into a vibrant, mixed-use community center to serve all the people of Emeryville and the idea for Emeryville’s Center of Community Life was born.

The Center was originally envisioned as a multi-acre site, consisting of new “green” school facilities, community health and service support centers, joint use recreation facilities, business and retail facilities, a fire or police station, and some mixed-income housing—to create a place that is diverse, vibrant, and a “center of community.” Also in 2002, influential business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce publicly supported a successful parcel tax vote to raise desperately needed money for the school district. Then again, in November 2007, Measure A—another parcel tax increase—passed with an overwhelming majority, thanks to a concerted “get out the vote” effort by city officials, business leaders, community members, and students.
At this moment, Emeryville’s many stakeholders are in discussion to plan and create not one, but many smaller Centers of Community Life. The district is currently engaged in renovating the elementary school and is working on plans for a Family and Community Wellness Center located at the Emery Secondary School campus. The design and development of the Center will include input not only from school district and city staff, but also from young people and their families. The Y-PLAN, an initiative of the Center for Cities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley, which partners university student mentors with high school students to work on local community planning projects, will work with Emery Secondary students this year on the Family and Community Wellness Center, slated to open in September 2008. As Roy Miller, the architect working for EUSD, says, “The Wellness Center is not the final piece. It’s another learning increment—we are taking on a piece that we are able to tackle and accomplish. It’s simply another step in the evolution of this process. And that’s the truth of change—there is no final end point. Rather, we are just taking steps, putting them in place, learning, and then doing it all again.”In other words, the ultimate hope of the city of Emeryville is that the physical infrastructure, along with the services and activities it offers, will serve as a catalyst for productive and supportive cross-cultural, inter-racial, and intergenerational interactions.

An Endless Loop of Possibilities
The two innovative joint use school projects featured here, in many ways, embody the potential of new and rehabilitated school buildings to manifest the collaborative work of two important public institutions—school districts and city governments. Beyond that, they represent the shared vision cultivated by parents, students, teachers, and other community members. Schools no longer need to be built as traditional stand-alone facilities that are open only during school hours; rather, they can be designed and built to be community centers that offer services and amenities to local neighborhoods. As San Pablo and Emeryville show us, joint use facilities are not merely an end point of a long collaborative, but also a part of structuring the process of building mutually beneficial partnerships across public agencies, community-based organizations, parents, students, teachers, residents, and other community members.

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits
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Industrial Land Preservation: Key to Green Jobs Growth

The most important issue facing Oakland today,” is how former Planning Commission Chair Mark McClure describes the debate over the conversion of Oakland’s approximately 33.8 million square feet of industrial land (and potential job-generating space) for residential use.

Oakland’s industrial land is the city’s premier “jobshed” area outside of the Downtown/Airport area office core with large tracts of strategically-positioned parcels that can provide a base for the 10,000 good jobs, which Mayor Ron Dellums has vowed to create.
Much of the momentum for industrial land preservation in Oakland is due to the emerging green economy and clean tech scientific and energy industries. When Mayor Dellums signed on to the new Green Corridor Initiative (with other East Bay cities) for entry into the field of biosynthetic fuel and solar cells, he signaled that Oakland is ready for such activities. But questions about the preservation of the remaining areas of industrial land, and the production and distribution jobs that have served as Oakland’s jobshed for a century, still remain.

Can Oakland court these new industries while preserving and encouraging its baseline of production, distribution, business-to-business supply and repair, and other existing quality jobs that have provided generations of Oaklanders with a decent living wage, career longevity, and family benefits?

Oakland’s Job Picture by Numbers
Two of the biggest employers in Oakland, according to a 2004 EDD report, are Transportation and Trucking (11,551 jobs) and Postal/Delivery/Courier services (7,283 jobs), thanks to Oakland’s easy access to freeway networks, railways, a seaport, and an airport. Other major employers are Food Processing (about 1675 jobs), Recycling (about 1,000 jobs), and Construction (about 950 jobs). The total number of “industrial” jobs, including the Port and Airport, was nearly 50,000.

Also, according to the California State Department of Commerce, manufacturing jobs in particular offer a high multiplier effect of 1:3. In other words, every new manufacturing job supports three other jobs. These jobs, surveys show, are often local and created by supplier networks that value “just in time” delivery over high-cost long distance shipping. Key players in this area of symbiotic job creation are beverage distribution (with a local industry spender multiplier of 2.28) and food processing, both of which typically generate a high number of jobs per square foot of space.

While employment numbers show a decrease during the 2001-04 period, a report on “The State of Manufacturing in California” by the Bay Area Economic Forum (2005), shows a net increase in the number of businesses (from 1,777 to 1,984) during the same period in Oakland. This seems to confirm the growing trend towards small business in California and especially in the Bay Area where streamlined, value added businesses, such as artisan foods, digital media, recording and sound technologies, smart engineered cooling technologies, and green building product development thrive.

New Jobs, Old Jobs—Good Jobs, Bad Jobs
Increasingly, Oakland has been attracting artisan food production, green building material markets, such as sustainable lumber, tile and granite, and emerging ventures in print, digital arts, and related media activities. “Valued-added” production and distribution businesses and other ventures are attracted to Oakland’s strategic location in the Bay Area, the quality of its workforce, and its cultural diversity.

However, these businesses are finding it nearly impossible to grow their facilities because of a paltry industrial vacancy rate of 3.9 percent in Oakland and less than five percent along the I-880 corridor (CB Richard Ellis Industrial Market Report, Fourth Quarter, 2007). Meanwhile, highly visible “underutilized” land and buildings are being withheld for future “higher value” deals, or offered at rates above feasible production market values. Still, new investment interest in large industrial facilities continues to grow, as demonstrated by the 2007 sale of two 10-acre manufacturing sites to Bay Area commercial investors, creating over $50 million in private investment in a single industrial district of Oakland.

Industrial Land Preservation Strikes a Chord
The preservation of Oakland’s industrial land was one of the most popular issues considered by Mayor Dellums’ citizen task forces on housing, planning, and economic development. According to J. Douglas Allen- Taylor’s account of the task force meetings (Daily Planet, March 27, 2007), members voted 19-0 for the Dellums administration to “develop and review an industrial land conversion policy to prioritize industrial retention and, if converted, to prioritize rezoned land for affordable housing.”
In fact, since 2002, thanks to the efforts of the Zoning Update Committee, there has been substantial public debate on the issue and a commitment from Commissioner Annie Mudge and former Commissioner Michael Lighty to follow General Plan policy and discourage an agenda that allows conversions through the policy “back door.” With the arrival of new Commissioner Doug Boxer, well versed in economic development policies from his work in the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, there has been a thoughtful approach to policy setting and regulatory action through the development of new zoning, which respects a need for residential buffers, while preserving land for essential job- and revenue-creating enterprises.

Back to Basics
New industries cannot survive in the absence of a network of business-to-business suppliers, commonly known as “Backstreet Businesses.” Production jobs in industries, such as construction materials, food processing, and fabrication, in addition to offering decent wages, stability, and career ladders to the non-college educated, also offer technical skills training. In Oakland, these production and distribution jobs are limited to the industrially-zoned land within the narrow belt of the San Leandro corridor in East Oakland, the East Oakland Airport Park and Estuary-adjacent lands, the northern end of Jack London Square, and the area adjoining the upper Mandela Parkway.

Quantifying the benefits of sustainable industrial districts, however, is more than a simple job count or tally of business license revenues to the City. Indeed, getting an accurate representation of local jobs requires ongoing active participation in business planning by the residents who represent the workforce, the business leaders, and city government. Jobsheds need to be viewed from the perspective of both, improvement of infrastructure to retain and court modern production, as well as the knitting of the business-residential fabric to ease environmental concerns. To grow local jobs, the City of Oakland and its councilmembers need to better understand the relationships between its residential and industrial neighborhoods, while at the same time, clearing a path for the growth of quality green and sustainable jobs for Oaklanders.

City Council Supports Industrial Preservation Concept but Passes Significant Exceptions

In February 2008, the Planning Commission signaled its support for industrial land preservation recommending the city council declare:

* Industrially designated land in the City of Oakland is a scarce resource.
* The preservation of industrially designated land is vital for the future economic growth of the City of Oakland.
* The city recognizes that land use patterns change over time more quickly than General Plan updates occur and that amendments may be necessary.
* Amendments to the General Plan to allow conversion of industrially designated land to residential uses should be restricted to projects that fulfill the required findings based on criteria developed through a public process for evaluating such conversions.
Most of these recommendations were adopted by the City Council on March 5, 2008, with city staff directed to come back with specific critera for the conversion process. However, at the same meeting the council approved the likely conversion of one entire section of an industrial district on the waterfront, and will allow (by application) amendments to rezone land in three other industrial districts, pending consistency with yet-to-be created criteria.

Margot Lederer Prado, AICP, has been a local municipal land use planner for over a decade, specializing in industrial business retention and attraction, land use policy and zoning, and brownfields redevelopment. She currently works for Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency. Download or view a pdf of this article (121 KB).

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

Turning Swords into Ploughshares

Every morning, Irma Cardenas watches her brother wake up at 4 a.m. to begin the four-hour commute to his construction job. “My brother leaves every day at 5 a.m.,” states Irma. “Sometimes, when there is a lot of traffic, he can be back by 10 p.m.” Irma and her family live in the Monument Corridor neighborhood in Concord, California. Located in Central Contra Costa County, northeast of Oakland in the Bay Area, Concord has a well-deserved reputation as a suburban, middle-class community. Nevertheless, for those who live in “La Monument,” an imaginary wall seems to surround their neighborhood.

“La Monument” houses more than 18,000 residents. Almost 52 percent of its residents are Latino; 83 percent of whom are renters. It is estimated that even though 93 percent of the people who live there are employed, 47.4 percent live under 185 percent of the poverty line, nearly triple the county rate. This translates to more than 8,500 Concord residents who can’t afford to pay for their basic needs, such as housing, food, utilities, health insurance, clothing, and education. In addition, Contra Costa has the highest commute times in the entire country for counties of comparable size. This is directly related to the lack of local jobs and explains why Irma’s brother spends four hours commuting to work, each way. Poorly planned, sprawling suburban development combined with a deteriorating employment base has created massive economic dislocation.

Irma is a leader with the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). She says that the high commute times, lack of jobs, and high cost of living are not the only issues facing Concord. She notes that once local organizations got together to consider the re-use plan for the Concord Naval Weapons Station, they discovered that they shared more common ground than they imagined. Low-income immigrants had concerns about the environment and the need for open space for children to play. Environmentalists wanted local residents to get access to living-wage, union jobs in their own communities. Labor unions advocated increased affordable housing. Over a period of six months, coalition members developed their own platform for the Concord Naval Weapons Station and a plan of action to take it to city officials. The group is called the Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord and it is a powerful and diverse movement of a broad range of community organizations. (See authors’ credit at end of story for a full list.)

Go for the Whole Loaf
“If you approach elected officials in a piecemeal fashion, you end up fighting over the crumbs rather than the whole loaf,” said Bob Doyle, assistant general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. “What a lot of folks are realizing is that they may not agree with each other on everything but working cooperatively in the process benefits everyone.”

In the flurry of planning for the future of the 5,028-acre Concord Naval Weapons Station, one issue is often glossed over—it is owned by the public. Community groups want to ensure that the impacts of development at the Weapons Station are balanced with clear public benefits—both in Concord and region-wide.

Early on in the process, the voices of community leaders were overshadowed in the mad scramble for the valuable land. In the winter of 2006, the City Council narrowly thwarted an effort by the Shaw Group to acquire the entire parcel from the Navy. The stakes are high. The Concord Naval Weapons Station is the largest development project currently proposed in the Bay Area.

The Community Coalition has the following comprehensive goals:

Parks and Natural Lands:
Preserve 80 percent of the Weapons Station as community parks and a new public regional park. Protect wildlife corridors and endangered species, designate a creek restoration area, and prohibit any new roads east of Mount Diablo Creek. Benefit all of the region’s residents with sites for active recreation, sports fields, and museums.

Vibrant, Diverse, Walkable Neighborhoods:
Create walkable neighborhoods well-served by public transportation with a mix of jobs, shops, and homes serving a range of incomes. Cluster retail, office space, and homes around the North Concord BART station and also in villages farther from BART. Develop in a way that allows workers and residents to commute and do errands without a car, with safe streets, good bus service, trails, and bike lanes.

Affordable Homes and Homelessness Solutions:
Respond to the critical housing needs of Concord residents by dedicating at least 45 percent of housing developed at the Weapons Station as affordable, including 250 acres as permanently affordable housing.

Quality Jobs for Local Residents:
Create a mix of good jobs that pay family-supporting wages with benefits throughout all phases of the redevelopment. Target a high percentage of construction and new permanent jobs towards Concord residents.

Environmentally Sustainable Development:
Incorporate the highest standards in green building, green design, clean technology, and energy efficiency. Leverage this opportunity to prepare workers for careers in green technologies and green building.

Full Environmental Clean-Up:
Coordinate planning for housing, jobs, recreation, and habitat with a comprehensive environmental cleanup. Ensure informed public participation in the environmental remediation process to fully protect the health of Concord residents, workers, and visitors.

Strong Community-Driven and Inclusive Process:
Fulfill community needs and reflect everyone’s aspirations through a community-driven planning process that is transparent, inclusive, multi-lingual, and representative of the community’s diversity.

It is the City Council’s responsibility to ensure that the Concord Naval Weapons Station re-use plan results in significant public benefits. The project must be integrated into the city and the region so it doesn’t become a “New Concord” to the exclusion of existing residents.

In October 2007, Coalition members scored an early victory when over 150 members packed a City Council meeting to call for inclusion of alternative proposals in the environmental impact review. Dozens of coalition leaders from every segment of the community gave testimony in English and Spanish. Environmentalists talked about the importance of living wage jobs and affordable housing advocates talked about the importance of open space.

The alternatives were included in a decisive 3-1 vote handing a victory to the rapidly expanding Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord. Now, coalition members have launched an ambitious community education plan to educate thousands of local residents about their vision for a healthy and sustainable Concord and are preparing for a series of mobilizations in the coming months as the city moves to finalize the re-use plan.

The re-use of theWeapons Station presents Concord and the surrounding region with a momentous opportunity to create a project that represents the vision and values of the community. The planning and design process can address the needs of Concord residents and fulfill priorities for open space, affordable housing, quality jobs, vibrant neighborhoods, and environmentally sustainable development. Given the broad impacts, it is critical for the benefits of the base re-use to be shared by the public throughout the city and region and promote inclusiveness and a high quality of life for all.

Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord members include: ARC Ecology, Carpenters Local Union 152,
Central Labor Council of Contra Costa County,Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, CNWS Neighborhood Alliance, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, East Bay Housing Organization, Friends of Mount Diablo Creek, Greenbelt Alliance, Habitat for Humanity East Bay, Lutheran Social Services, Mount Diablo Audubon Society, Resources for Community Development, Save Mount Diablo, Sierra Club, and the Transportation and Land Use Coalition.

Download or view a pdf of this article (118 KB).

Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits

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Atchison Village: A cooperative in Richmond Changes with the Times

Atchison Village, going strong since 1941 © Scott Braley 2008

Atchison Village Mutual Homes sits less than a mile from a shoreline park with postcard-perfect views of the San Francisco Bay—and on the edge of the “Iron Triangle,” one of the hardest-hit areas of Richmond, California, a city deserted by industry and ravaged by violence.

When you walk around the Village on a summer Sunday, you smell meat grilling and hear the buzz of lawn mowers and the bells of an ice cream truck playing,“Do your ears hang low?” Neighbors chat about gardening and kids play soccer or baseball in the park at the heart of the Village. A family might be setting up for a quinceañera in the wood-floored and paneled community building, where the Village also holds its meetings.

The federal government built Atchison in 1941 to house workers streaming in from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the deep South to work at the Kaiser Shipyards, building ships for sale to Great Britain.

“The modest 450-unit complex was hailed at the time as a cutting-edge example of worker housing, designed following the tenets of the ‘city beautiful’ and ‘garden city’ movements,” Richmond architect and City Council member Thomas Butt wrote when Atchison became a national historic site in 2003.

After the United States entered World War II, defense industries boomed in Richmond.
“The factories and the shipyards worked 24 hours a day,” says Redell Randle, who has lived in Atchison since the 1950s and now serves on its Board of Directors. “The welding was like firecrackers all night, pa-pa-popping and sparking.”
The government built many more housing projects, but only Atchison survived. In 1956, when the residents heard the government was going to shut it down, they incorporated, raised $150,000 for the down payment (in only two-and-a-half months), and became one of California’s first housing cooperatives.

“This was done by working people,” Randle says, and their work forged strong bonds. “They were on a mission, building those ships.”

The charter members of the Village set up an elected, all-volunteer Board of Directors to run the corporation, and wrote strict rules to prevent renting and speculation. Though Atchison remains an island of affordable housing, today’s members face the challenges of maintaining the 67-year old structures, and finding ways to reinvigorate the spirit of community.

Atchison has one-, two- and three-bedroom units in one- and two-story duplexes and fourplexes. The buildings are grouped around courtyards, with common space in front and yards or common space behind. Ten years ago, you could get a 2-bedroom in Atchison for around $30,000. Now sellers are asking $80,000 and up. The units exchange at “fair market value,” but the corporation must accept prospective buyers as members before sales can be final. Members own 1/450th of the corporation, and the “right to perpetual use” of their units. They pay monthly fees that range from $212 to $411, depending on the size of the unit and the amount of property tax they pay. The fees cover water, garbage, and basic maintenance.

“It’s like a little town here. You can know people if you want to,” says Bennie Singleton, who bought her unit in 1971 and served several terms on the Board. A handful of the charter members remain in the Village, and many of their younger relatives have stayed, but the Village has changed a lot in the last dozen or so years. Artists, activists, and professionals have come fleeing the sky-high rents and home prices of Berkeley and San Francisco, and many Latino families have moved in. Latinos now make up about a third of the residents.

“I have a name here,” says Esthela Diaz. “If I were somewhere else I would just be ‘the Mexican lady.’ And I love raising my daughters here, where they can see two women or two men together being happy. I don’t have to tell them anything about it.”

Board of Directors Faces Challenges
The present Board of Directors includes two lawyers, an accountant, three union organizers and officers, and three in healing professions. Only one is African-American; none are Latino, though past boards have been more representative.
The 11-member board deals with a mind-numbing pile of problems, meeting at least once a week. It budgets and hires and fires, working with an office staff of two and a maintenance crew of six. It has to ensure that changes to the units conform to the Village’s planning guidelines. It mediates sticky disputes over barking dogs, rambling cats, noise, fences and all the other things that come between neighbors.

It does all this in a group that changes with annual elections and has few written policies and procedures to fall back on.
“When new members start, they don’t have anything to check out to see how things were done before,” Singleton says. “We need rules and procedures. We don’t do things in a businesslike way.”

Only about one-fourth of the members vote in the Board elections, and fewer come to the monthly meetings—which range from effective to quietly dysfunctional to wildly chaotic. At one low point a few years ago, several people started shouting at once, ignoring the banging gavel, and a member was swinging a heavy flashlight menacingly in the back of the room. White-bearded Peter Brown, the Board’s elder, took off a battered sneaker and banged the table to try to restore order.

“We need to create an environment where everyone in this diverse community feels comfortable expressing their points of view,” says Vicki Sawicki, who served as Board president in 2004-2007. “When we can wade through our differences, the end result can be better for us as a whole,” she says. And sometimes, neighbors don’t hear each other. Sawicki recalled the meeting about the fence in September 2005.

Co-operation In Action?
Shootings just outside the Village had touched off an eruption of worry and fear. Members, many of them Latino, packed the Board meeting. The group vented and brainstormed. They decided a fence along one edge of the Village would help protect them. Rafael Casillas offered to put in $500 and work on the fence. Several other members chimed in with offers of money and help.
But the Board responded stiffly, with a request for an estimate and worries about liability and permission from the city. The moment passed. The fence hasn’t been built.

Since then the Board has changed almost completely, and the new Board has made a point of translating meeting notices into Spanish and hiring bilingual office staff. The fence issue sticks in people’s minds as a lesson in how members’ energy could be put to work.

“We could take on simple, short term projects that would help with upkeep of our common areas,” Board member Marcie Zellner suggested, adding that the common work could help bring people together, and possibly save money at the same time.
Savings would be welcome, because the last two Boards had to take the unpopular step of raising fees so the Village could begin long-deferred maintenance on roofs, windows, and plumbing. Longtime maintenance director Joseph Clark is optimistic.
“These are very well-built houses, solid wood buildings,” he says. Other members are cautiously upbeat about Atchison’s social structure as well. One new committee is building a community garden, and another is linking with Communities for a Better Environment to oppose the expansion of the Chevron refinery. Board meetings have calmed down and Board members have been helping re-organize the office.

“With modern-day technology and all the brains we have here, we should be able to make it work,” Randle says. “They did it before. We can do it now.”


Who Owns Our Cities? | Vol. 15, No. 1 | Spring 2008 | Credits
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