Globalization Comes Home

As the United States draws closer to becoming a nation with people of color in the majority, it is also moving into an economic and social program of privatization, cuts in social programs and real wages, restrictions on unionization, a focus on investment in export industries, an emphasis on balanced budgets, and a re-valuation of its currency.

In most of the developing world, this program is called “structural adjustment.” It is a bitter remedy often prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after economic speculation and the looting of national wealth by a narrow elite has driven a country into near or actual bankruptcy.  While it’s ironic that the prescription is being written by the same Wall Street banks that conducted the looting in our country, this is the way the global North has treated the global South since World War II.

It’s increasingly apparent that Wall Street executives see the working population of the United States as some sort of “other,” very much as the colonial empires of the 20th century viewed the people of their colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East. This has always been true to some extent, but with the crash of the latest global pyramid scheme, has become ever more critical for the top tier to reap more of their income at home. [More]

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

Introduction: Globalization Comes Home

18-1 Cover Globalization Comes Home

Causa Justa/ Just Cause rally, Oakland, CA. ©2011 CJJC

As the United States draws closer to becoming a nation with people of color in the majority, it is also moving into an economic and social program of privatization, cuts in social programs and real wages, restrictions on unionization, a focus on investment in export industries, an emphasis on balanced budgets, and a re-valuation of its currency.

In most of the developing world, this program is called “structural adjustment.” It is a bitter remedy often prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after economic speculation and the looting of national wealth by a narrow elite has driven a country into near or actual bankruptcy.  While it’s ironic that the prescription is being written by the same Wall Street banks that conducted the looting in our country, this is the way the global North has treated the global South since World War II.

It’s increasingly apparent that Wall Street executives see the working population of the United States as some sort of “other,” very much as the colonial empires of the 20th century viewed the people of their colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East. This has always been true to some extent, but with the crash of the latest global pyramid scheme, has become ever more critical for the top tier to reap more of their income at home.

That the future retirees who are most likely to lose their pensions are workers of color is no coincidence. This should not pit white workers against workers of color. On the contrary, just as effective public health policy rests on providing care for the most vulnerable communities, all workers should realize that those most poorly paid and facing the worst working conditions are most likely to win changes that will benefit us all.

A popular demonstration placard at rallies over the past few months has been: “Egypt can do it—so can we.” As the economic imperatives of globalization come home to the United States, clearly a renewed commitment to democratic control and social solidarity is required.

We do, indeed, need to look to the strategies and tactics of people in the developing world to shape our response to the current crisis. But just as the demographic reality of empire lives in the population of the United States—with immigrants streaming here after being displaced from their home economies—so, too, do creative, committed, and enduring strategies for winning justice live within our communities.

This issue of RP&E takes a crack at a very complex question:  How can we live through structural adjustment and build sustainable, diverse cities? Some possible answers:

Low-wage workers are conducting national campaigns—combining job site organizing, government policy initiatives, and public education—to improve conditions for domestic workers, restaurant employees, and farmworkers.

Community-based organizations are restructuring their cities and reclaiming public space through community benefit agreements, economic development strategies rooted in ethnic arts and businesses, and transit-oriented development planning processes that actually include local residents.
Communities negatively impacted by the cap-and-trade system proposed by former Governor Schwarzenegger’s California Air Resources Board are challenging the prevailing wisdom about how to combat climate change—and a California judge has ruled in their favor.

Multiracial, multi-issue organizations capable of uniting constituencies for social justice action have never been more critical. Urban Habitat has long played this role regionally, and increasingly at the national scale. With that in mind, I am especially pleased to welcome new leadership to Urban Habitat in the person of Allen Fernandez Smith. He has committed to taking Urban Habitat to the next level—and we’re looking forward to the journey.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1– 2011 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Globalization Comes Home" use the back issues page.

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Credits 18-1

Editor Emeritus
Carl Anthony

Guest Publisher
Connie Galambos Malloy

Editor & Art Director
B. Jesse Clarke

Assistant Editor
Merula Furtado

Layout & Design Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer

Editorial Assistance
Marcy Rein

Urban Habitat Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)    
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)

Carl Anthony
Co-Founder, Urban Habitat

Malo Andre Hutson
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California,Berkeley

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Arnold Perkins
Former Director, Alameda Public Health Department

Debra Johnson
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Wade Crowfoot
Deputy Director of Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

Organizations are listed for
identification purposes only.

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Race, Poverty & the Environment was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.

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RP&E Release Party June 8, 2011

18-1 Cover Globalization Comes Home

 Causa Justa/ Just Cause rally, Oakland, CA. ©2011 CJJC
You're Invited!
Globalization Comes Home
RP&E Release Party

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 @ 6:00 p.m.
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From the Board of Directors

As the Board Chair of Urban Habitat, I am pleased to welcome Allen Fernandez Smith as our new executive director. Al brings the vision, management skill, content expertise, and commitment to social justice, Urban Habitat needs to continue as a leading voice for regional equity. He understands the synergy of policy and action, the importance of building strategic alliances among non-traditional partners, and the interconnectedness of our ongoing fights for social, economic, and environmental justice.

Al’s core values shine through when you meet him, as does his strong personal commitment to building power in low-income communities and communities of color. His engaging and direct communication style combined with his expertise in the areas of economic development, education, and leadership development resonates well with Urban Habitat’s mission, goals, and strategies. We are excited to see how his fresh eyes and leadership will strengthen and guide the organization as we enter our third decade.

Al joins the organization as its program areas are logging significant accomplishments. Highlights of our recent work include:
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), dedicated to increasing the representation of low-income people and people of color on public boards and commissions throughout the Bay Area, graduated its second class in January and has just closed the nominations for the third. BCLI alumni are now serving on local boards and commissions in San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond.

The Transportation Justice program has helped spotlight the need for civil rights compliance by transit operators nationwide. Federal Transit Administration head, Peter Rogoff, recently wrote to agencies around the country, echoing some of the concerns raised by Urban Habitat and allies in their complaint against BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission over the Oakland Airport Connector project.

The lawsuit against Pleasanton’s housing cap brought by Public Advocates on behalf of Urban Habitat and Pleasanton resident Sandra DeGregorio ended with a settlement that makes the city accountable for its fair share of regional housing needs. Urban Habitat’s Land Use and Housing program continues to support allies on the ground in Pleasanton as they implement the settlement agreement, and work on affordable housing policies, programs, and organizing throughout the region.

The Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) has mobilized its coalition of grassroots partners for the latest phase in the development of Richmond’s General Plan. They have testified at hearings and met one-on-one with city officials to ensure that the Plan addresses the needs of the city’s low-income residents and residents of color. Their efforts have spurred language changes that introduce equity in several elements of the plan.
And Race, Poverty & the Environment is pioneering the use of multimedia communications at Urban Habitat with its podcast series, Radio RP&E. This new format enables RP&E to build stronger collaborations with other news producers and expand our reach to new audiences.
With these and other projects in full swing, we look forward to working with you, and with Al, in the months and years ahead.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

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Urban Habitat Welcomes A. Smith as New Executive Director

A. SmithFor just the third time in its 22-year history, Urban Habitat has a new executive director. A. Smith took over leadership on May 2, 2011. He succeeds Juliet Ellis, who left at the end of October 2010 to become the Assistant General Manager for External Affairs at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and Carl Anthony, who co-founded the organization and led it for its first 12 years.

“I’m delighted to pass the torch to A Smith,” Ellis said.  “He will bring vision, practical experience, passion and commitment to an organization that is moving on the key issues of equity in the Bay Area and beyond.”

A Chicago native, A Smith graduated from the University of Illinois and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. After moving to the Bay Area, he coordinated the first-ever citywide initiative to improve San Francisco’s after-school programs, and served as a senior community development specialist in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Community Development.

“Fernandez Smith was our point person in Bayview Hunters Point, where he brought city agencies, community leaders, and business owners together to develop an economic strategy for the neighborhood,” said San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Fred Blackwell. “With his ability to work with diverse partners on complicated issues, he’s well prepared to take Urban Habitat to the next level—and Urban Habitat is clearly ready to go there.”

Most recently, A Smith served as Executive Director of the California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC), a statewide nonprofit dedicated to advancing the professional development of youth workers across California. He guided the group through a successful strategic planning and reorganization process.

“It is rare to find someone with the combination of management skill and engagement in social justice work that Allen Fernandez Smith brings to the job,” said Urban Habitat Board Chair Joe Brooks. “Al is the right person at the right time.”

A Smith comes to Urban Habitat at a dynamic point in the organization’s evolution. Founded in 1989 by national environmental leaders Carl Anthony, Karl Linn, and David Brower, the organization has worked hard to popularize a regional perspective on issues of environmental and social equity and build power in communities of color through a combination of education, advocacy, research, and coalition building.

“I believe that effective public policy must be crafted with the authentic voice and experience of our communities. When that happens, policies are more responsive to community needs and can lead to lasting, systemic change,” Fernandez Smith said.  

“I'm very excited for the opportunity to work at Urban Habitat and help advance our policy, advocacy, and organizing efforts.  Building upon the organization’s collaborative spirit and partnerships, we will continue to take action on a wide range of social and environmental justice issues that face our low-income families and communities of color.”

Smith now lives in Oakland, California with his wife, Kay Fernandez Smith, deputy director at PolicyLink, and their children, Malcolm and Malaya.



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The great recession of 2008 continues, with official unemployment hovering at nine percent. Add under-employed workers and those who have given up looking for jobs, and the rate tops 16 percent. In communities of color, these rates are close to doubled. As people trickle back into the workforce, they are being offered jobs that pay less, have less benefits, and fewer “rights.” At the same time, the right wing has launched a concerted attack at local, state, and federal levels to deprive public employees of the right to collective bargaining, secure pensions, affordable health care, and fair work rules. “Good jobs” with decent pay, vacation, sick leave, retirement, and health insurance, in either the private or public sector, are becoming ever more scarce.

Last year at the U.S. Social Forum, a coalition of workers banded together to form the ”Excluded Workers Congress.” They are engaged in organizing in some of the toughest sectors of the U.S. economy. Farmworkers, domestic workers, taxi drivers, tipped employees in restaurants and salons, day laborers, truck drivers—all are working together to build new kinds of coalitions to win basic rights and to force employers to negotiate.  Efforts, such as the domestic workers bill of rights, passed in New York state last year, and the organizing of direct actions at a restaurant or job site hint at the range of the effort. In fact, as Saru Jayaraman points out, these challenges are not in the margin, they are in the mainstream. These “excluded workers” are actually central to our economy and to our well-being.

What is often overlooked in the public discourse about workers in this country is that the “good jobs”—such as union manufacturing work in industrial cities like Detroit—were not created “good jobs.” They became good jobs after a generation-long fight by auto and steel workers to form unions and to wrest concessions from both employers and governments. There is nothing intrinsically meaningful about working at an assembly line, putting together automobiles, or pouring steel. What made those jobs good was worker solidarity. Caring for children and the elderly, or harvesting and serving food are today viewed as “bad jobs.” Of course, if we get organized and fight, there is no reason why these“bad jobs” can’t be turned into good jobs. And sadly, when it comes to public employees: there’s also no intrinsic reason why a good job can’t be turned into a bad one. —Ed.

Restaurants and Race
By Saru Jayaraman

Food Workers—Wages and Race
By Yvonne Yen Liu

Undocumented Immigrants Stand up to Chipotle

By David Bacon

San Francisco Chinatown Restaurant Workers  Fight for Fair Employment
By Crystal Carter

Farmworkers—the Basis and  Bottom of the Food Chain
By Christy Getz and Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

Filipina Domestic Workers on the Move
An Interview with Katie Joaquin

By Christine Joy Ferrer

Combating Nail Salon Toxics

By Pauline Bartolone

Class, Race, and the Attacks on Public Employees

By Mazher Ali

The Fire Last Time:
Worker Safety Laws after the Triangle Fire

By Peter Dreier and Donald Cohen

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1– 2011 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Globalization Comes Home" use the back issues page.

If you subscribe before May 27, 2011 you will get a complimentary copy of this issue with your one year subscription.

To read more of our stories please sign up for our RP&E quarterly newsletter and occasional updates.

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Restaurants and Race

Discrimination and Disparity in the Food Service Sector

Walk into any fine-dining restaurant in an American urban center and you will observe: white workers serving and bartending; workers of color clearing tables, preparing food, and washing dishes.

Like the segregated buses of the Jim Crow South, the restaurant industry has reserved the best jobs in the front for whites, while workers of color are relegated to the back (unless they are bussing tables in the front). Both restaurant workers and employers admit that this stark divide along color lines is commonly accepted industry practice based on notions of skills, table manners, language ability, and appearance. Thanks to a legal framework that demands proof of discriminatory intent, this obvious form of segregation has existed mostly unchallenged until recently.

With over 10 million employees, the restaurant industry is the nation’s second largest private sector employer—just behind retail—and the largest part of the nation’s food system. The industry continues to grow rapidly, even as other sectors decline during the current economic crisis, and is considered a gateway of opportunity for immigrants and low-wage workers of color from all over the world. However, research shows that in the country’s largest urban areas, only about 20 percent of all restaurant industry jobs provide living wages and benefits. (There are some instances of waiters and bartenders at fine-dining places in urban centers earning between $50,000 and $150,000 annually.)

With less than .01 percent union density nationwide, the industry mostly provides low- and poverty-wage jobs with little access to benefits. In 2010, the median hourly wage for restaurant workers nationwide was $8.86, which means that over half of all restaurant workers earned less than the poverty wage of $8.90 for a family of three. Also, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three lowest-paid occupations in America in 2009 were to be found in the restaurant industry.

ROC: A Worker Union Born of Tragedy
In April 2002, the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was founded in New York, to provide support to restaurant workers displaced from the World Trade Center by the events of September 11. ROC has since grown to include over 7000 members in eight localities nationwide and engages in workplace justice campaigns, cooperative restaurant development, organizing of responsible employer partners, and participatory research and policy work at the local and federal levels.

From 4,323 surveys of restaurant workers nationwide and over 240 employer interviews, ROC has concluded that workers of color in the restaurant industry are subject to a minimum of $3 wage differential (or “race tax”) from their white counterparts. In every urban area that ROC studied, workers of color were segregated by segment (overrepresented in fast food restaurants and underrepresented in fine-dining) and by position (overrepresented “behind the kitchen door” or relegated to busser and runner positions in the front), which essentially kept them in lower-paying jobs with less access to benefits.

In a study conducted from 2006-09, ROC discovered that of the 200 pairs of job applicants (white and people of color) they sent to fine-dining restaurants, white workers were twice as likely to obtain living-wage positions. Even holding accent constant, people of color were questioned about their qualifications at three times the rate of white workers. ROC also found that a strong European accent (even if incomprehensible) was an advantage to obtaining one of these living-wage positions, whereas a Third World accent was a serious detriment.

Perhaps the most insidious finding of all in ROC’s nationwide study was that segregation is fully expected and accepted in the industry. Interviews with hundreds of employers and workers revealed that both groups found it completely natural that white workers were almost always found in the highest-paid positions. Employers and several white workers agreed that workers of color lacked the skills, “table talk” (the ability to converse easily and relate to a wealthy white clientele), and/or appearance to succeed as fine-dining waiters and bartenders. Interviews with workers of color, however, revealed that many were training less-experienced white workers who then immediately surpassed them into waitstaff and bartending positions that paid up to five times more than what they were earning as bussers.

Restaurant Daniel: ROC’s First Victory
In 2005, several Latino and Bangladeshi runners and bussers from Restaurant Daniel, New York City’s only four-star restaurant, approached ROC with the complaint that they had been repeatedly passed over for promotion to wait staff and bartenders by inexperienced white workers. The difference in salary was literally five times greater—bussers and runners earn between $20-$30,000, whereas waiters and bartenders can earn around $150,000 annually.

Following a large-scale public campaign and litigation in federal court, which  resulted in a two-page cover story in the Dining Section of the New York Times, Restaurant Daniel moved to promote several of the bussers and runners. Most importantly, the restaurant developed a new promotions policy monitored by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), which compelled management to inform all workers of new openings and to provide training that would allow workers to advance into these positions. This came as a result of a key finding about the lack of transparency with regard to job openings. Workers of color rarely knew about potential opportunities for training or promotion to jobs for which white workers were hired from the outside.

In essence, the lack of formalized career ladders makes it possible for restaurant employers to use such dubious criteria for hiring and promotion as “table talk” and appearance, which is thinly disguised racial bias. The frequently cited language ability and accent criteria were shown to be patently false in the Restaurant Daniel case, in which many inexperienced new French immigrants were almost immediately placed on the dining floor as waiters.

Color/Gender Segregation: A Nationwide Malaise
When ROC replicated its study in urban areas around the country, it discovered that segregation and discrimination in hiring and promotion was quite commonplace. In Miami, for example, segregation along skin color lines is very obvious—even more than along race or ethnicity. Whites and light-skinned Latinos typically serve and bartend, while darker-skinned Latinos are more likely to be bussing and running food to tables, or preparing food in the kitchen along with African Americans. Haitians, the darkest, poorest, and most vulnerable population in Miami, are almost always the dishwashers—the lowest-paid position in the restaurant. The segregation is further confirmed by wage differentials unearthed by ROC’s nearly 600 surveys of restaurant workers in Miami-Dade County: the reported median wage was $11.29 for whites, $10.00 for Latinos, $9.00 for non-Haitian Blacks, and $8.21 for Haitians.

Also, ROC found the segregation and disparity even greater for women of color who face the double oppression of race and gender discrimination in a very male-dominated sector. In every city surveyed, women of color were more heavily concentrated in fast food restaurants than the overall survey population, and in most cities they suffered a $5 median wage differential (race and gender tax) from the overall survey population.

In several locations, racial segregation by segment and position was further compounded by geographical segregation. For example, in the Detroit metropolitan region, low-wage workers of color must commute long distances with little or no access to public transportation for living-wage jobs in the suburbs where they face tremendous discrimination. One restaurant worker in Detroit claimed that applying for a job at a fine-dining restaurant in Troy, a suburb of Detroit, elicited the query: “You’re not planning on eating here, are you?” She was also told that the restaurant had never hired an African American in its 10-year history.

ROC’s Ongoing Campaign
ROC has taken the following steps to address racial segregation and discrimination in the restaurant industry:

  • Developed policy initiatives that penalize discrimination and incentivize internal promotion, including the posting of new job openings in living-wage positions. In Detroit, ROC helped develop local legislation that would compel the city to consider employment discrimination in granting a local liquor license. In New York, ROC recognized responsible restaurant owners who signed a Code of Conduct and offered internal promotion and transparency in the hiring and promotion process, including posting new job openings in living-wage positions. ROC promoted these employers among conscientious consumers and local elected officials so that they may be granted city-based incentives, such as expedited license processing.
  • Worked with responsible employers over several years to develop formalized career ladders and advanced job training programs for low-wage workers of color to move into living-wage jobs at fine-dining restaurants. The idea is to encourage the industry to consider internal promotion based on skill and achievement rather than on subjective bias. The concept of a worker earning a certificate of promotion from busser to waiter had never before been considered within this informal industry.
  • Continued waging campaigns against segregation and discrimination at high-profile restaurants—as we did with Restaurant Daniel—to inform the industry that there will be consequences for segregation and discrimination based on race, and that the current racially-divided state of the industry is unacceptable. The cover story in the Times Dining Section sparked a vigorous debate within the industry and elicited a tremendous outpouring of gratitude from workers.
  • Implemented ongoing research to document and publicize—through traditional and newer media—the plight of workers of color in the food service sector and the public health consequences of having low-wage workers without access to healthcare or paid sick leave preparing and serving food. (In one restaurant worker survey, more than two-thirds of the 4,323 respondents reported cooking and serving food while sick.).

Moving Forward: The Two-Pronged Approach
Even if racial bias were to vanish entirely from the restaurant industry, it would be impossible for most workers of color to earn a living wage, primarily because only about 20 percent of all available jobs pay that much. So the fight for equal opportunity has to happen in tandem with the fight for a living wage. And until we confront these social and economic disparities, all Americans will continue to suffer the moral, economic, and public health consequences of a segregated food service industry.

Saru Jayaraman is co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United) and Assistant Professor of Public Law in the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits


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Like the segregated buses of the Jim Crow South, the restaurant industry has reserved the best jobs in the front for whites, while workers of color are relegated to the back

Food Workers—Wages and Race

Mariano Lucas Domingo traveled north from his home in Guatemala in search of work to support his sick parent. He landed in Immokalee, Florida, the tomato capital of the United States, where he found work harvesting tomatoes. He expected to earn about $200 a week.  Then Lucas met two brothers who offered him room and board at their family house, in exchange for a cut of his pay. This didn’t seem like a bad deal to Lucas who had no family or friends nearby, and also because the brothers offered to extend credit even when work was sparse.

Lucas spent the next two-and-a-half years living as a captive with other workers in a truck with no water or electricity.1 The workers were forced to relieve themselves in a corner of the truck and wash with a garden hose in the backyard. The brothers locked them in the truck every night, forced them to work even when they were sick or tired, and took away their paychecks. Lucas and his colleagues finally escaped from the truck one night by punching a hole through the roof.2 The two brothers were subsequently arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison. 

This story, unfortunately, is not unusual among the workers who produce our food.  While Lucas’ experience of being enslaved is certainly a horrific extreme, the 20 million workers employed in the food system earn low wages, work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and are unable to collectively organize to demand rights at work. Half of all workers in the food system earned just $21,692 a year or $11.05 per hour in 2008.3 That is well below what a family needs to make in order to sustain two children, according to the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington.4 In a metropolitan area like San Francisco, a family needs to earn around $26.97 per hour just to meet basic needs. In Cleveland, that figure is $20.21 per hour and in Atlanta, it’s $18.37 per hour. Close to one quarter of all food system workers live at the federally defined poverty threshold—earning less than $21,200 for a family of four—as per data gathered in 2008.5

A recent report from the Applied Research Center mapping out the race, gender, and class of the food system shows some sad but not surprising trends:
(1) People of color earn lower wages than whites in comparable occupations within the food system. Half of all white workers made $25,024 a year in 2008, whereas workers of color earned $19,349, or $5675 less. Calculated by the hour, food workers of color earned almost $2.50 less than their white counterparts. The income gap—or race penalty, as it is commonly called—was greater in certain sectors, particularly in food processing ($6.04 less per hour) and distribution ($5.35 less per hour). 

Additionally, it appears that women are subject to a gender penalty as well. White women, for example, earned just 63 cents for every dollar made by a white male—the highest paid worker in the food system. Black women fared worse with 53 cents for every dollar and Latinas fared worse still with just 50 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

(2) People of color are overrepresented in food system occupations. Thirty-four percent of the general population in 2008 identified as people of color, but more than 42 percent of the workers in the food system were people of color. Whites, who comprised over 65 percent of the general population, only made up 57 percent of food system workers. But Latinos, who represented just 15 percent of the general population in 2008, were disproportionately represented in the food system—making up over 25 percent of the work force.

(3) Few people of color hold management positions in the food system. Whites are clearly the majority in management positions within the food system. They constitute 74 percent of the managers and 85 percent of the chief executives. Within management, perhaps not surprisingly, half were white men and less than 10 percent were women of color. 

In terms of money, managers earned the most with a median income of $40,544, which is double that of a rank-and-file worker in the food system. Even in management, whites made more than people of color. Additionally, half of all white chief executives made six figure incomes, nearly $40,000 more than their black or brown counterparts.

(4) The food system has some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs. Farmworkers are exposed to toxic pesticides daily and an estimated 300,000 suffer from pesticide poisonings every year.6 Even access to some basic necessities is lacking for many working in the fields. A survey conducted among farmworkers in North Carolina found that only four percent had access to fresh drinking water, hand washing facilities, and toilets.7

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in food processing suffered some of the highest rates of injury and illness in 2008.8 Much of the labor in food processing involves repetitive, physically demanding movements using dangerous tools and machinery for which workers often receive inadequate training. Juan Baten, a young father from Guatemala, was crushed to death one night by a dough-mixing machine while working the third shift at a tortilla factory.9 In the opinion of Daniel Gross, executive director of Brandworkers International, Baten’s death could have been avoided if the tortilla factory had been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.10

(5) Food system workers are excluded from the right to organize.11 Farmworkers are exempt from the nation’s labor laws, such as the minimum wage and the right to organize into a union, crafted during the New Deal of the 1930s.12 Historically, workers in the fields have been people of color, whether they were descendants of African slaves who worked on Southern plantations or undocumented workers from Latin America. And the architects of federal labor laws, no doubt, found it politically expedient to exclude farmworkers in order to curry favor with white Southern racists.13
This racialized exclusion of workers from basic labor protections now extends from farmworkers to workers dependent on tips and to those formerly incarcerated. The minimum wage for tip-earners, such as restaurant workers, has been stuck at $2.13 an hour for 20 years. A study of low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago found that 30 percent of those who receive tips were not even paid $2.13 an hour. When workers complained or tried to form a union, 43 percent were subjected to retaliation, such as firing, suspension, or threats to call immigration authorities.

Organized Food Workers Build Momentum
In July 2009, worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food came together to form the Food Chain Workers Alliance.14 Their mission is to build a more sustainable food system that respects workers’ rights, is based on the principles of social, environmental, and racial justice, and in which everyone has access to healthy and affordable food. The Alliance is currently engaged in building solidarity among food system workers with the idea of identifying shared worker concerns and goals.
Members of the Alliance gathered in early March in Florida, close to the tomato fields where farmworker Mariano Lucas Domingo was enslaved for two-and–a-half years. They came to lend their support to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign, Do the Right Thing, which targets the Publix supermarket chain for refusing to pay a penny more for a pound of tomatoes.15 Workers from Alliance member groups, like the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center and Chicago’s Warehouse Workers for Justice, joined the picket line outside a Publix store and marched with thousands of farmworkers and their allies for living wages for everybody.

1.    Estabrook, Barry. “Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes.” Gourmet Magazine. March 2009.
2.    Lydersen, Kari. “Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum Hits the Road.” In These Times. March 7, 2010. florida_modern_day_slavery_museum_hits_the_road/
3.    Liu, Yvonne Yen and Apollon, Dominique. “The Color of Food.”
Applied Research Center. February 2011.
4.    “The Self-Sufficiency Standard.” Center for Women’s Welfare.
5.    2008 Federal Poverty Guidelines.  U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
6.    “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture.” An Oxfam America Report. March 2004.
7.    Ibid.
8.    Workplace Injuries and Illnesses—2008. Bureau of Labor Statistics. News Release: October 29, 2009. osh_10292009.pdf
9.    Liu, Yvonne Yen. “America’s Food Sweatshops.” Colorlines. February 17, 2011.
10.    Gross, Daniel. “Death in a New York Food Sweatshop.” Counterpunch.
     February 2, 2011.
11.    “Expanding the Right to Organize to Win Human Rights at Work.” Unity for  Dignity: Excluded Workers Report. December 2010.
12.    “Like Machines in the Fields: Workers without Rights in American Agriculture.” An Oxfam America Report. March 2004.
13.    Ibid.
14.    Food Chain Workers Alliance.
15.    Food Chain Workers Alliance. March 2011 Workers Exchange.

Yvonne Yen Liu is a senior research associate at the Applied Research Center (ARC) and a frequent contributor to ARC’s

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Undocumented Immigrants Stand up to Chipotle

The hands of Juan Jimenez, an immigrant farm worker. ©1999 David Bacon

In December 2010, 600 workers at the Chipotle fast food chain in Minnesota were fired. Their crime? Working. In the past two years, thousands of others have been fired for the same offense: 2000 women at a sewing factory in Los Angeles, 500 apple pickers in eastern Washington, and several hundred janitors in Minnesota and California, to name just a few instances. Every one of them is a victim of the Obama administration’s “softer” immigration enforcement strategy.

The logic is brutal: Make it impossible for the 12 million undocumented U.S. residents to earn a living and send money to their families, and they will deport themselves. What’s more, their families will not be tempted to join them in the U.S. because they will not get jobs.

ICE Logic Fails to Hold Water
The same inhuman logic convinced Congress to pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which compels employers to verify workers’ immigration status and makes it illegal to employ people without papers. But that logic has failed because no one has left. Its only real effect has been to turn workers into criminals.

In the last 25 years, owing to the pro-corporate market reforms of NAFTA and CAFTA, more people in Mexico and other developing countries have been driven from their homes. The 600 mostly-Mexican workers who worked for a minimum wage serving Mexican food at Chipotle were part of that exodus. Many of them had worked at Chipotle for years, until the Department of Homeland Security audited the company’s personnel records and finding incorrect Social Security numbers, demanded that Chipotle fire those workers.

Similarly, at the Calhoun Lake restaurant in Minneapolis where Alejandro Juarez had worked for five years cleaning and fixing the stoves, grills and refrigerators for $9.42 an hour. One day the manager simply told Juarez not to bother coming back the next day.
“The company used us,” said Juarez, “and when it didn’t serve them anymore, they threw us away like trash.”

John Morton, head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), plans to have many more mass firings. The ICE website claims that it targets employers “using illegal workers to drive down wages... [those] likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.” In truth, ICE never improved wage or working conditions at Chipotle or any other sanctions target. And although Morton boasts that ICE collected $7 million in employer fines from 2,740 audits, those who cooperated by firing workers were given immunity. So, the only people penalized were the workers.

Solidarity Gives Voice to the Undocumented
Fortunately for the Chipotle workers in Minneapolis, they hooked up with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a.k.a. Center of Workers United in Struggle, and were able to build an alliance with the city’s janitors’ union, Service Employees Local 26. The union had already been hit by audits that led to the firing of hundreds of its members, including stewards, officers, and core activists. Together, the Chipotle workers and the building cleaners marched and picketed the restaurants, where several supporters were arrested.

As the ICE-induced mass firings continue, many other unions will face the same situation. Some, like the janitor unions in Minneapolis and San Francisco, have fought back seeking time extensions, back wages, owed vacation, and severance as a means of survival. In Minneapolis, workers have also demanded that Chipotle support immigration reform, bringing the human rights aspect of immigration to the forefront.

The comprehensive immigration reform proposals put forth by Congress in the last five years have not stopped the mass firings—only threatened to increase them. But as Congress moves more to the right, many immigrant rights groups and unions are moving more to the left—demanding reforms that reinforce the human and labor rights of people like the janitors and Chipotle workers. One proposal, the Dignity Campaign, calls for granting legal status to the undocumented, repealing employer sanctions, and ending trade policies that lead to forced migration.

1999 AFL-CIO Positions Lost in the Dust
The position taken by the Dignity Campaign reflects the one adopted at the AFL-CIO convention in 1999, where it was argued that immigrant workers should be able to organize to demand improved wages and conditions. San Francisco’s hotel union later won a decision invalidating firings based on bad Social Security numbers. And unions even got a court injunction against Bush’s regulation mandating such terminations.

After 1999, however, some unions supported bills that promised limited legalization, even at the price of more workplace enforcement. Making work a crime has made organizing harder and pitted workers against each other during times of high unemployment. And recently, the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department even called for stepped-up sanctions enforcement without legalization.
There is little doubt that even in an economy with double-digit unemployment, thousands more will be fired—induced by an enforcement regime that last year caused 395,000 deportations and put 345,000 people in detention.

Making Human Rights Count
Current rumor in Washington has it that too much protest may provoke ICE to go back to the Bush-style raids. Nevertheless, the janitors and Chipotle workers in Minnesota have shown the country that even without papers, you can stand up for your rights.
“We have to make our rights count for something,” Juarez points out. “We’re not criminals. We have to say what we think and let the company and government see we’re united.”

It is now up to the unions and immigrant rights organizations to choose whether or not to stand with the workers and demand not only that the firings and deportations stop, but also that there be real immigration reform that guarantees basic human and labor rights.

David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer. For more articles and photos see A version of this article was previously published in the February 2011 online edition of The Nation.

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San Francisco Chinatown Restaurant Workers Fight for Fair Employment

Li Shuang Li, 42, had worked at a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown for seven years before she discovered that her boss was stealing her tips. At the time, Li was barely making $900 a month to support her 13- and 11-year-old children and was afraid of confronting her boss for fear of losing her job.

So, Li allied with her colleagues and they collectively raised the issue with their employer, whose ill-tempered response was: “If you want to complain, I’ll just fire you!” But the employees threatened to quit en masse if he did not pay them back the tips he owed and he eventually came to a verbal agreement.

Li says she was fortunate to receive her back pay relatively quickly, unlike some other waitresses who were given the run around by the boss until some brought their relatives in to coerce him. Rather than continue working for that employer, Li decided to quit and has been unemployed for three years now.

Tip Stealing—Common Practice in Chinatown
Situations like the one faced by Li, unfortunately, are very common in Chinatown’s restaurant industry, which employs over 14,000 Chinese immigrant workers unfamiliar with U.S. labor laws and minimum wage mandates. When the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) was started in 1972, it was with a view to help empower—through education and organization—the low-income and immigrant Chinese community that is most susceptible to exploitation.

Li says she is fortunate to be part of an organized workers committee, referring to the CPA, which “at a grassroots level, encourages workers to come forward if they are being taken advantage of in the workplace,” according to Shaw San Liu, lead organizer of CPA’s Worker Organizing Center. But in reality, many are afraid to come forward because they don’t want to lose their jobs, she admits.

In September 2010, the CPA released a study—Check, Please!—based on a survey of 400 San Francisco Chinatown restaurant workers. One of its key findings was that 95 percent of respondents did not earn a living wage and 50 percent made less than the minimum wage. Additionally, 20 percent of those surveyed worked over 60 hours per week and 48 percent had experienced burn injuries at work.*

Since 2004, the CPA has gained some momentum in its campaign for worker rights and successfully retrieved over $700,000 in back wages for its members. On occasion, the CPA has also enlisted the help of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Wage theft is not an isolated event. Coalitions are being formed all over the country to win employment rights not only for restaurant workers but also taxi drivers, garment workers, and grocery store workers.

What the Chinatown Tour Doesn’t Reveal
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and holds the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. It is also the strongest symbol of a historic apartheid policy. But the average tourist visiting for a taste of Dim Sum or to buy a jade trinket would never know of the adversities faced by the workers daily.

“Because a lot of Chinatown residents are monolingual, they are subject to low-wage jobs and vulnerable to [being] taken advantage of,” says Dr. Ling-Chi Wang, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and founder of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a civil rights group. “The employers are also vulnerable because competition is stiff, and they try to undercut each other just to survive. There are not many places in the city where you can get a meal for $4.00—that’s just unheard of! So, instead of the consumer paying for it, the worker ends up getting shortchanged.”
“Most of the residents are not in Chinatown by choice but [out of] necessity,” adds Wang. “It’s a transition from China. They come to work, eventually save money and move, or so they hope.”

Wang believes that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 has “intensified the misery of Chinese workers and has achieved the opposite effect.” Especially in a recession, employers prefer undocumented workers because they are willing to accept less pay, which opens them up to more exploitation.

Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United is now located in eight cities, including Washington D.C., Miami, and Michigan and has helped workers receive paid sick days while providing free industry training classes, help with job placement, and training in know-your-rights workshops.
They released a report—Serving While Sick—around the same time as the CPA reports, which was the largest study ever of the health conditions of restaurant workers with over 4,300 surveyed. They reported that 90 percent of workers did not receive sick days and were not insured by their employer.  Two-thirds of the workers reported working while they were sick, which causes great concern for consumers.

The Story of Li Nong Hu
Li Nong Hu, 43, is a waitress who has worked at the same restaurant for 16 years. Lately, she has had to cut her hours because of severe pain in her left leg brought on by standing for up to 10 hours on the job. She has no health insurance, so she self medicates. “I’m afraid to go to the hospital because healthcare is so expensive here,” she concedes.

Hu, who has lived in the U.S. since 1994, thinks that their living conditions are much worse here than in China. At present, she lives with her husband and two children in one of Chinatown’s (famously unsanitary) single room occupancy (SRO) units, where their studio shares a kitchen and one bathroom with the rest of the floor’s residents.

Hu, however, believes that her children are getting a better education in the U.S. “My children understand that we have worked very hard for them,” she says.

CPA Report’s Other Revelations
Another interesting fact gleaned from the CPA report points out that workers in Chinatown’s $70.8 million (estimated taxable sales) restaurant industry stand to lose over $8 million annually because of labor law violations. Workers are naturally put at a disadvantage when there is no on-the-job training and when they are not given enough time off to get trained.

“There has been a rise in immigration but policy makers have been slow to catch up with this growth,” explains Christopher Punongbayan, deputy director at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. “Some of these barriers are more endemic to the immigrant community. The Asian community, like all other communities, wants to be given the right to pursue the American dream.”

Labor or work-based violations usually do affect people of color and non-English speakers disproportionately. Because of similarities in the problems faced by the various ethnic groups, the CPA has allied itself with other communities of color, including African Americans and Latinos from organizations like People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and La Raza Centro Legal.

“We want to educate the community at large of these conditions that we are being faced with,” says Liu of CPA. “These illegal practices—of not paying workers the right wage and benefits—will run the community into the ground in the long run.  We don’t want that to happen.”

Crystal Carter is an independent journalist based in the Bay Area. Find more of her work at

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Farmworkers—The Basis and Bottom of the Food Chain

Events in recent years have triggered a reawakening across the United States of a movement that acknowledges the importance of worker rights and of protecting the livelihoods of this country’s working class. Historically, however, one group of workers has routinely been excluded from the gains made by the larger labor movement, i.e. farmworkers—the people who weed, pick, harvest, and pack, often in 100 degree weather, while routinely being exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Approximately 700,000 farmworkers reside in California at any given time. Farm employment is unstable and the average farmworker is employed for only seven months of the year (nine months in California). For female workers the employment season is even shorter. Jobs are scarce, even during high season. In California, about 350,000 jobs are available from April to October and 275,000 from November to March. Historically, migrant workers returned home during the winter months. However, with the increased militarization of the border, this practice has become harder and many migrants remain in the U.S. out of fear even in the rainy season when they have little or no income. And although a majority of farmworkers are male, women and children are increasingly crossing the border and entering the workforce, as men can no longer maintain a seasonal migration.

Sixty-eight percent of migrant farmworkers come from four Mexican states: Michoacan, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Oaxaca. An estimated 120,000 of them are indigenous Mexicans, who usually enter at the bottom of the labor market and often suffer discrimination on both sides of the border.[1]

Hunger and Death in the Midst of Plenty
Ironically, those who labor to produce the food for the nation do not earn enough to properly feed themselves. A study conducted by the California Institute of Rural Studies (CIRS) in Fresno County in November 2007, found that 43 percent of farmworkers were food insecure: 50 percent said they could not afford to buy as much food as they needed, and 48 percent could not afford to eat nutritious meals. Recently, a food bank in the agricultural region of Santa Cruz County reported that about 70 percent of its clients were farmworkers.

Federal laws have done little for the plight of farmworkers, who have been excluded from nearly all of the major labor laws passed since the 1930s. Some, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), have been amended to include workers on large farms, but the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, which protects workers’ right to act collectively and form unions, excludes farmworkers.

State-level regulations on labor, health and safety, and pesticide use are often ignored by farm managers and infrequently enforced by state agencies. Where an estimated 60 to 90 percent of farmworkers are undocumented, growers and labor contractors can use the workers’ status as a shield against complaints. Even when laws are broken with deadly consequences, violators are barely reprimanded. Such was the case with 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant vineyard worker, who collapsed after working nine hours in the fields with no access to shade or water in extreme Central Valley heat. To avoid charges to the company, her supervisors had the family take her to a local clinic that was not equipped to treat her and she died two days later. The two owners of the labor contracting company received probation, community service, and a combined fine of $1,730.

Organic Does not Mean Fair
It is generally assumed that organic growers treat workers more fairly and that worker rights are an inherent part of sustainable farming. But although organic farm workers are not exposed to dangerous synthetic pesticides, labor standards on organic farms are largely in line with those on conventional farms.

In our survey of 500 organic growers in California, only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards. Forty-seven percent felt strongly that organic standards should not include labor standards and over 50 percent felt that organic certification should not require growers to provide workers with health insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacation, or the right to unionize.

In this respect, organic farmers join most other growers and agricultural industry boosters who use the discourse of agricultural exceptionalism, which is the idea that the agricultural sector is culturally different and deserves to be exempt from the labor standards of other industries. Agricultural exceptionalism, which favors farmers at the expense of farmworkers, has historically guided national and state policy. The ideology also pervades the organic and sustainable agriculture movements, which tend to conceptualize social justice as justice for farmers, not farmworkers.

The lack of an adequate regulatory framework to protect agricultural workers positions farm labor as the most dangerous and underpaid occupation in the nation. The wages, which are among the lowest for any employment, actually decreased 20-25 percent between 1975 and 1995 and continue to fall. Currently, the median income for a single farmworker is between $10,000 and $12,499, and for a family supported by farm work, it is between $12,500 and $15,000. These statistics situate farmworkers squarely in poverty and are also reflected in their lack of access to health care and affordable housing, their unsafe and debilitating working conditions, and high rates of chronic disease.

Some Triumphs Among Adversity
The struggle of farmworkers in California is not entirely without its triumphs and the tireless work and leadership of people like Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta has resulted in many gains. For example, the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, passed after many years of organizing, striking, and boycotts, gives farmworkers the basic rights of unemployment insurance and fundamental health and safety protections, such as access to toilets and clean drinking water. And in 2002, California farmworkers won the right to mandatory arbitration, which allows a mediator to impose a settlement whenever an employer and a certified union cannot come to an agreement.

For farm labor standards to truly change, worker rights must be included in the larger discussion of sustainable food and food justice. If a common mandate of the alternative food movement is to “know where one’s food comes from,” we must add to that a directive to know the farmers and their farmworkers and the conditions under which the workers live and work.

At a march to encourage Boston-area grocers to pay workers 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes, Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, declared: “I am here today because the food movement cannot be separate from the farmworkers movement.”[2] To create a truly just food system, it is absolutely imperative that people who consider themselves conscious eaters make a serious effort to recognize the connection and demand better treatment of food workers at all levels of the food system chain—from the farmworker to the dishwasher.

Currently, there are organizations working to utilize a domestic fair trade model that advances worker rights in the sustainable agriculture movement. The Agricultural Justice Project is a pioneer in this area. Other important players include: Food Chain Workers Alliance, California Food and Justice Coalition, National Farmworker Ministry, United Farm Workers (UFW), and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Concurrent with the union-led struggles for better wages, benefits, and labor standards, we also need to pay close attention to the fight for immigration reform and international policies. After all, the destiny of the farmworker is closely tied to economic conditions at home and the situation at the border.

2.    The Coalition for Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Campaign.

This article resulted from a panel discussion on “Fair Labor and Food Security for California Farmworkers” at the week-long Food Justice Symposium organized last February at the UC Berkeley School of Law by Students for Economic and Environmental Justice (SEEJ). The authors would like to acknowledge Alegria De La Cruz for her contributions to the panel and to this article. You can view a video of the proceedings at

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In our survey of 500 organic growers in California, only 7.5 percent were in favor of labor standards

Filipina Domestic Workers on the Move


Imagine the life of a domestic worker—a caregiver, nanny, or housekeeper, serving in a private home. Now, imagine not being able to sleep for more than three hours a night, having to wake every few hours to change a patient’s diapers. Or only being allowed sponge baths by the sink, no showers. Or not having access to a kitchen because your patient dislikes the smell of your cooking. Imagine being treated as less than human. This was the experience of “Boots,” a Filipina caregiver from the Pilipino Workers Center who testified at the Assembly Labor hearing earlier this year.

Domestic workers are primarily immigrant women who are usually the primary income earners for their families. There about 200,000 domestic workers in California, according to the DataCenter. The vast majority of Asian domestic workers—97.8 percent—are foreign born. Without these immigrant domestic workers many Californians would be forced to forgo their own jobs to address their household needs, resulting in direct economic consequences for families and the economy. But despite the important nature of their work, domestic workers have historically received wages below the poverty line and continue to be excluded from some of the most fundamental labor protections that other California workers enjoy.

The fight for the rights of domestic workers is often a struggle for basic respect and human dignity. Katie Joaquin, lead organizer at Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ), helps to spearhead the campaign with a special focus on worker support and organizing. For about four years, Joaquin has been organizing Filipino domestic and airport workers and caregivers, to demand improvements in their working conditions and to help them organize their coworkers. In the following interview, Joaquin discusses the Filipino domestic worker perspective and why the rights they demand are significant in instilling solidarity within the community.

Christine Joy Ferrer: Why is organizing for the rights of domestic workers important to you personally as a Filipino American, and what is it about the struggle that really connects you to the reason why these rights are so vital?
Katie Joaquin: First, we have to understand why there are so many Filipino domestic workers to begin with. In the Philippines, there’s an abnormal amount of people that are leaving the country every single day. Imagine how many people were in your high school—I’m guessing probably around 4,000—[and] 3,800 suddenly disappeared. And this happened to high schools across the country every single day! There are 3,800 people leaving the Philippines every day in search of work. In the U.S., we have an unemployment office that helps us find work in our communities. In the Philippines, people find work through the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency that ships people overseas. So, the situation is that people are being trained to fill jobs in other countries.

In the U.S., there’s a growing need for healthcare workers because we had the Baby [Boom] and now there [are] many elderly needing care. [We] need affordable, low-paid labor, so the Philippines is training people as nurses, or as health workers. They have the skills, training, and credentials to be a nurse, or a doctor, but instead, they become a caregiver or a domestic worker. And the work is very difficult. When you think about the domestic workers, we’re talking about our mothers, our lolas (grandmothers). Over 50 percent of them are primary income earners. They are the ones their families rely on for money and support, and some are making as little as $50 per a day, working 24 hours. It requires round the clock focus. It can be very strenuous, when you’re cleaning, lifting, cooking, etc. and it’s someone’s life that rests in your hands. Yet, you’re not able to make enough money to support your needs here, as well as the needs of your family back home. The industry is rife with abuse because the workers are working in isolation, because there are no protections, and because for many of them, this is one of the first jobs they’ve encountered.

In the Filipino culture, we have this Bahala na, Utang na loob feeling. One believes, “This is just how it is.” Or “We had no work in the Philippines. We’re thankful for work, even if it’s bad or underpaid.” My lola, my aunties, they all started their lives in America doing domestic work on the east coast—care-giving, as well as cleaning houses, cleaning mansions. I’m working for an issue that I feel really deeply about. And I am honored to be able to organize for the cause.

Ferrer: How has Filipino Advocates for Justice been organizing for the domestic worker rights campaign and what are the chances of the legislation passing?
Joaquin: We are developing the leadership of workers, immigrants, and young people to not just be able to advocate for their rights and change their conditions, but to also engage other workers to embody these same attributes. We want to form organizations that will continue to fight for worker rights after the organizer leaves, and long after the institution is gone.

Workers are sharing their testimonies at community events, with elected officials, with other domestic workers, and their employers. Employers are in turn sharing these stories with the media. It’s essential to understand, “What are the real conditions in private homes, in the streets and neighborhoods, in the journey from our home countries to here?”

FAJ has been knocking on doors, reaching out to Filipino caregivers and domestic workers. We’ve been organizing with the employers who hire domestic workers, people who are taken care of by domestic workers, seniors, people with disabilities, interfaith groups, labor unions, and students. We’re reaching across as many sectors as possible. We all have a relationship to this issue. The struggle for domestic worker rights intersects with other struggles throughout history. It’s rooted in slavery, the undervaluing of women’s work inside the home. It interconnects with the Black community, Latino community, the women’s movement, and so forth. So many of us have relationships with domestic workers.

They deserve protections, as any other worker. Granting these protections will also help shift this perception that domestic work isn’t work. We’re demanding time to sleep, breaks, [and] health care if they injure themselves. [We’re demanding recognition] that these are workers [and] human beings.
New York just passed their domestic workers’ bill of rights last year. Apart from the budget and financial situation of California, we feel that this bill has a great chance of passing because this movement is growing.

Ferrer: How will the legal protections strengthen worker solidarity and the future capacity of domestic workers for collective action?
Joaquin: The process of fighting for these protections is really deepening the worker solidarity and connection between Filipinos, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, and other Latino workers here... as well as Black workers, employers, people with disabilities, seniors. All of these different people who’ve taken part in this campaign have served to strengthen solidarity. We’re all working together for worker rights and protections. We’re sharing about the conditions at work and why we even have to take this work. That’s where the solidarity happens, because we see our stories reflected in each other’s faces and each other’s histories. Those are the ties that bind and allow people to engage in a deep, beautiful, and difficult struggle that becomes the driving force for a campaign like this bill of rights.

We know that changing the law doesn’t [automatically] change conditions. People are entitled to minimum wage, but not everyone receives it. Collective action changes conditions. And the workers, by being involved in this campaign, are able to practice and realize their leadership and become fighters. They are able to win protections that become the tool that motivates workers to organize and enforce their rights. So, first they are demanding rights. Once they have those rights, the fight is about actually getting those rights. This is how we’re able to reach out and support the caregivers, and really cultivate that fighting spirit that we see every single day in this campaign. Ultimately, at the heart of it, is a deep understanding of what needs to change and taking action to improve our situation.

About Domestic Workers
Domestic workers are among the most isolated and vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment behind closed doors. Yet, historically they have been exempted from laws governing other workers, such as decent wages, a safe and healthy workplace, and worker’s compensation.
AB889, the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, gives domestic workers industry-specific protections and the right to use kitchen facilities and cook their own food. It sets standards for sleep, sick days, living wage increases, and paid vacations.
There are 195,841 domestic workers in California; 97.8 percent are immigrants, 7.4 percent are Asian (5,691 from the Philippines and 3,587 from China).
It is safe to assume that these figures may be grossly underestimated as the workers in this industry are considered “hard to reach” populations by the U.S. Census and are historically undercounted.
In his recently published book, Ating Kalagayan: The Social and Economic Profile of U.S. Filipinos, Professor Peter Chua calculates there are 114,000 Filipino domestic workers in the U.S., based on U.S. Census data and the 2008 American Community Survey.
*DataCenter, Oakland, CA, 2008.

Christine Joy Ferrer is the web and publishing assistant at Urban Habitat and the editor and founder of Eyes Opened (, a blog dedicated to all artists of color committed to social justice.

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Combating Nail Salon Toxics

Oakland-based Alisha Tran remembers the first time she suffered strange symptoms while working as a manicurist. “One day I was working with my client, and I feel my face numb. I feel a numbness on my finger... I cannot close [my hand] and I cannot open it... I sweat too, [I] sweat a lot… And I was talking with client and I said, ‘call ambulance.’”

The doctor at the emergency room told her she was anemic and sent her home. Two weeks later, Tran had another episode on the job. She was taken to the emergency room again and was seen by the same doctor.

“And then he asked me, ‘What kind of job you working?’ And I said, ‘I am working for nail salon.’ And then he said, ‘I think you should quit your job.’”
The nail salon industry is booming nationwide. The number of salons in California has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, whose report also notes that an overwhelming majority of the manicurists are women of color—59 to 80 percent are Vietnamese—and of reproductive age.[1]

Every nail salon carries products loaded with chemical compounds with hard-to-pronounce names, including the commonly occurring “toxic trio”—dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde. Animal studies of dibutyl phthalate have shown reproductive and developmental effects.[2] Formaldehyde is classified as a known carcinogen.[3] And toluene has been shown to depress the nervous system.[4]

Unfortunately, not many studies have been done on workers exposed to the “toxic trio” every day. Which is why Dr. Thu Quach, an epidemiologist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC), decided to study the prevalence of breast cancer among nail salon workers in California.
When the CPIC matched the names on the California cancer registry with names of licensed manicurists in the state, they did not find any alarming trends. Dr. Quach believes that this is because the data was limited. The workforce, for the most part, is young and has not been in the industry for more than 10 years. And cancer takes a long time to develop.

Regardless of the findings, health advocates see cancer as just one of many health outcomes to be concerned about. Dr. Quach sees the cancer study as a first step in monitoring the workforce.

“While we’re waiting for the research evidence—which often takes so long when it comes to epidemiology and population health finds—we need to phase out these chemicals now rather than waiting for research to show the dead bodies,” she says.

The Push for Cosmetic Regulation
The Food and Drug Administration currently regulates cosmetics, which includes nail products. But Jamie Silberberger, director of programs and policy at Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), believes that “regulation” may be an overstatement.

“The federal law that governs the cosmetics industry is two-and-a-half pages long and it hasn’t been updated in 70 years,” says Silberberger. “Because the law is so weak, companies can use ingredients that are known to cause cancer—or cause reproductive harm—and it’s perfectly legal to do that.”

Groups like WVE and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative want more research, more government regulation, and market pressure to force manufacturers to change the chemical ingredients in cosmetics.

According to Silbergerber, there is a cosmetics industry review panel, but to date only 11 percent of more than 12,000 cosmetic chemicals have been reviewed for safety. What’s more, she says, the law requiring disclosure of ingredients on cosmetic retail products does not apply to items used in the salons.

“Nail salon products are not required to be fully labeled,” Silberberger explains. “If you buy a bottle of nail polish at a retail store, you’ll see at the bottom a full list of ingredients. And that’s required by federal law. But with salon products, there’s a loophole and no requirement for them to be labeled. So nail salon workers don’t know what’s in them.”

However, groups like the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance—of which WVE and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative are a part—advocate for more worker protections, not just chemical policy reform. They want changes in the permissible exposure limits or “PELs” set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“The [OSHA] standards were created in the 1960s for an industrial setting,” explains Silberberger. “The intention was to protect against acute exposures. But these permissible exposure limits don’t take into consideration the effects of a combination of multiple chemicals over the long term, or the chronic health effects of exposure, such as asthma, cancer, or reproductive harm.” Often times, nail salons are poorly ventilated, she adds, which increases the exposure to harmful chemicals.

U.S. legislation around chemicals in cosmetics and around toxic products in general is in sharp contrast to the laws in the European Union. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, the FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals found in cosmetics, whereas the European Union has banned 1,000.

Silberberger calls the European Union’s laws around toxic products “precautionary”—an approach that the United States does not subscribe to. But there is change on the horizon.

The Safe Cosmetics Act was introduced in 2010. If reintroduced and signed into law, it would ban the use of known carcinogens, genetic mutagens, and reproductive toxins, and require pre-market assessment for safety of ingredients. It also would close the loophole that allows products to go unlabelled to nail salons.

“It would be a tremendous victory if we were able to pass this law,” says Silberberger. But first, the Act needs to be reintroduced in Congress, which is not expected to happen soon.

The State of California passed a Safe Cosmetics Act in 2005, which provides for light cosmetic safety regulation, but groups are still waiting for more comprehensive national reform.

Advocates for Salon Workers Speak Up
In the lobby of the Asian Health Services (AHS) in Oakland, California, 61-year-old Lam Le is sitting in a fold-up chair. She is accompanied by her interpreter for the day, My Tong, an associate with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. After surviving the Vietnam War and living in refugee camps, Le came to the U.S. in the late ‘80s.

“She thought that being a manicurist was pretty okay for her,” says Tong, interpreting for Le. “She can make a living. But she knows that the chemicals probably won’t be too good for her health.”

Le, who worked in the industry for 12 years, has been diagnosed with a thyroid condition and has suffered from asthma and skin rashes. She had breast cancer too, and beat it twice. Le was never told directly by a doctor that her ailments were related to her work in the salons, but she says that she is ‘scared’ of the businesses.

“Just smelling those chemicals makes her want to run away!” laugh Tong and Le.
For all her hardships, Le is quick to smile and speak up. She is at the AHS not as a patient, but as an advocate. Le was trained in patient leadership at the AHS by the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative5 and she is waiting for other nail salon workers before going to a special EPA hearing on environmental justice.

“She wants to ask Congresswoman [Barbara] Lee and [EPA] Administrator Jackson to improve the conditions for the nail salon workers,” explains Tong.

At the Oakland Federal Building, Le and Tong prepared her statement for Barbara Lee as they waited for the EPA town hall meeting to begin. Le had to convert her two-page testimony into a single question on a small index card, which was read out to the representatives by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of Green for All.

Sitting beside Le was Connie Nguyen, a nail salon worker for 17 years who suffered from asthma. She wanted help with identifying formaldehyde-free disinfectants that might be better for her breathing.

The calls for environmental justice were many—too many for everyone’s voices to be heard. Among the voices that did not get heard that day by the EPA representatives was Le’s and she was clearly disappointed, although she managed to force a smile.

AHS Tries Education Through Patients
On a Wednesday morning at the AHS in Oakland, about 20 Vietnamese-speaking patients gather around a conference table. They are patient leaders being educated about a wide range of health care topics so that they can go out and discuss them with the rest of the community.
“Recently, we [have been] talking a lot about nail salons,” says Alisha Tran, an ex-manicurist and nail salon owner who now leads the Patient Leadership Council (PLC) at AHS. “Most of the time, I talk about toxics.”

Tran talks to AHS patients about the need for ventilation, wearing masks, taking a break, and using green products in the work place. She also talks about the “toxic trio” found in nail salon products and their strong link to negative health impacts and other harmful chemicals, in the hope that the information will eventually reach the Vietnamese-speaking workers in nail salons.
“I need their spirit to spread the news,” she says.

Le is also present at that PLC meeting, wearing a blazer suit, earrings, and a big smile. And although she speaks through interpreter My Tong, her voice and her words carry power.

“I want to talk about this issue so that other people won’t have the same problem,” she says. “Other people may be quiet, but not me. I want to speak out.”

Nail Salon Factsheet
1.     Market research conducted by Nails Magazine estimates that In 2010, there were approximately 376,165 nail salon technicians in the United States.
2.    A large proportion of the nail salon workers are Vietnamese. Sources estimate that in California 59-80 percent of the workforce is Vietnamese—in the United States as a whole, 40 percent.
3.    The mean yearly wage of manicurists and pedicurists was estimated at $22,150 for 2009. In the state of California, the wage projection was even less than that.
4.    At least 36 percent of nail technicians were salon owners, according to Nails Magazine’s 2010 survey. Nearly 28 percent rented booths at salons and kept all their service fees. Fewer than two percent were employees of salons and received salaries and tips. Salons usually have few employees and about 50 percent of those surveyed had just one technician and about 22 percent had two.
5.    It is estimated that more than a fifth of all nail salon employees work more than 40 hours a week.
6.    In a 2007 Nails Magazine survey of the nail salon industry, 36.2 percent of respondents had worked in the industry for 10 years or more and 30.5 percent had worked for five or fewer years.
7.    More than one fifth of the nail technicians in a 2010 survey did not have medical insurance. About 38 percent had insurance through a spouse. And less than three percent had medical insurance paid for by their employer at the salon.
8.    A majority of Vietnamese nail salon workers surveyed in a 2008 Northern California Cancer Center study were concerned about exposure to chemicals at their workplaces. A “sizable” proportion of these workers also reported experiencing acute health problems—with skin and eye irritation, breathing difficulties, and headaches—after working in salons.
Note: Owing to limited participation in the Nail Magazine survey, the general statistics may not adequately reflect the situation in Vietnamese salons.



This story is adapted from a radio feature Pauline Bartolone produced for Making Contact, RP&E co-sponsored the original report using the journalism crowd-funding site,

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Class, Race, and the Attacks on Public Employees

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the state’s Republican-dominated legislature tried to steal collective bargaining rights from public sector workers—using a phony “budget crisis” as a pretext—they triggered a national uproar. Labor and community activists around the country understood that these attacks not only shred union rights, but threaten to widen the chasm of economic and racial inequality as well.

Several other states, including Michigan, Ohio, and Florida have faced similar legislative battles.  After Michigan passed a comparable law on March 16, 2011, Governor Rick Snyder used his newly expanded powers not only to attack unions but to disenfranchise the entire population of Benton Harbor—10,235 people, 85.5 percent of them Black. Workers in Ohio are organizing a referendum to overturn Senate Bill 5, their state’s version of the Wisconsin legislation.

Republican legislators in Florida are trying to ram through a bill to prohibit public employees from having payroll deductions for union dues. In response, police and firefighters’ unions have pulled money from banks that support the Chamber of Commerce, which is pushing the bill.

Workers in all these states are facing a larger trend that has been weakening their power for decades. Relentless corporate pressure and ineffectual labor laws have steadily eroded union membership since 1955. As the percentage of workers in unions has shrunk, income inequality has grown. The result has been an economic gulf, separating the rich from everyone else.

The top 10 percent of U.S. households own nearly three-fourths of the country’s total wealth; 34 percent is held by the top one percent alone. Some among this very wealthy elite have a profit-lust so insatiable that it is causing the American middle class to fade from existence, as income stagnates and the unemployment crisis continues.

Not only does workers’ share of the wealth shrink when they cannot bargain with their employers, but their political voice gets weaker as well. At its best, the American labor movement has campaigned for policies that benefit us all, like the eight-hour day, workplace safety rules, a higher minimum wage, and a national health care system. If right wing governors succeed in their anti-union crusade, we could face a system-wide shift that would further mute the voices of average workers.

Who Stands to Lose the Most?
The drive to break down public sector unions will be especially harmful to those who already face a constant battle against workplace discrimination.
A recent report by United for a Fair Economy, State of the Dream, emphasizes the vital role of the public sector in providing opportunities to people of color, who are burdened not only with the residual effects of past injustices, but also contemporary barriers to upward economic mobility. (See excerpts on page 28.) With its more stringent equal opportunity and civil service protections, the public sector offers more agreeable circumstances for historically disenfranchised workers than does the private sector. For example, the public sector has offered more opportunities for women and workers of color to approach income parity with white men. (See graph on page 28.)

Today, Black workers are significantly more likely than other groups in the workforce to hold government positions. So, across-the-board cuts to the federal, state, and even local budgets would have particularly ruinous effects on Black workers and their communities.
If we are ever to move beyond a jobless recovery and meaningfully address racial inequality, we must preserve the public sector by funding a jobs program that invests in our people and in the longer-term stability of our economy.

Where is the Money?
The phrase “we’re broke” as a rationale for bone-deep budget cuts is not just tired, it is wrong. We are not broke. We are still a very wealthy country, but too much of our wealth is concentrated in too few pockets.

The money for a jobs program and other recovery measures exists, but we have to put policies in place to reverse this concentration, such as:

  • Stopping corporations from dashing offshore to avoid paying their tax tabs.
  • Taxing the high-risk, casino-like investing on Wall Street that so heavily contributed to the financial meltdown.
  • Restoring progressiveness to the personal tax system by raising taxes on wealthy individuals who have reaped the most from our economy and are most able to contribute without sacrificing their livelihoods. We can restore the top-tier federal income tax rates to their pre-Bush levels (at the very least), and add new brackets for those with remarkably high incomes.
  • Strengthening the estate tax, which is a means to prevent the creation of American dynasties and reduce wealth inequality.
  • Ending the preferential treatment of investment income, such as capital gains and dividends, by taxing it at the same rate as earned income.
  • And we could cut the Pentagon’s budget—which now accounts for 58 percent of the discretionary federal spending—and eliminate unnecessary defense spending by ending the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The money saved could be more wisely applied to domestic investments, which should be made using a targeted approach that would address the chasms of race and class in the U.S. To do so, we will need to establish a shared agreement about the type of society in which we want to live. Will it be one that encourages greed and inequality, or one that provides essential services and opportunities to all of us? Will it be one that provides access to only the rich, or one that’s truly democratic? Will it continue to pit us against one another, or will it inspire togetherness and community?

Although, historically unions have not been free of racism, it would be counterproductive to target them for a legacy of discrimination that belongs to the nation as a whole. We should embrace the real hope that the civil rights and labor movements can strengthen their relationship and move forward as a more diverse, inclusive and, most importantly, unified movement.

Ironically, it may well be Governor Walker’s outrageous attacks on public employees that ignites the very movement he seeks to destroy, and brings the U.S. toward a more just and egalitarian society.

State of the Dream: Right Wing Attacks Public Sector
Federal and state budget shortfalls are being used to justify large-scale cuts in the public sector workforce—and this attack, spurred by the right wing, equates to an attack on Black and Latino workers.

    In the two years prior to September 2009, more than 110,000 state and local jobs were lost, including 40,000 teachers and 4,000 uniformed police officers and firefighters.[1] More cuts are expected in the year ahead.
• Forty states are already projecting budget gaps for the coming year totaling $113 billion. Once all state budget estimates have been prepared, total deficits will likely exceed $140 billion. These projected deficits compound the effect of the deficits that states faced in both 2009 ($110 billion) and 2010 ($191 billion).[2]
• State governments, with the exception of Vermont, cannot run deficits. To balance their budgets, states across the nation have instituted large-scale layoffs of public employees, along with furloughs and pay freezes for many who remain.[3] New Jersey and Tennessee, for example, each eliminated over 2,000 state positions in their fiscal year 2011 budgets.[4]
 • Many cities and local governments are making the same shortsighted decisions. Recently, Newark, New Jersey adopted a budget that includes 850 layoffs of city employees.[5] Over the last two years, the Los Angeles school system alone has laid off about 2,700 employees.[6] We may see large-scale layoffs at the federal level as well.

Layoffs and pay freezes of public sector employees will hit African Americans and Latinos the hardest. Blacks are 30 percent more likely than the general workforce to hold public sector jobs—70 percent more likely to be federal employees, 30 percent more likely to be state employees, and 20 percent more likely to work for local governments.

While public sector jobs pay less than those in the private sector once education differences are factored in,[7] public sector employment offers better opportunities for Blacks and Latinos to advance professionally and to achieve greater economic parity with their white counterparts. White men continue to dominate top-level positions in the private sector,[8] but Blacks and Latinos have made greater progress toward the attainment of top-level positions in public administration.[9] This is due in part to higher levels of union representation in the public workforce,[10] and to civil service protections that help to ensure that hiring and promotions are merit-based.

The median hourly wage of Black and Latino workers in the public sector is closer to the median hourly wage of white men in the public sector than it is in the private sector. In the professional and business services sector, Black men earn 57 cents to each dollar earned by white men. In public administration, Black men earn 80 cents to each dollar of earned by white men.[11] This trend of greater parity in public administration jobs is also true for Black women, Latinas, Latinos, and white women.
Tightening austerity measures and shrinking government will place roadblocks on this path to advancement for people of color, while also reducing the nation’s capacity to meet its broadly shared objectives.

1.    Sherman, Matt and Lane, Nathan. “Cut Loose: State and Local Layoffs of Public Employees in the Current Recession.” Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2009.
2.    McNichol, Elizabeth, Oliff, Phil and Johnson, Nicholas. “States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Last updated December 16, 2010.
3.    Sherman and Lane. Ibid.
4.    Johnson, Nicholas, Oliff, Phil and Williams, Erica. “An Update on State Budget Cuts:  At Least 46 States Have Imposed Cuts That Hurt Vulnerable Residents and the Economy.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Last updated November 5, 2010,
5.    Diambusco, David. “Newark City Council Approves Final Changes to City’s Budget.” New Jersey Real Time News, October 7, 2010,
6.    Felch, Jason, Song, Jason and Smith, Doug. “When layoffs come to L.A. schools, performance doesn’t count.” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2010,
7.    Unpublished analysis from the Center for Economic and Policy Research of the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group.
8.    Reich, Robert. “The Shameful Attack on Public Employees.” The Huffington Post, January 5, 2011.
9.    Allegretto, Sylvia  and Pitts, Steven. “The State of Black Workers before the Great Recession.” Labor Center, University of California Berkeley, 2010. Appendix G.
10.    “Union Members Survey.” Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release. (Washington, D.C., January 21, 2010).
11.    Allegretto and Pitts. Ibid.
Mazher Ali is the communications coordinator for United for a Fair Economy (UFE), a national organization working to raise public awareness of and support for the movement against extreme economic inequality. He is also coauthor of UFE’s 2011 report, State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom?

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The Fire Last Time

Worker Safety Laws After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Even after the fire, the city’s businesses continued to insist they could regulate themselves, but the deaths clearly demonstrated that companies like Triangle, if left to their own devices, would not concern themselves with their workers’ safety. Despite this business opposition, the public’s response to the fire and to the 146 deaths led to landmark state regulations.

100 years after the Triangle fire, we still hear much of the same anti-regulation rhetoric that was popular among business groups whenever reformers sought to use government to get businesses to act more responsibly and protect consumers, workers, and the environment. For example, the disasters last year that killed 29 miners at Upper Big Branch and 11 oil rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico could have been avoided had lawmakers resisted lobbying by mine owners and BP to weaken safety regulations.

Today, the leading foe of reform is the United States Chamber of Commerce, which is on a crusade against the Obama administration’s plans to set new rules for unsafe workplaces, industrial hazards, and threats to public health. The Chamber labels every effort at reform a “job killer.” The Chamber’s most vocal proponent is Darrell Issa, the conservative California Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. At the request of the Chamber and other industry lobbies, Issa recently launched a congressional assault on safeguards in workplaces and communities.

In January, Issa sent letters to more than 170 companies and business lobby groups—including Duke Energy, FMC Corp., Toyota, Bayer, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Association of American Railroads, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, and lobbies representing health care, banking, and telecommunication providers—asking them to identify “burdensome government regulations” that they want eliminated.

The business groups responded with a long wish list, including rules to control “combustible dust” that has resulted in explosions killing workers; rules to track musculoskeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel, or back injuries, that impact millions of workers at keyboards, in construction, or in meat processing; and rules to address workplace noise that leads to hearing loss. And Republicans listened. They are proposing to cut OSHA’s budget by 20 percent, which, coming on top of decades of cuts, would cripple an agency that has been effective at significantly reducing workplace injuries and deaths.

The Republican leadership is trying to drive home the message, in Speaker John Boehner’s words, that “excessive regulation costs jobs” and that the “path to prosperity” is by “getting government out of the way.” Americans of earlier generations—who enjoyed the benefits of the Progressive Era and the New Deal reforms, and the political clout of a vibrant labor movement—understood this was nonsense, but it seems like the lessons of the past have to be relearned again. That’s why it is important to recall the sordid circumstances in which 146 young women lost their lives at the Triangle Waist Company a century ago.

Businesses today, and their allies in Congress and the statehouses, are making the same arguments against government regulation that New York’s business leaders made a century ago. The current hue and cry about “burdensome government regulations” that stifle job growth shows that the lesson of the Triangle debacle has been forgotten. Here, to refresh our fading memories, is what happened.

The Fire
In 1911, New York was a city of enormous wealth and wide disparities between rich and poor. New industries were booming—none more so than women’s and men’s clothing. The Triangle company made blouses, which were called shirtwaists.
The blouses, skirts, and sweaters were sewn in miserable factories, often by girls as young as 15 who worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a half-hour lunch break, and often longer during the busy season. They were paid about $6 per week, and were often required to use their own needles, thread, irons, and even sewing machines. The factories were overcrowded (they often occupied a room in a tenement apartment) and lacked ventilation. Many were poorly lit fire traps without sprinklers or fire escapes.

The Worker Strikes
In November 1909, over 20,000 shirtwaist makers from more than 500 factories, led by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), walked off their jobs. They demanded a 20 percent pay raise, a 52-hour workweek, and extra pay for overtime. They also called for adequate fire escapes and open doors from the factories to the street. Within 48 hours, more than 70 of the smaller factories agreed to the union’s demands, but many of the largest manufacturers refused to compromise. The New York City police soon began arresting strikers—labeling some of them “street walkers,” which was literally true, since they were carrying picket signs up and down the sidewalks. Judges fined them and sentenced some of the activists to labor camps.

But the strikers held out and by February 1910, most of the small and midsized factories, and some of the larger employers, had negotiated a settlement for higher pay and shorter hours. One of the companies that refused to settle was the Triangle Waist Company, one of New York’s largest garment makers.

That July, another group of garment workers—over 60,000 cloakmakers, mostly men this time—went on strike. As the tensions escalated, both union and business leaders invited prominent Boston attorney (and later Supreme Court Justice) Louis Brandeis to New York to help mediate the conflict. With Brandeis’s nudging, the two sides signed the “Protocol of Peace” agreement that set minimum industry standards on wages, hours, piece-rates, and workplace safety and health. But the Protocol’s weakness was that it was a voluntary agreement, not a government regulation, and not all manufacturers signed on. Once again, one of the holdouts was the Triangle Waist Company.

The Triangle Owners
Owned by Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, who were known as the “the shirtwaist kings,” Triangle was one of the most rabidly anti-union firms. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, at 4:45 p.m., close to quitting time, a fire broke out on the eighth and ninth floors of Triangle’s 10-story building. Factory foremen had locked the exit doors to keep out union organizers and to keep workers from taking breaks and stealing scraps of fabric. Other doors only opened inward and were blocked by the stampede of workers struggling to escape. The ladders of the city’s fire engines could not reach high enough to save the employees. As a result, workers burned or they jumped to their deaths. Experts later concluded that the fire was likely caused by a cigarette dropped on a pile of “cut aways” or scraps of cloth that had been accumulating for almost three months.

Marching for Justice

News of the fire spread quickly, catalyzing public opinion, and energizing a broad coalition of unlikely allies. It included immigrants, muckraking journalists, clergy, unionists, socialites, and socialists. On April 6, 30,000 New Yorkers marched—and hundreds of thousands more lined the march’s route—behind empty hearses to memorialize the fire’s victims. Numerous rallies, broadsides, and editorials called for legislative action—ranging from fire safety codes to restrictions on child labor. In response to the outcry, New York Governor John Alden Dix created the Factory Investigating Commission, a pioneering body with broad subpoena powers and teams of investigators, led by two savvy Democratic politicians, state Assemblyman Al Smith and state Senator Robert F. Wagner.

The Regulators Strike Back

Smith, Wagner, and the Commission members traveled up and down the state holding hearings and visiting factories. Over two years, the commissioners interviewed almost 500 witnesses and visited over 3,000 factories in 20 industries. They found buildings without fire escapes, bakeries in poorly ventilated cellars with rat droppings. Only 21 percent of the bakeries even had bathrooms, and most of them were unsanitary. Children—some as young as five years old—were toiling in dangerous canning factories. Women and girls were working 18-hour days.
After the fire, many city officials acknowledged there was a problem. Edward F. Croker, New York City’s retired fire chief, told the Commission that employers “pay absolutely no attention to the fire hazard or to the protection of the employees in these buildings. That is their last consideration.” His department had cited the Triangle building for lack of fire escapes just one week before the fire.

But the garment manufacturers, the Real Estate Board, and the bakery and cannery industry groups sought to stymie the Commission. The real-estate interests opposed city fire codes. After the Fire Department ordered warehouses to install sprinklers, the Protective League of Property Owners held a meeting to denounce the mandate, angrily charging the city with forcing owners to use “cumbersome and costly” equipment.
As representative of the Associated Industries of New York insisted that regulations would mean “the wiping out of industry in this state.” Mabel Clark, vice president of the W.N. Clark Company, a canning corporation, opposed any restrictions on child labor. “I have seen children working in factories, and I have seen them working at home, and they were perfectly happy,” she declared.

Terence McGuire, president of the Real Estate Board, summed up the business argument against regulation. “To my mind this is all wrong,” he declared. “The experience of the past proves conclusively that the best government is the least possible government.” The board warned that new laws would drive “manufacturers out of the City and State of New York.”

Smith, Wagner, and the political leaders of the time, fortified by a vibrant progressive movement, ignored these opponents of business regulation. In the first year, the Commission proposed and the legislature quickly passed, a package of laws requiring mandatory fire drills, automatic sprinklers, and unlocked doors during work hours that were required to swing outward. They also created rules on the storage and disposal of flammable waste, and they banned smoking from the shop floor.

In the second year, the legislature passed additional reforms. They set the maximum numbers of workers per floor. They established codes requiring new buildings to include fireproof stairways and fire escapes. They required employers to provide clean drinking water, washrooms, and toilets for their employees. They gave labor commission inspectors the power to shut down unsanitary tenement sweatshops. And they ruled that women could work no more than 54 hours a week and that children under 18 could not work in dangerous situations.

These pathbreaking state regulations, provoked by the Triangle fire, proved that government could play a powerful role in the lives of ordinary people. Other states followed suit and ultimately President Franklin Roosevelt, prodded by veterans of New York’s progressive movement, introduced New Deal reforms ending child labor, establishing a federal minimum wage and a 40-hour week, and creating a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would establish the right of workers to form a union that would bargain collectively with employers.

The Triangle company’s owners were indicted and went on trial for manslaughter, but they were found innocent when the judge told the jury that in order to return a guilty verdict, they had to find that the two defendants knew or should have known that the doors were locked. Harris and Blanck also continued to refuse to recognize the union. But the company never recovered from the fire and the controversy surrounding it and in 1918, it closed its doors.

That did not happen to other city businesses. Contrary to the business leaders’ dire predictions, they did not suffer from the new regulations. The New York Times reported in July 1914, that “[n]otwithstanding all the talk of a probable exodus of manufacturing interests, the commission has not found a single case of a manufacturer intending to leave the State because of the enforcement of the factory laws.” New York’s Seventh Avenue remained the headquarters of the nation’s garment industry for decades until production gradually moved south and overseas after World War II. 

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His next book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, will be published later this year by Nation Books. Donald Cohen directs the Cry Wolf Project.  Originally published by The New Republic (

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Economic Development

Aerosoul 2 Art Exhibit, Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland, California. ©2011 Christine Joy Ferrer/www.eyesopened.comOakland and other historically African American cities in the United States have undergone dramatic demographic shifts over the past 20 years.  Even as the overall U.S. population has become increasingly diverse, and politicians like President Barack Obama and General Colin Powell have risen to the top, African American cities have seen a steady erosion in both local and national power. New coalitions are developing as the United States becomes a “majority minority” nation. African Americans, who have led the fight for racial justice in the U.S. for well over a century, have a critical role to play in guiding the country toward a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. To get there, our cities will need to start guiding their economic development toward building pan-ethnic/working class power—with an educated, capable population that can guide the growth of their own communities. Some battles will have to be fought by winning community benefits agreements from specific developers, others might be won by citywide ordinances, and still others by collaboration with state and national entities capable of moving a progressive and community-centered politics.  In this section we get a glimpse of some case studies of what is wrong and what is right with our polity.  —Ed.

Bringing Back the Black
By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Los Angeles Coalition Wins Health Clinic and Jobs from Developer
By Diana Pei Wu

The Oakland Renaissance: A Blessing for Some
By Eric K. Arnold

Europe’s “Living Cities” Model Coming to the States
By Tamar Shapiro

Chicago School Trains Inner City Youth for Manufacturing Jobs
By Erica Swinney

Equitable Growth: Turning Diversity into an Asset
By Angela Glover Blackwell

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Bringing Back the Black

When the United States Census Bureau released its first 2010 census data for California in early March, the news that got immediate attention in the Bay Area was the steep drop in the number of African Americans in the city of Oakland in the last 10 years.

According to the data, Oakland’s African American population plummeted from 142,000 (38 percent) in 2000 to 109,000 (28 percent) in 2010. Even if you included all mixed-race (a new category this census) Oakland residents with some Black ancestry—something which often happens in real life—the number of African Americans in Oakland would only increase by 9,000, or two more percentage points.

Both of the Bay Area’s daily papers emphasized the de-African-Americanization of Oakland in their census coverage. The Oakland Tribune story was headlined, “Census: Blacks Leaving Urban Core For East Bay Suburbs,” while the San Francisco Chronicle led with “25% Drop In African American Population In Oakland.”

While the actual census figures qualified as news, the trend of African Americans leaving Oakland has been obvious for a while to anyone paying attention. One sign was the growing Black population in North Bay cities like Antioch and Hercules with Oakland exiles. Another was the replacement of African American households with whites over broad swaths of West Oakland and with Latinos in East Oakland neighborhoods. Moreover, it’s hardly a ‘new’ trend in a city once considered ‘Black.’

Oakland’s 30-Year Black Exodus
Between 1970 and 1990, Oakland may have actually been a majority-Black city, with the typically undercounted African American population at an official high of 47 percent during the 1980 census. During that period, African Americans also achieved virtual dominance of Oakland’s political offices with a majority-Black City Council and School Board and an African American mayor. But the drop in Oakland’s Black population began in the 1980s. By the time of the 1990 census, the percentage of African Americans was down to 44.

The Chronicle speculated that “[a] lower cost of living, the lure of jobs, frustration with schools and the search for safer communities all played key roles” in the Black flight from Oakland. Speaking to the Tribune of a similar trend in nearby Richmond, the Rev. Andre Shumake, president of the Richmond Improvement Association, put it more succinctly: “From what I’ve observed over the past 10 years, I think it’s redevelopment and violence.” By redevelopment, he was referring to the reconstruction of Black neighborhoods in the Richmond and Oakland flatlands, which bumped up housing prices to a point where moderate-income African Americans could no longer afford them.

Significantly missing from the list of reasons was Oakland’s uneasy relationship with its African American youth. Many young Black people feel that there is no place for them in Oakland and are moving away as soon as they are old enough to do so. Also missing from the media discussion was the question of what steps Oakland was taking to preserve the diversity that it—quite justly—is so proud of.

A Trend Based on Economics
Long before the census confirmed what was already known to Oakland’s Black community, political and business leaders had been advancing solutions to the problem. One suggestion was to strengthen the African American business community. Blacks are leaving Oakland because Oakland no longer has jobs for enough of them.

Last summer, Oakland political columnist Brenda Payton painted a grim picture of the African American economic situation in Oakland in The Root magazine online. She wrote: “In recent years, the city’s black population has become more stratified, rich and poor, with the middle and working class disappearing... [I]n August the unemployment rate among African Americans was 16.3 percent (compared with 8.7 percent for whites and 9.6 percent overall), 18.8 percent for black males, 14 percent for black females and, among African Americans 16 to 19 years old, an incredible 38.1 percent for females and 51.7 percent for males.”

The rapid decline of Black economic power has come as a sudden jolt. “As one older African American man noted,” Payton wrote, “when he was raising his family, he could moonlight at the cannery if he needed some extra money. Young black men and women can’t even find a job, let alone get moonlighting work to earn extra money.”*

In a city that has seen its industrial economy virtually vanish, African Americans stand a far better chance of being hired at Black-owned companies than any other small business. “Chinese hire Chinese people, white folks hire white people, Blacks hire Blacks,” said Michael Carter Sr., national chair of Black Wall Street District U.S.A., in a recent interview. “That’s across the board.” Black Wall Street is an Oakland-based national organization that promotes Black business.

Pullman Employees Brought Prosperity to Oakland
At the turn of the last century, the railroad brought porters and waiters to the Bay Area, all of whom were African American and most of whom settled in West Oakland, near the station that marked the end of the railroad lines. The railroad workers—helped enormously by the economic benefits gained from their hard-fought union contract with the Pullman rail car company following a national strike—formed the core of Oakland’s rising Black middle class. They bought homes in West Oakland and opened businesses. C.L. Dellums (uncle of former mayor Ron Dellums and one of the founders of the railroad porters’ union) operated a West Oakland pool hall that became the congregating point for many famous African American entertainers, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

When the World War II shipbuilding boom opened up jobs to thousands of African American immigrants from the South, West Oakland became their entertainment and cultural center. Black businesses flourished along 7th Street, which became one of the major stopping points for African American entertainers in the middle of the 20th century. People like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ray Charles graced the hot spots along the street.
When the war ended, the African Americans who had migrated west for wartime work moved into Oakland’s booming manufacturing industry. And the sons and daughters of the Pullman porters’ union members formed both the core of Oakland’s dominant Black political leadership of the 1970s through the 1990s, and the leadership of its radical African American organizations, including the Black Panther Party. They also made up the core of Oakland’s Black business owners, which increasingly became the main entry point for jobs for many African Americans coming out of East Bay schools.

When Mom & Pop Ruled Oakland Business
“I started working at my parents’ record store very early,” said David Reid, owner of Reid’s Records in Berkeley. “I could read record labels before I could read books. I think I was working on Saturdays when I was seven or eight years old.”

Reid’s Records was one of the first Black-owned West Coast record stores in 1945. Even when it expanded from its original location on Berkeley’s Sacramento Street Black business center, to satellite stores in Vallejo and downtown Oakland, it remained a Mom and Pop record store. “I had cousins, uncles, great uncles who worked there,” said Reid. “A lot of extended family [who] grew up in the store.” Because of Berkeley’s relatively small African American population, the store depended on Oakland residents for most of its clientele.

“We were the place to come to for Black music,” Reid continued. “Because you couldn’t get ‘race music’ in the ‘regular’ record store. [Our stores] were the only outlets [where] African Americans that had newly migrated to the Bay Area [could] get the music they grew up with and knew. We sold a lot of blues. We sold a lot of everything. But in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the large discount houses started to come to the Bay Area—like Leopold’s, Tower Records, and Warehouse. The mainstream record stores started to get into African American music and sell it cheaper than we could purchase it for. Basically, a lot of our R&B, blues, and jazz clientele left us.”

Reid took over the record business from his parents after it compressed back into the single Berkeley store from which it had started. And Reid’s Records, which once hired six or seven people, is now run by Reid and his eldest daughter. Apart from the competition, Reid says his business has also been badly hurt by the Black out-migration.

“We seem to get hit the hardest,” Reid said, referring to Black businesses in the East Bay. “We seem to be the ones, when the economy goes down, to really catch hell. I think about the times when if I wanted to go eat some soul food, I had all kinds of places to go to. You have to really dig to find an African American-owned restaurant now—with African Americans who actually cook the food. We don’t even have liquor stores anymore. Or Mom and Pop grocery stores. Or the nail shops. The only thing we probably have are hair stores: barber shops and beauty shops. And churches and funeral homes. That’s about it. Our Black professionals have been assimilated into corporate America.”

“We [need] the small Mom and Pops to give these kids jobs, that’s the first line of defense, that’s taking care of our own!” continues Reid. “If we don’t have that kind of support in the Black Community, we’ve seen what it’s done. The Hispanic community has business districts and all kinds of community support and social support. You go to the Asian districts, they have all of this, too. Where is the Black district? The only Black districts we have are where you can go purchase drugs.”

Wanted: A Black Business Center
Black Wall Street’s Carter estimates that there are currently 8,500 African American businesses in Oakland, a steep drop from the 9,800 catalogued by his organization six years ago. But those businesses have no center. Oakland’s core Black business district—7th Street—was broken up during the city’s redevelopment, which began in the early 1960s.

Along East Oakland’s International Boulevard, for example, interspersed with the chain stores are shops owned by various ethnic groups. Black Oakland—one of the three largest ethnicities in the city—has no Black business center. Could the establishment of a Black business center in Oakland—like Chinatown or the Hispanic Fruitvale—or even greater support of scattered Black businesses in the city help stem the tide of Black out-migration? Black Wall Street U.S.A. thinks so and, furthermore, believes that it can lead to an economic revival within Oakland’s Black community and the city as a whole.

“[Establishing] Black Wall Street in Oakland... is in fact an existing example of how to use recycling of black wealth to better the community,” according to the organization’s 2010 national plan of action. “By supporting local black businesses, black urban neighborhoods can help establish a wealth building system whereby they rebuild themselves internally rather than waiting or relying on external or governmental support.”

*    “The Root Cities: Oakland’s Economic Power.” The Root, September 30, 2010.,1

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is a freelance journalist based in Oakland, California. 

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Los Angeles Coalition Wins Health Clinic and Jobs from Developer

When you walk into the yellow building of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation in Los Angeles, you are greeted by bright paintings done in the Diego Rivera and José Orozco muralist styles. This office and the brick warehouse down the street, which houses the UNIDAD[1] Coalition are the sites where one of the first community benefits agreement (CBA) fully funded by a private developer was negotiated.

“This agreement with Palmer provides South LA residents with health services, jobs, affordable housing, small business development, and transit-oriented development (TOD) planning—all desperately needed in this historically underserved community,” notes Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of SAJE.[2]The developer, Geoffrey Palmer, calls his own projects “fortress-like” and in 2003, pleaded “no contest” to criminal charges of illegal demolition.[3] His ornate, market-rate (high-rent), Italian-named complexes are designed to draw affluent professionals to the urban core. In 2009, Palmer won a case in the California Supreme Court against the City of Los Angeles’ attempt to mandate affordable housing in his luxury developments. Despite his political and economic clout, the UNIDAD Coalition[4] and a team of community lawyers[5] was able to negotiate a groundbreaking deal with Palmer in just over three months over the Lorenzo Project, which includes:

  • A 20-year free lease and operational funding for a 7,500 square foot community health and wellness clinic.
  • A local and at-risk jobs hiring program for the project’s construction workers.
  • A living wage and local hiring program for the project’s permanent workers.
  • Funding to promote community health.
  • An affordable housing trust fund in South Los Angeles.
  • Job training.
  • Support for local small businesses.
  • Funding for community-led TOD strategies in South Los Angeles planning.

According to Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, “In this federally-designated medically underserved area, this clinic is a significant win and will provide an estimated 20,000 patient visits a year for low-income and uninsured South Los Angeles residents.” Coalition members hope that this agreement becomes part of a suite of CBAs that will stem the tide of displacement by new development in the area by providing anchors for good jobs and much-needed community serving institutions.

Demolishing Health Care in South LA
South LA has the highest rates for diabetes and diabetes-related amputations, asthma, hypertension, and childhood lead poisoning in Los Angeles County. It also has a high rate of preventable hospitalizations but the lowest ratio of hospital beds to residents in the county.
From 1995 to 2005, Nancy Halpern Ibrahim, executive director of Esperanza Community Housing, ran a nationally recognized, award-winning program that trained hundreds of community health promotoras in partnership with the Orthopedic Hospital Foundation and the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.

Promotoras are multilingual low-income residents who become neighborhood health leaders, patient advocates, and health educators. They provide a crucial link to health care access for an underserved community, as well as increasing patient retention and filling areas of need where traditional public health strategies are neither suitable nor accepted, according to Ibrahim.

In 2005, a part of the hospital and medical offices building were demolished without notice to the community and many health services located in the building, such as St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, the promotoras program, and an innovative medical magnet high school program, were evicted.[6] The land was sold to G.H. Palmer Associates in 2006 in a cash transaction.

Annually, the facilities had provided over 15,000 emergency room visits, 1,350 inpatient surgeries, 1,036 outpatient surgeries, and served an additional 8,500 dental and 4,300 podiatry patients. The sale resulted in the loss of health services that included: inpatient, surgical, and emergency care, recuperative and physical therapy, orthopedic surgery and specialty care, and over 100 licensed hospital beds. Also lost were preventative services for diabetics and a full range of dental and oral health services.

Since 2006, the area has lost four more hospitals, escalating an already severe health care shortage. South LA residents now have to travel several miles for primary care and over 10 miles to access specialty care.

Gentrification and Displacement in South LA
The former site of the Orthopaedic Hospital (at 23rd and Flower Street) is located alongside the Expo Line of the Los Angeles Metro currently under construction. The shiny lofts of downtown have crept down Figueroa Street in the last decade and now loom close, just across Interstate 110 and the 23rd Street overpass.

In her office, Ibrahim points at an aerial photo of the area taken in the 1980s. To the north are the tall buildings of downtown Los Angeles, to the west is the imposing campus of the University of Southern California (USC), and to the east lie the industrial areas. You can almost feel the pressure generated by downtown development and USC, squeezing this community of predominantly working class African American and Latino families towards the warehouses in the east and further south along Figueroa.

 “Before this current wave of development, over 60 percent of the housing units in this neighborhood were family-oriented,” says Ibrahim. “Many of those units have now been converted to student housing, which increases rents, lowers population density, and increases neighborhood instability. Esperanza has been at the forefront of continuing to build affordable housing for families, in an attempt to stem the waves of gentrification. It’s been a long process.” 

At the UNIDAD office, Coalition Community Organizer Gabriela Garcia says: “We have a unique opportunity to stop displacement—of families, of workers, of businesses—without stopping growth and development. Through public planning now underway, we can set guidelines for smart growth that is also fair growth, and neighborhood development that is true community development. We can improve more than just our buildings and streets; we can improve the lives of the people who live and work in our neighborhoods—the old and the new, the rooted and the recent.”

South LA native and current Community Affairs Manager at TRUST[7] South LA, Tafarai Bayne says: “[We are] working towards a South Los Angeles where economic and social opportunities for youth are not gangs but abundant jobs in the private sector as well as in community organizations; where there is room for community gardens and living wage jobs; and housing in price ranges that honor the contribution of the residents that have made the community a desirable place to live.”

 “This community benefits agreement is important,” Bayne adds, “because it provides an anchor for the community to get much-needed health care and also puts money in a land trust to support the development of family-oriented housing units that are affordable to working class families.”

A Combination of Organizing and Legal Strategy
Serena Lin, an attorney with the Community Development Project at Public Counsel, joined the campaign in November 2010 and played a key role in negotiating the CBA.

 “We sent a message at a critical time that communities are powerful and can win,” says Lin. “When UNIDAD started this campaign, the deck was stacked against us. The combined power of organizing and legal claims brought the developer to the negotiating table. The lesson for planners, politicians, and developers is that communities need to be involved from the start and not as an afterthought to development.”

In Los Angeles, the requirements for public participation are more stringent for developments where public funds are involved but the proposed development at the former Orthopedic Hospital site is 100 percent privately financed. The UNIDAD Coalition and the legal team started working in earnest on this campaign only in November 2010, and the final agreement was signed in February 2011. In comparison to most CBAs, which can take years to negotiate, this was an extremely short timeline.

As with many local planning and development campaigns, Esperanza and SAJE had submitted comments on the draft and final Environmental Impact Reports (EIR)8 back in 2007. The final EIR was released in November 2010, and the hearing date before the Los Angeles County Planning and Land Use Commission scheduled for December 9. As it was the middle of the holiday season, the community groups successfully argued for the hearing to be delayed until January 13, 2011. They also convinced the commissioners to hold the hearing in downtown Los Angeles rather than in the San Gabriel Valley—county-wide meetings typically alternate between the two locations—as the proposed project was one of the largest in South LA and community access to the public process was important.

On December 10, nearly 1,000 people crowded into the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Second Annual South Los Angeles Health and Human Rights Conference. Later, hundreds of participants bussed to the Orthopedic Hospital site to demonstrate against the loss of health services to the proposed luxury housing development. Their slogan, “Save the Q!,” referred to a special zoning category, which restricts use of the land for medical and educational purposes. The event signaled the beginning of the Coalition’s efforts to mobilize the broader community in the campaign to preserve health services at the site.

Showdown at City Hall: January 13, 2011
On January 13, organizers Ibrahim, Garcia, Bayne, the legal team and others arrived at the Planning Commission meeting at 8:30 a.m. to find the room full of men in hard hats and orange shirts that said “Approve Lorenzo” on the front and on the back, “GH Palmer provides jobs” and “Si se Puede!” The nervous organizers were relieved when Coalition members began arriving in the hundreds with their “Save the Q!” stickers, forcing the Planning Commission to move the hearing to the largest room in the building.

The Palmer representatives presented their proposal and asserted that they had adequately responded to community concerns in the EIR. When the UNIDAD Coalition was given 15 minutes to present their collective testimony, members spoke forcefully about the health and environmental conditions in the neighborhood. They also pointed out why the EIR was insufficient because it used incorrect baselines for assessing changes to pedestrian traffic, air quality impacts during construction, and impacts of the loss of Q zoning to the neighborhood.

As comments from community members followed, it became apparent that the Planning Commission was taking the concerns of the UNIDAD Coalition seriously and it was decided to delay decision on the plan until the next meeting.

What followed was a month of intense negotiations during which the CBA was drafted and agreed to by the developer in exchange for the coalition’s retraction of their objections to the development. “In many ways,” says Zahirah Washington, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Community Economic Development Unit, “this CBA helps to shift the power dynamics, bringing both commercial and community interests to the table.  This CBA and other efforts show that community and economic interests do not have to be at odds.” UNIDAD hopes it will set a precedent for future public and private developments, especially along public transportation corridors.

“It is critical that community residents have a real seat at the decision-making table for development projects to ensure that their voices are heard and that community residents benefit from any proposed developments in their neighborhood,” says Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of SAJE. “This agreement marks a step in that direction.”

What was truly significant in this instance, as Lin points out, “is that the UNIDAD Coalition was able to get a private developer to be accountable to the public’s interest. We were also able to get key officials and planners to recognize that developments near transit should be accountable in part because they receive the benefits of public transportation. When billions of dollars are going to trains and buses, those dollars are also serving the housing, stores, and neighborhoods nearby. A transit-oriented development can become a conduit for moving current residents out of their neighborhoods. But, if we’re going to responsibly build transit-oriented development, we need to make places where not only everybody wants to live, but where everybody can live.”

Although not everyone in South LA is happy that the development is happening, most are extremely excited at the prospect of a new community health center, small business spaces, new jobs at living wages, and other benefits to be implemented at the new development. The hope is that this can become an anchor for community well-being, instead of something that contributes to community displacement.

Already, community organizations throughout southern California have started requesting support from the UNIDAD Coalition and the legal team to negotiate and implement their own CBAs. UNIDAD is currently working with USC on its expansion plans and coalition members Bayne, Garcia, and Ibrahim are hopeful that the lessons learned from the Lorenzo Project CBA will help them negotiate with other developers who want to build in South LA.

1.    UNIDAD stands for United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement, a campaign for South Los Angeles development that benefits all members of the community.
2.    Strategic Action for a Just Economy.
3.    Sanders, Peter, “‘Fortress’ Apartments Develop Controversy,” The Wall Street Journal Online. 09/10/2004.
4.    Organizations that make up the UNIDAD Coalition include SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy), Esperanza Community Housing, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, Community Development Technologies Center, PV Jobs, TRUST South LA, St. Francis Center, United University Church, Coalition for Responsible Community Development, and Vermont Village Community Development Corporation.
5.    The UNIDAD Coalition was represented by Public Counsel, Chatten-Brown & Carstens, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Community Benefits Law Center.
6.    Link to VIDEO:
7.     TRUST stands for Tenemos que Reclamar y Unidos Salvar la Tierra (Spanish for “We Must Fight and Unite to Save the Land”). Formerly called the Figueroa Corridor Community Land Trust.
8.    An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required whenever a project is determined to have potentially significant impacts on the physical environment.

Diana Pei Wu is a frequent contributor to RP&E. She has worked on and written about youth organizing, environmental justice, climate justice, immigrant and refugee rights, and community planning and development in the age of gentrification.

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The Oakland Renaissance: A Blessing for Some

In February 4 this year, a long-dormant block on Oakland’s 14th Street came alive as throngs of people—newly-elected Mayor Jean Quan and City Councilmember Desley Brooks among them—flowed out the doors at the Joyce Gordon Gallery for the opening reception of “Aerosoul 2,” a Black History Month event honoring African American urban calligraphers and style writers (otherwise known as graffiti artists).

Down the street, another gallery owned by Gordon was showing blown glass art by Aziz Diagne and further down, the recently reopened Events Center was holding a live rehearsal by the youth group, Pop Lyfe.

At the same time, just over a mile away, members of Oakland’s international street dance phenomenon, Turf Feinz, were wowing astonished crowds with gravity-defying moves at the Oakland Museum. And in the Uptown district, a large crowd had gathered to view a 100x100 foot projection installation known as the Great Wall of Oakland. Just south of that, public art and music performances, gallery openings, and burlesque shows were engaging hundreds at Oakland’s monthly Art Murmur.
“That was Oakland. That was diversity,” Gordon later said, proudly. “There were young Blacks, young whites, Latinos, Asians, families with babies in strollers, seniors like myself. It was truly a gumbo. It was a good mix. And that’s what we want to see all over.”

These dynamic happenings were all part of the First Friday events, the most visible symbol of Oakland’s arts-driven cultural renaissance, which has altered perceptions of a town long associated with high crime rates.

“The energy right now in Oakland around the arts is really exciting,” says Evelyn Orantes, Cultural Arts Developer for the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Since its re-launch in 2010, OMCA has become the hub for Oakland’s arts resurgence—its forward-thinking, multi-faceted programming, a magnet for both local residents and out-of-towners. “We showcase the richness of our community,” Orantes says, which in turn brings “positive energy” to Oakland.

Gordon agrees. The First Friday art walk, she says, has had a positive effect on economic development overall because “after the openings, everyone’s at the restaurants, or at the clubs.”

Oakland Links Arts to Commerce
Oakland has always been home to a large number of artists and grassroots arts organizations but has historically been overshadowed by the San Francisco arts scene. With the emergence of the Art Murmur (featured in the Wall Street Journal, among other publications), Oakland has found its own niche in the national arts scene.

Arts funding in Oakland is directly linked to economic development initiatives, such as redevelopment. According to Steven Huss, the city’s Cultural Arts Manager, the $1 million that the city invests in its cultural fund, leverages between $11 and $14 million annually. Hess believes the total economic impact of arts in Oakland is significantly higher, but says his office currently only tracks “nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences,” so that figure doesn’t reflect the economic impact of the city’s public art program or for-profit arts businesses. 

“City funding,” Huss explains, “allows organizations to find matching monies to produce and generate a lot of private spending on the arts in the city, [which in turn generates] ancillary spending on food... parking... travel and other entertainment.”

A performer at the 10th Anniversary of the Malcolm X Jazz Festival. ©2011 Eric K. ArnoldBecause of its sizeable artist community, Huss says, Oakland has a “policy of awarding 51 percent or more of contracts to Oakland artists. We usually exceed that. It’s been 60-75 percent in the last few years. I don’t know of any other city that requires so much to be spent locally.”

In addition to supporting over 100 non-profit arts organizations through its cultural fund, the city also has a public art program whose 2011 budget earmarked over $843,000 for streetscapes and other projects aimed at improving Oakland’s image. That figure includes $64,000 for improvements to Cesar Chavez Park, located in the heavily Latino Fruitvale District; $75,000 for the West Oakland Teen Center, which serves a predominantly African American demographic; and $100,000 for a walkway at the 17th St. BART entrance—a gateway to the mostly-white Uptown business district—completing a project whose cost over two years totals $700,000.

Murmurs of Discontent Among the Excluded
The Art Murmur, which started in 2006, was part of the “10k” initiative launched by former Mayor Jerry Brown in 1998 to bring 10,000 new residents to Oakland. Although the initiative was not entirely successful (vacancy rates in some parts of the redeveloped area have been as high as 40 percent) the influx of new residents, combined with a burgeoning nightlife scene anchored by the restoration of the historic Fox Theater and the edgy hipster appeal of the Art Murmur have made the Uptown district an identifiable symbol of a “new” Oakland—less “Chocolate City,” more “multi-culti” melting pot.

Aerosoul 2 Art Exhibit, Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland, California. ©2011 Christine Joy Ferrer/www.eyesopened.comDespite a 25 percent dip in its African American population over the last decade, Oakland remains extremely diverse compared to other cities in the Bay Area, in California, or the United States. Seventy-four pecent of Oakland is non-white, with Blacks making up the largest ethnic population (27 percent), followed by Latinos (25 percent), and Asians (16 percent), according to the most recent U.S. Census.

The Art Murmur has been a big part of Oakland’s rebranding—touted on the city’s website as part of its “Sustainable Oakland” initiative. But it has also created a backlash among long-term residents upset by the gentrification of their neighborhoods, and ethnic artists who feel excluded.
The official Art Murmur website map ( lists galleries from Telegraph and 48th  down to Broadway and 22nd—effectively confining the Murmur’s boundaries to the North Gate/Temescal and Uptown districts—neighborhoods where gentrification has been the most prominent.

Gordon, who sits on Oakland’s Cultural Arts Commission, says African American artists have rarely been featured in First Friday showings. When they do exhibit in Uptown galleries, it is on off days.

Mural in Oakland, part of Oakland Art Murmur. ©2011 Eric K. ArnoldStill, Huss characterizes Uptown as “a really good success story,” and hopes that the momentum will carry over to other parts of the city. His statement speaks to a common perception in the artist community that in the last decade, much of the city’s attention around the cultural arts has focused on funneling resources to the redevelopment zones at the expense of poorer and more ethnically-diverse neighborhoods.
There is a dichotomy in “the way the city funds things in the neighborhoods, as opposed to things which are being used to create more wealth [and] tied to economic development,” says Elena Serrano, a founding member of the East Side Arts Alliance (ESAA) collective, a nonprofit arts organization based in the San Antonio neighborhood.

The reality of Oakland is that “the neighborhoods, specifically our neighborhood, deep East Oakland, West Oakland, are so far away from being hubs for economic development,” Serrano says. “We feel like our track is being completely ignored.”

Art, but No Money In the ‘hood
Oakland’s Refa One, an African American graphic designer and aerosol artist who co-curated the “Aerosoul2” exhibit, says that it has been a struggle to get city funding for art in the ‘hood. In 2010, Refa received a $20,000 commission through the Community Economic Development Agency (CEDA) to do a mural along I-880 facing the freeway. But when he approached city officials for funding to do a project of that caliber in his neighborhood, which is full of urban blight and does not have any edifying or uplifting imagery, they could not spare the resources.

“City officials say they want Oakland to change [but] they do not invest in these neighborhoods for artists to bring about that change,” says Refa.
His point is well taken. The controversial and divisive civil litigation against street gangs in North Oakland and Fruitvale pursued by the City Attorney’s office has cost upwards of $750,000 (with “mixed results,” according to Mayor Quan). But Refa claims that two murals he and other artists created for free at 14th and Campbell—a West Oakland “hotspot”—had the same intended effect: to curb drug activity and increase the perception of public safety.

“This corner was a highly-contested drug zone since the 1980s,” Refa explains. “People have been shot and murdered there. Lots of drug traffic, gambling... very disruptive to the neighborhood. There would be 40 dudes there in a dice game. I didn’t want to come home some days because I knew at that corner by my house, it was gonna be drama.” After the murals were painted, the dope dealers told him, “We respect what y’all trying to do, we gon’ leave this block.” And they did. Proof that community-oriented cultural arts projects can effectively support youth development and public safety efforts.

Refa’s experience is paralleled by that of graffiti artist Desi, whose nonprofit organization, Community Rejuvenation Project, has created a series of murals—both commissioned and illegal—promoting peace and nonviolence in high-crime areas throughout West and East Oakland. Desi secured permission from a building owner and CEDA funds to do a mural at 41st and International Boulevard, in the heart of the Fruitvale District, where graffiti often marks the presence of Norteno street gangs. Over the course of several months he led a team of artists, including aerosol legend Vulcan and numerous neighborhood youth, to create the approximately 4500 sq. ft mural on the side of a Smart & Final building. One key focus of the Community Rejuvenation Project, Desi says, is to further the notion of cultural arts districts and arts corridors throughout Oakland with concentrated works in a specific area, such as the Funktown Arts District they created with murals within a one-block radius of Park Boulevard.

Desi points to the closure of the Parkway Theater and its adverse effect on local business. CRP’s murals on the Parkway’s building and in surrounding areas, he claims, “bring that neighborhood back to life.”

ESAA’s Serrano warns against an overly-bureaucratic view of cultural arts that is weighted toward the economic bottom line. She would rather talk about the other bottom line—community health. “That’s where the return on investment is. That’s where our strength is,” she says.
Serrano is also wary of creating a cultural divide along racial, economic, and class lines. “I don’t want the city of Oakland to act like arts and culture is some dessert that not everybody deserves,” she says. “Everybody deserves art and culture. Everybody comes from culture.”

Despite Some Discontent, Mindblowing Changes
“Gentrification is always a charge that’s leveled at any place that artists move into and improve, then get priced out of,” says Huss. “We’re very mindful of the fact that it sometimes seems like all of the focus is on Uptown/Downtown. But we’ve always been funding all corners of the city where there are any arts groups. And [we] want to start to diversify that too.”

However, Huss concedes that securing city funding for art projects is somewhat dependent on the ability of artists and arts organizations to negotiate bureaucratic procedures and protocols and work within the guidelines and inherent limitations of established programs. “There are a lot of exciting ideas which don’t always fit into what we do.” But it is evident from current and future projects being funded that diversity and outreach to underserved communities are part of the plan. The panels that parcel out arts funding “are very keen [on] things that relate to social justice,” Huss says, “we really want art to also make an impact.”

An example he points to is a cross-disciplinary food justice project conceived by activist-artist Favianna Rodriguez, which is “all about educating the community in the Fruitvale district about healthy eating and buying locally.” Another project, conceived by artist Rennie Young, is an oral history archive at an East Oakland library, which grew out of a public art commission for a stained glass window. Huss also hopes to work with ESAA on an art park in the San Antonio district. The city is in the process of drafting a 10-year plan for cultural arts development, which will involve organizations from all over Oakland, he says.

Unfortunately, Governor Brown’s proposal to slash redevelopment funds from California’s cities—ironic, given his use of those same funds to steer millions of dollars into Uptown—threatens to kill many proposed streetscape projects in Oakland’s underserved neighborhoods and could also have a ripple effect on arts funding overall.

Also unknown at this point is whether Mayor Quan’s administration will approach the marriage of arts and economic development with emphasis on establishing cultural arts districts throughout Oakland—as per her campaign slogan, “Block by Block”—or whether a lion’s share of resources will continue to be funneled into areas with newer and wealthier residents. At present, there are some hopeful signs. The 14th street corridor is quietly transforming into a cultural arts district that could soon rival Uptown as an entertainment destination. The emergence of new nightclubs, restaurants, art spaces, and cafes on and around 14th, in close proximity to existing centers like the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts, has created an increased sense of vibrancy and the once-deserted streets now have foot traffic after nightfall.

D’Wayne Wiggins, a founding member of pioneering neo-soul group Tony Toni Tone and Oakland community activist, recently signed a multiyear lease for the Events Center, which he plans to rename The House of Music. Wiggins envisions a multiuse space housing a café, restaurant, dance studio, music studio, historical and cultural archive, and live performance space. Such a venue fits perfectly into the progressive notion of equally upholding both arts and economic development in Oakland to create true sustainability. “We’re gonna make that street so hot!” he says. “This change which is going on now is blowing my mind.”

To Wiggins and others, the mix of new energy with Oakland’s historical contributions to the arts represents not just a cultural renaissance, but a cultural revolution.



Neighborhood Culture vs. Economic Development: A Question of Priorities
In 2010, two iconic annual events celebrated their 10-year anniversaries in Oakland: the Art & Soul Festival and the Malcolm X Jazz Festival (MXJF). You would be hard pressed to find two events more unlike in scope, approach, and impact than these two.
Art & Soul is held in the Downtown business district, co-sponsored by business associations, receives corporate subsidies, and is marketed to tourists and non-residents. MXJF is a grassroots affair run on a shoestring budget and occurs in a neighborhood where the median income is at or below the poverty line. No two events could better symbolize the notion of two different Oaklands when it comes to cultural arts and economic development.

According to Elena Serrano of the East Side Arts Alliance (ESAA), the non-profit collective that produces MXJF, the festival received just $2,000 in city funding in 2010—barely enough to pay for park rental and police. ESAA had to come up with the remaining $28,000 needed to produce the festival, which is $8,000 more than what the organization receives from Oakland’s cultural fund program for a whole year.

On the other hand, Art & Soul has an annual budget of $650,000—90 percent of which comes from “admissions, concessions, booth fees and sponsorships,” according to Samee Roberts, Oakland’s cultural arts and marketing manager. “We are operating a successful small business/enterprise within a government bureaucracy, which is quite unique and a formidable task,” she adds. The 2010 festival website lists hotels, a winery, McDonald’s, and a commuter transit program among its major sponsors.
“If the city’s response is that the Malcolm X Jazz Festival should be corporate-sponsored, corporations go where the money is,” says Serrano. “Everything cannot be based on wealth. There have to be some other priorities that drive action.”

ESAA’s priority is to “build a sense of unity and community” in the neighborhood by offering “world-class art,” supporting youth development, and inviting neighborhood vendors and nonprofits to participate in the MXJF. The highest ticket price for an ESAA event is $10; many events are offered free.

If the cultural arts are only used as a tool to generate wealth, cities like Oakland run the risk of creating a system of haves and have-nots, which only exacerbates existing problems. Producing numbers to justify the allocation of cultural funds to redevelopment is one thing, but “how do you measure community health?” Serrano asks.

“We don’t generate a huge amount of revenue,” admits Serrano. “However, what we do [produce are] young people who have some sense of how things work in their city or in the world and have invested in their own talent in making things better, if you can measure that. That’s a good return on the city’s investment.”

Eric K. Arnold is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been documenting hip-hop and youth movements since 1994.

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If the cultural arts are only used as a tool to generate wealth, cities like Oakland run the risk of creating a system of haves and have-nots, which only exacerbates existing problems.

European Living Cities Model Coming to the States

Porta Palazzo market in Torino. ©2009 Brian Collier

In October 2010, Living Cities, a collaborative of 22 major funders, brought together the mayors of five U.S. cities in Detroit to announce a significant new investment program to support revitalization and economic development in their communities. The host city received over $20 million in grants, program-related investments, and loans that will be invested in the Woodward Corridor under this initiative. The investment is intended to be more than yet another infusion of desperately needed cash. It is meant to herald a new integrated approach to reinvestment and redevelopment that could serve as a model for other cities.[1]

It is a strategy that integrates economic development, community development, housing, and transportation in one neighborhood or area. While relatively new for the United States, European cities have been taking an integrated approach to planning for years and can offer valuable lessons despite differing legal and political structures. In particular, older, industrial cities in the United States, which are addressing staggering challenges due to declining population, high vacancy rates, and distressing unemployment and poverty levels, might find inspiration on the other side of the Atlantic. A number of European cities faced with similar challenges over the past two decades have had marked success in revitalizing their economies and attracting and retaining residents.

From Distressed to Impressive
Manchester, England, once a poster child for industrial collapse, is now generally considered the second most important economic engine in the UK—driven in large part by the new media industry. Population levels have been rising since 2001. Torino, Italy, the seat of the Fiat Motor Company and long a prototypical one-company town, has also succeeded in diversifying its economy, building significant new strengths around the food and media industries. Leipzig, in former East Germany, suffered an almost complete industrial collapse and a rapid loss of population after 1989, but has seen steady population growth and reduced vacancy and unemployment rates since the early 2000s.
Each of these cities has significant challenges remaining. Recent studies show that Manchester has a higher level of child poverty than any other city in the U.K.,[2] while Leipzig was labeled the poorest large city in Germany by a city-commissioned report.[3] These statistics raise the question, what impact has the revitalization had on lower-income residents of these cities? The answer is complicated. On the job front, both Leipzig and Manchester have attracted significant new employers, but have struggled without much success to reintegrate the former industrial workforce into these new jobs. Many neighborhoods in Leipzig, Manchester, Torino, and other post-industrial cities have witnessed improved quality of life and economic vitality, while a weak housing market has created a cycle of decline and concentrated poverty in other neighborhoods. Of course, any revitalization and economic restructuring effort is a long-term process and its success should be measured not just over years, but decades.

Porta Palazzo market in Torino. ©2010 Brent RiddleThe Gate Project: A Tale of Two Torinos
Despite this mixed picture, there are certain projects and programs that stand out, suggesting that the kind of integrated approach now being promoted by Living Cities can prove successful in revitalizing neighborhoods in a way that benefits all residents. One example is the Gate Project, a multifaceted revitalization effort in Torino’s Porta Palazzo neighborhood. Torino’s ups and downs over the past half century mirror much of what Detroit has been experiencing. Once an economic powerhouse in Northern Italy with 80 percent of its industrial activity derived from the automobile industry, Torino saw a downturn in its fortunes beginning with the oil crisis of the 1970s. A dramatic shedding of jobs and a steady decline in population marked the next few decades until Valentino Castellani became the first directly elected mayor of Torino in 1993. Castellani ushered in an era of recovery and growth that relied on a wide-ranging strategic plan developed by a committee of public and private sector leaders, with significant input from the public.[4]

But even as Torino prospered, Porta Palazzo remained one of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods in the early part of the 21st century. With an unemployment rate more than double that of the city as a whole and a reputation for crime, the area also housed a significant percentage of the city’s immigrant population. The largest open-air marketplace in Europe is located in Porta Palazzo—a bustling, chaotic place that traditionally served as a market for everything from clothes, mint, and bread, to stolen electronics and weapons. In the words of Luca Cianfriglia, director of the Gate Project, the Porta Palazzo market was a “fascinating and problematic place.”[5]

In 1998, Torino launched a revitalization project for the area with the motto: “The Gate—living not leaving.” With funding from the European Union and leadership from a public/private committee, the Gate Project undertook major renovations to the area’s physical infrastructure. When the initial funding expired, Torino launched a successful fundraising effort to continue the project. The Gate’s organizing committee took on the role of a local development agency and managed the revitalization process with a strong emphasis on public engagement.[6]

One of its more recent undertakings was an effort to reduce conflict, violence, and illegality at the Porta Palazzo market. Most of the tension arose from conflicts between legal vendors, sellers of illegal goods, and those who are part of a “gray market,” i.e., unlicensed vendors of legal goods. In partnership with the police and the City Council, project leaders began to engage local vendors with the goal of creating a resident-led association to manage the market, to create and enforce appropriate rules, and reduce traffic in stolen goods, while providing legitimacy and support to previously unlicensed vendors. This multi-year process, which culminated in the launch of the association in 2010, resulted in a significant reduction in criminal activity at the market, according to Cianfriglia.

Importantly, this market legitimization strategy was never viewed in isolation, but as part of a wider approach for the neighborhood that integrated the physical, social, cultural, environmental, and economic aspects of revitalization. While reaching out to vendors at the market, the project also offered vocational training for young immigrants, advising landlords and tenants with regard to the rental process, and providing grants for the rehabilitation of facades and common areas. Additionally, the project instituted a series of ongoing cultural and sporting activities to encourage greater resident involvement.

One key achievement of this multidisciplinary strategy was the establishment of a broad coalition of active and involved residents and service providers working across a range of disciplines and government levels. In the words of Cianfriglia: “The mission of the association was to start from the citizens and link all the way up to the City Council, so that the project was not designed at a desk, but was rather an organic development… if you support a wide dialogue and collaboration (including local residents, the City Council, the police, developers, and even the rubbish collector), then you are a node in a network that can link all the necessary activities to revitalize the neighborhood.”

The Social City: Integrated Urban Development
Why are some European cities seemingly so far ahead when it comes to fashioning integrated strategies for urban development? Though much of the innovation must be credited to local leaders with bold, place-based visions, it is unlikely that integrated approaches would be as widespread without the strong support of the European Union (EU) and national governments. In May 2007, all the government ministers responsible for urban development in the EU member states signed the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, which explicitly promotes integrated planning. In addition, a number of EU funding sources can or, in some cases, must be used to support integrated urban development.

National governments in Europe have also created similar funding programs, some aimed specifically at the revitalization of lower-income neighborhoods. In the late 1990s, for example, the German government launched the joint federal-state Socially Integrative City program (a.k.a. “Social City”) in response to the perceived increase in segregation by race and income within urban Germany. Among its goals was to link rehabilitation of physical infrastructure and buildings with social and economic support for families in distressed neighborhoods. To facilitate integration of different activities within a neighborhood and ensure that local residents were driving the revitalization process, the program established “neighborhood management” structures.[7] The underlying idea—similar to that illustrated by Porta Palazzo—is to incorporate residents into the process of creating an integrated spatial, social, and economic strategy for the neighborhood.

The Social City program has its share of critics. To be sure, the neighborhood management structure is not always successful at engaging participation from the most disadvantaged residents, particularly those with language barriers. And any program that targets investments for neighborhoods identified as needy risks further stigmatizing the area.[8] Nevertheless, there is strong underlying support in Europe for integrated urban development at citywide and neighborhood scales and a growing recognition that linking physical, social, and economic revitalization is an absolute necessity for distressed neighborhoods. Perhaps this explains the uproar among municipal officials in Germany in response to the recent federal budget, which cuts funding for the Social City program by about 70 percent and eliminates the possibility of using federal funds for projects that integrate physical and social elements of urban development.[9] We can only hope that the Living Cities initiative in Detroit represents a growing commitment toward integrated planning and development in our most distressed neighborhoods, and that federal, state, and local officials will support this approach even in these very difficult economic times.

1.    O’Leary, John. “Turning Around Challenged Cities,” Governor Magazine Blog,
    November 2, 2010.
2.    Save the Children Report, “Severe Child Poverty.” February 2011.
3.    City of Leipzig. Lebenslagenreport 2009. See
4.    Winkler, Astrid. “Torino City Report.” Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics, 2007.
5.    Interview with Luca Cianfriglia, director of the Gate Project, March 9, 2011.
6.    The German Marshall Fund Case Study on the Gate. See
7.    Information on Social City can be found at
8.    Silver, Hilary. “Social Integration in the ‘New’ Berlin.” German Politics and Society. Issue 81, Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter 2006. p 34.
9.    The German Association of Cities issued a press release in February 2011, strongly condemning the funding cuts and the reduced emphasis on integrated planning. See

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Chicago School Trains Inner City Youth for Manufacturing Jobs

The 2007 founding of the Austin Polytechnical Academy, a public high school on Chicago’s Westside with a focus on college preparation and careers in engineering and manufacturing, began with the closing of a candy factory. Brach’s—the largest candy manufacturer in the world at that time—was threatening to move production to Mexico and eliminate more than 2,100 jobs following a series of misjudgements by the company’s new owners.[1] In other words, the company’s desire for short-term profit was going to create long-term job and income losses for the workers and their community—a common enough scenario all over Chicago and the rest of the United States.

In 1990, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 738 and the Garfield/Austin Interfaith Action Network (GAIN), approached the Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR) for help with research and strategy to tackle a problem in their community. Assured by the knowledge that Brach’s was still a viable company despite recent crises, CLCR, IBT, and GAIN spearheaded the Save Brach’s Coalition, which organized about 100 Chicago and Westside community, civic, and religious organizations.[2] Although their efforts did not prevent Brach’s from closing its Chicago plant in 1996, it placed a magnifying lens over the critical role of manufacturing in local economic development and quality of life. Unlike any other sector, manufacturing generates middle-class incomes, creates five new jobs in related sectors for every manufacturing job created, and increases the local tax base because most manufacturing companies are domestically owned, privately-held, small businesses.[3]

In 2001, CLCR and the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) published a report—“Creating a Manufacturing Career Path System in Cook County”—detailing the gaps in the workforce development and training system as it related to the manufacturing industry. It shows: (1) the lack of standards to define and measure quality training; (2) the paucity of required skills training within the public school system and community colleges; and (3) the absence of identifiable recruitment mechanisms to attract young people into the field.[4] The report also outlined ways to address these issues, which led to the creation of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council in 2005, a multisector coalition of government, labor, business, and community leaders seeking to make Chicago the global leader in advanced manufacturing. The Renaissance Council’s first major project was the development and design of the Austin Polytechnical Academy.

A School After Arizmendiarrieta’s Heart
Austin Polytech is not just another vocational school trying to plug Kid A into Job B. Inspired by international best practices in community and economic development, it serves to catalyze community development instead of simply being a portal for the best and brightest to leave the community.

In 1943, a catholic priest named Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta founded an engineering high school in the small industrial town of Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain after it was devastated by the Civil War and economic depression. Arizmendiarrieta believed that if the youth learned skills in engineering and manufacturing based on Catholic social values they would start businesses that could help improve the community by providing gainful employment, which would generate the wealth needed for rebuilding the community infrastructure. Five of the first batch of graduates did start their own manufacturing company in 1956 making small stoves that sold successfully all over Spain. More importantly though, the company was created as a worker cooperative grounded in community-building values, which ensured that profits were reinvested in the business to provide more jobs, foster new businesses, and thus help the broader community. Today, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation is a network of 100 cooperative businesses employing over 85,000 people in Spain and around the world. It still espouses the same values of community-driven economic development.[5]

In 2009, when CLCR sponsored nine Austin Polytech students on a trip to Mondragon, they were impressed by the lack of visible poverty—the clean streets and quiet neighborhoods—and surprised to learn that almost everybody who wanted a job had one. While Austin Polytech is still in its formative stages, the school’s mission of educating the next generation of leaders in advanced manufacturing holds a strong promise for community-driven development and revitalization.

Good Overcomes Ugly Side of Manufacturing
Manufacturing has a mixed legacy in the United States. Although always credited with creating a middle class, manufacturing also has an ugly history of pervasive racism in its assignment of the most dangerous and dirty work to people of color. Following the wave of plant closings in the 1970s and ‘80s, all the positive effects of manufacturing—hundreds of thousands of jobs and living wages—evaporated, leaving behind the empty shells of factories, toxic contamination, and massive urban blight. So, when the Renaissance Council and CLCR approached the Austin community with a proposal for a public school dedicated to preparing youth for careers in manufacturing, the community feedback was ambiguous.

Critics in the community accused the proposal of trying to repeat the racist patterns of manufacturing from the past and targeting African American youth to serve as grist for the mills of industry. Critics in the business sector expressed deep concern and cynicism over the ability of public education—especially inner-city public education—to meet the needs of today’s high-tech manufacturing industry. And critics in the educator community, including several closely associated with the school, were hostile to the notion of linking education to manufacturing, which they believed only led to dead-end jobs.

It took persistent and meticulous engagement with stakeholders before many of the critics and skeptics were won over. CLCR repeatedly stressed the importance of integrating college and career education—the benefit of rigorous college preparatory academics for students of all abilities and the value of contextual learning through hands-on career preparation experiences.[6] We also emphasized the nationally-recognized industry credentials students could earn while in high school. For example, individuals who earn National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials are typically preferentially hired[7] and could start entry-level, career-track positions earning an average of $16/hour.8 Moreover, the average compensation (wages and benefits) in the manufacturing industry is about $69,217 per year, compared to $46,789 per year in the medical industry, and a paltry $27,411 per year in the retail industry.[9]

CLCR also pointed out that manufacturing is no longer simple assemblyline work but often involves designing and producing increasingly sophisticated and precise components for the most advanced technologies—from MRI machines to wind turbines.[10] Enhanced opportunities for business ownership was another selling point. A CLCR study of 800 manufacturing companies in Chicago revealed that 40 percent of companies with an owner aged 55 or older were at risk of closing solely because there was no successor.[11] Finally, CLCR also shared its vision for an innovation center to facilitate research and development for the wind turbine industry and its belief that Austin could one day be a global leader in the development of technologies and components for the renewable energy industries. Austin Polytech could be an integral part of cultivating the next generation of talent that develops the technologies and starts the businesses to manufacture them. It could be a springboard for the redevelopment of the entire community—in economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable ways—guided by the skills and values of its students.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument in the end was the ongoing development of a dynamic program to directly engage Austin Polytech students, most of whom were ignorant of what a career in manufacturing and engineering entailed, prior to enrolling in the school. Every one of the school’s 380 students is required to take three to four years of pre-engineering courses and a NIMS machining course. To date, 86 have earned a NIMS credential.

Career Exposure Key Part of Curriculum
CLCR staff works closely with Polytech teachers and administrators to coordinate a variety of career exposure activities for the students. Since each of the stakeholders—students, teachers, administrators, and manufacturers—has different expectations, needs, and interests, there is a steep learning curve for all involved and adjustments required all around. In addition, CLCR facilitates extracurricular leadership development programs, such as SkillsUSA.

Most freshmen and sophomores go on at least one manufacturing facility or trade show fieldtrip per year. The experience usually is an eye-opener for the students who may have certain preconceptions about manufacturing facilities. A freshman trip to Winzeler Gear last summer revealed a factory facility full of sunlight and art on the walls and engaged employees working with highly sophisticated machinery. The students learned that the employer had paid for several of the staff engineers to earn their Masters degrees. And that the factory, like most of today’s manufacturers, relied on innovation rather than on manual labor to remain competitive and profitable in a globalized economy.[12]

With juniors and seniors, the school focuses on job shadowing, summer jobs, and internships. Last summer, 30 students found employment in the manufacturing sector. A great deal of preparation and evaluation goes into ensuring that these are high-quality experiences for the students and the manufacturing companies.

CLCR also looks for opportunities to bring manufacturers and employers into the classroom to work with teachers on finding intersections between lesson plans and real-world applications. Through a unique partnership with the John Marshall Law School—known for its intellectual property law program—Austin Polytech was able to offer a patent law workshop over two semesters, which resulted in 11 students collectively earning $108,000 in scholarships to John Marshall. Recently, the school started a new leadership in sustainability initiative in which 10 freshmen are learning about environmental sustainability in their community and careers in the green economy.

The ultimate goal is to have students experience the full breadth of manufacturing career possibilities—from machinist to engineer, from business owner to patent lawyer, from environmental sustainability expert to nanotechnology scientist.  

A School of Dreams and Possibilities
Operating within a disenfranchised community with one of the highest rates of violent crime[13] in Chicago and an unemployment rate of over 20 percent,[14] and where the average incoming 9th grader reads at the 4th grade level,[15] Austin Polytech seeks to create a nexus between its students and local small manufacturers who are facing a significant shortage of skilled employees,[16] despite increased automation and the recession. In the short term, the school hopes to provide students with access to skilled, living-wage career paths and in the long term, cultivate a fertile landscape for leadership development and empowerment, business ownership and entrepreneurship that can fuel community revitalization.

CLCR is currently working with leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area Manufacturing Renaissance Council to explore the possibility of replicating the Austin Polytech approach in West Oakland. The idea is to help guide others through the opportunities and challenges inherent in this model—not only to create clear pathways out of poverty for low-income people of color, but also to effectively use economic development as a tool for long-term community revitalization driven by community values.

1.    Midwest Center for Labor Research. E.J. Brach:  Misadventures in Candyland. May, 1994.
2.     Ibid.
3.     The Manufacturing Institute. The Facts about Modern Manufacturing. 8th edition. 2009.
4.    Chicago Federation of Labor and the Center for Labor and Community Research. Creating a Manufacturing Career Path System in Cook County. December, 2001.
5.    Kelly, Georgia and Massena, Shaula. “Mondragon Worker-Cooperatives Decide How to Ride Out a Downturn.” Yes!, June 2009.
6.    Harvard Graduate School of Education. Pathways to Prosperity. February 2011.
7.    Center for Labor and Community Research: Survey of Chicago area metalworking companies regarding skill standards, December 2007.
8.    Based on the starting wage for all Computer Numerical Control (CNC) operators and machinists hired through Manufacturing Works, Chicago, IL, from July 1, 2008 through January 31, 2009.
9.    Developed by Minnesota Impact Analysis for Planning Group (IMPLAN), based on U.S. Census data. 2009.
10.    The Manufacturing Institute. The Facts about Modern Manufacturing. 8th edition. 2009.
11.    “Intervening with Aging Owners to Save Industrial Jobs,” A Report to the Economic Development Commission Foundation of Chicago by CLCR, August 1989.
12.    The Manufacturing Institute. The Facts about Modern Manufacturing. 8th edition. 2009.
13.    Loury, Alden K. “If Chicago’s West and South sides were their own cities, they’d be the deadliest and most violent in America.” The Chicago Reporter, June 16, 2010.
14. Hassell, Bravetta. “High unemployment likely culprit of Austin population decline.” Medill Reports: Chicago. January 18, 2011.
15. Data results from Reading Scantron Test administered by Chicago Public Schools to Austin Polytech 9th graders, October 2010.
16. Mokoto, Rich, “Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage.” The New York Times, July 1, 2010.

Erica Swinney works at the Center for Labor and Community Research ( For more information on Austin Polytechnical Academy, visit:

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Equitable Growth: Turning Diversity into an Asset

The face of America is changing. Any day now, more than half the babies born will be nonwhite. In the past decade, people of color accounted for 92 percent of our total population growth—up from 65 percent in the previous two decades. California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and the District of Columbia already have nonwhite majorities, as do nearly 50 metropolitan regions. At a time when much about the future is uncertain, our demographic future is clear: by the year 2050, we will be a majority people of color nation.

Our growing diversity can and should be a source of strength in an ever-globalizing international economy, but this cannot happen without a significant change in course. Inequality is at an all-time high and racial disparities in income, wealth, health, education, and opportunity are wide and persistent.

For instance, half of all new jobs in the next 10 years will require postsecondary education but the share of adults with some advanced education is projected to decline in all but six states. Among 18 to 24 year olds, only 32 percent of African Americans, and 26 percent of Latinos are enrolled in college. One reason is a lower percentage of high school graduates coming through the pipeline, with African Americans and Latinos dropping out at two and three times the rate of whites, respectively.

Inequity as a Structural Economic Weakness
By not sufficiently investing in the emerging majority, the nation is hemorrhaging talent. Rapid demographic transition—combined with an economic model that has failed to produce widespread prosperity—may be bringing us to the point where inequity becomes a structural economic weakness. Traditionally, economists have believed that a certain amount of inequality was beneficial as it provided an incentive for growth. The theory was that inequality created incentives that drove people to work harder. But new research by Manuel Pastor, Chris Benner, Mark Partridge, and others shows that inequality actually is a drag on growth, whereas greater racial and economic inclusion corresponds with more robust economic growth.
It is becoming clear that to truly “win the future,” we must turn our diversity into a competitive asset. We need to recognize that equity is not just a moral issue for our society but a superior model for economic growth that can pave the way to prosperity.

Four First Steps for Equitable Growth
Economic inclusion—integrating everyone into the mainstream economy—will maximize the potential of the American workforce while reducing the social costs of joblessness and underemployment. Simultaneously, rebuilding a broad middle class will provide the necessary consumer base to stimulate economic growth and catalyze business investment.

Clearly then, the country is in need of a set of strategies that can help lift up those at the bottom of the income distribution, grow the middle class, and provide upward mobility for all. We propose the following four first steps towards that goal:
1.   Reframe the national conversation about equity to focus on the economic imperative so that it engages many more people—especially, leaders in the private sector.
2.    Craft a policy platform for equitable growth by defining a set of priorities at the federal, state, and local levels that link disenfranchised people and places to opportunities in economic growth. The platform should cover the key arenas of education, economic development, workforce development, infrastructure, transportation, and tax policy.
3.    Disseminate local equity innovations. The inspiring efforts highlighted in RP&E exemplify innovations being incubated in communities across the country—efforts that will generate a more inclusive, sustainable economic recovery and eventually a more prosperous America. These innovations need to be widely shared and taken to scale.
4.    Cultivate equity leadership in the economic growth arena. To integrate equity concerns into strategies for growth and competitiveness, we must draw from the wisdom and experience of local equity leaders. These leaders should be recruited to sit on the commissions, task forces, and other policy bodies deliberating about our competitiveness strategy.

Equity Summit 2011: Detroit (November 8-11)
For three days this November, thousands of activists, organizers, policymakers, elected officials, philanthropists, researchers, and equity advocates will gather in Detroit for the Equity Summit 2011: Healthy Communities, Strong Regions, A Prosperous America.  (

As with the previous three national summits convened by PolicyLink, Equity Summit 2011 will provide a space to reflect, learn, share, and strategize, especially about equitable economic growth. The summit can also serve as a launching pad for new ideas. A plenary about infrastructure at the Equity Summit 2008 in New Orleans, for example, galvanized a whole new field of advocacy pertaining to infrastructure equity. Detroit will provide an excellent platform for a new conversation about why more equitable growth is needed, and how to make it a reality.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink. For more information about Equity Summit 2011: Healthy Communities, Strong Regions, A Prosperous America, visit

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Regionalism: Development and Displacement

Lake Merritt TOD Planning Meeting, Laney College, March 5, 2011. ©2011 Eric K. ArnoldContention over the inner core of cities has escalated as reinvestment attracts former suburbanites back to the center, and rising prices drive low-income people to the outer ring.  From Oakland, to San Jose to South Lake Tahoe, the pressure on low-income populations is intense. While greenhouse gas emission reduction and urban planning principles favor compact urban development, communities of color living in the target zone all too often lose out on the benefits of an improved neighborhood. Instead, they are displaced.

Displacement accelerates the dispersal caused by other factors, such as the predatory lending and resulting foreclosure crisis, which has resulted in millions losing their homes. In their current form, these sorts of struggles are too often seen as something the individual homeowner, evicted tenant, or displaced business must deal with alone. However, organized resistance to flawed development schemes and collective action to resist eviction and foreclosure are more crucial than ever.  —Ed.

San Jose Flea Market Faces BART Expansion
By Ginny Browne

Building Transit Oriented Community in Oakland’s Chinatown
By Vivian Huang

Lake Tahoe Development Creates: “Poverty with a View”
By Gabriel R. Valle

California’s Fight Against Foreclosures Goes National
By Kevin Stein, Kristina Bedrossian, and Richard Hopson

By Irene Florez

Foreclosed Tenants Shut down Utility Shut-offs
By Jean Tepperman

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1– 2011 | Credits

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San Jose Flea Market Faces BART Expansion, Displacement

Called La Pulga or “the flea” by the region’s Spanish-speaking communities, the San Jose Flea Market has been a South Bay community institution for more than 50 years. The 120-acre open air market is the largest in the nation and attracts over four million visitors annually. For Mexican, Central and South American, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and South Asian immigrants, it has provided a one-of-a-kind opportunity to incubate small businesses offering an unparalleled variety of affordable, culturally-specific goods and services.

In 2007, the Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report on the planned 16-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train line from Fremont to San Jose. Its northern most stop would be located on Berryessa Road right by the flea market. Shortly after the report’s release, the owners of the property where the flea market is located hired a consulting firm to draw up plans for an upscale mixed-use residential and commercial development. Then, without informing the vendors, the owners appealed to the San Jose City Council to change the site’s zoning designation to allow for development, and received it—given the potential for new housing stock along the BART extension corridor—thus paving the way for the flea market’s closure.

In 2009, an award-winning short film about the San Jose Flea Market—La Pulga—was released. It features Rigoberto, who came to San Jose from Mexico in 1990, to help a friend run his flea market stand. Since then, Rigoberto has opened his own stand, selling Mexican candy and piñatas with his wife and children. “All of this has helped me realize my dream,” he told the filmmakers. “But the dreams of my children, as well as my fellow merchants here will come undone if the flea market should close.”

A Blow to Immigrant Entrepreneurship
The San Jose Flea Market struggle highlights critical aspects of how we understand, resist, and prevent displacement caused by gentrification, especially around transit oriented development (TOD). For example, housing groups may fight for greater affordability of TOD sites, but what about the small businesses and other community institutions that meet the needs of those residents at risk of displacement? It was a question raised by the flea market vendors and their supporters when they showed up by the hundreds at city council meetings to protest the proposed closure.

Chris Lepe, a community planner with TransForm, who as a student at San Jose State University in 2007 helped the flea market vendors in their campaign against the closure, says: “Before the merchants and community organized, City Hall showed no consideration for the cultural and economic importance of the market for San Jose’s immigrant and working class communities. We were outraged because we felt that [the role of] government was to mitigate the environment and social impacts of market forces, but instead it was rushing to approve the plan without regard to thousands of people whose livelihoods were tied to that land.”

In many ways, the council’s initial failure to recognize the economic and social benefits of the flea market speaks to the historical invisibility of immigrant entrepreneurship. Family-owned businesses have always been a critical source of economic development in immigrant communities where people have traditionally been excluded from access to capital.

Flea Market Offers Deals and Livelihoods
When the San Jose Flea Market vendors began organizing in 2007, their top demand was that the City Council recognize the economic and social value of the market and commit city resources to helping them find an appropriate site for relocation. Speaking at the last zoning meeting in March 2007, one vendor implored the council to consider the extent of the impacts, saying: “The flea market provides us a place to succeed. I’m not looking for a handout. I’m not asking for anything from the government. I just want to work.”

Although the council—responding to pressure from the vendors—eventually voted to explore potential relocation options for the flea market, it has still to make good on this promise. The economic downturn had given the flea market an unintended reprieve, but since last fall, progress on the multimillion dollar development has picked up again. This time around, however, the owners have informed the vendors that they intend to preserve the flea market in a new, scaled back plan for the site. Still, the vendors and their supporters are not taking anything for granted. Urban Habitat and the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Community Innovation are currently conducting research into the social and economic impacts of the San Jose Flea Market through surveys and interviews with merchants and consumers.

Preliminary findings confirm the critical role the flea market has played in providing economic opportunity. A surprisingly high percentage of merchants surveyed report that they started selling at the flea market because they were either unemployed or had been laid off, and the flea market business helped them survive. Ninety percent of vendors surveyed live in San Jose, thus not only serving the South Bay’s diverse communities, but also reinvesting their earnings back into the local economy. Among the customer base, two-thirds of the 277 surveyed reported that price was very important in their decision to shop at the flea market. Customers tend to be from low- and middle-income households—a majority earn less than $50,000 annually and a quarter, less than $25,000. (Santa Clara County’s 2009 estimated median family income was $88,525.*) Complete results of the research will be available at Urban Habitat’s website later this year.

Survivor: The Flea Market Strategies
Despite the owner’s stated desire to let the San Jose Flea Market remain for now, the vendors and their supporters have identified a variety of possible strategies for ensuring the market’s survival, whether or not it stays at its current site. They are:

  • Building a broad-based community coalition to win a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the current or future owners, which would formally incorporate the flea market into the site’s development plan.
  • Forming a nonprofit merchants cooperative that can develop its own funding and governance structure and, if need be, partner with the City or County to relocate on publicly owned land. Such a cooperative could also institute a fund that, over time, would be able to purchase the land.
  • Creating a traveling market that locates in different neighborhoods on different days of the week or weeks of the month—modeled after Ciclovia, an increasingly popular event that shuts down city streets for a day to promote biking and walking, often accompanied by street vending and public entertainment.
  • Pushing for the creation of a regional fund using redevelopment money—similar to affordable housing funds—to support immigrant entrepreneurs incubate small businesses in TOD zones with mechanisms, such as subsidized commercial rents or infrastructure for new open air markets.

Claiming TOD for Transit Users
Low-income communities and communities of color have as much a stake as anyone in TOD, as they are more reliant than anyone on transit. So it is all the more important that protecting culturally relevant and community-driven economic engines like the San Jose Flea Market in TOD zones become part of the vision for sustainable development. 

“Many developers and elected officials have joined the movement for ‘greener’ cities and transit oriented development, in response to consumer demand and a more conscious voting public,” says Chris Lepe, community organizer with TransForm. “Now we have to work to place social justice at the forefront of grassroots efforts to build more sustainable cities. A healthier environment cannot exist without an equitable society.”

The results of the Northeastern study (see Sidebar) provide a unique opportunity for communities fighting displacement and TOD advocates to come together and reformulate a framework for just and successful TOD.

Development and Displacement
Last fall, the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University released the results of a groundbreaking study on the relationship between transit-oriented development (TOD) and gentrification.[1] The report not only confirmed many of the risks associated with TOD that affordable housing groups have long suspected, it also revealed some surprising new reasons for concern.

An analysis of socioeconomic indicators in 42 newly transit-rich neighborhoods in 12 metropolitan regions documented two key patterns:

- TOD drives up land values and housing costs, leading to an influx of higher-income residents, while causing low-income people and people of color—especially renters—to be priced out of their neighborhoods.
- Wealthier populations moving into TOD neighborhoods are more likely to own cars and the increased vehicle ownership alongside the displacement of traditional transit users in many instances can actually lead to a decrease in transit use.

The Northeastern study is only the latest contribution to a mounting body of evidence that gentrification is closely association with TOD. In 2009, the Center for Community Innovation (CCI) collaborated with the Association of Bay Area Governments to develop an “early warning tool kit”[2] outlining factors affecting a neighborhood’s susceptibility to gentrification following public investment in transit improvements. CCI’s analysis of 1990 and 2000 census data for Bay Area counties found that gentrifying neighborhoods are almost twice as likely to be within a half mile of transit as non-gentrifying neighborhoods.

Policy Drives Density
The dynamics of neighborhood change must be viewed in the context of a changing policy and market environment. In 2008, TOD officially became statewide environmental policy in California. Senate Bill 375 establishes a framework for integrating regional land-use, transportation, and housing development policy in accordance with the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals outlined in Assembly Bill 32, which had become law two years earlier. 

While SB375 provides metropolitan planning organizations with new tools to encourage housing development, the guiding framework for new housing along transit focuses almost exclusively on density rather than on affordability. The affordability components associated with the law consist only of incentives, not requirements. Without mechanisms to ensure that TOD-generated housing is affordable to a range of income levels, neighborhoods around transit corridors become vulnerable to land speculation and to the enormous instability it creates in local housing markets. This vulnerability is magnified by two factors underlying the rise of TOD:
1. Proposition 13 and other measures that have hamstrung government’s ability to raise revenues encourage cash-strapped local governments to seek the highest possible revenues from land-use decisions.
2. While TOD arose from a specific set of social and environmental concerns, its rise to prominence as policy has occurred alongside renewed interest in compact, urban development with proximity to transit among  the young professional class.

Who Gets In, Who Moves Out?
Existing public transit infrastructure is, unsurprisingly, most developed in and around major U.S. metropolitan areas, which are home to 75 percent of immigrants, 65 percent of Latinos, and 55 percent of African Americans, but only 35 percent of whites.
Displacement around TOD is most evident in metropolitan centers and in places where rental housing—which is most immediately affected by changes in the housing market—predominates. Analysis of 2000 census data by the Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD) for 3,300 transit zones nationwide found that renters make up nearly two-thirds of those living within a half mile of transit stations.[3]

In addition to market-rate rental units, AARP’s Public Policy Institute reports that in 20 large metropolitan areas, there are nearly 200,000 federally subsidized affordable rental apartments within a quarter mile of existing or planned transit stations. Seventy percent of them have contracts that will expire before 2014.4 —GB

1.    Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change. Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University. 2009.
2.    Chapple, Karen. “Mapping susceptibility to gentrification: The Early Warning Toolkit.” Berkeley, CA. University of California-Berkeley, Center for Community Innovation. 2009.
3.    Heffernan, K, ed. “Preserving and Promoting Diverse Transit-Oriented Neighborhoods.” Oakland, CA. Center for Transit-Oriented Development. 2006.
4.    Harrell, R., Brooks, A. and Nedwick, T. “Preserving Affordability and Access in Livable Communities: Subsidized Housing Opportunities Near Transit and the 50+ Population.” Washington, D.C. AARP Public Policy Institute. 2009

*  U.S. Census Bureau: State and County QuickFacts.

Ginny Browne recently moved from San Jose to begin graduate work in urban planning at UCLA. She has worked as a researcher and organizer for labor and community-based organizations in the Bay Area and New York City.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits


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In many ways, the council’s initial failure to recognize the economic and social benefits of the flea market speaks to the historical invisibility of immigrant entrepreneurship.

Building Transit Oriented Community in Oakland's Chinatown

Home is more than simply a place. It is a connection to a community of people, the comforts of familiar sights and sounds, and the sense of belonging. As history has shown us, numerous urban “renewal” efforts in the name of eliminating blight disregarded people’s visions for their homes, resulting in displacement of individuals and disintegration of communities. Today, the trend is to promote transit oriented development (TOD) in the name of addressing climate change. But if development is done inequitably, it represents the latest challenge to low-income communities of color.

Oakland Chinatown’s history is one of survival in the midst of continual acts of displacement. The first Chinese immigrants who formed various Chinatowns in Oakland during the 1850s had been driven from the fields of the Gold Rush by racist, hostile miners. Later, intense racism would cause some of these Chinatowns to move—as with the settlement at San Pablo Avenue and 19th Street—or be eliminated altogether—as when the Chinatown at Telegraph Avenue and 17th Street burned down. Eventually, the Chinese community was consolidated in the area around 8th and Webster Streets. 

Roy Chan of the Oakland Asian Cultural Center has been documenting this history, particularly because as time continues to march forward, much knowledge has been lost to the current residents.  “The reason why we wanted to tell a complete story of the blocks that used to be there is because more recent immigrants do not have any idea of what happened,” says Chan.

“The Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project is a way to personalize and humanize the story—to show that these were real homes that were built over the decades and taken away,” he explains. “We want to equip the community to know its own history and to speak on its own behalf.”

A key turning point for the neighborhood came in the mid 1960s. In 1965, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency, working with the city, redeveloped three blocks in Chinatown—demolishing existing buildings and relocating Madison Square Park to create the Lake Merritt BART station and BART headquarters. Destroyed in the process were 75 homes, an orphanage for girls, and the Chinese True Sunshine Episcopal Church.

“Leaving that church was more traumatic for my mother than leaving her house. In my lifetime, I only saw my mother crying twice. Once was when her biological mother died, the other time was when they took away the church property,” says Fran Toy, former resident of the area. “After the church was moved, we lost congregation members by the drove. And I remember one Sunday going to church, the priest and I were the only two people there.”(See sidebar on page 66 for a detailed account of Toy’s experience.)

More recently, tenants received eviction notices from the Pacific Renaissance Plaza in 2003. As Amber Chan of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) recalls, “At the time, they evicted low-income elderly and families from 50 units. We knew we had to fight to stop the evictions.  I remember one tenant saying ‘I am not a dead rat.  You cannot throw me to the street. I will stay here and fight you.’”

Then in 2006, BART decided to demolish its headquarters and close down the Lake Merritt station plaza, leaving the neighborhood without a vital community space for tai-chi, chi gong, and lion dancing. The community collected over 1500 petition signatures and raised $35,000 to create a space at Madison Park, but the funding was not enough to cover other needed services, such as public restrooms and a covered pavilion.

Transit Oriented Displacement: Circa 2012

Now, Chinatown is once again at the heart of another development process. The push to develop housing, jobs, and neighborhoods near transit is an opportunity to create green, walkable, transit-friendly communities that will reduce car usage and greenhouse gas emissions. However, development without equity can result in the displacement of core transit users, such as renters and low-income households, and an influx of higher income, car-owning residents who are less likely to use public transit, thereby defeating the goal of development near transit. A study by the Center for Community Innovation at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development has shown that the area around Chinatown and the Lake Merritt BART station is highly susceptible to gentrification. Fruitvale and West Oakland are examples of areas that have experienced rent increases, evictions, and loss of affordable housing as a result of such development.

Given the history of displacement, there is a lot of fear in Chinatown of being excluded from the decision-making during this round of redevelopment.
“When it comes down to the community, the citizens who live in Chinatown are usually last,” says Alan Yee, an Oakland-based attorney, in a recent KALW news report. “In redevelopment, they look to the developers and what they want and forget what the community needs.  Unfortunately, when BART came in, the community wasn’t organized, so they were able to take the land without any community input or compensation to the community.”[1]

Organizations, such as APEN, Asian Health Services (AHS), and East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) have worked to organize community members—conducting over 1000 surveys and engaging them in planning workshops—so they are able to articulate what they would like to see in the plans.

“Community engagement is definitely important because of the history of these processes in Chinatown,” states Julia Liou of AHS. “Traditionally, our communities haven’t been part of the planning process. Usually, it’s just a flyer that goes out. So, it’s important to advocate for the needs identified by the community.”

“We really want to see a neighborhood that is a place where people choose to live and have the ability to afford to live, regardless of their economic condition,” says Ener Chiu of EBALDC. “The plan should provide the kind of cultural, business, public, and educational amenities that would make people want to live here.”  

Li Ya Chen, a member of APEN, says, “When I first arrived in the Bay Area, my monthly income was only about one thousand dollars, but the rental of a one-bedroom apartment was over $700. It was very difficult to survive. I heard about low-income housing, but I was at a loss because I didn’t know where and how to apply. The Lake Merritt BART project should be for people at all income levels. Affordable housing should include extremely low-income folks.”

Shao Yang Zhang, another member of APEN, believes that public safety, employment, and housing issues are related to each other. “To solve the problem of public safety, we must solve the job and housing issues because they are the root causes of the problem,” she points out. “The more housing complexes, the more supporting facilities you will need to provide employment opportunities to the local community and help enhance the people’s standard of living. If everyone has a job and stable place to live, the crime issue will be improved. Oakland could become a model city for the nation.”

In addition to the issues of housing, jobs, and public safety, many community members also cite the need for greater pedestrian safety. “My apartment is located right next to a crossroad that often has a lot of car accidents. Two years ago, my neighbor, Mrs. Chan, was hit and killed by a car,” recalls Hai Bo Pan, another APEN member. “Not long after, another gentleman was hit by a car at the same location, and he was seriously injured.”

Chinatown, it is important to remember, is not just a community for Chinese. As Tô Châu, a Vietnamese patient at AHS points out, “Chinatown is important because it is an Asian place where I can get food that I can’t get in other areas. I do want it to be improved. Some housing is so old, it is a sad sight. In the next 20 years, I want to see this neighborhood improve, and I hope to have more parks.”

The planning process is now moving into the stage where a community stakeholder group—comprised of about 50 people representing the institutions and constituents of the area—will be working on shaping the plan over the next several months. “I am hopeful that we can fix the problems together,” says APEN member Hui Zhen Li. “If we can make this plan meaningful and the city does what it promises, the area will be beautiful.”


  • Association of Bay Area Governments, “Development Without Displacement, Development with Diversity.” December 2009. Page 8.
  • Center for Community Innovation, “Mapping Susceptibility to Gentrification: The Early Warning Toolkit.” August 2009. Page 5.
  • Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, “Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change.” October 2010.
  • Keel, Lindsay Lee. “A neighborhood displaced by BART.” KALW News, November 22, 2010.
  • Ma, Eve Armentrout and Ma, Jeong Huei. The Chinese of Oakland: Unsung Builders. Edited by Forrest Gok and the Oakland Chinese History Research Committee. July 1982.
  • Oakland Asian Cultural Center, “Oakland Chinatown Oral History Project.”
  • Wilson, Priscilla Yuki. “Madison Park: Building community through Tai Chi in Chinatown.” KALW News, November 24, 2010.


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Transit Oriented Displacement: Circa 1965

A former Oakland Chinatown resident remembers the arrival of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to her neighborhood. Adapted from an interview with Fran Troy for a radio documentary on KALW’s Crosscurrents by Lindsey Lee Keel.

The three square blocks called Madison Square Park was once a thriving neighborhood until the wrecking ball of urban renewal made way for what is now Lake Merritt BART Station. It is paved over now, but the house where Fran Toy grew up was right here, where Madison Park is today.

“I lived there from the moment I came home from the hospital until four days before my 22nd birthday, when I left to get married,” says Toy, adding that it was a safe neighborhood of Victorian duplexes and apartment buildings. “We didn’t even lock our doors!”

Like Toy’s own family, most of the neighbors were working class, many of them immigrants from China. Although she grew up during the Depression, Toy and her siblings did not know they were poor.

“We played in the streets a lot because in the ‘30s there weren’t that many cars. I think the guys played ‘kick the can.’ And we saved the paper caps from milk bottles that were delivered and played with that. It was just a very peaceful childhood,” says Toy.

 “The majority of us children went to what we called American school [until] the early afternoon, then we had a little breather, and then we went to Chinese school before dinner.”

There was always something to do, and for Toy’s family that included spending a lot of time at the True Sunshine Episcopal Church.
“My mother was a very faithful Christian, very devout, and she gave hours to the church. She volunteered herself and of course, she volunteered her children. So, every Saturday she marched my brother, my sister, and me from 8th Street, where we lived, to the church. And we’d clean the church for Sunday services.”

Toy, her sister, and about three other young ladies used to collect the Sunday school students and walk them to the church and then back home. “Like the Pied Piper,” she quips. The congregation was mainly Cantonese and so was the neighborhood. But the tightly knit neighborhood was slated for demolition as part of the city’s plan to eliminate what it called ‘urban blight.’

UC Berkeley Geographer Richard Walker explains: “In the mid-20th century, Victorian houses were regarded as old dogs... completely out of fashion and clunky. So that’s the kind of mindset of the downtown business people you would have circa 1950.” That mindset allowed for a top-down approach to redevelopment. City planners decided to level three blocks to make way for a new BART station and headquarters.

“Now there’s also, of course, an unspoken (or sometimes pretty straightforward) racism and classism that says, ‘We wanna get rid of these unsavory people’, whether they are the new African American populations that had come in during World War II or the Chinese.”

According to Walker, bringing BART to Oakland was a victory for the city but a big surprise for most of the residents who would be displaced. “Ordinary people would have had very little idea of what was going on. A lot of this goes on behind closed doors. So people find out at the last minute.”

Between 1964 and 1966, BART acquired all the properties on those three blocks, displacing 75 Chinese households.
“They were all quite devastated, and it forced them to move elsewhere in Oakland,” Toy recounts, but that was not the hardest part for her family. “We lost our spiritual home because this church was right there around the corner from my home.” It was where Toy’s parents met.

 “In my whole lifetime I saw my mother cry twice,” she says. “Once when her mother died, and the second time when the bishop came to deconsecrate the space because it was going to be torn down.” The Church was demolished and members moved to a different building but it was miles away, on Lincoln Avenue. “We lost congregation members by the droves. I remember one Sunday going to church, and the priest and I were the only two people there.” Toy recalls.

The redevelopment of the neighborhood left residents sad and angry, but they resigned themselves to the change and did not protest. “It was not part of our culture to mobilize and resist, not back in the 1960s,” explains Toy. “When you grow up in a culture where the people at the top have ultimate control... you don’t resist.”

Later generations would resist and indeed transform the way redevelopment worked.
In the mid sixties, Fran Toy’s family may have lost their home and church, but two decades later, Toy was ordained the first Asian American female priest in the Episcopal Church.

The Reverend Dr. Fran Toy is now retired  and the church has found a new home in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown—at Harrison Street, near 10th. Toy still attends services there every so often.

Lindsey Lee Keel created this story for a series on Oakland’s Chinatown for KALW’s Crosscurrents. Adapted for print with permission.

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Lake Tahoe Development Creates "Poverty with a View"

As the snow piles up around Lake Tahoe and tourists flock to the resorts, it makes for happy hotel and restaurant managers, casino and shop owners, but rising snow levels also means higher heating bills, more traffic, and a greater cost of living. For a tourist, the higher prices and traffic congestion are a temporary inconvenience—the price of visiting one of the most beautiful places in the world. For the low-income local community, the consequences are far more serious as the increase in wealth around the Tahoe basin has led to a flurry of developments and redevelopments, each pricier than the other.

Vail Resorts, owners of Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe and Vail Ski Resort in Eagle County, Colorado, see the development of ski villages as a means to increase business from skiers and snowboarders. The ski villages—patterned after old European resorts—try to recreate a certain alien mountain culture where visitors can stay, eat, play, and spend their money. More than a mere tourist trap, a ski village like Heavenly Mountain Village is fitted for an affluent tourist with its art galleries, chic coffee shop chains, brand-name ski stores, realty offices, and the occasional local high-end boutique or restaurant.

While the ski villages may have destroyed local Tahoe culture, they offer an opportunity to correct some of the mistakes made by earlier development. Heavenly Village, for example, has better water management, more energy efficient buildings, a more centralized location for tourism, and offers an opportunity for transit oriented development (TOD).

“Heavenly”South Lake Tahoe
The South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency (STRA) was created in 1988 by the City of South Lake Tahoe to give the dying Stateline area a boost, and the area’s first TOD was enacted in June of the same year. The purpose of the agency was to enhance the natural beauty of South Lake Tahoe while centering development on an improved transportation network. The development was organized for mixed use and TOD, and the STRA claimed that their plan was informed by discussions with local community members and community workshops.

The City of South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency claim that since the completion of Heavenly Village in 2001, the Stateline area has seen a “20 percent reduction in vehicle traffic at the Park Avenue and U.S. Highway 50 intersection...” (Restoration in Progress: Environmental Improvement Program Progress Report. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 2007). This means that there is less sediment runoff into the lake and fewer CO2 emissions. As far as the STRA was concerned, they had accomplished their goal of creating a more walkable environment around the Heavenly Ski Resort where visitors could spend their money shopping and dining. Regardless, the city’s romantic view of sustainable development neglected to address social equity.

With increased wealth, often comes increased poverty. As Heavenly Village gained notoriety as a four-season resort, low-income residents were forced to compete with Bay Area wealth. Their economic vulnerability marginalized them and forced them  out to the back roads of South Lake Tahoe. In attempting to create a ‘high end’ playground for the elite, the once renowned local ‘mountaintown’ characteristics were lost and the decaying infrastructure  of the local low-income community hidden behind the second homes of the wealthy. Or as Delicia, a South Shore resident commented sardonically: “This is poverty with a view.”  

Being a Have-Not in a World Made for Haves
The Heavenly Mountain Shuttle bus offers free rides to anywhere on the South Shore—anywhere that is, tourists or skiers or weekenders might want to go. Residents have to take the local BlueGO bus—as infrequent as it is—to get to the free shuttle to the ski resort. What’s more, increased ridership on the free Heavenly Mountain Shuttle has caused the fares on the local BlueGo to go up to three dollars one way.

“As with all aspects of the city, transportation decisions must be made on informed citizenry,” said Joan Roelofs in her book, Greening Cities: Building Just and Sustainable Communities (Bootstrap Press, 1996). “Public participation should include those who are affected by transportation systems, including the elderly, disabled, poor, and children. Too often, it is the commercial sector and those promoting ‘economic growth’ that dominate in this area.” This is exactly what many South Shore locals fear has happened.

In the nearby community of Bijou, where the majority of South Shore’s low-income Latinos live, the rental properties are primarily converted old hotels left over from the 1960s Winter Olympics building boom. Now the spike in land prices caused by the creation of Heavenly Village has essentially assured low-income residents that they will continue to live in run-down and dilapidated apartments. As Hal Clifford, author of Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment (Sierra Club, 2003), points out in his book: “A ski town worker’s life increasingly is a commuter’s life, defined by the constant struggle to get by in a world of below average pay and above average costs... The haves-versus-the-have-nots reality has bitterly split ski towns and... deeply faulted the socioeconomic and political landscape in many mountain communities.”

Finding a Voice for the Disenfranchised
Clifford also pointed out that as long as the people who live in small mountain towns do not control the levers of power, the towns will end up being what they don’t want to be. Now it appears that there is an attempt being made by the Latino communities around the lake to create their own political power and in this, they are being helped by the Family Resource Center in the nearby town of Truckee.

“We are improving people’s health and creating community leaders who will become stakeholders and gatekeepers in changing the system,” explained Executive Director Adela Gonzalez del Valle. “[We are] working with Latino community members to help [them] find a voice... to challeng[e] the existing system in the town.”

It was Julian Agyeman, who in his book Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice (NYU Press, 2005) asked the question: “Can we achieve sustainable development and sustainable communities by tweaking existing policies, which we are doing at present, or do we need a rethink, a paradigm shift?” For the communities and environment around Lake Tahoe, this paradigm shift may be their best chance for a just and sustainable community.

And not a moment too soon as the TRPA is now eyeing Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe’s poorest area with the largest Latino community, for its next transit oriented redevelopment.

Gabriel Valle is a graduate of San Jose State University where he wrote his Masters thesis on “Sustainable Tahoe: Bridging the Economic Gap” in 2009.  He will join the Sociocultural Anthropology doctorate program at the University of Washington Fall 2011.

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California’s Fight Against Foreclosures Goes National

Rosaura Vazquez has owned her Whittier home with her brother-in-law Jaime for over seven years. In 2008, the economic downturn forced Jaime to close his business and Rosaura had to take a pay cut. Anticipating difficulty in making their monthly mortgage payment, they requested lender JP Morgan Chase to modify their loan. Chase responded by putting them on a three-month reduced monthly payment plan.

Rosaura and Jaime were able to find more work to supplement their income and paid their reduced monthly mortgage on time for well over a year. Then in early 2009, Chase informed them that they were ineligible for a permanent modification and moved to foreclose on the house because of the thousands of dollars in arrears that was owed from the trial modification. The bank stopped accepting the monthly payments and has made numerous attempts to sell Rosaura and Jaime’s home.

This story is just one example of what countless Californians have endured during the foreclosure crisis. Bank practices have harmed California communities through a cycle of abuse that began with the redlining of low-income and neighborhoods of color. First denied access to loans and investments, these neighborhoods were later flooded with subprime and option ARM loans at the height of the housing bubble.

Unheeded Warning, Followed by a Failed Remedy
Consumer advocates warned financial institutions, regulators, legislators, and the public about the dangers of subprime, nontraditional, and predatory lending to these communities. But the banks persisted and federal and state regulators failed to crack down on abusive lending while it was flourishing. Not surprisingly, low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by foreclosures since the real estate bubble collapsed in 2007. The only option homeowners had to avoid foreclosure was to negotiate a loan modification with their lender to lower monthly mortgage payments.

Then, in early 2009, the Obama administration launched the nation’s primary foreclosure prevention initiative—the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Under this program, the federal government provides incentives to banks to modify the terms of home loans for certain homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgage. The goal of the program was to ebb the tide of foreclosures and save about four million Americans from losing their homes.

Unfortunately, the program has failed because of the reluctance of banks to permanently modify a significant number of home loans. In California, 1.2 million homeowners have lost their homes to foreclosure since 2008[1] and only 122,577 have received permanent modifications under HAMP.[2] While modifications may be hard to come by for all, they are harder still for certain borrowers and neighborhoods. Housing counselors report that loan modification outcomes are worse for borrowers of color than for white borrowers.[3] This is a matter of grave concern since borrowers of color were more often targeted with predatory loans in the years leading up to the foreclosure crisis.

Disheartening Results From Limited Data

When HAMP was announced, the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) requested the Treasury Department to require banks to collect data on the race, ethnicity, and neighborhood of borrowers seeking to avoid foreclosure through the program. Treasury instituted this requirement and released data about the HAMP program to the general public in February this year. The information is disheartening, to say the least. Aside from the limited ability of the program to help homeowners, it is unclear whether every homeowner was given a fair chance to save their home. And despite the requirement from Treasury, nearly 64 percent of the HAMP application data did not include information about race and ethnicity—either because the banks failed to collect it or homeowners refused to disclose it.

The gaps in the data inhibit a thorough analysis of HAMP’s ability to ensure equal access to loan modifications for all borrowers, regardless of their race or ethnicity. But analysis of even this limited information shows cause for concern. For example, Latino borrowers were more likely to be denied modifications because of “incomplete requests,”[4] even though servicers frequently lose documents, according to housing counselors.[5] And curiously, African Americans were more likely to have a modification canceled because it was “not accepted by the borrower.”[6] There are also anecdotal reports from housing counselors that borrowers are sometimes steered into non-HAMP modification programs, which usually have less beneficial terms for homeowners.

The consistently high number of defaults and foreclosures in California demonstrates the unwillingness of banks to help people save their homes. An additional 800,000 homes are expected to foreclose by 2012, making a total of nearly 2 million foreclosures that have devastated California’s communities since the beginning of this crisis.[7] The picture looks even grimmer when you consider that one-third of California’s homeowners currently owe more on their houses than their worth.[8]

In late 2010, there were reports about “foreclosure mills” with “robosigners” signing off on thousands of foreclosures without confirming the underlying facts. Among the many dubious foreclosure practices revealed by the reports was “dual track” servicing—where banks start foreclosure proceedings and issue a “notice of default,” even as they are negotiating loan modifications with the borrowers. Since the revelations, federal and state officials, including all 50 Attorneys General, have launched investigations into the practices. However, more needs to be done to prevent future abuses of California homeowners.

Californians Launch RE-Fund Campaign
A coalition was formed this year with the Home Defenders League (a project of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment), PICO CA (People Improving Communities Through Organizing), CRC, and SEIU Locals 1000, 521, 721, and 1021 to create real protections for California homeowners. The RE-Fund California campaign was launched on March 16 in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, and Stockton. Through community organizing and legislative advocacy, RE-Fund California’s goal is to prevent unnecessary foreclosures and forestall their devastating ripple effect on California’s communities.

“The foreclosure crisis in California has amounted to large losses for homeowners as well as draining local and state revenues [and] depleting our schools, police and fire stations, and county hospitals,” said Phil Ting, Assessor-Recorder of San Francisco.

RE-Fund California estimates that the real costs of the foreclosures to communities and local governments is around $650 billion.[9] They encompass:

  • Decreased home values for the foreclosed property and the surrounding neighborhood to the tune of $337,379 per community per foreclosure for an estimated total loss of $632 billion.
  • Decline in property tax revenues, leading to schools, fire departments, police departments, and other crucial public services being underfunded. Property tax revenue losses are estimated at $3.8 billion—or $2,058 for every foreclosure.
  • Costs associated with sheriff evictions, property inspections, blight and trash removal, and public safety—estimated at $17.4 billion, or $19,229 for every foreclosure.

RE-Fund Supports Three Bills in Legislature
Without hope from HAMP or help from the banks, homeowners and advocates turned to the state. In the current session of the state legislature, RE-Fund California supported a Homeowner Protection Package, which included three bills:
Fair Modification (SB729): would require loan servicers to give homeowners a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision on their loan modification application before beginning the foreclosure process. It also allows homeowners to bring legal action when serious violations occur.
Foreclosure Fee to Recoup Losses (AB935) would impose a fee of $20,000 per foreclosure on the foreclosing party.  
Mortgage Title Transparency (AB1321) would mandate recording of all mortgage deeds, trusts, and assignments, and payment of the requisite fees to provide clarity on who owns a loan, facilitate loan modifications, and ensure that the company foreclosing on a homeowner actually has the legal right to foreclose.

The three bills would encourage more loan modifications than the faulty HAMP program and bring transparency to murky bank practices. In the context of the state’s fiscal crisis, the package would have raised roughly $8 billion annually for essential services and programs. But all three bills failed to pass out of committee.

“Banks should not foreclose on a family’s home until they inform the owner whether the loan can be modified to an affordable level,” said Senator Mark Leno, co-author of SB729. “California homeowners who qualify for modifications should get them... not a foreclosure notice.” Well Fargo opposed SB729 and successfully lobbied to kill it.

The sad fact that the legislature could not get even one of these bills to the floor reveals the deep-pocket power of the banks and the need for communities to organize and raise their voices.

“The big banks caused the economic collapse, got bailed out with taxpayer’s money, are back to paying themselves millions in bonuses... and what do we get?” asks Peggy Mears, leader of the Home Defenders League and a Fontana homeowner. “Californians are paying the price, over and over again, for the greed of the big banks.”

At a demonstration on May 3, 2011, hundreds of protestors swarmed the Wells Fargo annual shareholders’ meeting demanding changes in their foreclosures process. Eight protestors were arrested after presenting their demands to the meeting and refusing to leave the building.

The action, supported by the RE-Fund coalition, marked the launching of a national campaign targeting Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo under the auspices of a national coalition called the New Bottom Line campaign. This effort, which includes the California coalition as well as community, faith-based, and labor organizing groups in Ohio, North Carolina, and New York, is part of a national campaign to raise homeowner voices at the big banks’ shareholder meetings.

To get involved in future events and to sign on to the campaign, please visit:

1.    Moody’s Analytics data for 2010.
2.    California Reinvestment Coalition/Urban Strategies Council, Analysis of HAMP Loan Modification Outcomes, 2011.
3.    California Reinvestment Coalition Survey (2009-10): “The Ongoing Chasm Between Words and Deeds V: Abusive Practices Continue to Harm
Families and Communities in California.” June 2009.
4.    CRC/Urban Strategies Council, Analysis of HAMP Loan Modification Outcomes, 2011.
5.    CRC Survey (2009-2010).
6.    CRC/Urban Strategies Council, Analysis of HAMP Loan Modification Outcomes, 2011.
7.    Projected foreclosures for 2011-12 based on Moody’s Analytics.
9.    “Home Wreckers: How Wall Street Foreclosures Are Devastating Communities.”
    RE-Fund California Campaign Report.

Kevin Stein is associate director and Kristina Bedrossian is media and development coordinator for the California Reinvestment Coalition. Richard Hopson is the chairperson of the Board for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits


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Ana Romero remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs, and notices amassed in her document binders, she somberly recites the circumstances. A single mother of three facing foreclosure, Romero has for the last three years wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David-and-Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension, and lachrymose reflection in its wake. 

When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago, the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two-income household. Divorce changed all that.

With only one income since 2008, Romero has not been able to meet her monthly payments. “For two years I have worked with the bank, sending them documents and trying the trial modification, but they don’t want to help,” she said, tears streaming down her face.

According to surveys carried out by the California Reinvestment Coalition, housing counselors report that servicers frequently lose documents and that Latinos are often denied modifications because of incomplete requests—possibly resulting from lost documents and answers given in Spanish. Most borrowers of color, they report, experience worse loan modification outcomes than white borrowers.

Romero’s loan modification application has been lost several times by her servicer.
She now logs every phone call and keeps documentation binders close by to reference dates and correspondence.  
A Bryant Elementary School teacher who has been with the San Francisco School District for 22 years, Romero fears her home becoming one of the 800,000 expected to foreclose in California by 2012.

With an adjustable rate mortgage whose interest rate is expected to increase this year, Romero has launched a Salvadorian food business to demonstrate alternative income sources, and works closely with housing counselors.

She also makes regular calls to her servicer. “It’s hard. I don’t have a single person to talk to. A different person answers the phone every time,” she said. “Where am I going to go if I lose my house?”

Listen to Ana Romero and learn more about how people of color are impacted by the foreclosure crisis at:

Irene Florez is a radio producer at KPFA, Berkeley, California.

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Unmodified: "Making Home Affordable" Program Fails to Address Foreclosure Crisis


Irene Florez: Making Home Affordable is a key part of the Obama Administration's effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. If you are struggling with your monthly mortgage payments or if you have already missed a payment, now is the time to take action and apply for HAMP the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). But what if taking action means butting up against a system that repeatedly loses your paperwork and often starts the foreclosure process without your knowing it?

She remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs and notices in her amassed document binders she looks up somberly almost reciting the circumstances. This is the story of one woman, a single mother, who is facing foreclosure.

For the last three years, Ana Romero has wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David and Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension and lachrymose reflection in its wake.

When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two income household. Divorce changed all that. With only one income since 2008 Romero has not been able to meet her monthly payments.

Ana Romero: I am with the bank for two years already. trying to work with. But they don’t want to work. I am with foreclosure. And send again papers, but they don’t want to help. I have three children. I have my mom with me.

Jose Rodriguez: Her’s is a peculiar case.

Florez: Jose Rodriguez, foreclosure prevention HUD counselor for the Mission Economic Development Agency.

Rodriguez: She is a fighter. peculiar in the case. That she’s not accepting one two or three denials. She is still in it to do it. She is selling Salvadorean food on the side. on her days off. She is already a full time employee. And she is actually taking the initiative on the day off to document what her profits and losses are to increase her income to show the bank that she is trying within all of her means to save that home to have the income to afford a new modified payment

Florez: According to housing counselor surveys carried out by the California Reinvestment Coalition, counselors report that servicers frequently lose documents and that Latinos are often denied modifications due to incomplete requests -- possibly resulting from lost documents and answers filled in Spanish. Most borrowers of color, they report, experience worse loan modification outcomes than white borrowers.

Kevin Stein: My name is Kevin Stein and I’m the Associate Director at CRC (CA reinvestment Coalition). We’ve tried to look at what’s happening in CA in a couple of diff ways and just as we believe and found that people of color and neighborhoods of color have been disproportionally impacted by bad lending and also by foreclosure that it also may also be the case that people of color hare having a harder time getting loan modifications than the public at large which is a sad statement because people generally are having a hard time getting loan modifications.

One of the main reasons why people don’t get modifications according to the data is that the borrower who is seeking help doesn’t submitting all of the paperwork.

This is very hard to reconcile. On our end we hear from from all of the consumers and all of their advocates who are frustrated by having to resubmit documents five, six, ten times because servicers have lost their information, or they’ve taken so long to act on the info that it is outdated and they need new information.

When we look further in that category Latino borrowers were more likely to have that be the reason cited for not getting a loan modification. It’s particularly frustrating because we know that communities where people’s first language is not English were targeted for a lot of the bad loans.

So it seems that you know, it wasn’t a problem for lenders to make bad loans to someone who didn’t speak English. And now were concerned that for some reason it’s hard to restructure the loans for people whose primary language is not English. So that’s something that, and with all of this we need more information.

In some of the areas, African American borrowers were a little more likely to be denied loans for the reason that they they withdrew. That they no longer wanted to get the HAMP modification. And that’s also curious. As to why somebody would be struggling to keep their home, apply for loan mod throughthe HAMP program and then decide that they didn’t want it after all.

Florez: Romero’s loan modification application has been lost several times by her servicer. She now logs every phone call and keeps documentation binders close by to reference dates and correspondence. A teacher who has been with the San Francisco School District for twenty-two years, Romero fears becoming one of the 800,000 California homes expected to foreclose by 2012.

Romero: In El Salvador I was a teacher for 5 years. And here in SF with the school district like 22 years. Two years ago I called the bank and asked them that I need help. If they can help me to modify my loan. And, they say to send the papers, to file the forms. I send the forms. And I asked them if the forms are complete and they said yes. Then I called back and they said no, we don’t have all the forms. And what i did was Is I sent the form, what they asked me. And they still said no I didn’t receive. Then I got the whole package again. And send it. Then I when called back they said no the forms are not here. What fax did you send it? Then I give them the fax number. Oh no that is not the fax. Send it to this fax. I sent it to that fax and to the previous one too. And I called and they said the have all the package.

Later I called again. And they said not it’s missing papers. And then...

Rodriguez: She’s on her fourth denial so far. We’re actually giving it a shot again.

Romero:... fax number. You have to send it to this fax number. I send the forms to the three fax numbers again...

The sale date was April 25th. But, I’m working with MEDA. And then they sent the forms. And They told him the papers were complete. But then they called me, when I called them, how the papers are doing? Oh it’s missing this paper. And I don’t know. They postponed the sale date for June 10th.

… but I.. I’m looking for... I need help. I don’t want to lose my house. I have three children. My mom is 90 years old and she is disabled. I have my sister. She is trying to help me too. I worked so hard for my house. I sold my house in El Salvador to save this house. And now I not going to have a house here or there. All i’m asking for is to modify my loan. It’s easy. They can adjust and help people stay in their house.

Florez: With an adjustable rate mortgage whose interest rate is expected to increase this year, Romero has launched a Salvadorian food business to demonstrate alternative income sources and works closely with housing counselors.
She also makes regular calls to her servicer.

Stein: The problem with the HAMP program is not the rules of the HAMP program it’s the enforcement of the rules. They reason we are in the situation we are in now is because there’s been no entity that’s been able to effectively make the loan servicers do what they are supposed to be doing, what they said they would do.

And when they failed to do it there seems to be no one there to tell them there are some consequences for them not following the rules. You would hope that the Treasury department would say, hey you are violating the terms of the contract. But there not really doing that. If you look at, again, the terms of the HAMP program, are pretty good. The HAMP program has made it so that loan modifications which used to look like anything. You know there could be a huge range in terms of what the terms of loan modifications looked like. Now they’re fairly consistent. And they take into account people’s income. And there is some certainty and uniformity around what those are. And we think it’s moved the industry in a good direction.

The HAMP modifications are generally better. They are likely to last longer. They perform better. There’s now enough redefault better. People can look at the HAMP modifications and see are they performing? Are people falling behind even on their modifications. And the redefault rates for the HAMP modications are lower. They are much lower than what they used to be a few years ago before HAMP. With HAMP modifications the borrowers can’t be require to bring money to the servicers But if the servicer convinces you to say, no, you don’t want the HAMP modification and you’ll take their modifcation, they can say oh by the way you need to bring a few thousand dollars to the table. That’s not good for consumers.

Lois Tano: Ana Romero and I, she’s my team partner. We plan all the field trips for the children. we plan activities for the children, artwork.
My name is Lois Tano, I'm a teacher at Bryant Child Development Center. Why would the bank want to put her into foreclosure. When she’s willing to stay there and pay her rent. Why would they want to go through the problem of trying to sell her home. And it seems like the banks help those they want to help.

She’s not even sure who is holding her mortgage papers right now. She’s been trying to find out. When they told her that another bank was holding them, she went to that bank and they said no they didn’t have her mortgage payments. She wants to work it out with somebody. She can’t find the right person to work it out with. It makes me said to think what might happen to her.


Related Links:
California's Fight Against Foreclosures Goes National


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Foreclosed Tenants Shut Down Utility Shut-offs

Shortly after the birth of her youngest child, Kim Isaacs received notice that her West Oakland apartment building was now owned by Countrywide Home Loans, which had foreclosed on her landlord. They wanted her out. Isaacs had become one of the hidden victims of the foreclosure crisis—tenants in foreclosed buildings. According to a study by the statewide organization Tenants Together, 7,000 housing units hit by foreclosure in Alameda County last year were tenant-occupied. That’s 40 percent of all the foreclosed units in the county.

Countrywide offered Isaacs $1,000 and two weeks to find a new place to live, pack up her things, and move out. “I told them, ‘No way!’” she said. She needed more money and more time to find another place for herself and her seven children. And as a member of Causa Justa/Just Cause, an Oakland and San Francisco tenants-rights organization, she also knew that city, state, and federal laws prohibit new property owners from simply evicting tenants.

So, Countrywide’s attempts to evict Isaacs failed. But then one evening in December 2007, an East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) representative turned off the water to her building. Isaacs believes that Countrywide failed to pay the water bill “on purpose, as a form of trying to push me out.” She added: “These banks get these properties and they intimidate people, kick them out on the street.”

The next morning, Isaacs and 15 other members and staff of Just Cause showed up at EBMUD’s downtown Oakland headquarters, demanding that the utility turn on the water. “They said, ‘That’s between you and the landlord. We can’t do anything,’” Isaacs recalled. “But we were like, ‘We’re not leaving until you turn the water on.’”

Tenants Rights in Foreclosed Buildings
Many foreclosed tenants have the right to remain in their homes.
All tenants have the right to remain in their homes for 90 days after foreclosure, according to the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act.
Tenants with long-term leases have the right to stay in their homes until the end of the lease, under the same law, which also requires foreclosure owners to assume the responsibilities of landlords for making repairs and returning security deposits.

In cities with “just cause for eviction” laws, such as Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, and San Francisco, tenants have the right to remain in their homes after foreclosure. These laws bar landlords from evicting tenants unless they have a “just cause,” such as nonpayment of rent and creating a nuisance. Most tenants of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and JP Morgan Chase can stay in their homes at least temporarily under these banks’ policies.
Tenants have the right to put utilities in their own name and pay utility bills themselves if their landlord fails to pay.

Finally, EBMUD board member Andy Katz got the agency’s staff to turn on the water. But when Isaacs and other tenants described their experiences with water shutoffs at East Bay EBMUD’s February 2008 board meeting, some board members were skeptical, recalled Just Cause organizer Robbie Clark. And board members were worried about how the agency could keep the water on if no one was paying the bills. Nonetheless, the board approved Katz’ proposal for a six-month moratorium on water shutoffs for foreclosed tenants.

Then, EBMUD studied the issue and discovered that in just four months, it had turned off water to 600 tenants in foreclosed buildings. Katz, meanwhile, had persuaded then-Assemblywoman Loni Hancock to introduce legislation to solve the problem.

Typically, creditors like EBMUD can place liens on properties if the owners fail to pay their bills. Then when the property is sold, the creditors get paid. But a California law enacted in the 1970s barred municipal utility districts from putting liens on property, which meant that if EBMUD kept the water on at a foreclosed property and the bank refused to pay the bill, the agency would never get its money.

That’s how Isaacs found herself testifying at a hearing in the state Capitol before an Assembly committee in 2009. She recalled that before the hearing, Hancock aide Hans Herman warned her: “I don’t know how this is going to go.”

“I was a little nervous,” Isaacs said. “They looked so serious and stiff. I was talking, getting teary-eyed, trying to get my point across.” Then, in the roll-call vote, “the first person said ‘yea,’ the second person said ‘yea.’ [Herman] looked at me like, ‘Wow, this never happened before!’ Finally everybody said ‘yea.’ By then I’m in tears.”

Isaacs’ testimony helped legislators “put a face on this problem, to understand that this is about protecting innocent people caught up in this mess,” said East Bay MUD lobbyist, Randy Kanouse. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. So the next year, Kanouse went to business and realtor organizations, arguing that shutting off water in a foreclosed building creates an eyesore that brings down property values in the neighborhood. Armed with letters from business groups, Kanouse met with the governor’s staff. That year, Schwarzenegger signed the bill.
Now that it could recoup losses from unpaid bills, the EBMUD board voted last month to keep water on in foreclosed buildings and in all multiunit properties in which the landlord fails to pay the water bill.

With the water victory under their belts, Just Cause activists said they plan to continue organizing tenants in foreclosed buildings. “For us, it’s a huge issue,” Clark said, “especially their right to stay in their homes.”

The number of tenants statewide who are displaced by foreclosure continues to grow, reported Tenants Together in its third annual edition of California Renters in the Foreclosure Crisis. The number topped more than 200,000 in 2010. The report also contended that tenants who are unaware of their legal rights are often pressured into moving out. In addition, many renters face utility shutoffs, loss of security deposits, and health hazards from neglected buildings.

Jean Tepperman is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area and is active in the movement for single-payer health care. A longer version of this story was first printed in the East Bay Express.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

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Climate Justice

Recently clear-cut area in Plumas National Forest, Plumas County, Calif. Photo: USGSCalifornia’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. These are the most ambitious targets in the United States and environmental justice groups went to bat for the law in a referendum battle (Proposition 23) in the November 2010 election. While there is near-universal support from environmentalists on the intent of the law, a split has developed over the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) implementation of it. Despite recommendations from its own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee and Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee, CARB (directed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) decided to use a so-called “cap-and-trade” model to provide incentives to businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for 20 percent of the targeted reductions. This decision was finalized on December 16, 2010.

On March 17, 2011 a San Francisco Superior Court blocked implementation of all of AB32 based on a lawsuit by Environmental Justice groups. In their April 22 filings, the EJ plaintiffs offered to restrict the block on implementation to the cap-and-trade part of the plan, but so far CARB has not taken them up on the offer. Many of the elements in the overall California plan—such as vehicle emission, standards and the requirement that utilities purchase 33 percent of their power from renewable sources—have distinct legislative origins and will continue to move forward, but as of May 2011, AB32 remains on hold. (For Resources and Frequently Asked Questions, please see CJ Resources page. —Ed.

Outsourcing Global Warming Solutions
By Jeff Conant

AB32 Blocked by California Court: An Interview
By Frank Lopez and Joe Feria-Galicia

Timber Companies Stand to Benefit from CARB Regulations
By Mark Schapiro and Sarah Terry-Cobo

Forest Advocates Fight Uphill Battle on Cap-and-Trade
By Sarah Terry-Cobo


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Outsourcing Global Warming Solutions

When the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, came to a grinding halt due to San Francisco Superior Court’s March 17, 2011 ruling that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it came as a shock to industry and environmentalists alike. It would not be surprising if leading-edge environmental legislation like AB32 were to draw fire from climate-change deniers and oil interests. Indeed, the most recent attempt to derail the law, last year’s Proposition 23, was pushed by two out-of-state oil companies. Voters, mobilized in large part by grassroots climate justice groups, roundly defeated that attempt.

But the lawsuit against California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) regulatory framework for AB32 was undertaken by the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)—two groups that advocate on behalf of “frontline and fence-line environmental justice communities.” They represent low-income people and people of color who live, work and play in the shadow of refineries in Wilmington and Richmond, in the agribusiness fields of the Central Valley, near the waste dumps of Kettleman City, and in other California communities plagued by industrial pollution.

More surprising still, CARB’s regulations are raising hackles among another unlikely constituency: indigenous peasant farmers in the remote jungle of southeastern Mexico.

Why should a law intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions come under attack from precisely those groups most impacted by toxic pollution? And why is it of concern to subsistence farmers in remote Mexico? The answer is complicated, but it hinges on the fact that, from the perspective of those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and to the fossil fuel industry, cap-and-trade programs move the decision-making authority on environmental health beyond community control and into the so-called market.

Behind the Lawsuit
Rafael Aguilera is an environmental justice advocate, principal of his own consulting firm, the Verde Group, and a strong critic of AB32’s implementation plan. Aguilera was not always so critical, however. Before AB32 was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2006, he worked with the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund to help shape the bill. But sharp concerns about the recently approved cap-and-trade regulations approved by the CARB led him to jump back into the AB32 fray, this time to halt its implementation. In a recent talk at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School for Public Policy, Aguilera and Alegria De La Cruz, legal director of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, made it clear that while they support aggressive action on climate change, their concerns about AB32 are focused largely on who benefits from the law and who does not.

Aguilera began by showing a graph of the rising numbers of heat-related deaths among California’s farm workers.  “Current predictions for the Central Valley are three-month long heat waves—temperatures above 105 degrees in the summer months,” he said. Then he put up a slide of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, a pregnant 17-year-old farm worker who died of heat stroke near Stockton in the summer of 2008.  
“Look at this face,” he told the audience. “Maria Isabel is the face of climate change.”

“Clean Air Act laws are supposed to protect public health,” Aguilera said. “In the context of new carbon regulations, such as the cap-and-trade provisions proposed in AB32, many of us assume those laws are being implemented. But they’re not.”

Impact of CARB’s Regulations
De La Cruz, one of two lead attorneys on the case, then told the story of how communities from across California had traveled to Sacramento to testify before the CARB, only to leave without having had the opportunity to speak. One of their chief concerns was that the cap-and-trade provision in AB32 would do nothing to reduce pollution in the most impacted communities.
“The impacts of these policies are happening to very specific populations because of their race and because of their class,” De La Cruz said. “For our communities, a pollution trading system violates not only the intent of AB32, because cap-and-trade has   such serious implications for fence-line communities, it also violates the letter of AB32.”

A young but seasoned advocate, De La Cruz is a Yale Graduate and a child of California farm workers. Under the implementation plan for AB32, which was approved by the CARB in December 2010 but held up in court three months later, up to 20 percent of the state’s total mandated emissions reductions would be achieved through carbon trading, rather than through actual cuts in industrial pollution at the source. This means that industries would be allowed to delay efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions—along with the associated toxic co-pollutants—by purchasing carbon permits.

Environmental justice advocates charge that such carbon trading schemes leave lower-income communities of color to continue bearing the brunt of industrial pollution. “The harm that our communities will suffer from a poorly made plan will be greater than the harm of not reducing emissions in a way that’s responsible, that’s legal, and that really reflects the intent and the spirit of AB32 in the first place,” De La Cruz said.
According to a March 2009 UC Berkeley study by David Roland Host, based on the draft regulations proposed by CARB, using out-of-state offsets would actually increase California's air pollution in five out of six pollution categories.

California forest defenders also charge that the plan gives too good a deal to the state’s timber industry by giving carbon credits to wood products and condoning clear-cutting. (See story on page 83.) The San Francisco Superior Court’s March ruling against AB32 requires that, to comply with CEQA, the Air Resources Board must consider alternatives to cap-and-trade.

“AB32 requires that the plan include maximum feasible and cost-effective measures,” De La Cruz said. “The scoping plan didn’t show the range of possibilities of what makes the most economic sense for California. When they chose to include pollution trading as a huge portion of the plan, CARB clearly failed to show that cap-and-trade met those standards.”

Response from CARB
Two weeks after Aguilera and De La Cruz spoke about the lawsuit at UC Berkeley, Virgil Welch, special assistant to the Chairperson of CARB, gave a talk at the same venue, defending cap-and-trade.

“You have to understand what we’re doing here in California, in the national context,” Welch said. “It’s really not just about emissions reductions. What we’re talking about is a permanent shift toward a less carbon-intensive economy, and more sustainable transportation and land-use policies. What we’re talking about is a long-term transition, and not just the immediate emissions reduction goals.”

“This is really one of those policies that provides a price signal that will help us move to the next level of investment in energy efficiency. It’s no mistake that states like Massachusetts and California that have very strong environmental policies also have the vast majority of investment flowing into them from the clean tech sector. While there’s an environmental imperative, there’s also an economic imperative,” Welch explained.
The question, from the perspective of the low-income communities who live with the greatest impacts of environmental contamination is, an economic imperative for whom? Indeed, while AB32 attempts to reduce emissions without restricting the state’s economic interests, what does it do to meet the environmental imperatives of those for whom clean air is a matter of life or death?

Outsourcing Global Warming Solutions
While the pollution-trading piece of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act has roused the ire of environmental justice advocates in the state, the question of carbon offsets has also raised concerns south of the border, where another set of “low-income communities” are already being impacted by the legislation.

One of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s last acts in office, just a week before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Cancún, Mexico, was to sign agreements with the states of Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil for a state-to-state cap-and-trade agreement to be part of AB32.

As Welch explained, “Offsets are a mechanism used in a cap-and-trade program to try to achieve reductions in the sectors outside of the capped entities—that is, outside the polluting industries. CARB has adopted several offset protocols, one being forestry. From our perspective, it’s a protocol that incentivizes practices that will increase the capacity of forests to store carbon.”

The agreements with the two foreign states, as set out in Memoranda of Understanding signed in Davis on November 16, 2010, are based on a policy mechanism known as “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” or REDD. In theory, it works like this: Because trees capture and store CO2, when they are burned or felled, the CO2 they contain is released, and their potential for capturing CO2 from industrial emissions is lost. Thus, maintaining intact forests is essential to mitigating the impacts of the climate change.

But until now, there has been little economic incentive for protecting forests. With the creation of a vast market for trading pollution permits, such an incentive now exists. Those who protect forests can earn carbon credits—financial rewards based on an assessment of the amount of CO2 a forest can store and a market-derived price per ton of carbon. They can then trade these credits to industrial polluters for cash, thus generating revenue that, in theory, gives governments and forest-dwelling communities around the world an incentive not to cut down trees.

Policy-makers at the global level see REDD as an exciting new strategy to address the climate crisis without jeopardizing economic growth. Efforts to develop implementation protocols for REDD have been central to U.N. climate negotiations since it was first announced in Bali, Indonesia in 2007. It enjoys broad support from the World Bank and large environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and Conservation International. But, since it was first unleashed, the policy has met with protest from indigenous groups whose lands are being targeted by the scheme, but who have had no part in designing it.

By forging an agreement to implement the “trade” part of AB32’s “cap-and-trade” protocol through REDD, former Governor Schwarzenegger set in motion a process that climate justice advocates charge will not only fail to reduce industrial contamination in California, but could lead to land grabs and forced displacement of poor communities in Chiapas and Acre.

In Chiapas: Payment for Environmental Services
Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, is Mexico’s poorest and most indigenous state, with a long history of conflicts over land. In the Lacandon jungle, an area of the state where indigenous peoples have for centuries faced forced removal from their territories, REDD is already touching on old conflicts.

The Lacandon is best known around the world as home to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the rebel group that emerged in Chiapas in the 1990s in response to NAFTA. Less well known is that one of the factors that led to the emergence of the EZLN was a historic land grab that came under the pretext of forest protection. In the 1970s, a series of presidential decrees gave vast portions of the Lacandon jungle to the 66 families of the Lacandon tribe, as well as an arbitrary grouping of members of the Tzeltal and Ch’ol ethnic groups. The bureaucratic entity that was given ownership of much of the jungle became known as the Lacandon Community.

Now, as REDD program implementation begins, the government of Chiapas is paying landholders in the Lacandon Community 2000 pesos (around USD 200) a month to protect the forest. These payments are part of a renewed government effort to delimit “natural protected areas” in order to generate carbon credits.

On March 20, 2011, the Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that “The State government authorized a monthly payment; however, this is merely to allow the completion of the forest inventory so that [members of the Lacandon Community] can access federal and international funds, as well as complement these funds with projects, such as agricultural conversion… with species, such as oil palm and rubber.”

What this means in practice is a mandate for those receiving the money to cease planting their traditional crops (which are seen as harmful to the jungle), and to increase patrolling of their territory against outsiders, designated as “invaders.” Those invaders, generally speaking, are indigenous communities who have never had formal title to the land, but who have been settled in the region for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The village of Amador Hernández lies precisely on the border of the Lacandon Community. In a note that the villagers composed on March 25, 2011 they wrote, “This past month, the governor of Chiapas traveled to the neighboring Lacandóna Community to make the first payments of the state-run REDD program. As he doled out the money, he told the beneficiaries that it should not be considered as a gift, but as a payment to guard the border against their neighbors—that is, us.”

Villagers from Amador Hernández charge that the state government has withdrawn all medical services to the village (leading to several deaths) as a way to force them to negotiate or move.

Santiago Martinez, a health worker in Amador Hernández, voiced a popular sentiment among his community: “They’ve always tried to find ways to prove that we, as indigenous peoples, are the cause of the problem. But global warming is the fault of the factories, of cars, of industrial production. We get around by walking, we move our products on horseback, on mules, and we produce what we need to eat ourselves. In contrast, they use gasoline, their industries burn petroleum everyday. This is the main source of pollution and of climate change.”

Martinez’s complaint echoes that of communities in California. CARB’s decision to outsource global warming “solutions” is forcing his community, one of the poorest and most marginalized in the entire hemisphere, to bear the burden for problems they had no part in causing.

Communities Demand Real Solutions
Signs of conflict in Chiapas may dim the prospects of success for the California-Chiapas REDD program. But, with California’s regulators set on outsourcing pollution rather than attacking emissions at the source, it appears that those promoting cap-and-trade will try to override the protests of frontline communities like Amador Hernández, or for that matter, Richmond, California.

“They think because they’re rich and they have a lot of resources, they can do whatever they feel like,” said Santiago Martinez. “They are promoting the idea of giving carbon credits to these industries, so they can continue contaminating.”

Bill Gallegos, executive director of CBE, had a similar message in a statement he released when filing the latest round of papers before the court: “We want to strengthen AB32 and ensure that it is effective; a hard and honest look at cap-and-trade is critical to getting there. Our communities demand real solutions for reducing pollution emissions, not another scheme that makes market traders rich at the expense of our health.” Not surprisingly, this sentiment seems to ring true for impacted communities on both sides of the border.

Jeff Conant is the communications director at the Global Justice Ecology Project. His most recent book is A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

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Carbon offsets raises concerns south of the border, where another set of “low-income communities” are impacted by the California legislation.

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Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD

AB32 Blocked by California Court; An Interview with Alegria De La Cruz

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Frank Lopez: How are the plaintiffs going to ensure that the criteria chosen to evaluate the alternatives are going to be more equitable?
Alegria De La Cruz: Part of what is exciting to us about being able to open this [up], is that there’s a lot more information available around the failures of trading processes in other areas, but also specifically in California. CEQA doesn’t require specific criteria to be used when you’re doing alternatives analysis, but because this is going to be such a highly-watched big-deal process, it is going to put the impetus on CARB to make sure that they are doing something that’s defensible.

Because the judge was so focused on the real failures of CARB to do a good job in looking at an alternative to cap-and-trade, it provides a lot of leeway to address the things that he raised in the order and make sure that CARB is doing that.

Lopez: Is there an alternative that CRPE prefers to cap-and-trade?
De La Cruz: Anything.

Lopez: Anything but cap-and-trade?
De La Cruz: Any time you allow “flexibility” or the “market” to determine the best way forward, that’s when we really see environmental justice communities suffering, no matter where they are located.
At our own advocacy organization, outside of this litigation, the communities that we represent are largely in the Central Valley. We see a lot of challenges to CARB’s lack of regulation of the agricultural industry. [Our communities are located near] oil refineries near Bakersfield and in the South Kern [County] area, so we’re looking at industrial regulation.

Chiapas villagers impacted by REDD?payments. ©2011 GJEP/Orin LangelleLopez: Can you explain what you mean by direct regulation?
De La Cruz: Sure. In the agricultural industry, for example, mega-dairies are in real need of deeper regulation. Huge waste lagoons evaporate into the [open] air. Fermenting silage is another of the huge emitters of greenhouse gas in the Central Valley. It’s methane, which is more greenhouse gas creating than carbon dioxide is. So, enclosing silage piles and waste lagoons—having those be covered, vented, a bio-filter attached—would really lower some of their emissions. 

Lopez: So, how would it differ with the cap- and-trade system?
De La Cruz: One of the funny things about the [CARB cap-and-trade] system is that agriculture would be a source of offsets. You could pay a dairy to install bio-filters as part of an offsets program,  you could pay a dairy to enclose its silage or its lagoon, and then call it an offset.
Agriculture wasn’t directly regulated because [CARB] said that the processes associated with agricultural emissions were so complicated that they couldn’t measure the actual emissions.

But at the same time, they are going to allow agriculture to be an offset, which means they are saying they can count the emissions that would be reduced if you were to pay a dairy to enclose its silage pile or barn.

Lopez: So, who would pay the dairy?
De La Cruz: So, Chevron for example, in Richmond, if they wanted to continue to pollute or increase their pollution, they could pay a dairy to do that. 

Lopez: Can you say anything in terms of how you think this lawsuit will play out?
De La Cruz: We’re in the process of writing this writ right now and I think it’s so important.
CARB—even before a final decision was coming out—had its director, Mary Nickel, saying, “Oh yeah, this is a tempest in a tea pot, this really isn’t a big deal!” [They were] downplaying the significance of the win when there was a tentative order out and the judge was saying, “I think I’m going to go with this. I don’t think you did a good job.”

To characterize environmental review as paperwork, or as a tempest in a teapot when it’s something as important as California’s cap-and-trade system, or California’s climate change plan—there’s a real strategic misstep. I think it resulted in the judge saying, “Oh really? You’re going to characterize this like that?” I think hearing the lawyers from CARB trying to really downplay CARB’s responsibilities in creating the plan really made him step back and say, “No, you’re going to do this right and you’ll do it now and this way, because that’s what the law said.”
It’s really up to CARB at this point to make sure they do it right, and protect AB32 [and the non-cap-and-trade elements of the plan]. It’s important that they don’t drive the whole damn bus off the cliff in a misguided attempt to hang on to the shreds of a pollution trading program. That’s really the choice in front of them right now.

Lopez:  The passage of AB32 was a huge victory for EJ communities and now it’s tied up in the courts—by EJ communities. For a mom in East LA or a person in Richmond or Wilmington, what can they do to ensure that AB32 is going to be equitably implemented?
De La Cruz: What they have been doing, such as registering people to vote, fighting Prop 23, being part of the process, raising their voice.?This is what our empowered EJ communities have been doing from the very get go, that has allowed this law to be passed in the first place and allowed for this law to be so transformative. The message doesn’t change at all. Get involved, lift your voice, and know there’s a place for you in these processes. I think the amazing outpouring of support in the “No on Prop 23” campaign really showed the power of communities in saying, “¡Ya basta!” (Enough!)

It’s incredible that we won in court, too. There’s a lot of pride and a lot of excitement moving forward and making sure that AB32 be done in the spirit and intent that it was written in. 

Frank Lopez is the Social Equity Caucus Coordinator and Joe Feria Galicia is the Educational Technologist at Urban Habitat. For the full-length interview and a speech by De La Cruz, visit Behind the AB32 Lawsuit

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits


Behind the AB32 Lawsuit

Rafael AguileraBEHIND THE AB 32 LAWSUIT: A Call for More Responsible Environmental Policy

A Conversation with Alegría De La Cruz- Legal Director- Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, and Rafael Aguilera, Principal- Verde Group. Monday, April 11, 2011.

*Rafael Aguilera: Principal of the Verde Group, has been a constant in the California climate change policy debate and a key advocate for climate justice. Aguilera helped negotiate the final language of AB 32 with the California Legislature and stakeholders. He will discuss the letter and sprit of the law, and provide a progress report on CARB’s implementation of the law. Aguilera is a Co-Founder of the Verde Group, the first Latino-owned consulting firm focused on representing the environmental and public health needs of vulnerable communities in the development of state-wide policy. He served as a Governor’s Appointee to the California Climate Adaptation Advisory Committee and is a nation-wide public speaker on climate justice. Aguilera holds dual B.A.’s in Economics and Environmental Science from UC Santa Cruz.

Alegria De La Cruz*Alegría De La Cruz: Legal Director at Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, represents the community-based organizations who worked tirelessly to support the development and passage of AB 32- California’s 2006 climate change bill –in a legal challenge to California Air Resources Board (CARB) climate action plan for AB 32 implementation.  The legal challenge claims that CARB unfairly burdened low-income communities and communities of color in its implementation plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and erroneously adopted a scoping plan. The lawsuit further challenges CARB for non-compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and for violation of AB32’s statutory mandates. De La Cruz will further discuss the litigants’ challenges. De La Cruz holds a B.A. in History from Yale University and a J.D. from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall where she also received the prestigious Henderson Social Justice Award.

Made Possible By:
The Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate Assembly, the Goldman
Latino Speaker Series and the Environmental Policy Group

00AB32panel4-11-11.mp3 - 1 hour 25 min

01AB32interviewCARBmemberDR.mp3 - 5 min 48 seconds

02 AB32interview.Rafael.mp3 - 7 min 25 second

03 AlegriaInterview.mp3 - 24 minutes/18 sec



Timber Companies Stand to Benefit from CARB Regulations

A lawsuit brought by environmental justice groups has put AB 32 on hold. The plaintiffs are from communities located near agricultural and industrial operations and say that “trading” carbon credits will generate more pollution near their homes. The court’s March 17 decision will require California Air Resources Board (CARB) to go back and look at alternatives to the cap-and-trade plan, analyzing options, such as directly regulating polluters. While there has been quite a bit of coverage on the impacts of the “trade” portion of the program on communities located near greenhouse gas emitters, few seem to have been aware that the program also has implications for communities that live near the “offset” locations that aim to reduce these emissions. —STC

California timber firms could emerge as big winners in the state’s fight against global warming, earning millions of dollars through the sale of carbon credits under the set of rules approved by the Air Resources Board on December 16, 2010.

The plan has stoked controversy among environmentalists who assert it gives the timber industry too good a deal, enabling them to clear-cut trees at the expense of the overall vitality of the forests, while the timber industry claims the plan will help them promote the storage of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the trees on their land.

The state board has responsibility for implementing AB 32, California’s landmark effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions. On December 16, 2010, the board approved a new cap-and-trade system aimed at bringing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It will allow companies to cancel out their emissions by purchasing carbon emission reductions somewhere else. A significant portion of those credits, or offsets, is expected to come from the carbon-storing capacity of forests.

One of the most controversial provisions would enable timber companies to obtain credits by replanting trees in clear-cut areas of the forest. The protocol also makes California the first place in the world to assign carbon credits to wood products created from the trees themselves.

For those credits, the state relies on a U.S. Department of Energy registry that estimates the carbon in everything from wooden chairs and bed frames to two-by-fours made from fir, pine, cedar, and hemlock trees harvested in California.

Timber companies would then be free to sell their pool of credits to utility companies, refineries, and major industrial enterprises, which need them to meet  emission limits.

The state has proposed a minimum price of $10 a ton and estimates that 20 million tons will be needed over the first decade. The total offset market will likely reach $200 million by 2020, according to Point Carbon, a news service offered by Thompson Reuters.

David Bischel, president of the California Forestry Association representing timber harvesters and processors, says that the new rules, known as the Forest Protocol, “help to monetize an important environmental benefit by encouraging more standing timber in the forests, and more wood products used by society.”

Early drafts of the protocol did not permit clear-cutting, according to Jeff Shellito, an environmental consultant and former aide to state Sen. Byron Sher, now retired. But in 2007, the timber industry began lobbying to alter the protocol in their favor. A nonprofit organization, the Climate Action Reserve, which was created to establish standards for the verification of greenhouse gas emissions and reductions, is the primary author of the new rules.

In 2002, Sher had authored legislation that established forest preservation standards for California’s then-voluntary carbon market. “We went to great pains (in 2002) to ensure you couldn’t get carbon credits from clear cutting,” Shellito said.

The biggest timber company and landowner in California, Sierra Pacific Industries—with some 1.9 million acres across the state—was the most aggressive individual timber company lobbying on the regulations. Over the course of 2007 and 2008, Sierra Pacific paid $37,500 to California Strategies, a major Sacramento lobbying firm, to present its case.

The company also nurtured a relationship with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sierra Pacific donated $29,600 to the governor’s campaign committees, and its billionaire owner, Archie Aldis “Red” Emmerson, hosted a $250-a-plate fundraising lunch for the governor’s reelection campaign at his estate outside of Redding. Emmerson is listed by Forbes as one of the world’s 500 wealthiest people.

Altogether, according to campaign contribution records filed with the secretary of state, the company has donated about $890,000 to political candidates and ballot measures in California in the past five years.

The California Forestry Association, a frequent donor to political causes and candidates, also reported spending $245,000 on lobbying state agencies on a variety of issues in 2007 and 2008, including climate legislation and the Air Resources Board policy on greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the company’s requests was a plan to qualify what it calls “even-age management” of its forests for carbon credits. Even-age refers to trees that are planted at the same time for future cutting. In September 2007, Sierra Pacific sent a six-page letter to the Air Resources Board outlining the changes it would like to see in the protocols—most of which the board accepted.

“In our view,” wrote the company, “there is no valid reason for requiring multiple ages of mixed species on every acre. Indeed, natural forests before the intervention of humans often consisted of large tracts of even-age stands which were generated from fires. Today’s management often mimics this type of forest through the practice of even-age forestry.”

Under this definition, a significant portion of Sierra Pacific’s land could be credited over the next century. The company would have to verify its claims of how much new carbon is being stored in its replanted trees—which it would be entitled to cut again in 50- to 80-year cycles. Sierra Pacific nurseries are already breeding new varieties of native trees to heighten the quantity of carbon in their trunks, leaves, and roots. Sierra Pacific officials declined to comment for this article, referring reporters instead to the California Forestry Association.

Critics, like former legislator Sher, say that the new protocol violates some of the basic principles of forest conservation. What the timber industry calls “even-age management” Sher calls “tree plantations.”

“The forest companies are interested in being able to harvest their trees, and replant, and then produce a new asset that they can sell,” Sher said. “It undermines the biodiversity of the forest. You end up with tree plantations that are much more vulnerable to fire and disease.”
Prior to the December vote, 47 environmental and conservation groups, including the Sierra Club California and the Center for Biological Diversity, protested to the Air Resources Board.

“The protocol subsidizes the current business as usual: aggressive timber management,” said Brian Nowicki, a policy analyst with the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has sued the state over Sierra Pacific’s logging practices. Nowicki questioned whether the rules encourage companies to do anything more than they are doing already.

Other environmental groups, like The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund, support the idea of creating financial incentives to keep trees with more carbon standing and rewarding landowners for agreeing not to convert forests into commercial developments for at least one hundred years, which is another provision of the protocol.

“Landowners will have to go above and beyond their current practices,” comments Michelle Passero, a senior climate policy adviser to The Nature Conservancy California. “And that should lead to more protection and better management of our forests.”

To Susan Robinson, however, that sounds like clear cutting as normal. Robinson, a former safety manager for Chevron, lives in the area around Ebbetts Pass, a community in Calaveras County that has been one of Sierra Pacific’s most heavily clear-cut areas. She’s now a leader of the Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch, an environmental group representing residents of the small towns in and around the southern Sierras.

During harvest season, which continues until the snowfall, she sees the timber trucks heading down from the mountain for the company’s mills in Redding and elsewhere. She says that the new protocol will enable timber companies “to transform natural forests into tree farms.”
“We’re not against logging,” she said. “But we want to see it done sustainably, and the forest protocol does not do that.”

Gary Gero, president of the Climate Action Registry, said he was given a narrow goal: to fight climate change by increasing the quantity of carbon dioxide in trees and wood. “The primary purpose of the protocol,” he said, “is to ensure that the total amount of sequestered carbon increases over the next hundred years.”

The registry, he said, refused one of Sierra Pacific’s additional requests—that it grant carbon credits for wood discarded in landfills.
The tension between preserving forests and preserving trees for their carbon lies at the heart of the controversy. The state’s climate legislation calls for the air board to “design emissions reduction measures… in a manner that minimizes costs and maximizes benefits for California’s economy.” Carbon in trees is the cheapest of various options that would create an abundant supply of offsets, making all credits relatively inexpensive.
Mary Nichols, administrator of the Air Resources Board, said that California “already has the strictest timber standards in the nation, and we will leverage those standards onto other states, which hope to participate in the California forest protocol.”

Those standards limit clear cuts to 20 acres and require replanting areas of cut trees. She said that states like Washington and Oregon, which permit clear cuts of as much as ten times that, would have to abide by this state’s limitations if its landowners are to gain credits to sell to California industries. The same applies to forests in Brazil and Chiapas, Mexico, which are likely to be the first foreign participants in the California program.
“The advocacy groups in the forest area,” she said, “tend to value forests primarily for their ecosystem value, whereas the industry is looking at carbon as elements of value on the land.”

She says that the state board is considering additional provisions to “make it absolutely clear that we are not going to provide any incentives for even-aged management.”

The measures, she said, would be aimed at ensuring that “no projects [would be] registered as offsets that had been done using any amount of clear cutting at all.” Adopting those rules, Nichols said, could take as long as two years.

The California Forestry Association would not comment on the prospect of further tightening of the rules. “We generally find it difficult to comment on potential future events,” the group’s communications director, Bob Mion, said in an e-mail.

Mark Schapiro is a senior correspondent at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). Sarah Terry-Cobo is a freelance reporter and research assistant for CIR's Carbon Watch series. This article was first published by California Watch and is reporoduced with permission.

Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

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Forest Advocates Fight Uphill Battle on Cap-and-Trade

As part of the now stalled program, the new regulations from California Air Resources Board (CARB) would allow forest offsets that utilize an industry practice known as “even-age management.” Timber industry experts say this practice of cutting a large tract of trees all at once mimics nature. Some environmental advocates call it “clear-cutting,” noting that this kind of management can actually increase carbon dioxide emitted at the logging site.

Ignoring the carbon emissions that come from these kinds of projects “makes it much more likely to paint a clear-cutting project as carbon-[reducing] positive than a carbon negative,” said Brian Nowicki, California policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. His organization is one of many that object to these rules.

So far, at least 37 individual projects, which could employ these techniques, have been registered for carbon offset credits. These projects span the country in 11 states—from Washington state to New Hampshire. California has the most, with nine projects, followed by South Carolina with eight, and Maine with six.* However, only one project using “improved forest management” has actually received carbon credits, totaling 9,248 tons offset from 2007 to 2009. The Lompico Forest Carbon Project is located in Santa Cruz County, California, developed by the Sempervirens Fund.

Dozens of people showed up to state their position at the CARB meeting on December 16, 2010.  Michael Endicott, a representative from the California Sierra Club, reminded the board that his organization has been submitting comments since January. “We ask that you go ahead with reforestation projects, preventing the conversion of native forests to tree farms,” adding “clear-cutting is not ready for prime time.”

Tim Feller, a registered professional forester said that he has used both even aged and uneven aged management, and both can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and maintain sustainable forestry.

At least a dozen people who live near where a major timber company, Sierra Pacific Industries operates, told stories of lumber trucks clogging the roads and the impact on wildlife. One woman brought a pine sapling to show what kind of trees the timber company would replant.
One young boy called clear-cutting “a sin.” When he spoke, a hush fell over the audience of about 250 people. “When they clear cut, bugs, animals, and even dirt are harmed, and that is no solution. Let the forests stand. It is part of you. Trees breathe for you and for me.”
The boy’s 13-year-old sister spoke about the impact in her community. “Last year Sierra Pacific sprayed nearly 70,000 pounds of their pollution in my county for clear-cuts. You should know, I used to live in a town that had mills. Loggers used to have jobs and work. Clear-cutting takes one man, one machine… what are you leaving for your children?”

However,  Gary Gero, President of the Climate Action Reserve—the largest voluntary carbon offset market on the West Coast—spoke on behalf of the measure. He insisted the rules do not provide “incentives” for clear-cutting, noting that any tree cut down must be replaced in order to receive a carbon credit.

After an entire day’s worth of testimony from hundreds of people on both sides of the cap-and-trade program, board members discussed whether to remove the most controversial forest portion, which could include clear-cut tracts of land of up to 40 acres.

Dorene D’Adamo, a laywer and member of the board, drafted an amendment to modify the protocol, preventing any new forest offset projects using “even-age management.” D’Adamo’s amendment failed when her eceived the support of only three other members. In the end, the board voted 9-1 to pass the cap-and-trade system with Dr. John Telles, a cardiologist, as the lone vote against this approach to regulation.

Now that the implementation of the plan has been blocked, environmental justice groups are trying to convince CARB to consider the alternatives. The forestry groups continue to work to amend this portion of the offset plan, despite the fact that the agency has stated that it will not begin to revise the forest rules until next year. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Nowicki noted the judge’s ruling has not affected their strategy.
“We are going through the administration, the Secretary of Resources, every avenue we have… from legislation to administrative changes, to conversations with people who know what is happening at CARB, to get them to take up these issues.”

*New Hampshire and Virginia both have three; Arkansas and Tennessee have two, Georgia, Washington, Oregon and North Carolina have one.

Mark Schapiro is a senior correspondent at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). Sarah Terry-Cobo is a freelance reporter and research assistant for CIR's Carbon Watch series.  This article was first published by California Watch and is reporoduced with permission.

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Climate Change Jargon: Frequently Asked Questions

What is cap-and-trade?
Cap-and-trade systems, also known as allowance trading, can be best summed up as "pollution credits."
Under a cap-and-trade system, overall air quality goals are set for an area (such as the the state of California) and specific sources of air  pollution (such as power plants and waste incineration facilities) are given a certain number of allowances, which represent the amount of various pollutants that the organization or facility is allowed to emit. Facilities that come in under that allowable limit because of air pollution control systems can then sell their leftover allowances to other facilities and organizations on the open market. This allows the facilities that buy up such allowances (pollution credits) to pollute more, because other facilities are polluting less.

In theory, the system does have some  good points: rewarding facilities that control air pollution and providing a means for those who cannot afford the latest air pollution technologies (or who have not completed upgrades) to buy some maneuvering room. A big problem with cap-and-trade systems is that they allow for certain parts of the country to become much more polluted than they should be. Overall air standards in the nation might be met, but people in some parts of the country get horrible air quality as a result, and this is neither fair nor healthy. It is a problem caused when cap-and-trade systems are left too open-ended, which is generally the case. (Source: Center for Environmental Health)

What is a carbon offset?
For many industries, it is not easy to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. A carbon offset is a promise by one entity to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in another location, to offset the pollution generated by a company that must meet emissions limits. This allows a polluter to meet its emission reductions by purchasing an offset from someone else. For-profit businesses and nonprofit groups work to create offset projects to sell to polluters, but a company can also purchase a carbon offset—like any other commodity—from a carbon broker at a financial firm or bank. (Source: California Watch)

What is REDD?
Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is a United Nations acronym for a program that proposes to provide offset credits to governments, companies, or forest owners for keeping their forests instead of cutting them down. Uncertainties in the definition of what consitutes a forest, who should be compensated for the preservation of the forest, and the what preservation entails are hotly contested points. —Ed.



California Air Resources Board
1001 "I" Street
Sacramento, CA 95812
(916) 322-2990

Center for Race Poverty and the Environment
47 Kearny Street, Suite 804
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 346-4179

Communities for a Better Environment
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 302-0430

Global Justice Ecology Project
P.O. Box 412
Hinesburg, VT 05461
(802) 482-2689

Movement Generation
436 14th Street, 5th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 649-1475

RP&E Climate Justice Portal
436 14th St., Suite 1205
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 839-9510


Globalization Comes Home | Vol. 18, No. 1 | 2011 | Credits

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