Author: lafocus

Gov. Newsom’s New $15 Million Climate Change Program Includes Grants for Communities

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a historic $15 billion climate change package. The initiative has funds in it to combat the state’s current environmental crisis as well as to help communities prepare for and prevent any disasters that may result from shifting weather patterns and changing global temperatures.

It is the largest investment of its kind in the history of the state.

“At the KNP fire today, while the realities of climate change surrounded us, we signed into law a $15 BILLION package that will help California tackle the climate crisis — from record heat waves, to extreme drought, to massive wildfires,” Newsom tweeted after the press conference he held in regards to this investment.

The governor was referring to a range of wildfires authorities have designated the KNP (Kings Canyon National Park) complex that has been burning since Sept. 9 in that park and in the adjacent Sequoia National Park. As of Sunday, that wildfire had burned nearly 46,000 acres of land.

Across the state, the effects of climate change have decimated over 1.9 million acres of land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Some experts believe this is due to California’s severe drought this year.

As is the case with many other crises in the United States, communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change.

This climate package hopes to change that by providing grants to help communities plan for climate change, as well as bolstering fire and drought prevention and response through program funding.

“California is doubling down on our nation-leading policies to confront the climate crisis head-on while protecting the hardest-hit communities,” said Newsom.

 

“We’re deploying a comprehensive approach to meet the sobering challenges of the extreme weather patterns that imperil our way of life and the Golden State as we know it, including the largest investment in state history to bolster wildfire resilience, funding to tackle the drought emergency while building long-term water resilience, and strategic investments across the spectrum to protect communities from extreme heat, sea level rise and other climate risks that endanger the most vulnerable among us,” he explained.

The state has not yet announced a schedule for release of the funding to communities or at how it will be dispersed. California Black Media will be following that process.

 

The Case for Reparations: Cal Task Force Hears Painful Personal, Family Stories

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Last week, California’s Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals took an expansive but deeply personalized look at the history of Slavery, racial violence and injustice in America and traced how that past still shapes how we live now.

During the two-day meeting that concluded Sept. 24, participants shared details of harrowing incidents that happened in California and across the country. Their stories will help the panel determine what compensation should be for descendants of enslaved people in the United States who provided free labor for nearly 250 years and survived discrimination, lynching, racial violence and Jim Crow laws for more than a century after that.

The nine-member panel listened to close to five hours of emotional testimony presented by slave-trade experts, academic scholars, historians, and members of the Black community.

“The pain is real,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber after hearing testimony from individuals sharing personal and family experiences of bigotry and enslavement.

Weber, too, testified in front of the Task Force on Sept. 24.

“I think when we all reflect on it, we try not to reflect on it often because it is extremely painful,” said Weber, who authored Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, signed into law in 2020, that created the California task force that is currently investigating the history and costs of slavery and discrimination in America – and the extent of California’s involvement.

Weber, providing a broad understanding of why she penned AB 3121, discussed how her family was forced out of Arkansas and fled to Southern California after her father attempted to organize union rights for sharecroppers.

Weber also shared a largely unknown part of history that has direct ties to why reparations are being discussed. She highlighted the 1919 race riots in Elaine, Arkansas, which has not gotten the attention of other mob incidents of racial terror that happened in places like Chicago, St. Louis and Tulsa.

Historians document a series of those massacres that occurred from April to November 1919 as “Red Summer,” when a wave of anti-Black riots and lynching took place after World War I. The word “red” symbolizes the color of the fires that engulfed burning, Black churches.

Weber’s family was from nearby Hope, Arkansas, but during her research, she discovered that Black farmers “were chased in the fields, the cotton fields” murdered by non-Black people “to

strike a sense of fear” in African Americans. Weber said “hundreds of people” were killed.

Weber, whose father was born in 1918, a year before Red Summer, says she was more concerned with her grandfather’s mental state after the incident because he was “fearful of White people.”

“Elaine, Arkansas, had the worst race riot of any state in the nation. It was considered the deadliest race riot in the United States. Deadlier than what happened in (Tulsa) Oklahoma,” Weber said. “It’s now being researched and looked at, but I have to begin to ask myself what impact probably did the race riots of 1919 have on my grandfather.”

Bertha Gaffney Gorman, who worked for The Sacramento Bee newspaper from 1971 to 1978, was one of the only Black reporters in the newsroom at the time. She also testified to “tell her family’s history” and discrimination they experienced in the Golden State.

Gorman is the grandmother of Amanda Gorman, 23, the first National Youth Poet Laureate in 2017 who recited her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. The younger Gorman, who graduated from Harvard University, was born and raised in Los Angeles.

The elder Gorman said in Texas, where she was born in 1940, members of her family “were free on paper but not in reality.” Gorman said that Black Codes and vagrancy laws restricted freedom for members of her family and bound them to serve as cheap labor.

Her family witnessed intimidations, beating, hangings of free Black people who “continued to work for their enslavers, lived in the same shacks, and experienced the same cruelty and control,” she said, drawing parallels between their life conditions and those of their enslaved ancestors.

Gorman shared specifics about racism she experienced working and living in the state’s capital city.

She moved to Sacramento in the late 1950s to attend Sacramento City College. While enrolled, Gorman lost her job because she tried to take a test for a clerk position for the state of California.

Eventually, Gorman was able to land a job with the California State Assembly, but says she was given every “imaginable excuse” to prevent her from taking the test before she realized it was the color of her skin that was holding her back.

“I hope my story will further the understanding of the legacy of harm and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that our people suffered and (that affected) my ancestors and their descendants. And the discrimination that followed them from Texas, New Mexico to California,” Gorman said.

Isabel Wilkerson, the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” said during her testimony that about six million Black people left the deep South former slaveholding states and moved too western and northern states and territories from the 1900s to 1970s.

After arriving to their destinations, they struggled with housing, employment, and educational discrimination, the author said.

“I am testifying because not enough Americans know the truth and full history of our country or the origins of the division we now face and thus of the karmic, social, economic, and indebtedness to African Americans that the country has inherited,” Wilkerson said.

Members of the task force are: Kamilah V. Moore, a Los Angeles-based attorney, reparations scholar and activist; vice-chair Dr. Amos Brown, a civil rights leader and respected Bay Area pastor whose journey to leadership started under the tutelage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s; Cheryl Grills, a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; Lisa Holder, a nationally recognized trial attorney; Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles); San Diego Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe; Dr. Jovan Scott Lewis, chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California Berkeley; and Attorney Don Tamaki, Esq. is an attorney best known for his role in the Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States. Tamaki overturned the conviction of Fred Korematsu who refused to be taken into custody during the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

 

Eviction Protections Expire and Rent is Due—What You Can Do

Staff

On September 30, time ran out on those tenants who were benefitting from eviction protections as the California State Legislature ended its session without extending rent relief. A recent analysis found that about 753,000 families were behind on their rents and owed a cumulative $2.8 billion.

Beginning October 1, landlords can file evictions for nonpayment of rent. There are, however, things financially strapped renters can do.

Within 15 days of receiving an eviction notice, renters must return to their landlord a declaration of COVID-19 related financial distress form. (Landlords are required to provide the form to you). Supporting documentation may be required if your annual income is more than 130% of the median household income in L.A. County and is more than $100,000.

Even with the form, you will have to have paid at least 25% of your monthly since September 1, 2020 or the entire past due amount by September 30, 2021. 

People making less than 80% of their area median income who were financially affected by COVID-19 can still apply of missed rent and stave off eviction. They can also apply for an additional three months of rent moving forward as well as utility bill assistance. (Visit housing.ca.gov for more information). 

Keep in mind that it is against the law for your landlord to lock you out or shut off the utilities, without going through the court process and would face hefty fines. 

Effective August 6, 2021, a new Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance that prohibits landlords from engaging in certain conduct that is intended to force a tenant to vacate their home.  The ordinance provides tenants with the ability to sue their landlord for violations and makes violation a criminal offense. 

Those in need of assistance may also tap into the following resources:

  • Tenants Together: www.tenantstogether.org
  • State of California: www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Tenant_Rights_and_Responsibilities.pdf
  • L.A. County: 211la.org/lacounty/rentrelief
  • Need Help Paying Bills: https://www.needhelppayingbills.com/
  • Stay Housed L.A.: www.stayhousedla.org

 

D.A. George Gascón Set to Dismiss Nearly 60,000 Marijuana Convictions

Last year with the passing of Assembly Bill 1793, approximately 66,000 cannabis convictions were dismissed, but further examination of Los Angeles County court records uncovered approximately 58,000 felony and misdemeanor cases dating back more than three decades that were deemed eligible for dismissal.

Although no law required prosecutors to take further action on the cannabis convictions, District Attorney Gascón wanted to ensure by sealing their records, it would no longer hamper the ability of those convicted from obtaining employment, affecting their immigration status or receiving educational opportunities.

“Dismissing these convictions means the possibility of a better future to thousands of disenfranchised people who are receiving this long-needed relief,” District Attorney Gascón said. “It clears the path for them to find jobs, housing and other services that previously were denied to them because of unjust cannabis laws.”

“District Attorney Gascón has taken another important step toward justice reform. Today’s mass dismissal of cannabis convictions restores dignity and provides new opportunities to those who have been unfairly impacted by outdated, tough-on-crime anti-drug laws, many are our most vulnerable community members who deserve our care and support,” Public Defender Ricardo García stated.

The announcement coincides with “Week of Action and Awareness (WOAA),” formerly known as National Expungement Week, from September 26 to October 3.

Organized by National Expungement Works (N.E.W), a permanent assistance network for more than 70 million justice-impacted individuals and their communities nationwide, the week will focus on helping Californians get their criminal records expunged as well as other socio-economic barriers restricting fundamental human rights for people with an arrest or conviction on their record through social and wraparound services centered around community needs, such as grocery distributions, brake light repair, employment resources, voter registration, and health screenings. 

 

The Verdict Is In: R. Kelly Found Guilty, Could Get Life in Prison

Kisha Smith

It appears that if R. Kelly (aka Robert Sylvester Kelly) ever makes music again, it will be from behind bars. The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who has sold over 75 million records worldwide—including such hits as “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump N’ Grind”—was convicted by a New York Court of racketeering under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute, generally used to prosecute those involved in organized crime enterprise.

According to the indictment, the purpose of the R. Kelly “enterprise” was to not only promote his music and the R. Kelly brand, “to recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly and to produce pornography, including child pornography.”

Kelly’s racketeering conviction included one act of bribery, three acts of sexual exploitation of a child, one act of kidnapping and three acts of forced labor. Kelly also faced eight additional violations of the Mann Act. Also known as the “White-Slave Traffic Act”, the Mann Act made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of “any women or girl for the purpose of debauchery or prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose.”

Criminal charges against the singer hinged on accusations related to six women, five of whom testified (the sixth, the singer Aaliyah, died in a plane crash in 2001).

“Today’s guilty verdict forever brands R. Kelly as a predator, who used his fame and fortune to prey on the young, the vulnerable and the voiceless for his own sexual gratification.  A predator who used his inner circle to ensnare underage girls and young men and women for decades, in a sordid web of sex abuse, exploitation and humiliation,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis, speaking to the press outside of the court where the conviction was handed down.

“This conviction would not have been possible without the bravery and resilience of R. Kelly’s victims. I applaud their courage in revealing in open court, the painful, intimate and horrific details of their lives with him,” Kasulis said. “No one deserves what they experienced at his hands or the threats or harassment they faced about telling the truth about what happened to them.”

Famed attorney Gloria Allred, who represented three of the six victims in the case, called him the worst sexual predator she has ever pursued.

“To use the power of his business enterprise and many of his inner circle employees to assist him and enable him in his plan and his scheme to lure his victims to him, isolate them, intimidate them, control them, indoctrinate them, punish them, shame them, and humiliate them,” Allred told reporters. “All of which made Mr. Kelly more powerful and more dangerous than many other sexual predators who operate without a network of financial and businesses to support and enable them.”

On May 4, 2022, the 54-year-old singer will hear from the judge on his sentence. He faces 10 years to life in prison. Kelly also faces a trial in Chicago on federal charges of child pornography and obstruction and yet another trial on additional sex crime charges in Minneapolis.

His lawyers say he will appeal the verdicts, but according to one of his lawyers, his finances have been depleted.

 

Congresswoman Karen Bass Officially Kicks Off Los Angeles Mayoral Bid

She’s in. 

With a tweet at 9:02am, Congresswoman Karen Bass announced she was running for mayor of Los Angeles.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” Bass wrote. “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change — especially in times of crisis. Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this — together. I’m running for mayor.”

It’s welcome news for a growing list of supporters that included a cadre of local and statewide coalitions, block clubs, city officials like Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas and Supervisor Holly Mitchell, faith leaders and celebrities. 

“I love Karen Bass and it’s going to be a very exciting race”, said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I think los Angeles is going to have great choices.”

Those choices include City Councilmen Kevin de Leon and Joe Buscaino; City Attorney Mike Feuer, African American businessman Mel Wilson and businesswoman Jessica Lall, while among those rumored to be considering a bid include billionaire mall developer Rick Caruso and former LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner.

A recent poll indicated that Bass had the advantage of being the best known among the candidates and led with Black Angelenos and people on the Westside and South Los Angeles.

No one questions the qualifications of the L.A. native whose national profile rose with her chairmanship of the Congressional Black Caucus; her consideration as a vice presidential candidate by Joe Biden; and her current leadership in the legislative reckoning over race and police violence. 

Observed public policy expert Kerman Maddox, “Karen Bass is a uniquely talented elected official who has the ability to work with and connect with supporters and critics to get things done because everybody respects her and people really like her and in electoral politics likeability is priceless.   

The six-term lawmaker, who founded the social justice non-profit, the Community Coalition—has since 2011—represented California’s 37th Congressional district, which stretches from Inglewood to Century City and includes Leimert Park, Culver City, Mid-City, West Adams, Mar Vista, Westwood, Ladera Heights and University Park.

If elected, Bass would make history as the first woman to serve as L.A. mayor. The primary election is set for June 7, 2021.

 

Supporters, Opponents Clash Over Bill That Would Decriminalize Loitering for Prostitution

Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌ ‌|‌ ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

Stephany Powell, an advocate for sex crime victims and survivors, hopes Gov. Newsom will veto Senate Bill (SB) 357. 

The legislation proposes ending punishment for people “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution.” 

Powell, who is Director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), and other advocates say, if the bill is signed into law, it would provide increased “open-air” activities in disadvantaged communities.

“I’m just thinking about the people living in the communities that would have to deal with (prostitution),” said Dr. Powell, a former city of Los Angeles law enforcement officer. “They (the lawmakers) need to come up with something else because it’s a band-aid approach to the issue.  People who don’t have a full understanding of how this can be problematic. I hope it’s vetoed.” 

The Washington DC-based NCOSE is dedicated to creating an environment free from sexual abuse and exploitation, through policy, legal, corporate advocacy, education, and public mobilization. Dr. Powell joined the organization in 2020.

The author of SB 357, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) presents a counterargument. Wiener says the bill protects sex-trafficked women from the police who use loitering laws to discriminate against minorities, including Black, Latino, Trans, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people. 

Existing law prohibits soliciting or engaging in an act of prostitution. It also prohibits loitering in a public place “with the intent to commit prostitution, as defined, or directing, supervising, recruiting, or aiding a person who is loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Under the existing law, a violation of any of these provisions is a misdemeanor. SB 357 would decriminalize them. 

California Penal Code 653.22 allows police to arrest someone for intending to solicit or engage in prostitution even if the person never actually engages in the act. The offense is commonly referred to as “loitering to commit prostitution” or “loitering for prostitution.”

Powell said this law is effective. Police officers do not actually have to catch someone engaged in prostitution before apprehending them she says, adding that the police “can arrest the sex buyer and the person selling the service.” 

Although Powell says it is easy for innocent people to find themselves under suspicion because of the latitude police officers have under current law, she insists, based on knowledge from prosecutors and D.A. offices’ investigations of sex trafficking and underage prostitution, it would not be a significant problem. 

“Say if I am the vice cop out there. I see a girl but don’t know if she’s 16 or 19. But remember: if she is under the age of 18, she is automatically considered to be a victim of human trafficking,” Powell said. “The only reason why I would be able to stop her is because of P.C. 653.22. So, let’s say SB 357 becomes legal. Well then, what am I stopping her for? Because, God help me, if she’s 21. I’m going to have some legal problems?” 

The governor is getting increased pressure from individuals for and against SB 357, including sex worker advocates across California. 

Sex-trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocates held a news conference at the California State Capitol to protest SB 357. 

Vanessa Russell, founder of the Bay Area’s Love Never Fails, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration, education, and protection of those involved or at risk of becoming involved in domestic human trafficking, said SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, is “deeply disturbing.”

“As a direct service provider, I think it’s important to call out a few things, unfortunately. The false narrative that is present and embodied in SB 357,” said Russell. “This is a bill that is preying on the current anti-sentiment of communities of color. This is not a partisan issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue that all of us need to engage on to show (sex trafficking) survivors they can be safe.” 

Four survivors of sex trafficking spoke outside the state capitol to express their displeasure with the bill. They said police officers use loitering laws to nab solicitors and traffickers — as well as to save trafficked women and men from their brutal traffickers. 

The survivors believe that without a loitering law, exploitation of these vulnerable women is only going to increase. 

“This piece of legislation only protects the buyer and the trafficker,” said survivor Marjorie Saylor, who also runs a nonprofit for former sex-trafficked women exiting prostitution. “And these are traffickers that send his girls into your high schools to recruit your sons and daughters.”

Saylor, a Black woman, said that it was a police officer that helped her escape a sex trafficker. 

“I was rescued by law enforcement, and I feel that it is necessary that we work and partner with law enforcement to engage these men, women, boys, and girls on the streets. They need a reason to go in and say someone is being exploited.” 

The bill also authorizes a person convicted of a violation of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution to petition the court for the dismissal and sealing of their case, and resentencing.

The U.S. Department of State has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the country each year. The figure does not include victims who are trafficked within the United States each year. 

New York City is currently dealing with an open-air sex market that vice authorities are turning a blind eye to due to the Brooklyn District Attorney shifting from prosecuting prostitution cases. Brooklyn’s D.A. has moved to vacate 262 warrants related to the sex trade.

Powell said actions such as these empower pimps and sex traffickers.

“This is what it looks like if prostitution is legal,” Powell said of New York City’s approach to the world’s oldest profession.

California – a populous border state with a significant immigrant population, the State’s Department of Justice stated – is one of the nation’s top destination states for trafficking human beings.

After SB 357 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee in March by a vote of 4-1, Fatima Shabazz of Fatima Speaks, and co-lead of the Policy Committee for the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition stated, “this is the first step in repealing a Jim Crow law that criminalizes Black and trans people in public spaces.”

“Sex workers are workers like anyone else, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Wiener, presenting his case for repealing what he views as a discriminatory law.

“Our criminal justice system criminalizes people – particularly Black, Brown and LGTBQ people – for simply existing and going about their lives. Laws like this one do nothing to make people safer, or stop sex trafficking. Instead, they criminalize members of our community who are simply going about their lives. We need to support sex workers instead of criminalizing them.”

 

Calif Black Caucus Weighs in on Sac D.A. and LA Sheriff Races

Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌ ‌|‌ ‌California‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Media‌

The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) recently endorsed two African American candidates, Alana Mathews and Cecil Rhambo, who are running in high-profile county races in Sacramento and Los Angeles counties next year. 

 

In the Sacramento County race, the CLBC threw its support behind former prosecutor Alana Mathews for District Attorney. That election is scheduled for June 7, 2022.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus proudly endorses Alana Mathews” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus. “We are excited about the potential opportunity for her to bring equity, fairness, inclusion and reform to the prosecutor’s seat.”

If Mathews wins, she would be the first Black person and the first Black woman elected D.A. in Sacramento County. 

The CLBC’s endorsement was “welcome news” for Mathews, a graduate of the McGeorge School of Law (Sacramento) and Spelman College (Atlanta). 

“I’m honored to receive the endorsements from the Black leaders in California. I admire the work that they all do,” Mathews told California Black Media (CBM) on Sept. 18 as she headed to a campaign event. “This is a significant endorsement as we seek more on the local and state levels.”

In Los Angeles County, the CLBC announced its support for Cecil Rhambo, who is running for County Sheriff. That contest will also be held in June 2022. 

Rhambo is currently Chief of Airport Police at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Citing Rhambo’s 33-year record as a “respected” public servant, broad law enforcement experience and active involvement in Los Angeles-area communities, the CLBC says it believes Rhambo can help reduce crime in South LA and Compton. 

“I’ve known Cecil for many years and as chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, I am confident he would be the Sheriff all of LA could be proud of,” said Bradford. “I know he is the right person to lead the LA County Sheriff Department during this state and national demand for police reform and accountability, and I trust his commitment to bringing desperately-needed transparency, equity, and integrity to the Department.”

Rhambo helped to develop the Community Oriented Policing Bureau, which focuses on suppressing violent crime, combatting homelessness, parking enforcement, quality of life programs, youth programs, and the mental health response teams that partnered with psych clinicians county-wide, according to the CLBC. 

Rhambo has worked in a number of law enforcement assignments across LA County, including working as an undercover narcotics officer and a deputized federal agent. 

​He was a Lieutenant at Internal Affairs following the Rodney King beating in March 1991. In that role, he helped to create a digital tracking system that could monitor reports of police officer misconduct and use of excessive force. 

D.A. candidate Mathews plans to “roll out” more endorsements from other individuals and groups in the upcoming weeks, she told CBM.

Anne Marie Schubert, a former member of the Republican Party is currently Sacramento’s D.A. Schubert already announced that she has her sights on the Attorney General’s seat in the 2022 election and that she would be running against Rob Bonta who Gov. Newsom appointed to that role in March. 

Mathews spent eight years as a Deputy District Attorney in Sacramento County, working her way up from misdemeanor jury trials to prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, general felony, and prison crime cases.  

She currently works with the Prosecutors Alliance of California, a group of prosecutors committed to reforming California’s criminal justice system through smart, safe, modern solutions that advance public safety, human dignity, and community well-being.

 

On the campaign trail in Sacramento County, Mathew says she believes working with police is “central” to the D.A. office’s work “but there has been little to no accountability in that office when it comes to police misconduct.” 

She wants to change that.  

“If you violate the law, you should be held accountable. Without that it undermines trust in the system,” she said. 

 

FROM OUR PARTNERS California’s Housing Crisis Rooted in Racist Zoning Laws

Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

  Across the country, with both state and federal moratoria on evictions for non-payment of rent set to expire September 30, more than 2 million adult renters are at imminent risk of eviction, 880,000 of them in California.

Carolina Reid, of U.C. Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, cited these August findings by the Urban Institute at a panel convened by Ethnic Media Services on Sept. 14.

“We’re really in this ‘perfect storm’ where housing costs in the state are vastly outstripping incomes and COVID is promising to make the situation worse,” she said.

But there is currently no apparent political will to further extend eviction moratoria, she said.

Meanwhile, although the federal government this spring allocated $46.5 billion to provide rent relief to COVID-affected households — enough to pay everyone’s outstanding debt two times over — nationwide, only $6.2 billion has been disbursed.

California, through its Housing is Key (housing.ca.gov) program, has distributed 14.3% of its federal funding.

The program is available to both landlords and renters, who are protected from eviction while their cases are being reviewed. 

Samir Gambhir, of UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, addressed some long-standing, historical origins of the housing shortage.

One is zoning laws that allow only single-family dwellings to be built in certain neighborhoods. This limits the supply of new housing and increases costs as demand continues to outstrip availability.

The result is de-facto segregated neighborhoods.

The Institute’s research found that more than 80% of U.S. metro regions were more segregated in 2019 than in 1990.

For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area, his research found that 82% of the residential-zoned land in San Francisco is restricted to single-family dwellings. In such areas, the occupancy is 55% white – as opposed to 36% white in low single-family-zoning areas.

Single-family zones typically have higher home values ($100,000, on average), higher median incomes ($34,000 higher, on average), half as many children qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch at schools – 26% vs. 52%, and higher home ownership rates.

In the United States, home ownership has long been acknowledged as a key path to intergenerational wealth.

“Cities with high levels of single-family zoning have greater resources in virtually every statistic we were able to measure,” Gambhir said.

“Where we live essentially determines our life outcomes.”

Homelessness rises almost in lockstep with housing unaffordability, Ned Resnikoff, UCSF’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, said. 

Whites are 72% of the state’s population, and 54% of its homeless. Blacks, 7% of the population, have become 31% of the homeless. The ratio for the Hispanic/Latino population is 39%-32%; Asians 16%-2%; American Indian 2%-4%; Pacific Islanders 1%-1%.

One of the root causes for this, Resnikoff said, is structural racism.

A lot of the rules that have led to housing being so unaffordable in California were part of a deliberate attempt to keep various communities in California mostly or exclusively white.

Those include restrictive zoning rules, redlining, he said, and Article 34 of the state constitution passed in the 1950s that makes it significantly harder to build low-income housing.

“You can have single-family housing existing side-by-side with low income housing,” said Matthew Lewis, of Berkeley’s Yimby (Yes in my backyard), pointing to his own neighborhood’s mix of housing and income levels. But that diversity could not be replicated under regulations today.

He also described Los Angeles’ 1972 move to protect its “suburbia within the city atmosphere” by “downzoning” building allowed in formerly multiple-zoned neighborhoods.

From being zoned for 10 million people, Los Angeles went to 4.1 million.  “They cut the number of homes it was legal to build by half.”

Lewis also cited an Environmental Impact Report produced when San Francisco was making similar changes in the 1970s. It anticipated “possible displacement of certain types of households” and impacts on “the availability and cost of housing in San Francisco.”

“This happened throughout the state of California,” Lewis said. 

But the problems now extend beyond zoning limitations, he noted. “Too many Californians now need subsidies which takes a lot of money.”

In California, Prop 13 in 1978 largely froze property tax increases on existing structures.  But new homes pay a current tax rate when they come on the market.  

“So, you need a huge number of market-rate homes to generate the revenues you need to subsidize the affordable homes,” Lewis said. “You have to have both.”

  In a hopeful sign for more housing stock, California’s state legislature on Aug. 26 approved a measure that would allow for the construction of duplex buildings on land parcels previously zoned for only single-family dwellings, and also allow property owners to divide their parcels in two, possibly allowing for a second duplex.  Gov. Newsom signed the bill into law on Sept. 16.

“While we’re so far behind, just allowing duplexes and fourplexes is an incredibly important step, but it doesn’t close the gap,” Lewis said.

 

Let’s Talk Black Education: Governor Newsom Should Close the Vaccination Loophole for School Employees

Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO of Fortune School

The honeymoon is over in communities where the Delta variant has taken hold.  Since back to school, I’ve spent weeks filling in for principals, supervising children, checking children’s temperatures and providing them masks, directing traffic in the parking lot, picking up garbage, wiping down cafeteria tables — all of which are required to run safe schools in these times. I’ve talked to other heads of schools that can say the same thing or something similar since the start of this school year. The same culprit continues to affect us all — COVID-19. However, normally we have a village to manage these tasks. Now, we don’t.

Staffing shortages are severe and there are no substitutes to be had.  Further aggravating the situation, are public health rules that require paid school staff who test negative for COVID-19 but remain unvaccinated to stay home for 10 days at a time, when they are exposed to someone who tests positive.  It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated. 

Necessary? Yes. Sustainable? No. 

Governor Gavin Newsom took a good first step when he required school employees to be vaccinated, but he left a gaping loophole. He allowed school staff to test-out of being vaccinated by committing to take a COVID test twice a week.  Then he put the burden on schools to become COVID testing centers overnight for the employees who refuse to get vaccinated.  

The result is that these staff who refuse vaccination have to be benched for two weeks every time they get exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Imagine, if you will, being a part of a 40-person team and every week there are 10 people who are forced to quarantine for two weeks, leaving 30 team members to do the work of 40 during that first week. That’s one person doing their job and the additional work of three coworkers. These types of staffing outages are debilitating schools across the state. There are news reports of schools having to shut down classrooms for lack of staff.  

Some major school systems with the political clout have taken matters into their own hands. Los Angeles Unified, for example, has closed the loophole and is requiring all school employees to be vaccinated.  The state of California should do the same.  

California has over 6 million students who can’t afford for us to agree to anything less than 100% vaccination for school employees.  

Yes, the policy could force out educators who refuse to get vaccinated but, they won’t be working anyway if they get exposed to a positxive case.  Essentially, the unvaccinated have become hard to employ in a school setting.  They can go out at any time and take down our schools with them. 

We can’t risk that.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Margaret Fortune is the President/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.  She is a State Delegate on the California Democratic Party (CDP) State Central Committee where she also is an elected member of the Executive Board of the CDP Black Caucus. Fortune is Treasurer of National Action Network (NAN) Sacramento and has been an education advisor to two California Governors.  She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley and Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government.

 


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