Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Participatory Budget & Democracy in Oakland

"Community Democracy Project to Open Entire City Budget"
2013-07-31 by Mira Luna []:

This interview is with Sonya Rifkin, co-director and co-founder of the Community Democracy Project [], which began in November 2011 in Oakland, CA.

What is the Community Democracy Project's plan?
A participatory budgeting initiative to amend the city charter, which would go on the city ballot for the Nov 2014 election. It would create a direct democratic process for Oakland voters to be directly engaged in decisions around the budget. The platform for decisions and organizing is called the Neighborhood Assembly, which is a forum for education and engagement with the issues. It also allows residents and community organizations to interface with city staff and department representatives. Residents 16 years and older that have attended at least one Neighborhood Assembly meeting can vote on the budget for allocation of general funds to each city department as a percentage. This will help get young adults engaged in decisions that affect them like parks, police, and after school programs. City Wide Committees, made up of very interested residents, would be established to deal with specific issues and to create proposals for spending discretionary funds that would also be voted on by city residents.

What's the vision or goal behind it?
We care about a wide range of issues and lot of problems come back to questions of power – access to resources and self-determination and being engaged in decisions that affect our lives. Problems arise in politics from the right people not being invited to the table. The strength of this process is people getting connecting and understanding each others' perspectives and empowering communities, which can have far reaching potential for enabling people to solve their own problems. Currently, many Oakland residents tend to be very engaged and have creative solutions but don't have a platform to weigh in, and we deserve more than 2 minutes on a microphone.

Why Oakland?
Given Oakland's history of being politicized, it's be a great place to do it. People here are ready and have a good understanding of what's not working – the city is strapped financially and the political culture excludes most members of the community. At the Oakland town hall forums, public employees unions share their concerns about budget problems. There is a sense though among residents that you put concerns about contentious budgeting issues on the table and you don't know where they will go or maybe the decision has already been made. We want to be involved early in the process so this doesn't happen.

How much would it cost and how would it be funded? How would it be funded?

Most of the cost is personnel (organizers) and election. It's a $4m annual budget, which is not attached to a financing mechanism. It could be timed differently to fold into a special election and avoid most of the election cost. The funding mechanism would be decided separately.

How do you propose it will engage the communities and people that are not already engaged?
Built in are staff positions, including three organizers per district, to outreach to less politically engaged communities and address disparities. It doesn't require a large time commitment to participate in the vote, people would have to come to at least one meeting to participate, but the Neighborhood Assemblies would be autonomous so they can work around the schedules of the people who live there and do what they need to do to help get people there. Each Assembly would have a budget for space, food, childcare, etc. and would meet in the neighborhood.

How does your project compare to other participatory budgeting projects?
It would be strongest participatory budgeting initiative in a large city in the US, one of the strongest in the world, and similar to the budget process in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We are aiming for long-term systemic change in the law, a protected form of direct democracy, to enable people to make these decisions so it isn't dependent on individual political will. Many participatory budgeting projects use set aside funds and can disappear with a change in elected officials. It will create opportunities for engagement, empowerment, and education.

What is the importance of the neighborhood assemblies in the process?

Neighborhood Assemblies are the heart of the process. They will have monthly meetings, elect directors, received presentations from city staff, get educated on programs and the budget. City Wide Committees are created out of issues expressed in the Neighborhood Assemblies.

What would be the city administration's role?
Lots of technical work and analysis would still be done by the City. This process opens up the interface between city staff and residents. City staff would present to residents instead of city council members. City Wide Committees on parks for example could include city staff, community representatives, and parents to broaden perspectives included in the discussion.

What challenges do you see ahead in getting this passed and implemented?
The will to mobilize people. We need to get 15% of registered voters, equivalent to about 30-40 thousand signatures in 180 days to get it on the ballot. Our core membership is 8-10 people, with a database of about 500 supporters and contacts. We also need to win a campaign to convince people to create systemic change that empowers residents, and that will inevitably trigger strong opposition that we will have to fight. Getting people to envision something new and getting people to believe that it's possible is also challenging. But real democracy is a very old idea that reminds us of that possibility.

What are your next steps?
We got approval from the City and so we are having our launch event [] and start gathering signatures on Saturday. Every Saturday and Sunday we will be gathering signatures and hosting other events during the week.
To get involved, you can like our Facebook page [], take a look at our budgeting process graphic [], and learn more on our website [].

To start a participatory budgeting in your city, check out the Participatory Budgeting Project [].

"Tara Firma Farms" in Sonoma County

2013-07-31 "Life on the Farm: E-I-E-I ...Oh?"
by SANDY KEENAN from "New York Times" []:
Petaluma, Calif. — Tara Smith does not mind squealing on herself about the mistakes she has made since becoming a farmer at 47.
Early on, she kept the runts of a litter of pigs, not realizing they could not survive beyond a few months, even with all her nurturing. And at day’s end, utterly spent, she would scramble around like a madwoman trying to catch the chickens to get them safely inside their hilltop shelters, a frantic dance that did not stop until a neighboring farmer patiently explained that they would go in on their own once the sun set.
 “I hold responsibility for everything on this land,” Ms. Smith said. “And at first, I didn’t know how any of it worked.”
 Spend time on her 300-acre spread here in Sonoma County — an old dairy farm with an 1860s farmhouse — and the former marketing and sales executive will confide in her rambling but charming way that, yes, farming is hard, but it can be awe-inspiring, too.
 “The most amazing thing happens when a sow is in labor down in the farrowing pen,” she said. “The laying hens will go and gather round her and make sure to drop an egg right near her face for a little added protein to keep her energy up. How cool is that?”
 This year marks the fifth growing season for the no-longer-quite-as-fledgling Tara Firma Farms, the Smith family’s modest-size yet ambitious outfit devoted to raising happy pigs, cattle and chickens, all plumped up on the lush perennial grasses in the open pastures. The Smiths are practicing biodynamic (or beyond organic) farming, which is essentially its own confined ecosystem designed to prosper without relying on any of the fertilizers, pharmaceuticals or hormones that have become so prevalent in industrial-size operations.
 As Ms. Smith put it, in a slightly oversimplified way: “We’re growing the soil that grows the grass that feeds the animals.”
 It began innocently enough. She wasn’t looking to upend her comfortable suburban existence. Reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” the best-selling 2006 book by Michael Pollan, was just an assignment for a new parents’ night discussion at the private high school that Jake, one of her children, was attending.
 But Ms. Smith was riveted by the graphic depictions of big agriculture’s reliance on drugs to grow animals bigger as quickly as possible and to stave off diseases caused by the miserable conditions American livestock is often raised in.
 Taking it all in, she said, she felt nauseated — and worse still, uninformed. Turning to her husband, Craig Smith, she said, “We’re smart people, how come we didn’t know this?”
 From then on, she said, she spoke of little else: “I was obsessed.”
 Things got so bad that her newfound obsession began interfering with her children’s social lives. That’s when her son Joey, who was then 9, issued an ultimatum that has become part of the family lore. “Mom, no one invites us to dinner anymore because you scare them,” he said. “Either stop talking about food, or do something.”
 So she compromised: she decided to keep talking and do something, never stopping to consider the cost of land around here. Or that beyond their abundant marketing and business savvy, neither she nor her husband had any relevant expertise — or agricultural or animal husbandry experience of any kind, for that matter.
 The farm, which is about 40 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, cost $3.9 million, but the Smiths were able to get an open-space easement, financed through county sales tax initiatives, that returned $2.2 million, on the condition that their land never be developed. But with all the other start-up costs (infrastructure, machinery and initial livestock outlay), they still needed to borrow $5 million.
 And they had no choice but to move their melded family of four sons (two his, two hers) from the home they adored, nine miles away in suburban Novato, overlooking a lagoon. Home is now a cramped antique farmhouse with a treacherously pitched stairwell and a bland 1970s addition off the back.
 The first time she visited the property, Ms. Smith refused to get out of the car. “The house was just awful,” she said. “And the place was strewn with garbage.”
But the land was great, and it was close to town, which was important for their walk-in business. To convince loan officers that their plan for the farm would fly, she invited them out to walk the land with her. “I flirted with one of them so much that finally, he took me aside and said, ‘Although I’m flattered, you should know that I’m gay,’ ” Ms. Smith recalled.
While his wife is a natural-born schmoozer, Mr. Smith, 56, an engineer by training, is calm and exacting. He continues to work two insurance jobs, consulting for one company and as a co-owner of another, while serving as the farm’s chief financial officer. He is constantly pressing the dozen or so staff members and his wife to reduce costs by looking for clean-energy alternatives. “Can’t we find a used electric truck?” he urged a group of managers who had convened at the dining room table on a Tuesday morning.
 The couple persuaded Kim Galatola, a friend who is a former Waldorf School principal, to help them with problem-solving and procurement. That might seem odd at first, given that she is a devoted vegan. But as she said, shrugging: “The animals here only have one bad day. I don’t hold it against Tara.”
 Asked what Ms. Smith has given up for farming, she answered a little too quickly: “Her sanity.”
 Modeled on the sustainable agriculture practiced by Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley, which was featured in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Tara Firma is an example of community-supported agriculture, or a C.S.A. That means that apart from selling aged beef and fresh produce to walk-in customers at a country store in their front yard, the Smiths deal directly only with households and restaurants that sign on as members and receive boxes of the farm’s bounty at regular intervals.
 Recruiting those members is an area in which Ms. Smith excels, having managed, organized and rallied people for decades, at companies like Microsoft and General Electric. A recent Sunday afternoon talk at a local health club resulted in a dozen new household contracts, enough to break the 1,000-member threshold for the first time.
 Tara Firma’s food is not supermarket-cheap, that’s for sure. A good-size fresh roasting chicken will set you back $28. “And we still can’t keep them in stock,” Ms. Smith said. Even so, the expense is the reason most often cited when memberships are canceled.
 The Smiths knew this would be risky and difficult, but they didn’t realize it would swallow their lives. They have little or no privacy and rarely take a day off. As Mr. Smith said: “We have extended ourselves physically, emotionally and financially more than I ever expected. But we’re teetering on the brink of breaking even.”
 At the current rate of growth, he said, the farm could be “clearly profitable in a few years.”
 And for Ms. Smith, who is now 52, there has been an unexpected upside: She has lost 30 pounds and gained musculature at a point in life when most women are doing the opposite.
 Of course, the manicures and designer clothing she loved when she had a corporate job are a thing of the past. These days, her wardrobe consists mostly of jeans and mud boots. “And just look at these horrible man-hands,” she said, showing off her calluses.
 When she can’t sleep, she straps on her miner’s headlamp and heads out to check on the animals, with Roland, her mixed-breed herding dog, at her side. “It’s both cool and creepy to see 100 red eyeballs all shining at you, coming in closer and tighter,” she said of the moment when the cattle sense her presence in the dark.
 Her nonstop patter — directed at anyone who visits the farm, in hopes of signing them up as members — is a folksy combination of a TED talk on the environment and Dr. Phil-style commentary on subjects like parenting and the perils of excessive consumerism. When she’s not explaining how the huge compost pile is practically volcanic at 183 degrees, she is telling stories about the sexual proclivities of pigs or making fun of her own early bungling, like the time she set a trap for the predator terrorizing her baby chicks and wound up catching the family cat instead.
 What crushes the spirit of risk-takers like herself is another favorite topic. She urges visitors to “just turn off the dang television,” blaming the constant media barrage. “Who would ever take a chance on creating something like this and trying something new,” she asked, “with all that negative input barking at you all the time?”
 A few minutes later, though, she had careened off in another direction.
 “If I ever open my big mouth again and say I want to try something new,” she told her husband, “please just lock me in a closet.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Nine Fine Notions from Resilient Communities"

by Kelly McCartney []:
Over at the Resilient Communities blog [], there is always something cool going on. Not only do they discuss problems, they also offer solutions with an eye toward sustainability and, well, resilience. Here's a round up of nine pretty fantastic ideas offered up in 2012... and some of them may surprise you!

Straw Bale Gardens []:
Have no good soil available to you, but a little bit of space in which to plant some crops? Don't fret! Joel Karsten has your back. Straw bales can be utilized to create, in essence, raised beds. The process requires about 10 days of watering and amending the bales before planting — much like you would prep soil. After that, though, it's pretty much business as usual with the planting and growing process.
An example of a straw bale planter taken from Joel Karsten's book, Straw Bale Gardening.

Drought-Resistant Farming []:
Growing and consuming local food is one of the pillars of resilience. But with climate change rapidly shifting precipitation and temperatures around the planet, once fertile lands are becoming less reliable for crops. Aquaponic systems allow for the farming of both fish and vegetables in one fell swoop. And they use considerably less water than traditional, soil-based planting.

Nomadic Gardens []:
Urban settings sometimes require mobility on the part of its citizens, a principle that certainly can hold true for urban agriculture. Today's vacant lot is tomorrow's newest development, so, creating portable, pop-up gardens is a nice work-around. Milk crates seem to be the vehicle of choice among nomadic gardeners because they are lightweight, porous, stackable, and inexpensive.
The milk crate garden at Riverpark atop an empty building lot at Alexandria Center in New York City [].

Blackout Survival []:
So many people were left without power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and, now, winter is rapidly descending with all its icy glory. Frustratingly, the infrastructure in the U.S. just can't handle a brisk winter storm, putting residents in colder climates at risk for blackouts. Being resilient in the face of power outages can be helped along by five simple tasks, including the installation of a backup generator and understanding your local power grid.

Rainwater Catchment []:
The harvesting of rainwater is a hot topic around the globe these days with some municipalities passing legislation to make it illegal. Nevertheless, resilient communities require these sorts of sustainable techniques. Because cistern-based catchment systems can be pricey, the savvy DIY-er may consider turning to ferrocement to build storage vessels.

Solar Power []:
Daniel Connell's open-source project allows a DIY approach to solar power. The Solar Flower can be fashioned out of readily available materials and tools any half-decent home tinkerer probably already owns (or can find at their local tool-lending library). Some of the uses of the energy include heating water and small spaces.
An image of Daniel Connell's Solar Flower system [].

Fitness []:
In emergency situations, as in everyday life, being physically fit is a boon. Fitness legend Arthur De Vany's expertise is summoned here for a simple, once-a-week program that involves only two steps:
1. An intense 30-minute workout with weights and high-stress isometrics. The goal is to drive all of major muscle groups into failure.
2. Wind sprints for 15 minutes. Sprint for 50 yards and walk the distance back until the time runs out.

Weight Loss []:
Going hand-in-hand with fitness is, very often, weight loss. One way to build a resilient body is to trick it out of the feast or famine mindset through employing slow meals comprised of whole foods that digest slowly... lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fresh vegetables. Doing so provides a steady stream of caloric energy and allows the body to relax, put down its guard in relation to food.

Dental Health []:
Tough economic times force everyone to tighten their belts and cut back on seemingly unnecessary expenses. Unfortunately, one of the first things to go are dental visits. Many people just don't place a high-enough value on their dental health to pursue regular cleanings and check-ups. If you really can't afford to see your dentist on a regular basis, making some nutritional shifts can go a long way toward preventing cavities and plaque. By limiting the consumption of simple carbohydrates (bread, pasta, etc) and sugars (ice cream, candy, etc), your teeth — and your waistline — will greatly benefit.

"Why Cities Should Use Public Banks Instead of Big Banks"

by Matt Stannard []:
The Public Banking Institute (PBI) [] is a non-partisan think-tank, research and advisory organization dedicated to exploring and disseminating information on the potential utility of publicly-owned banks, and to facilitate their implementation. For more information about public banking, please check out PBI's "Public Banking in America Legislative Guide" [].
Of all the public entities that have fallen victim to the big bank-induced economic downturn, cities have the most compelling stories of being burned. If “all politics is local,” this is even more true for economics, at least where people’s ordinary lives are concerned. City budgets contain the life blood of communities. School districts, contracts with utility companies, waste services, and street repairs all filter locally. City social services are often the first line of response for people in need. City councils also fund soup kitchens, domestic violence shelters, and animal shelters.
So we should take good care of our cities, right? We shouldn’t throw them to the wolves when it comes to funding essential services, right? Matt Taibbi’s well-read Rolling Stone article, “The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia,” details the struggle of municipalities, schools, and other public entities after big private banks induced them to gamble their public funds on the direction of the market -- often resulting in debts that far exceeded their budgets and the original cost estimates for the projects they were seeking to fund []. Taibbi’s article specifically described how “banksters,” as populists are wont to call them these days, conned Jefferson County, Alabama, to spend $5 billion for a sewer project estimated at $250 million.
Trey Bundy and Shane Shifflett of California Watch recently detailed the story of American Canyon High School in Napa Valley []. When Napa Valley’s school district needed a new high school, and taxpayers didn’t want to pay for it, the district took out a $22 million loan payable in 2049. The amount to be repaid 21 years in the future? $154 million. Bundy and Shifflett note that over 1,300 districts across the country are doing the same thing -- engaging in capital appreciation bond borrowing to finance their publicly necessary building projects. Some jurisdictions are banning this kind of borrowing, but no one is offering an alternative. Tax increases are unpopular and, apparently, politically unrealistic. Cutting budgets in other areas is impossible now -- there's virtually nothing left to cut.
Public school districts should not have to refinance their outstanding bonds in order to reduce the interest burdens on their debt. A school district should not be spending $2 million annually to pay interest on their debt []. And a big part of the problem is that conventional thinking sees the only route for the financing of public projects as a trip to big, private banks to apply for a loan, the interest of which will go into the hands of private investors and entities with no connection to the community where the project is located. The case of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge retrofit illustrates this principle. Six billion dollars of interest and financial fees went to private investors []. Had a public bank financed the project, the interest would have been paid to that bank, which would then have returned the vast majority of that money to the state’s treasury.
A different paradigm should frame the issue of access to credit for the public good than that which governs credit for private investment. Rather than a utopian dream, public banking is an option that actually works -- as evidenced by the most solvent bank in the country, the Bank of North Dakota (BND) []. During the 2008 economic crisis, North Dakota had its largest budget surplus in state history.
The profits of public banks are returned to the public, whereas privately owned banks increase taxpayer costs through compound interest and are compelled to return profits to shareholders. Public banks issue credit at low-cost or no-cost to cities and states. Public banks can offer “bridges” to residential, agricultural, and public works financing, as the BND did during the Great Depression. BND also partners with the private sector, encouraging entrepreneurial startups and providing check-clearing, liquidity, and bond account safekeeping to private banks. While it is true that cities’ budgets are bare, this is not because there’s “no money” available. What we need is to move away from the model perpetrated by the large, unaccountable entities like private banks and credit bureaus that got us into this mess in the first place. City governments should divest from big private banks. Cities and states should create public banks modeled after the BND, and demand transparency, accountability, and democracy from the institutions that have an outsized influence on the health of local economies. This is a better way for cities to meet their needs in the twenty first century. We already know that it works. 

"10 Ways to Create Community in a Suburban 'Hood" by Ross Chapin

Ross Chapin is an architect and author of Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-scale Community in a Large-scale World. This article originally appeared on Pocket Neighborhoods [].
Building a community from scratch is daunting, but the good news is that vibrant communities can grow from existing neighborhoods over time through the actions of people who live there, often without much money being spent.

Right here, right now: 10 ways to build community.
1. Move your picnic table to the front yard.
See what happens when you eat supper out front. It’s likely you’ll strike up a conversation with a neighbor. Invite them to bring a dish to share. Your kids will probably love it, too.

2. Plant a front yard vegetable garden.
Don’t stop with the picnic table. Build a raised bed for veggies; plant edible landscaping and fruit trees. If you’re inclined, invite your neighbors to share your garden. Along with carrots and sweet peas will come conversation and friendship — a bountiful harvest. []

3. Build a room-sized front porch.
The magic of a good porch comes from the way it is both private and public, belonging to the household while being open to passersby. It may be the most essential element for bringing life to a neighborhood. Its placement, size, relation to the interior and the public space, and height of railings are both an art and a science. First thing to remember: make it more than a tiny cover for fumbling for keys; make it room-sized — a veritable outdoor living room. []

4. Add layers of privacy.
Curiously, giving your personal space more definition will foster connections with neighbors. A secure space will be more comfortable and more often used, which will increase chances for seeing your neighbors, even if this is a passing nod. But rather than achieving privacy with a tall fence, consider an approach with layers: a bed of perennial flowers in front of a low fence, with a shade tree to further filter the view. These layers help define personal boundaries, but are permeable at the same time. Here’s a challenge: can you create six layers between the street and the front door?

5. Take down your backyard fence.
Join with your neighbors to create a shared safe play space for children, a community garden, or a wood-fired pizza oven. In Davis, California, a group of neighbors on N Street did just that []. Twenty years later, nearly all the neighbors around the block have joined in. If that’s too radical, consider cutting your six-foot fence to four feet to make chatting across the fence easier, or building a gate between yards.

6. Put up a book-lending cupboard.
Take a book, lend a book. Collect your old reads and share them with passersby in a book-lending cupboard mounted next to the sidewalk out front. Give it a roof, a door with glass panes, and paint it to match the flowers below. Or, change the story: read a poem, write a poem. Create a poetry cupboard with poems to share. (See Oregon’s City Repair for other inspiring neighborhood-building ideas like this. Check them out! [])

7. Organize summer potluck street parties.
Claim the street, gather the lawn chairs, and fire up the hibachi! Take over the otherwise “off-limits” street as a space to draw neighbors together.

8. Build resilience together.
Create a neighborhood survey of assets, skills, and needs for times of crisis. Frame it around “emergency preparedness,” but watch how it cultivates community. []

9. Create an online network for nearby neighbors.
Expand the survey into an active online resource and communication tool. Find a new home for an outgrown bike. Ask for help keeping an eye out for a lost dog. Organize a yard sale. Take advantage of free neighbor-to-neighbor networking tools such as Nextdoor to facilitate communications and build happier, safer neighborhoods. As they say, “online chats lead to more clothesline chats.”  []

10. Be a good neighbor.
It’s easy to focus on your own needs and concerns, but a slight shift in outlook can make a big difference in the day-to-day lives in a neighborhood. Check in on your elderly neighbor if her curtains aren’t raised in the morning. On a hot summer day, put out a pitcher of ice lemonade for passersby, or a bowl of cool water for dogs on walks. To be sure, grievances among neighbors are common. But when there is a base of goodwill in a neighborhood, little squabbles won’t escalate into turf fights, and neighborhoods can become what they are meant to be — places of support, security and friendship.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Localization orgs helping to bring $289 BILLION to Equity, Environment, and Jobs in the Bay Area!

"Take Action: Direct $289 BILLION to Equity, Environment, and Jobs in the Bay Area!"
2013-07-04 message from Bay Localize []:
Yes, $289 we have your attention? That's the funding at stake in the Bay Area's Sustainable Communities Strategy. The regional plan is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases, fund transportation, and build more affordable housing so we can all continue to live in the Bay Area. The regional The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is voting on the plan July 18th!

The 6 Wins for Social Equity Network of community advocates, including Bay Localize, developed the Equity, Environment and Jobs (EEJ) Scenario which reduces greenhouse gas emissions the most! The agencies' own study shows that the EJJ Scenario will also mean better health and more protections for disadvantaged communities, But, it's notthe plan the agencies are moving forward with. We need community members to tell your elected officials on the MTC that you want the Equity, Environment, and Jobs Scenario!

Take action to bring EEJ Scenario into Plan Bay Area
Speak Up Today for a Healthier, Greener and More Equitable Bay Area!

6 Big Wins for Social Equity Network: [

2011-07-18 "Community Advocates Take on Powerful Bay Area Agencies"
by Parisa Fatehi-Weeks from "Ella Baker Center for Human Rights" []:
The summer has been a turbulent one for Bay Area social justice advocates engaged in a high-stakes struggle with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The two agencies are tasked with reshaping our transportation system, as well as housing options for the region’s growing population, over the next 25 years. They will be spending billions of dollars of public funds. But will they improve our region, or continue more of the same failed policies, leading to longer commutes and more traffic, more segregation by race and income, and worsening air quality and public health? It’s still too early to tell, but I can tell you this much: we haven’t been standing by hoping for the best. Instead, a coalition of community groups called the 6 Wins for Social Equity Network (PDF: []) is fighting for a better future, one in which people of all backgrounds and incomes live together and ride transit together, in which the people who commute to work in opportunity-rich cities can live with their families in affordable housing near their jobs. Convincing MTC and ABAG to give this more equitable and environmentally-friendly future a chance hasn’t been easy this past month, and the campaign is far from over. Here’s a quick recap of the summer’s ups and downs:
* A last-minute disclosure of five “alternative scenarios.” Early in June, we learned that MTC and ABAG had developed five “alternative scenarios” in the community planning process. Even though MTC and ABAG’s own advisory groups had asked for an equity-maximizing scenario, low-income communities of color hadn’t been included in the work developing concepts. We had only a few days to analyze what had been done, and soon realized that none of the five took adequate steps to advance social equity.
* Development of an “Equity, Jobs, and Environment” Scenario. Our network of organizations quickly put together a recommendation for a sixth option that would: a) maximize the funds needed to operate local transit service and b)provide affordable housing in both job-rich suburban communities and the urban core. Because it advances multiple regional goals, we called it the Equity, Jobs, and Environment Scenario. We described it in a letter sent to MTC and ABAG that was endorsed by 20 organizations. We also advocated for its inclusion at the June 10 MTC/ABAG meeting. We wanted to show that we weren’t just there to complain; we were there to offer a new solution, proving that we should have been involved in the planning process from the outset. It seemed to work. Our demand to maximize social equity was heard loud and clear, and received explicit support from a handful of MTC commissioners and ABAG board members.
* A threat to our sixth scenario. Even after receiving the support of their own advisory groups and over 20 organizations, a June 16 memo on MTC and ABAG’s website indicated that the agencies’ executive directors had rejected an equity-maximizing scenario after all. They proposed going back to the full MTC Commission and ABAG Administrative Committee on Wednesday, June 22, with the same five scenarios as before, leaving out the Equity, Environment and Jobs Scenario that many of us worked so hard to put forward.
* A partial win on June 22. At the June 22 meeting, our coalition came out in force, pressing for the equity scenario in comments and by carrying bright orange signs. Despite this effort, MTC and ABAG did not vote to approve a stand-alone equity scenario. Instead, they chose to move forward with staff's proposed five alternative scenarios. But here’s something to celebrate: they did so with the assurance that staff would take our ideas and "incorporate equity into all of the scenarios." More important, they directed staff to explore a sixth equity scenario and come back with more details so they could consider it at an upcoming meeting in July. We will have to hold them accountable for this in the coming month.

We expect this issue to be revisited at the ABAG Executive Board meeting on July 21 at 7:00pm, and an MTC meeting on July 27 at 9:30 a.m. We need to keep pushing by showing MTC and ABAG that Bay Area residents care about transit, housing, and climate justice. If you want to join us and our partners in the networks advancing 6 Big Wins for Social Equity (PDF), please contact me at [] or Lindsay Imai at [].

2011-06 photo showing ACCE community activists at an MTC meeting: