Nicole Cheng

  • 1 Year Into the Pandemic - How We Can Use Collaborative Planning to Get out of Compounding Crises

    Right now, we are one year into a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders. The data from the State Water Board is showing 1.5 million Californians are behind on their water bills; the average amount of debt per household is $500. According to the Legislative Analyst office, Californian renters owe $400 million in unpaid debt, on top of a shortfall of 220,000 of affordable homes (MTC and ABAG). Latinx, Black, and Asian households are more likely to be behind on rent and water bills than white households. A decline in ridership has led to a decrease in public investments in transportation infrastructure, which is largely used by low income communities. 

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. These multiple, compounding crises further highlight the importance of collaborative infrastructure planning for healthy and sustainable communities. Current financing infrastructure relies on local governments, water agencies, and transportation agencies to fund their own operation, maintenance, and infrastructure upgrades. Local governments can rely on impact fees. However, many transportation and water agencies have few outside sources of revenue. So, they largely rely on funding from their constituents and customers in paying their utility bills, paying ridership fees, etc. 

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  • Onward with Implementation: How we’re integrating water, land-use and equity in the San Francisco Bay Area

    In August 2020, ClimatePlan released a new report -  Overarching Principles to Better Integrate Water and Land-use in the San Francisco Bay Area. [Thank you again to the water agencies, non-profits, and our partners at MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission), San Francisco Estuary partnership, and Local Government Commission for your wisdom and expertise].  Since the release of the report, we have been moving forward with implementing the principles laid out in the report. I have been working with MTC and ACWD (Alameda County Water District) to refine the implementation plan of Plan Bay Area 2050--the Bay Area’s regional transportation plan-- and have been developing a policy-framework to provide local guidance to implementing the strategies.  I have also been assessing collaboratives and key partnerships within the Bay Area to find spaces to develop this policy-framework.  

    The Issues at Hand: New Report Summary and Centering New Context

    Our new report highlights how water affordability, housing affordability, vulnerability to climate change, and transportation challenges intersect. 

    Housing unaffordability is exacerbated by the challenges of high transportation costs and water costs. This is because both add an additional burden for low income households, and Black and Latinx communities. These communities have been underinvested in because of the legacy of redlining, disinvestment, and systemic racism. It is well known that the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these communities are not able to comfortably meet basic needs of housing and water. The pandemic has also exacerbated water and housing affordability challenges, by bringing on debt: marginalized and low income residents are now unsure of how much money they owe from their suspended rent and water bills.

    Moreover, these communities are more likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change because they are under-resourced. Preparing for climate change will require infrastructure upgrades to account for flooding and droughts, a financial burden that would mostly fall on residents at this moment. MTC, ABAG, and ACWD recognize these problems, and are taking vital steps towards better integrating water into land-use planning.

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