For the past three years, we’ve all watched Senator Wiener attempt the impossible: passing SB 50, legislation that would allow mid-rise apartments complexes near transit stops (and now job centers!) and fourplexes in most single family communities across the state of California. We’ve been fascinated by Senator Wiener’s boldness—and even made an appearance in the New York Times as we wrote about the need for bold solutions that work for low-income communities and communities of color.
And now, ClimatePlan has taken a position—oppose unless amended—on SB 50, a bill that Politifact has called one of California’s most controversial housing bills. We’re sure that many people are asking why ClimatePlan—a network that has spent years trying to build infill near transit through a variety of different means—is taking such a strong stance against a bill that would fulfill a key component of ClimatePlan’s mission?
Keep reading: we’re ready to share why we’ve taken this position.
Following the Agreements that we’ve committed to as a network
In 2019, we released our 2019 - 2022 Strategic Direction. On page 12, we share our agreements outlining oure intentions that shape how ClimatePlan partner organizations interact with each other. One of our agreements is:
- To value community voices and the expertise of equity-led groups: We will honor community voices and leaders (and the understanding that local/regional advocates have developed via these relationships), as well as the expertise gained by equity-led networks and groups over decades of work.
After we submitted our oppose unless amended letter on SB 50, some organizations have reached out to me and asked the following questions:
- What are the specific amendments that ClimatePlan wants?
- Can you share the amendments that ClimatePlan is proposing? It is unclear what exactly the tenants groups want added to the bill since most of the requests have been added.
In response to the questions, we want to elevate two points.
First point: we, as the ClimatePlan Steering Committee, value the expertise of housing justice and equity groups. These groups have been working on housing justice and tenants rights for years—before the housing crisis became a “hot-button” issue. We believe it's a disservice to these groups and their technical expertise when we—as advocates have not worked on these issues or directly with the communities impacted by these policies—start to doubt their work or question their expertise. This statement does not mean that we unilaterally accept anything; it means that we believe communities when they say “this will hurt us.” We believe residents are the experts of their community and it is not our job to bring our “technical assistance” to solve their problem from the top down. Instead, it is our job to stand in solidarity when we see these communities are being impacted by policies that will hurt them; and—when invited by residents and community organizations—it is our job to co-create solutions that will advance a more sustainable, healthy, and equitable future for California.
ClimatePlan partner organizations, including PolicyLink, Public Advocates, Western Center for Law and Poverty, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLA) and MoveLA submitted an oppose unless amended letter on SB 50 that clearly lays out their concerns. They have also been in negotiations for many months with Senator Wiener’s office. We stand in solidarity with our partner organizations and believe this is the best way that we as a network can leverage our strength and live in accordance with our agreements and values that communities really are the experts.
ClimatePlan’s Commitment to Investment without Displacement
Our Network’s housing justice and equity groups have repeatedly told us if we're not consciously acknowledging and addressing issues of white privilege, power, segregation, racism, and displacement as we continue to pursue policies around infill, density, and transit, we as a network will continue to harm (and not help) low income communities and communities of color.
Second point: ClimatePlan’s Commitment to Investment without Displacement stemmed from the fact that we wanted to make sure that equity and environment was not an either/or choice. ClimatePlan’s Investment without Displacement outlines our collective vision for “a California in which all of us, especially lower-income and people of color, have the option to live in communities where we can find and stay in a home we can afford, close to good jobs and schools; where it is convenient, safe, dignified, and affordable to get around on public transit, on foot, by bike, or by scooter; where there is plentiful clean air and water; where public parks are accessible and farmland and natural lands are protected.”
And if we want to achieve that vision, we at ClimatePlan can’t ignore the impact that investments and policies have in terms of creating direct and indirect displacement. And displacement is related to systems of power and oppression, including racism and classism and patterns of investment, disinvestment, and exclusion.
So ClimatePlan’s Commitment to Investment without Displacement has nine principles that guide our analysis of proposed policies to ensure they achieve investment without displacement. And when we as a ClimatePlan Steering Committee reviewed SB 50 through our Commitment to Investment without Displacement platform, we realized that we couldn’t support the bill unless key changes were made. Recommendations around what could be included to address our concerns around displacement are outlined in our oppose unless amended letter.
In full transparency, we will continue to stand in solidarity with our housing justice and equity partners. It’s hard and uncomfortable—especially when SB 50 does do a lot of things that ClimatePlan has pushed for—but we’re okay being in a hard and uncomfortable position. It’s not enough anymore for ClimatePlan—and I would argue for smart growth advocates—to get a “win'' around infill and density if we’re ignoring communities that have been left behind for years.
And taking a moment to write as Chanell Fletcher, an African American woman from South Sacramento, I don’t want to choose between environment and equity anymore. I want both. And we’re not going to get both if we keep splitting ourselves or pushing housing justice and equity advocates to back down. We need to stand together and push for what we all really want—policies that advance climate, conservation, health, transportation, equity, and justice. And that’s what ClimatePlan is all about.