By Herman Gallegos, John Gamboa and Robert Apodaca –
California’s role as a global climate leader will take center stage during the international climate conference hosted by Governor Jerry Brown in San Francisco this week.
The world also needs to know that California is our nation’s housing crisis, homelessness, and poverty leader. We have highest percentage and highest number of homeless and poor people of any state in our nation: 9 million Californians, including 2 million children, are poor. Notwithstanding our “progressive liberal” reputation, our housing, homelessness, and poverty crisis are not color blind – the victims, once again, are disproportionately Latinos and African Americans.
We have each been civil rights advocates and leaders for over 50 years. Decades of progress in minority homeownership, and housing-induced poverty, have been wiped out in California. And today’s new darling of the liberal elite, like urban redevelopment and racist New Deal programs elevating only white Americans into the middle class, is California’s climate program.
We believe the world’s climate leaders also need to know that California’s climate elites have implemented stunningly regressive measures that worsen global warming while also worsening the housing, poverty, and homeless crisis in our minority communities.
We are not climate leaders. Our environmental elites brag about reaching greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets early, even as Governor Brown acknowledges this as “hype,” and even as the Obama administration concluded that California was responsible for just 5% of the GHG reductions in the United States between 2007-2015.
Our climate leaders only rely on GHG metrics that favor the wealthy and punish the working poor. For example, we count as GHG “reductions” our substantial out-migration of California’s working class families (and jobs) to states like Texas and Arizona that automatically double (or more) per capita global GHG emissions.
Earlier this year, the non-partisan Little Hoover Commission reported that 33% of California is forested, but our catastrophic forest mismanagement coupled with the most recent of our unremarkable multi-year drought resulted fire storms that ultimately caused the nation’s highest death and property damage fire toll. Our climate leaders also omit GHG emissions from wildfires, although even one wildfire emits more GHG than a full year of regressive costs imposed on Californians by our climate elite.
More magic GHG math applies to even simplest and normally locally sourced, low cost building materials – like wood and cement – that we desperately need to build the 3 million homes needed to solve our housing crisis. Closing a local cement plant means a GHG reduction for California, but producing and transporting cement from other states and countries with lower environmental, worker protection, and civil rights standards has zero GHG emissions under California’s climate programs. Imported wood products are also GHG-free, while sustainably using local forest resources into identical products creates (bad) GHG.
The products consumed by our wealthiest are also given a GHG pass: our regulators entirely exclude GHG emissions from consumer products, luxury imports, and plane trips – to name just a few examples.
Meanwhile, California’s climate leaders relentlessly pursue policies to depopulate the working class, eliminate high wage jobs accessible to those without college degrees (and debt), and further exacerbate our housing and poverty crises.
Our leaders relentlessly invent new housing costs and obstacles to pile onto the minorities, millennials and students most harmed by the housing crisis, most recently by expanding a notoriously anti-housing NIMBY litigation tool called the California Environmental Quality Act, by imposing high cost types like high rise buildings to avoid “sprawl” beyond the 5% of California’s existing urban boundaries, and by requiring subsidized solar rooftops on single family homes that are entirely unaffordable to the hard working Californians who teach our schools, nurse our sick, fight our fires and deliver fancy imported electronics to our doorsteps.
More insidiously, our leaders have hidden – intentionally – the cost of these climate mandates on existing Californians. We make those without solar panels subsidize those wealthy enough to afford new housing, and continuously raise housing costs even though we already pay 250% times more for a house than average Americans.
We charge consumers for the “negawatts” of surplus afternoon electricity that we pay other states to take, while charging working class families in our poorest regions like the Central Valley more than $500 per month in electricity costs – we pay by far highest electricity cost of any state in the Lower 48. None of our climate elites have even bothered to acknowledge how much more we’ll pay under this year’s headline-grabbing 100% “renewable” energy mandate – but other experts confirm it will cost us more (a lot more).
We impose these ever-escalating housing and electricity costs on the same inland California communities that house the millions of workers who cannot afford to live near tony Bay Area and coastal jobs centers, and are forced to “drive until they qualify” for housing they can afford, in gridlocked commutes of three or more hours each day.
Yet our climate leaders have elected to cause even more poverty and pain in these communities, with unheralded increases in gasoline prices that the non-partisan Legislative Analysist’s office have concluded could cause price increases of up to 73 cents per gallon of gasoline – and beyond this new gas tax lie even more transportation costs like fees for driving each mile (even in an electric car). Finally our leaders have brought us the “road diet” of intentionally increasing traffic congestion to “induce” higher transit ridership and biking, even as rapid advances in transportation modes empty $2 million fixed bus routes amidst an explosion in demand-based shared rides and electric scooters.
Climate conference delegates tiptoeing around San Francisco’s homeless while dodging needles and feces should also be on the lookout for tinted windows on serviceable sedans, where exhausted workers sleepover midweek in furtively parked cars in the neighborhoods where safety and arrest risks are carefully calibrated.
Undeterred by our urban horrors, or the personal and family health, educational, and economic harms our housing crisis cause each day to workers and their families, our climate leaders propose double-down with tactics to destroy our communities.
The only study done to quantify the GHG reduction impacts of ending “sprawl” by building 3 million new homes we need entirely within existing communities – by UC Berkeley scholars – concludes that this policy will achieve less than 1% of California’s ambitious new GHG reduction goals, but will require “the demolition of tens if not hundreds of thousands” of existing homes.
Unleashing a new wave of gentrification and displacement in the name of climate policy, while ignoring all math – California’s entire economy produces less than 1% of global GHG, and this climate housing policy will decrease less than 1% of California’s GHG emissions.
Reducing global GHG by less than 1% of 1% , at a cost of destroying existing communities to build 3 million costly new high density rental homes that permanently exclude working class families from the health and economic stability of owning a home, is environmental racism.
None of this is a surprise: California’s climate leaders have a long history of putting their idealized version of the planet ahead of the health of our people.
We each lived through the Cold War, where behind the “Iron Curtain” Soviet bureaucrats made ever more grandiose claims about the economic productivity of communism while ordinary people remained poor – and those who objected were shunned, imprisoned or killed.
California’s environmental elite have erected the Green Curtain, where to question the policies and discrimination caused by our environmental elites is a Trumpian heresy.
Totalitarian tactics that discriminate against California minorities are racist civil rights violations even when inflicted by the environmental elites of the “progressive” left.
Behind the Green Curtain, we have turned to the courts to force California’s climate leaders to respect our civil rights, to disclose the economic and environmental impacts of their climate policies on our communities, and to prioritize GHG reduction measures that actually reduce global GHG instead worsening our poverty, homelessness, and housing crises.
At San Francisco’s climate summit, we ask world leaders to hold California’s climate leaders politically accountable for their overheated “hype” and their civil rights wrongs.
The authors are each distinguished veteran civil rights leaders and members of The 200, which was founded to restore home ownership to California’s minority communities. (http://www.thetwohundred.org/)