Letter to Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer

August 28, 2019

Dear Mr. Steyer:

Our communities applaud you for your unrelenting support in the battle to protect the Earth and combat global warming. Your efforts, as reflected in your current Presidential campaign, have been an inspiration to all persons of color, who are disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change.

We are concerned, however, that blind financial support of environmentalists and increasingly elitist climate-change policies are creating devastating, unintended – and immediate – negative effects on communities of color, especially in California. For this reason, we request an opportunity to meet with you to discuss methods to mitigate these disproportionate impacts while achieving the same goals.

The greatest impact has been on the economics of homeownership, which for lower-income families is essential to decrease a wealth gap that has now reached historic proportions. With 30 years of accumulated wealth wiped out by the Great Recession, per capita assets for people of color are between 10 and 13 times less than for white Americans. A number of strategies to address global warming threaten to increase that gap even more. These regressive measures will not only increase poverty and worsen the health of families of color, they will create even more climate-killing traffic by limiting development of critically needed housing in urban areas where communities of color reside.

Recent or proposed changes to California’s climate change policies will exacerbate the housing crisis in a number of ways. They include: 

  • Expanding loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that will allow NIMBYs and special interests to derail affordable houses for reasons not intended by the landmark legislation;
  • Prioritizing expensive high-rise building developments, purportedly to avoid “sprawl” but are so expensive they are unaffordable to communities of color;
  • Promoting subsidized solar panels programs, partially paid by lower-income family’s taxes and fees, that only the wealthy can afford;
  • Requiring all new homes, including affordable developments, to be “net-zero” in energy generation instead of retrofitting existing homes worth more than $2 million;
  • Promoting electric car subsidies, which are utilized by the rich but paid for by the poor. 

We have already filed two lawsuits against the California Air Resources Board in order to prevent their scoping plan from discriminating against people of color, and are contemplating a third. Our mutual communities do not need this fight and we would love to avoid this conflict. 

We also recognize that environmental groups are composed of well-meaning community champions. However, the predominant problem is that they have little perspective on how their policies and actions injure our communities, as they lack ethnic diversity within their staff and leadership.

Green 2.0 released a report in June 2019 titled Leaking Talent: How People of Color are Pushed Out of Environmental Organizations. In 2018, they asked the 40 largest NGOs and environmental foundations to report the ethnic diversity of their staff. With responses from the majority of the organizations, they found that “among the 40 largest green NGOs, only 20% of the staff and 21% of the senior staff identified as People of Color.” Furthermore, it found that “environmental foundations revealed similar numbers with 25% of the staff and 4% of the senior staff identifying as People of Color.”

Environmental and community activists have so much more in common than in opposition. As leaders, we must come together to collaborate on policy which prioritizes preserving our earth while simultaneously bettering the lives of all.

For this reason, we would like to meet with you to begin a dialogue that will address these issues of conflict with the hope of finding better ways for communities of color to participate in – and minimize the economic harm from – the fight to protect our future. Please be assured, this is not an appeal for funds. We only want your understanding, ideas and help.


John Gamboa

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