Top civil rights leaders are suing California for climate policies they say disproportionately harm its poorest residents, particularly Latinos and African Americans.
“California politicians are using anti-racist and environmentalist words to hide the regressive impact of their climate policies on the poor and people of color,” said John Gamboa, the co-founder of The Two Hundred, a coalition of prominent civil rights leaders, which filed a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in Superior Court.
The lawsuit alleges that “the most staggering, unlawful, and racist components of the [state’s climate policies] target new housing” and are contributing to “resegregation.”
The suit claims CARB is in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Global Warming and Solutions Act, the California Clean Air Act, and other federal and state laws.
“California’s climate policies guarantee that housing, transportation and electricity prices will continue to rise,” the complaint notes, “while ‘gateway’ jobs to the middle class for those without college degrees, such as manufacturing and logistics, will continue to locate in other states.”
A spokesperson for CARB, Dave Clegern, said, his agency’s draft plan “in no way discourages or prohibits other types of housing” and said “the type of development urged by the suit would actually encourage continued urban sprawl, which would remove housing from closer location to jobs and other resources.”
Gamboa, co-founder of the Greenlining Institute, is a nationally-recognized civil rights leader for his work ending racially discriminatory “redlining” practices by banks, which excluded people of color from bank loans for decades following World War II.
Other members of The Two Hundred include Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party; Joe Coto, former chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus; and Cruz Reynoso, the first Latino state Supreme Court Justice.
“California’s climate leaders have decided to intentionally increase traffic congestion — to lengthen commute times and encourage gridlock — to try to get more people to ride buses or take other forms of public transit,” the legal complaint alleges.
The attorney for the lawsuit is Jennifer Hernandez of the law firm Holland and Knight. Hernandez, who is also on the leadership council of The Two Hundred, is one of the state’s top housing attorneys as well as a leading scholar of the impact of the state’s environmental laws on the housing crisis.
“Time after time California imposes new costs and restrictions on home-building which make housing even more expensive, which harms working families and minority communities the most,” Hernandez said. “It’s unconscionable.”
Clegern said that CARB’s draft plan suggested ways to “use the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to affordable, transit friendly housing each year. This money comes from the cap-and-trade program and is one of the more consistent suppliers of affordable housing in California.”
But according to Hernandez, “the amount of money they are allocating to affordable housing from cap and trade is a small fraction of the spending, with most going to higher income households for things like electric car and rooftop solar subsidies.”
The civil rights leaders said that they turned to the courts given that the state legislature and Governor Jerry Brown have not only failed to deal with the housing crisis but have in fact implemented policies that exacerbate it.
Asked to review the legal complaint, University of Southern California law professor, George Lefcoe called it, “Astonishingly and painstakingly good.”
Lefcoe, who is not involved in the case, said the lawsuit’s challenge to transportation policies is particularly powerful. “Automobiles are the survival mechanism for low-income people,” noted Lefcoe. “If you try to increase the cost of automobiles, you hurt low-income people.
The housing crisis has, in recent years, pushed people further from jobs, and dramatically increased commute distances. Vehicle miles Californians have to drive rose by 15 percent between 2000 and 2015. This increase in driving resulted in adverse health impacts from air pollution.
Some of the unfairness is geographic, the complaint alleges. Many of the state’s poor and people of color tend to “live in the state’s inland areas (and need more heating and cooling than the temperate coast), and drive farthest to jobs due to the acute housing crisis.”
“The advocates of these policies,” Lefcoe added, “seem to want their housekeepers, who make $11 an hour, to spend all the day on buses. But in places like [the affluent northern California county] Marin, you couldn’t get to homes by bus if you tried.”
The civil rights leaders say California’s policies hurt poor people more than they help the climate.
“Since the effective date of California’s landmark GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction law, the Global Warming Solutions Act, 41 states have reduced per capita GHG by more than California.”
They note that “just one wildfire near Fresno County” produced five times more GHGs than were reduced in 2015.
The complaint briefly addresses nuclear power as a core climate solution, noting that California “has lower per capita GHG emissions than any other large state except New York, which unlike California still has multiple operating nuclear power plants to reduce its GHG emissions.”
Date: Sep 14, 2018