Issue: Climate Justice
Topic: State Climate Policy
Date: March 1, 2015
File: building_a_cross-sector_coalition_sustainable_communities_for_all_and_californias_cap-and-trade_program.pdf


In 2012, California implemented a cap‐and‐trade program as part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A new cross‐sector coalition called Sustainable Communities for All (SC4A) successfully championed a joint platform that prioritized social equity and proposed allocating a significant percentage of cap‐and‐trade revenue to provide transportation choices and build homes affordable to lower‐income households near transit.

The demand for transit‐oriented development (TOD) continues to grow, yet there is a greatly constrained supply of land near transit, creating enormous pressures on local real estate markets. TOD can be a boon for disadvantaged households, resulting in benefits such as lower transportation costs, improved walkability and health, and greater connection to community amenities and job opportunities in the regional economy. But rising rents in these areas too often result in displacement, as TOD‐driven improvements lead to these households being priced out of their own neighborhoods. “Our equitable development and anti‐displacement work go hand in hand,” explained Guillermo Mayer, President of Public Advocates, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization and member of SC4A. “We have to make sure that low‐income and communities of color can benefit from public investments in transit, housing and other areas and not be displaced by these improvements in their community, which is a huge issue,” he said.

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According to multiple parties involved, that process of building relationships and cultivating trust was critical to the success of the coalition’s efforts. Kirkeby said, “One of the things that made it so easy was that there was always a feeling of appreciation for each other’s sectors and input, because everyone pulled their weight in the advocacy work.” Multiple respondents commented on the amount of time and work required of SC4A partners. Ward‐Waller explained, “All of the core partners made a commitment to participating on all the [weekly] calls as often as possible. That level of engagement and commitment was critical for building trust… It has been very deliberate.” Mayer added, “It was sweat equity, which is critical to building trust and establishing your own standing.”

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Another factor in building the coalition was working with the existing power dynamics and personalities within the group. Snyder explained, “The groups all had relatively similar levels of political power. None of us was a huge powerhouse, but we were all respected voices and known by the key players in the Capitol… A big power differential didn’t come out, which helped 8 us.” Multiple partners echoed this sentiment and attributed the coalition’s success to the inclusiveness of the individuals involved. “Personalities really matter. We had an even‐tempered coalition. If you have a hot‐head or an overly dominant organization that tries to take over, the coalition fractures, it’s that simple,” said Mayer. A coalition may not be able to choose the types of personalities involved, but it can be intentional about creating an environment that enables cooperation and compromise. Despite the absence of “hot heads,” SC4A partners still had to engage in contentious discussions, particularly when it came to negotiating specific funding amounts for the proposal, but it created a safe place to have those discussions out in the open. “That’s part of the success of this coalition, that we could give people the space and trust to have those thorny discussions,” said Mayer. This is especially true when new partners are working together for the first time.

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As is often the case when advocating for disadvantaged communities, the coalition was somewhat of an underdog in the fight for cap‐and‐trade proceeds. One of the main competing platforms was backed by a group of high‐powered organizations that was better resourced than SC4A. “There was a real concern because of the influential players of that coalition, that an equity focused coalition wouldn’t be able to get the same kind of attention and compete with them to be part of the debate,” said Mayer. But SC4A was persistent in meeting with legislative staff and working to understand their needs and priorities. Gabrielle Meindl, a consultant to the State Assembly budget committee, stated, “In order to be taken seriously, it’s got to be a two way street.” According to SC4A partners, the other coalition’s platform proposed that the state fund local and regional governments for a “vague set of investments.” However, the State tended to provide funding for specific investments and retain oversight through state agencies, such as CalTrans, the Strategic Growth Council, or the ARB. “Their [the opposing coalition] approach clashed with the Legislature’s preferred approach. There was distrust there between different levels of government, and ultimately the decisions were made to invest through the state agencies,” said one coalition member. Despite being a smaller coalition, SC4A was influential, in part, because it took time to understand the nuances of the political process and was able to design a platform proposal that appealed to lawmakers.

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