SD350 Builds Power with Community Budget Alliance

By: Joe Wainio, member of SD350’s Coalition Team.

SanDiego350 has been a member of the Community Budget Alliance (CBA) for four years. CBA is a coalition of local organizations advocating for the interests of immigrants, low-income workers and communities of color. It mainly becomes active during the period when the mayor and city council consider the annual city budget (March-June), lobbying for more funding for its member organizations’ priorities.

Participating in multiracial, cross class coalitions such as CBA is a strategic way to build the power we need to challenge the 1%. Without a fundamental realignment of political forces in our country, away from those who put profits before people, we won’t be able to create a more just society, including taking action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Currently, levels of economic inequality are near historic highs. Americans in the top 0.1% of income earners capture over 196 times the income of the bottom 90%. Racial disparities exacerbate the unfairness even further.

Our country was built on and still reflects the legacy of white supremacy. In 2016, median wealth of white families was about 10 times that of Black families and 8 times that of Latino families.

COVID-19 has demonstrated health and employment disparities, as well.  Black people are dying at rates almost 3 times those of whites. A study by SANDAG showed that unemployment in Logan Heights had reached 37.5% in early May, while in Rancho Bernardo it was “only” 20%.

Political inequality follows as a logical consequence of this economic inequality. According to research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, “the preferences of the average American [on federal government policy] appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon policy.” Meanwhile, big corporate lobbyists have no problem getting their agenda enacted.

By engaging in the fight for equality with our allies, we build relationships and trust and expand the progressive movement for change. Fighting side by side with the Community Budget Alliance, and in other cross-class and multiracial coalitions, is the only way to build a movement strong enough to challenge the status quo.

Interview with SD350 Member of the Month: Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera is a volunteer leader with SD350 and a member of the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) training effort.
SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?
Maria Rivera: I joined the actions of 350.org activists during college and then found SanDiego350 when looking for a local chapter of the organization. My first action was volunteering for the People’s Climate March in 2014, where I saw over 1,000 San Diegans march to call for climate justice. We all seek a connection to the world around us. As a kid, I learned the importance of our connection to nature by living in places like Mexico City. It’s the right thing to do, to ensure equitable access to the bounty of nature. I’m lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who agree, I do the work for them.
SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?
MR: Sincere, good-humored and laid-back.
SD350: What drives your activism? 
MR: Experiencing scarcity. And knowing that nature will provide if we can act with a generosity of spirit.
SD350: How does SD350 stay focused on justice within policy work?MR: SD350 volunteers understand that reducing GHG emissions and improving renewable energy technologies is not enough to resolve climate change impacts. SD350 offers a service by researching policy changes that affect working folks and advocating for the interests of those who want a resilient governance prepared for current and future ecological changes. SD350 advocates for ambitious policies that match the level of the problems related to climate change especially for those who lack representative platforms.
SD350: How is justice related to this for you?
MR: A healthy environment is a human right. But it’s not enough to see this on paper. I think most people want equitable access to nature’s resources, but that won’t happen unless we account for the disparities that exist within and between our neighborhoods. During the ongoing pandemic, we’re experiencing what happens when the environment impacts our livelihoods; some households can overcome better than others. Justice means recognizing that consumption rates and economic structures can change and must change to ensure our human rights for a habitable planet.
SD350: What action were you involved with that made you the most excited?
MR: I got the chance to meet the other 350 organizations around California. The State is wonderfully diverse and each county has a personality, the 350 groups were no different. I was encouraged and overjoyed to meet other people around Cali who are part of a community of activists. I also met Rebecca and Caro and we all became members of the San Diego 350 JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) training group. To be honest, I get to hang out with friends and do exciting work in every SD350 action that I get to do.
SD350: What else would you like people to know about you?
MR: Meditating on and taking action for our beautiful Earth fills me with joy. I’m a first-generation immigrant and I have two nephews in the armed forces. At one point, most of my extended family lived in Barrio Logan but I have lived in North Park most of my life (think, before the breweries). After college, I did fieldwork around coasts in Mexico and research in Mexico City. I’m positive that anyone, no matter what position they have in life, can help and be helped by treasuring earth and its resources.

Reflections on the Intersection of Climate Change, Justice, and Equity

By: Toshi Ishihara, SD350 board member and member of the Transportation Committee.

Climate Change is real, and we know that the world needs to come together to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst impacts of Climate Change. The challenge from shifting from our fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by renewable energy is a huge challenge in our political environment both domestically and globally. Unfortunately, the above was my entire limited understanding of the climate change problem when I started volunteering with SD350 in the fall of 2018. The  equation was simply “GHG Emissions = Climate Change”.

But, then things changed. About a year ago, upon a request from SD350, I started working with the San Diego Transportation Equity Working Group. SDTEWG is a coalition composed of the Environmental Health Coalition, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, the Center on Policy Initiatives, and San Diego 350. Each of these organizations, except SD350, are deeply rooted in environmental justice communities, communities of color, and other communities of concern. The coalition works to influence local governments and public agencies to provide convenient, affordable, and equitable solutions to their communities’ needs of transportation while addressing climate injustice. 

Since “Justice” and “Equity” were not commonly used words at the companies I worked for except as in “pay equity”, my learning curve as a new member of the SDTEWG planning group was extremely steep. However, as I learned little by little the environmental injustices that those communities had been struggling with for generations, it became clear to me that as a climate change advocate I needed to study and work on the intersection of climate change, justice, and equity and also to look at the climate change actions and solutions from a different perspective. Climate solutions that only reduce GHG emissions are no longer acceptable to me today.

Pushing for 100% renewable energy, emission-free transportation systems, and fightingthe fossil industry are good goals that will uproot the major cause of climate change and help the renewables industry flourish. 

But, what then? A superficial transfer of wealth from the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry (especially given how many fossil fuel companies are accruing financial interests in the renewable sector) won’t change systemic economic inequity or environmental justice. 

It would be naive to think that renewable energy companies, once they gain dominant political influence and financial power, won’tl continue to exploit communities of concern as the fossil fuel industry has for decades. 

While some environmental organizations have accepted this tradeoff as a necessary evil to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to 350ppm, I am proud that SanDiego350 has stood with environmental justice groups to demand solutions that prioritize frontline communities and equity. 

I very much enjoy working with the SDTEWG folks, and I regard them as my teachers on the intersection of climate change, justice, and equity. They may not think they are teaching me, but I am definitely learning some very important life lessons.

It’s Time For a Better Deal

By: Amanda Ruetten, Public Policy Organizer

San Diegans pay higher utility prices than most Californians. The high prices and San Diego’s dangerous air pollution rates are especially hard on vulnerable low-income communities, where family budgets are tight and asthma rates are growing. The utility company rakes in profits while we provide the public land necessary for its business. That’s the way it’s been for 100 years. This year, for the first time in 50 years, we finally have a chance to change our city’s outdated, one-sided deal with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). 

SDG&E’s 50-year franchise agreement with the City of San Diego to distribute gas and electricity on the City’s public right of way expires in January 2021. The City is required by its Charter to select the next energy franchisee through a “free and open competition”.  

SanDiego350 and its allies are campaigning for a better deal. We are in a climate crisis and the City of San Diego has one of the most progressive Climate Action Plans in the nation, with a goal of getting to 100% clean electricity by 2035.  To ensure we meet that goal, the City must award the next franchise agreement to a company that supports our clean energy goals. There must be guarantees that the utility — unlike the existing situation — will not undermine these goals by lobbying against clean energy programs at the state level, or imposing higher fees for solar home owners and low income community members. A shorter term and required penalties for violating any agreement provisions would provide increased accountability, and the franchise fees should be paid for by corporate shareholders rather than the customers.  

The franchise agreement is determined in an open bidding process and then it must be adopted by a two-thirds majority vote of the city council. That vote is expected later this year. There is an opportunity for us to have a voice in what happens. 

Join us to learn more about this campaign and how you can get involved. We’ll have an in-depth workshop on Sunday, June 7th. Or email me.

Interview with SD350 Member of the Month: Bill Wellhouse

Bill Wellhouse is Acting Treasurer of the SanDiego350 Board and leader of the Coalition Team.
SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?
Bill Wellhouse: I got involved about 6 years ago after I retired from education. I found SD350 by doing a google search. I really got involved in 2015 when I volunteered to help organize the Interfaith Forum on Climate Justice in 2015–that was timed to coincide with the pope’s visit to Wash DC.
SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?
BW: Reserved, dependable, stubborn (so my wife says).
SD350: What drives your activism? 
BW: A deep understanding of the science; a profound sense of place and the fear that that might be lost; a lifelong interest in wilderness, especially mountain wilderness, gained both from working there (as a backcountry ranger) and backpacking / trekking in many different wildernesses but especially the Sierra.
SD350: What is something you learned about how to be a good partner with organizations?
BW: There has to be give and take; partners need to feel that they are being listened to and that their input matters; when leading up to a big action you need to keep your partners informed and engaged.
SD350: Since you do so much – you’re the treasurer, run the Coalition Team and also help organize big actions, what is your favorite part of doing this?
BW: As a math major I am not afraid of budget analysis that comes with being treasurer, however, I have a lot of respect for accountants because there are many accounting procedures I don’t understand. I enjoy being on the coalition team because I like getting to know other orgs and their leaders and I enjoy recruiting them to be partners when we are planning a big action. I also enjoy putting together parts of the program in a big action and generally playing a supportive role.
SD350: Was your background with charter schools helpful for what you do now? Can you compare and contrast the two?
BW: Yes, as an administrator/director in several charter schools I learned a lot about working with boards, handling budgets, hiring and managing employees, and the legalities of being a non-profit. I also learned, usually the hard way, how to work with people as a team. What’s different is that charter schools are in the public sector, have more legal constraints, and receive a lot more scrutiny and also have many different stakeholders–parents, students, board members, the public, to deal with. I do miss working with students (I finished my career in high schools), their energy, their liveliness, but I do not miss meeting with parents over discipline issues.
SD350: How did your background and culture form you and play into your considerations on environmental justice?
BW: My mother was from Mexico–her name was Graciela–and all of my uncles, aunts, cousins on that side of the family still live in Mexico or along the border in Texas, so, although, I generally grew up as white middle class, I have a lot of understanding and sympathy for the difficulties people of Mexican heritage face here. I also was the principal of a small charter school in an immigrant and low income community (City Heights) and came face to face with the struggles many of our students endured on a daily basis. During the Vietnam War I was fortunate to receive a conscientious objector classification and worked for two years as an orderly in the emergency room of an inner city hospital in Cleveland witnessing the violence and suffering people in a racialized society face.
SD350: What is something that makes you happy about what you do with SD350?
BW: This is important work and I am able to use some of the skills I’ve developed over a lifetime in education such as planning, coordinating, working with a variety of personalities, and meeting the needs of different stakeholders. There are times when I am being stretched unexpectedly that I appreciate, things I might not ordinarily do, like participating in rallies and marches.

Toyota Tainted

Last fall, Toyota took an action that puts them squarely on the side of polluters in the battle for cleaner air. Back in October, Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) and others filed a lawsuit defending California’s vehicle emissions standards against an attack by the Trump administration – a case where Toyota might be expected to stand firmly on the side of defending California’s standards. Instead, Toyota sold us out, joining the defendant in attacking our state’s standards.

Toyota talks a pretty good talk when it comes to the environment. Just check out their goals in Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, the first of which is “Reduce CO2 emissions from new vehicles by 90 percent from 2010 levels.” And you could say they’ve walked the walk too, with the iconic Prius – the first mass-produced hybrid-electric car, which pioneered mass electrification of passenger cars. 

But at the end of the day, the company has traded clean-air for favor with the Trump administration.

Why focus on Toyota?

Other carmakers besides Toyota took the defendant’s side in EDF’s lawsuit. So why single out Toyota? Because they, in particular, are demonstrating hypocrisy, given their facade of sustainability. And with 14.58% of the U.S. market in the first quarter of this year, they trail only GM and Ford. In addition, Toyota actually had a hand in crafting the California emissions standards!

We must fight Toyota’s stance, tooth and nail. There’s so much at stake – clean air in our lungs, a livable planet.

Assaulting California’s auto emissions standards

The Trump administration attack had come in September 2019, in the form of a rule “blocking California – or any other state – from setting its own standards for fuel economy or greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles”. It was well known that the administration was hell-bent from day one on favoring oil industry profits over clean air. (Just check out this timeline.) In anticipation of an attack, in July 2019, four major automakers reached an agreement with California to voluntarily adhere to its stricter emissions standards, regardless of what steps the federal government took. You’d think Toyota would have been among them, but you’d be wrong. The four companies that chose to protect our planet and our health were Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW.

Origin of California’s special status

California has had the right to set its own, stricter emissions standards for motor vehicles than the federal government’s, dating back to the 1967 Air Quality Act. That’s because California already had emissions standards in place by that time to address dire pollution in Los Angeles. The 1970 Clean Air Act honored that by allowing California to continue to write its own rules – subject to applying for and being granted a waiver by the EPA.

California is treated uniquely in this, due to its particularly severe motor vehicle-related air quality issues. However, under Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, any state can choose to follow California’s standards. Significantly, 13 states and the District of Columbia do so choose. Known as the “Section 177″ states, they are primarily in the northeast of the country. 

Importance of California’s special status

As goes California, so goes the rest of the country. That’s because it’s uneconomical for automakers to manufacture cars to two different emissions specifications – one for the 14 states using the California standard and another for the rest of the U.S. using the EPA standard. This makes California’s special status extremely significant in terms of controlling climate pollution and protecting the air that we breathe.

California’s standards have directly resulted in the development of major technological advances to clean vehicle emissions. As a result, in terms of smog-forming pollution, the average new car sold in California – and nationwide – is more than 99 percent cleaner than a car from the 1970s.

 “It’s hard to overstate how important the ability for California to set its standards has been to public health and clean air over the past 40 years,” says Don Anair, deputy director for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. And in a 2017 article, Wired Magazine’s Alex Davies called the California exemption “one of the most powerful environmental tools in the world.”

Assaulting Federal auto emissions standards

On March 31st, the Trump administration launched a second major assault on auto-emissions standards. In one of the biggest steps the administration has taken to reverse an existing environmental policy, it rolled back federal fuel economy standards established in 2012, under which new vehicle fleets would reach an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, that federal goal is now lowered to about 40 miles per gallon. 

This latest attack makes it even more important that we retain our state’s ambitious goals! Let’s leverage COVID-19 downtime to take action.

Hit them where it hurts

The best way to apply pressure is by affecting sales. Dealerships act as critical ‘middlemen’ for the auto industry. In late February, SD350 joined forces with Activist San Diego at a protest at a local Toyota dealership – the Larry H. Miller Toyota dealership in Lemon Grove. This was part of Activist San Diego’s Toyota Loves Trump campaign – a campaign to pressure Toyota to drop its support of the administration in the EDF lawsuit. But with most of us currently sequestered at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, we must take action now through calls, emails, letters, etc. 

What you can do

Please tell Toyota that their behavior is unacceptable by contacting them in any of the following ways: 

  1. Call one or more of the 11 San Diego Toyota dealerships.
  2. Submit a comment to Toyota corporate at Email Toyota (Choose Advertising/Marketing as the Topic on the left side.)
  3. Write to Toyota headquarters:
    Mr. Tetsuo Ogawa, CEO
    Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
    P.O. Box 259001
    Plano, TX 75025-9001

Here’s a sample of what you can say:

I’m a resident of XXX, California and am writing/calling to express my outrage at Toyota’s support of the Trump administration in striking down California’s right to have stricter auto-emissions standards than the EPA’s. 

I will not consider buying a Toyota [again] until Toyota Corporation does the following, and I will encourage my family and friends to do likewise:

  1. Drop support of the Trump administration in the lawsuit brought by EDF et al in October 2019.
  2. Publicly support California’s right to have stronger auto emissions standards than the EPA’s.

Our individual actions can add up to make a big difference in protecting our state’s auto emissions standards. Thanks in advance for your action on this issue!

The MTS Initiative: A Teen’s Perspective

My name is Paloma Fallica and I’m a sophomore at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace. I also volunteer for SanDiego350, and one of our top priorities at the moment is spreading the word and garnering support for the San Diego Transportation Equity Working Group’s Environmental Justice priorities for the 2020 MTS transit initiative “Elevate 2020”. 

Our biggest priorities are connecting Environmental Justice communities to jobs, elevating mass transit, making public transit affordable, convenient and safe, and ensuring San Diego meets its regional climate goals. Vehicle transportation in the City of San Diego is responsible for more than half of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, and this climate crisis cannot be solved if we do not provide an alternate eco friendly mode of transportation by building a transit system. In our eyes, the measure as it stands does not achieve this, which is why we need your help. 

I advocate for the implementation of this improved version of the measure because, as a passionate teenager who isn’t old enough to drive yet and greatly values equity and climate action within our community, these improvements to the public transportation system would be a dream come true. The implementation of Youth Opportunity Passes, or no-cost transit passes, is the most significant proposal; as of now the plan is to provide these passes to anyone 18 and younger, but SDTEWG would like those aged 19-24 to be included so college students can also have access to free public transportation. This will make transit affordable for those who rely on it and encourage other young people to take transit.

Electrifying the MTS bus fleet by deploying zero-emission buses would put San Diego on the path to a fully electric bus fleet by 2030, as state law calls for, yet no funding is included in the current expenditure plan. Along with my help at SanDiego350, I am a leader of a club sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League whose focus is fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion in communities. I think that including funds for anti-displacement efforts is crucial so that new transit infrastructure developments near or in vulnerable communities in transit corridors, which are designed to improve transit services for those communities that rely most on public transit, do not displace people or cause gentrification – especially near transit hubs and stations. 

New transit infrastructure developments are expected to take place near or through those to ensure that vulnerable communities near transit corridors are not displaced communities to improve transit services for those communities that rely on public transit more than others.  However, those corridor developments will displace the people who live along those developments and also cause gentrification especially near transit hubs and stations. 

We would also like to see funding earmarked for transit in both the Purple line (proposed) and Blue line (existing) corridors in the expenditure plan to be used for planning, engineering and construction. Ultimately the goal is for these rail lines to connect the region from Tijuana to Kearny Mesa, and serve over 57,000 people. Increased frequency of transit as well as 24-hour service would reduce overcrowding and make stops safer by reducing wait time, making public transit a more viable and appealing option for many. 

Another important addition to the plan is the provision of clean, accessible bathrooms at all major transit stations during their windows of service; this would alleviate worry for transit riders who spend a large portion of time traveling and provide people a place to wash their hands after using public transportation. 

Finally, the inclusion of taxi drivers in the Mobility on Demand process is necessary on the ballot measure as they are a crucial part of transportation and their voices are relevant and meaningful to the process of developing MoD strategies. 

In short, the implementation of SDTEWG’s Environmental Justice priorities would make public transit more equitable and greatly reduce the carbon footprint of San Diego. I hope my letter has persuaded you to become an advocate for the improvement of the MTS Elevate 2020 Ballot Measure. 

Thank you,

Paloma Fallica

Interview with SD350 Member of the Month, Elaine Maltz

Elaine Maltz is the co-leader of State Legislation Committee of the Public Policy Team.

SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?

Elaine Maltz: I joined SD350 in 2012 when I was working on the Obama campaign and have been pretty active ever since. I’ve volunteered for several activities since joining but finding out about state legislation is the most interesting. I am the original chair of the Legislative Committee. It has only existed for 3 years and has been a constant process of learning and I’m grateful to Joyce and Masada for my on-the-job training. 

SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?

EM: My friends have told me I’m caring, compassionate and hard-working. They’ve also told me to keep on volunteering for SD350 and they call me to find out what’s happening.

SD350: What success has the legislative team had? 

EM: Anytime one of the bills we have endorsed passes, we consider that a success. This has happened quite often, like SB 100, which commited California to achieving 100% clean energy by 2045. In order to get the results we want, we meet with our state legislators and their staff to promote the bills. We also collaborate with other groups across the state in their efforts to push the legislation.

SD350: What drives your activism? 

EM: I have been an “activist” since I was in high school. I attribute that to my parents. Politics was always part of our family discussion.

SD350: What else would you like people to know about you? EM:  My main interest is my extended family. I visit them as much as I can. My grandchildren are seven, eight, and nine which makes them eternally fascinating. I love gardening: the plants, the birds and bees, the wind, sun and rain. I garden at least an hour every day possible. I also enjoy reading and participating in discussions at the two book groups to which I belong.

Cultivating the Youth Leadership Movement

By: Jennifer Phelps, Youth Climate Leadership Program Leader

On Jan. 25th, SanDiego350 launched its kick-off for the Climate Youth Leaders pilot program 2020. Now more than ever, youth are at the frontlines, taking a powerful stand to ensure a sustainable future. Young people have organized some of the most successful climate strikes and environmental movements in the past year, and their numbers are growing. SanDiego350 has created a program to empower youth and harness this energy. The program is geared to train young people on how to organize actions, advocate, and motivate others to join them! 

Goals include:

  • Empower young people to take action on climate
  • Foster leadership skills
  • Provide education on the intersection of social justice and environmental justice issues
  • Create a community of like-minded youth for support and inspiration

This pilot program pairs students with experienced climate activist “coaches,” who will share their expertise throughout the six month program. Clubs also receive the newly published Fight Like a Climate Activist: Handbook and D.I.Y. Roadmap to Environmental Clubs on Campus (produced by SD350), a customized step-by-step guide to mobilize their club to take meaningful and powerful actions. The Handbook features youth leaders in the movement, as inspiration and guidance (“hot tips!”). Designed to offer flexibility, students are encouraged to personalize their approach, depending upon their specific club agenda. 

Upcoming events include: Climate Youth Leaders Summit on April 4 (full-day training, speakers, and interactive exercises), supporting students to hold effective Climate Strikes (April 22), and a celebration dinner in June to conclude the program. 

Contact Jennifer Phelps to get involved.

Interview with SD350 Member of the Month: Max Lebovitz

Max is a monthly meeting coordinator and part of the Member Engagement Team.

SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?

Max Lebovitz: My fiancé was at a women’s march and signed up for the SD350 newsletter. Knowing that I was looking for volunteer opportunities, she forwarded an email to me that referenced a few open positions at the org. I got in touch with Masada and am now volunteering as the monthly meeting coordinator and as part of the Member Engagement Team (MET). I’ve been working with the organization for half a year. 

SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?

ML: Motivated, Diligent, Fun.

SD350: What drives your activism? 

ML: I’m well aware of the privilege and advantage I’ve had in my life coming from an educated and supportive family. I’ve been fortunate to earn my higher education, build an incredible network of friends and associates, and work for great companies. That said, I’m also well aware of the catastrophic damage our species is engendering on our world, and I feel that it’s my obligation to use my knowledge and resources to do what I can to mitigate the effects of climate change to ensure future generations can experience the world as our generation has, rather than cleaning up our mess.

SD350: What else would you like people to know about you? 

ML: I spend a lot of time outdoors: in the ocean, on a mountain, camping and wherever else I can feel connected to nature. I enjoy yoga and training Aikido. I’m also a sports fanatic from Los Angeles: Go Lakers, Go Dodgers, Go Kings, Go Rams. And I went to Colorado, Boulder, for my bachelor degree (Go Buffs!). Other than that, I’m a big family guy, love to read, and to travel as much as I can; especially down to Mexico.