Category Archive: letter to readers

  1. Celebrating Gains and Some Unsolicited Advice

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    Mark Twain famously quipped that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” Oil companies may be feeling a little safer (for now) after a disappointing regular session failed to move major climate change legislation. The Governor has until October 11 to sign or veto bills that made it out of Legislature by September 11. As we draft this newsletter, the Governor has signed AB 2 (Alejo), which authorizes the creation of Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities. Could this be the long-desired, oft-rejected tool to replace redevelopment agencies? We also await the Governor’s promised signature on SB 358, California’s bid to address the gender wage gap. Next month once the ink is dry, we’ll do a round-up of successful bills addressing social equity, transportation, housing and economic development issues. For now, we celebrate gains by workers, promote transportation equity in Los Angeles and offer unsolicited advice to California’s big city mayors on what they should do to lead on affordable housing. Summer’s over – let’s get back to work on the issues that really matter.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  2. We Don’t Need Another Superhero

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    It’s the dog days of summer, when the heat drives you indoors and the superhero movies drive you to tedium. But lots of good work is still being done even in the triple digits. While Los Angeles hopes for Olympic Gold in the Summer of 2024, we draw your attention to thoughtful education and support programs that are giving the formerly incarcerated a real chance to remake their lives and break out of the recidivism trap. Likewise, we highlight the fine work of our friends at USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and their roadmap on how to link high tech growth to high need areas in San Diego. Many of their recommendations touch on the need to invest in quality education and career pipelines. In much the same way, the California Community Colleges Strong Work Force Task Force just released its recommendations on how the nation’s largest college system can better prepare students for high-value jobs in regions throughout the state. Hollywood box office notwithstanding, all this great policy stuff makes us think we don’t need more superheroes — just hard work, thoughtful leadership, and the courage to take risks and do the right thing.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  3. The High Cost of Getting High

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    We often write about the need to consider the equity, environmental and economic implications of our policies, advocacy and personal choices.  Even in seemingly unrelated policy areas, by asking the right questions we can see the interconnectedness of the three E’s.  For example, the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana use has been framed by health, civil liberty, public safety and tax revenue issues.  But, as our lead article details, the growing cultivation of pot indoors has real energy and greenhouse gas impacts.  On the flip side, the way California spends the revenue generated from its pioneering greenhouse gas emission reduction program (i.e., cap-and-trade) has enormous social equity concerns.  And in this time of smart phone apps and gee-whiz digital advances, we think a robust, equitable economy requires universal access to broadband – today’s equivalent of the public library, schoolhouse, encyclopedia, telephone, community center and employment office all rolled into one.  So as you embrace summer by reading the new old Harper Lee novel, enjoying the latest blockbuster, or reveling in the great outdoors, you might consider the interconnectedness of it all.  Or just take a deep breath and relax.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  4. Planning for a More Just Future

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    As we head into another hot summer, there’s a growing chorus of community leaders, advocates, elected officials, and spiritual leaders calling for a fundamental shift in how we address some of our most pressing problems. These messages focus on creating a more inclusive society – one that tackles systemic inequities and ensures that all of us have an opportunity to share in prosperity. In our nation’s urban centers, we’ve seen too many instances where underlying social inequalities become manifest through tragedy. In light of this, we’re looking at the how broader values of caring, stewardship, and empathy can help create a more just society. As planners, that means we need to double-down on best principles that guide our work. We should be cognizant of the real life, day-to-day issues that face working families, and we should prioritize listening and collaboration over maximizing short-term economic gains. This month, we take a look at how a fundamental focus on equity can reshape our transportation network and make the community planning process more relevant. Likewise, we look at how innovative financing approaches can help property owners undertake expensive seismic retrofits without penalizing those who are least able to pay. Throughout this issue, we see ongoing efforts that aim to deliver investments in a manner that reduces existing inequities. Let’s continue to support these practices and build a lasting constituency of practitioners, advocates, and decision-makers committed to advancing equity.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  5. Vote . . . Or Else

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    Los Angeles just held an election, and nearly no one came.  Okay, so 85,628 is not really no one, but it’s still only 8.6% of the total number of registered voters eligible for Tuesday’s important City Council and Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member runoff elections. To those hardy voters who braved paper cuts (to vote by mail) and beautiful sunny weather (to vote in person), we thank you for participating in one of the most important duties of a citizen in a representative democracy. For those of you who sat it out, let’s talk about the appropriate punishment.  This month (only slightly in despair) we look at the stick instead of the carrot approach to improving voter turnout. On the flip-side, we examine the rise of “alt-labor” and its promise to mobilize workers to forge a more equitable economy.  As we head into the shopping frenzy of Memorial Day weekend, let’s recall that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who died in service of our country.  Let’s reflect on how we honor the sacrifices of those who died by building a stronger democracy and more inclusive economy.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  6. Rip it Out!

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    Now that most of us have recovered from Tax Day in some form or fashion, it’s time to celebrate Earth Day. To honor the 45th annual celebration of the Earth and environmentalism, we’re launching the Green Edition of The Sustainable Development Report. And we’re starting out by stating the obvious:  it’s time to rip out your lawn, especially if you live in the arid West.  As our lead article notes, there are ample programs and incentives to encourage you to reduce water use, improve your  local ecosystem, and save some serious cash. So if you still have a lawn, take this opportunity to reimagine your outdoor space as a haven for birds and bees searching for drought-tolerant plants on which to alight.  But as you’ll see from our other articles this month, we think Earth Day is not just about birds, bees, and bugs.  It’s also about promoting equity, rethinking our relationship to nature, and considering how we can wisely and sustainably (re-)use our limited resources.  We’re heartened that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s sustainability plan – “pLAn” – also puts equity at the center of its approach.  The document is smart, comprehensive, and aesthetically pleasing, so check it out. Happy 45th Birthday, Earth Day!

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  7. Jobs a Blooming, Bills Abound

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    Spring has arrived with blooming flowers, longer days and the news that California’s economy outpaced every other state in job creation in the 12 months ending January 31, 2015 – almost 30% more than the Lone Star state.  Ha!  Spring also heralds legislative committee hearings on the latest batch of bills.  We highlight a package of bills that address California’s ever-worsening affordable housing crisis.  We also note some cities that are turning to linkage fees to leverage the uptick in construction activity as a way to pay for building low cost housing units.  But truly sustainable development requires good paying jobs as well as affordable housing.  And those jobs need a place to grow.  Hence the efforts emerging in high-priced markets like Vancouver and San Francisco to explore mixed industrial/residential zoning.  Before you get too wonky, celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez on March 31st and make a note on your calendar for April 18th and 19th.  Those are the opening weekend days of National Park week – we’re talking free entrance days!  So grab your reusable water bottles and enjoy our natural splendor.  We do love spring around here.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  8. Changing Practice in a Changing World

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    It looks like 2015 will once again be a year characterized by incremental progress in the face of polarizing extremes. While housing markets have rebounded in some major metropolitan areas, development is focused largely on high-end markets, raising serious questions about affordability in the nation’s booming metros. On the weather front, we’re starting the year off with record setting snowfall in the Northeast while California remains parched – providing more support for the notion that extreme weather will be the new normal. And, for the first time, a tech giant has supplanted big oil as the world’s most valuable company.

    Times are changing and we, in turn, must change the way we practice to advance progressivism in evolving economic, physical, and political spheres. This month, we look at how “resilience” planning can be made to promote inclusivity, equity, and sustainability. We then pivot to how the increasingly powerful tech sector can work with policymakers and educators to change the face of their relatively homogenous workforce. And, from there, we look at how incentive zoning policies can be leveraged to lend certainty to the development process and provide meaningful community benefits. If the only thing that’s inevitable is change, let’s be prepared to create the change we want to see.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  9. Leading from the Left Coast, Once Again

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    Happy New Year and enjoy the extra $550.  That’s the amount the average American stands to save in 2015 from falling gas prices.  What’s not to like about that? Crumbling roads and bridges, for one.  Our lead story examines the recurring drama of the National Highway Trust Fund and how we might restructure our major infrastructure funding source to better reflect our environmental and equity values.  As usual we look to good ideas from the states to shame our gridlocked Congress. While we ponder the best way to raise money for infrastructure, let’s also enjoy an extraordinary moment in California history. Last week our Governor started a fourth term by proposing that within 15 years we increase our share of electricity derived from renewable sources to 50%, reduce our use of petroleum in cars and trucks by 50%, and that we double the efficiency of our existing buildings.  And then he proposed huge spending increases for all levels of education in his budget a few days later. That’s a bold vision for the future.  Time for Congress to follow.

    Sincerely,

    Cecilia V. Estolano, Jennifer LeSar, Katherine A. Perez-Estolano

  10. Transit, Transparency, and the True Cost of Giveaways

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    Letter to Readers

    The season of giving thanks and taking stock is upon us.  With the depressed (and depressing) voter turnout of the midterm election behind us, we choose to find the bright spot instead of wallowing in the dread of intensified partisan gridlock.  In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — not exactly blue states – voters stood up for workers and approved ballot measures to increase the minimum wage.  But how can low wage workers move into the middle class?  We have to make sure they can actually get to where the good jobs are.  This month we look at recent studies that provide more evidence that meaningful transit accessibility is a crucial part of a comprehensive economic development strategy.  So too is transparency.  We look at a proposed accounting rule that would require government agencies to disclose details about the subsidies they give to developers and corporations in the ever more competitive game of business attraction and retention. But first we focus on Panama, a dynamic nation with newly elected leaders who want to leverage rail transit investments for better housing and economic outcomes for low and middle income people.  So of course they came to California to get ideas.  We’ll tell you what they saw and why Panama is a place to watch. Onward to pumpkin pie!

    Sincerely yours,

    Cecilia V. Estolano | Jennifer LeSar | Katherine A. Perez-Estolano