Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2021

2021 Retreat Talk Synopsis

by Suzan Swabacker Miller

The keynote speaker for the 2021 Retreat was attorney Jennifer Hernandez. Here’s the synopsis of her talk in our programs: She will provide perspective on issues ranging from siting and expansion of undesirable land uses such as landfills and heavy industry near minority neighborhoods; infill development and public transit; gentrification and displacement; affordable and attainable housing; upward mobility and homeownership, transportation equity and solving the housing crisis. To use the vernacular: mind-blowing to start with, and the lecture had not begun.

In preparation for the talk, each of us attendees were sent a copy of her article for Breakthrough Magazine, Green Jim Crow (How California’s Climate Policies Undermine Civil Rights and Racial Equity). Ms. Hernandez opens her article writing that she “won the equivalent of the national lottery, with full scholarships to Harvard, and then to Stanford Law.” She continues with her own story about housing. Her father was employed by U.S. Steel in Pittsburg where she grew up “middle class” in a nice home there.

Fast forward to the present where home ownership for young people has become increasingly difficult. Ms. Hernandez writes that no affordable housing is in Pittsburg, nor most of the major cities in California. She interweaves Climate Policies, (created by White Climate policymakers) and notes that California wants all electric cars by 2030. However, poorer people have 2 constraints. First, they typically live outside the metropolitan areas in California and need a car to get to/from work. Second, they cannot afford an electric car, instead buying older more polluting gas fueled cars.

Kathleen Cruise summarized the laws as: “Her primary point was that there many things the State is doing right, but two key things we are doing wrong. One is that we are the only state that puts in place zoning and planning laws and then does not base building approvals on them. The resultant burdensome entitlement process adds $100,000 per unit making affordable housing unaffordable for many underserved populations. This is so wasteful. “

A tangent to this outcome is reflected by California’s stringent emissions laws which have improved or decreased the total smog levels since 1980. But flip this around, and the same laws have resulted in limited housing starts compared to the population growth.
From there she continues. Holland & Knight carefully collected data from the State to support the various arguments regarding zoning. Using Long Beach as an example, the data shows how city zoning places higher density housing alongside public transportation lines (busses primarily) which restricts poorer people (Latinos and Blacks) from moving out into the wealthier enclaves (Asian and white) where the lower density zones prevail. Further, Ms. Hernandez argues that public busses are not reliable; therefore no one with a job wants to use them. Instead, the population is back to buying a car and then finding a space to park it, to ensure access to jobs. Recently, her firm (Holland & Knight) has successfully sued both Berkeley and San Mateo requiring these cities to put denser housing in areas where the citizens fought back claiming the new zoning did not support the increased neighborhood density.

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