CJTC — The Center for Justice, Tolerance & Community University of California, Santa Cruz
CJTC — The Center for Justice, Tolerance & Community



In Search of Common Ground: Tackling sprawl in the new California means talking race

By Angela Glover Blackwell and Manuel Pastor
San Francisco Chronicle
May 17th, 2002

During the past several years, three challenges have characterized the emerging tale of a new California: the state’s rapidly changing demographics, widening inequalities by race and region and a widespread citizen reaction against old patterns of suburban sprawl.

The political calculus has often favored a defensive approach to addressing these issues. Worried residents have sought to curtail immigration and strike down affirmative action. Prosperous regions and cities have encouraged job growth while steering affordable housing elsewhere. The reaction to the resulting sprawl has often been a series of no-growth measures that exacerbate the pressures because they do little to correct growing imbalances.

California and the Bay Area can no longer afford to play this zero-sum game. We need strategies that can lift us from politics of the lowest-common denominator to a coalition based on the highest-common ground.

Getting there requires an honest discussion about race in the state. The happy-faced celebration of “diversity” needs to be supplanted by a sober look at inequity and inequality. Poverty is disproportionately concentrated among African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans. Equally troubling is the concentration of these groups in neglected central city neighborhoods.

Racial differentials in income and, especially, in wealth have also become embedded in the structure and policies of this country and state. It literally defines the terrain for new arrivals, who move into depressed central cities, have to cope with poor quality, often segregated schools, and have to fend off discrimination in the job market. These are all problems rooted in the historical experience of blacks in America.

Indeed, when we think of racial integration in the state, it too often consists of blacks and Latinos sharing the same distressed urban space. Because of this pattern, addressing the broad issues of race requires that we address the specific questions of space. Tackling problems of sprawl provides opportunities to deal with racial inequalities as well. A new approach to development that seeks to address the linkages between race and sprawl would have several elements.

First: Consciously seek to build new — or what we call “uncommon” — alliances. While the hemorrhaging of housing and employment from central cities has had negative effects on people of color, there is a growing understanding that suburbanites are also being drained by long commutes, cookie-cutter communities and increasing isolation from neighbors and the community. Business leaders are likewise concerned, pointing to the inefficiencies of inadequate housing, congested freeways and poorly educated central city workers.

Second: Turn the growing antipathy to sprawl into the campaign for equity. After all, the presence of desirable outcomes throughout the region, including better schools, safer neighborhoods and better transit, would not only greatly assist those being left behind, it would also stop the outward push that fuels suburbanization. The Community Capital Investment Initiative, a Bay Area alliance of investors, and the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Development are exploring land-use scenarios that would produce more inclusive communities.

However, creating the proper zoning rules is not enough. When new housing is built and adjacent property values rise, many low-income people of color who rent are forced to leave their homes. True availability will require trust funds that can keep housing affordable by providing funds for purchase or allowing rents to stay low, community land trusts that separate the ownership of the house and zoning measurements that require the inclusion of low-income units.

Fourth: Create opportunities for low-asset residents to build wealth. Racial differentials in income are high but racial disparities in wealth are even higher. We need to explore ways in which residents can become shareholders, not just stakeholders, in their communities and regions through entrepreneurship, participation in real estate investment trusts, and obtaining ownership interests in commercial real estate.

All of these strategies start from the premise that regional equity requires equity a genuine commitment to achieving universal goals for all and addressing the particular disadvantages that racism and our land use history have created. Such deliberate strategies will also require that we challenge ourselves and others to move past easy agreements and get to “the uncommon” common ground.

It is not a small task but the future — how this emerging story of a new California turns out — will depend on it.


Angela Glover Blackwell is the president of PolicyLink in Oakland, CA and Manuel Pastor is Director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at University of California at Santa Cruz.