Investing in Water Infrastructure Now is Critical for California's Future

For decades community leaders and environmental justice advocates have worked to bring attention to the water problems impacting low-income communities and communities of color across California. Together they have secured significant water equity wins. In 2012, California became the first state to establish the human right to water.  Substantial new investments have been made to expand access to safe and affordable drinking water. And new requirements have been established to ensure that local planning processes identify water infrastructure deficits in disadvantaged communities and develop strategies to address these deficits.

Despite these important wins, our work is far from done. Over one million Californians live in communities that do not have reliable access to safe drinking water. Many live in places where the cost of water is so high that residents are forced to forgo spending on other critical household needs in order to pay their water bill.  Children attend schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead.  The availability and quality of our drinking water resources are increasingly impacted by the changing climate.

And drinking water is not the only water challenge low-income communities and communities of color are facing. Dams, water management practices, changing water temperatures due to climate change, and a host of other factors are decimating California’s fisheries—impacting the livelihoods, food sources, and cultural traditions of Native American communities who have managed these natural resources for thousands of years. Climate change induced flooding and sea level rise threaten people’s homes and their lives. Failing or completely absent wastewater treatment systems are causing public health and economic impacts for households and communities.

We have a lot to take care of and investing in our water infrastructure now is critical to begin tackling these problems. While California has a history of leading the nation on protecting its’ natural resources, applying this leadership is more important than ever. The Trump administration has demonstrated over and over their desire to unravel the national Clean Water Act, promote privatization of our water resources and management systems, reopen our coastline to offshore oil drilling, and defund key programs that fund water infrastructure.

To protect what we have already accomplished and secure water equity for all Californian’s it is critical that Californians, and our elected leaders, step up. Fortunately, there are some important things California can do now to secure our water future.  

  • State legislators are considering a variety of important proposals that would address critical water infrastructure challenges for low-income communities and communities of color.
    • SB 623 (Monning) would establish the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, a permanent source of funding for safe and affordable drinking water. Water justice advocates and state water agencies have been calling for this for years. The fund would provide grants to address critical operations and maintenance needs, fund repair and replacement of failing drinking water infrastructure, provide technical assistance, conduct lead pipe replacement, consolidate water systems, and other projects designed to secure long-term safe drinking water for all.
    • AB 1215 (Hertzberg) would bring much needed sewer service to communities that do not have adequate service by facilitating service extension and consolidation of service providers where it makes sense.
    • Advocates are asking for a $23.5 million budget allocation to address emergency drinking water needs.
       
  • Voters can support proposition 68, a bond proposal that is on the June ballot. If passed, $4 billion dollars in bond revenues would be invested in water, parks, and natural resources. Unlike many bonds of the past, proposition 68 includes a significant focus on investing in our most disadvantaged communities.
     
  • California voters and California leaders can also support Rep Keith Ellison’s federal Clean Water Act of 2018, H.R. 5609. The bill would invest $35 billion each year in water infrastructure and clean water programs, and target important resources to communities with clean water violations.

Six years ago, California set a national precedent by recognizing the Human Right to Water.  It’s time to deliver on that promise by addressing the water infrastructure needs of low-income people and people of color across our state.

Additional Resources:

National Infrastructure Week: Equitable Infrastructure Investments Can Transform Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color

At PolicyLink, we know that smart, targeted, equitable investments in infrastructure can have a transformative impact on low-income communities and communities of color. That’s why we are excited to join equity infrastructure advocates in California, and throughout the nation, for National Infrastructure Week—a time to collectively garner more public awareness and advocacy to support increased investments in infrastructure.

This week we will be posting a new blog each weekday exploring infrastructure equity in our home state of California. We encourage you to share our blog posts with your network and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #Build4Equity. Also, join the Union of Concerned Scientists and PolicyLink for a twitter chat on Wednesday, May 16 @ 12 pm PT/ 3 pm ET. The discussion will focus on the role of climate smart infrastructure in building community resilience, advancing climate justice, and fostering an inclusive economy. Register today and follow the chat on twitter at #Build4Resilience.

California’s changing demographics and the need for equitable growth

Over the last several decades California has undergone a radical demographic change. Today, people of color represent over 60 percent of all Californians. Because youth are at the forefront of this demographic transformation, there is a racial generation gap between old and young: 62 percent of Californians over age 65 are White, and 73 percent of those under age 18 are of color. Today’s elders and decision makers are not investing in the same educational systems and community infrastructure that enabled their own success. This investment gap puts all of California’s children—and the state’s economy—at risk. A growing body of research tells us that inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of the income spectrum but subsequently puts everyone’s economic future at risk. Greater income equality contributes to more sustained economic growth and to more robust growth. California’s ability to maintain its leadership in the global economy hinges on its ability to remove barriers and create the conditions that allow all to flourish.

Investing in California’s Future

Unfortunately, California is not doing well. Our state has some of the highest income inequality in the nation and 14 million Californians—over 36 percent of our population and disproportionately people of color—live at or near the poverty level in communities that frequently lack the basic infrastructure of a healthy place. Decades of disinvestment, deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination, and a host of tax and land use laws affecting development patterns have isolated residents of these communities from quality opportunity and services, exposing them to environmental harms, and ultimately shortened lifespans.

Infrastructure is vital for sustaining and reinforcing community. The networks, roads, schools, drinking water, sewer systems, facilities, and properties that comprise public infrastructure define neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Unfortunately, too many Californians live in communities where critical infrastructure is deteriorating or is completely lacking. Residents of these infrastructure deficient places may be unable to access safe and affordable drinking water or wastewater treatment services; connect to good schools and jobs; benefit from libraries, health-care facilities, and emergency services; or safely walk, bike, or play in their neighborhoods. Over the next 10 years, an estimated $750 billion is needed to upgrade and repair our existing facilities and meet the needs of our growing population. While this problem is affecting the entire state, the duel burden of poor infrastructure choices in the past, and insufficient investment in infrastructure for the future falls heaviest on low-income communities and communities of color—the very people who constitute most of our population.

Recently, California has begun to get serious about tackling our infrastructure problems by dedicating new funding to transportation, climate infrastructure, water, schools, and housing. However, in most instances, equity has not been sufficiently incorporated into these discussions or woven into policies and programs. To ensure that our infrastructure investments contribute to a future of shared prosperity we must make sure our investments are guided by principles that expand equity for our most disinvested people and places. Here are four recommendations that can set us in the right direction.

Recommendations:

  • Choose strategies that promote equity and growth simultaneously. Equity and growth have traditionally been pursued separately, but the reality is that both are needed to secure California’s future. The winning strategies are those that maximize job creation while promoting health, resilience, and economic opportunity for low-income workers and communities of color.
  • Target programs and investments to the people and places most left behind. Public resources must be spent wisely. Focusing the state’s programs and investments on climate smart infrastructure that upliftsthe low-income families and communities that have been left behind will produce the greatest returns.
  • Assess equity impacts at every stage of the policy process. As the policy process begins, and throughout, ask who will bene­fit, who will pay, and who will decide; and adjust decisions and policies as needed to ensure equitable impacts.
  • Ensure meaningful community participation, voice, and leadership. California’s new majority needs avenues for participating in all aspects of the political process—from the basic act of voting to serving on boards and commissions to being elected as state leaders. Recognizing historical and ongoing patterns of exclusion and being intentional about establishing transparent processes for low-income communities and communities of color to meaningfully shape infrastructure decisions will lead to better programs and projects.

A half-century ago, California set a precedent for investing in its future—and succeeding. Under the leadership of Republican Governor Earl Warren and Democratic Governor Pat Brown, the state built a world-class education system and infrastructure that enabled a poor, uneducated population to create the world’s ninth largest economy. Bold leadership is needed to build the next economy, and having an equitable and inclusive society results in shared prosperity.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

January brings us three months closer to Equity Summit 2018, where thousands will convene to set an equity agenda for the nation. The 15th of this month marks what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday, and 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of his Poor People’s Campaign, which advocated economic justice for all people.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose transformative leadership forever changed America’s consciousness around issues of civil and human rights, we reflect on his words and message, which continue to inspire movement-building and mobilized action

Dr. King’s condemnation of racism and economic inequality resonates strongly today, as the nation continues to grapple with discrimination, the degradation of human rights and civil liberties, institutional violence, and poverty.

His words continue to evoke a sense of social and political exigency that can be felt in today’s sociopolitical climate.
 
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

We Are All Dreamers

Turning our backs on young Americans who arrived in this country with family or other adults seeking a better life is morally reprehensible. The Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program places over 800,000 young people at risk of deportation and separation from their loved ones and reneges on a promise made to those young people by our government.

Yesterday’s action underscores the Administration's pursuit of normalizing racist and xenophobic beliefs through an agenda rooted in the criminalization of people of color. Igniting polarization by race and ethnicity and scapegoating our immigrant brothers and sisters threatens the culture, economy, and security of our nation. Again, we must stand up for the latest target of this hate-filled Administration whose efforts to splinter the nation for the benefit of a cruel minority have no end. We are all DACA children.  

Ending DACA is morally wrong and economically foolish.  For years, PolicyLink has argued that Equity is a moral imperative and the Superior Growth Model.  The diversity of this country is critical to its economic growth and prosperity.  The actions against DACA will negatively impact the economy in ways underscored by recent studies revealing a loss of billions from the national GDP over the next decade and the loss of contributions from thousands of valuable workers and entrepreneurs.   

Young people covered by the DACA program must be protected and the nation’s promise honored.  Now more than ever, we need Congress to act quickly and confirm that Americans of every race and creed are valued, that our government keeps its promises and rejects hate and xenophobia, and that the U.S. is a place that welcomes all who come sharing a democratic vision and valuing freedom, justice, and equity for all.   

Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate your support:  

  1. Call your members of Congress and demand their support for the Dream Act. And, with DACA ending, it's time for Congress to pass a clean version of the bipartisan Dream Act. Use dreamacttoolkit.org to call and urge your member of Congress to stand up for Dreamers.  
  2. Attend a rally: You can locate rallies in your area using Resistance Near Me.   
  3. Show your support online: Raise your voice to support the #DreamAct by tweeting and posting your support for young immigrants. Make it clear that they are #HereToStay. Find sample tweets & hashtags below.

Sample Tweets:

  • Trump decision on #DACA is morally wrong & economically unwise. Congress must stand up 4 young immigrants & America. Protect immigrants now!
     
  • Will Congress pass the Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, without using their loved ones as bargaining chips? 1/2
  • Or will they stand idly by and let the president destroy the lives and livelihoods of immigrants? #HeretoStay 2/2
     
  • 800,000+ dreamers are in our workforce. Ending DACA not only disrupts their lives but also their employers, coworkers, patients & more.
     
  • Trump's decision against Dreamers is not the end for immigrants. Congress must do right by them: pass the Dream Act. #HeretoStay
     
  • @HouseGOP @SenateGOP have a choice: side w/ 800,000+ young immigrants and protect them... or uphold Trump's hate agenda? #HeretoStay
     
  • @realDonaldTrump has stripped legal status of young immigrants who make America strong. Congress must right this wrong: pass #DreamAct!
     

Expansion of CalEITC to Reach More than One Million Additional Low-Income Working Families

 

On June 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget that significantly expands the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), a refundable state tax credit that increases the economic security of low-income working families. Effective for the 2017 tax year, low-income workers with self-employment income and working families with incomes up to about $22,300 will be able to benefit from the credit. Initial estimates from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy indicate that more than one million additional families could benefit under the expansion.

“The expansion of CalEITC represents a significant step toward creating a more equitable California, one in which all Californians, no matter race, gender, or socioeconomic status, can thrive and reach their full potential.” – Lewis Brown, Senior Associate, PolicyLink

Read Full Statement at Children's Defense Fund -- California 

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