Community Equity Initiative


What Does Unincorporated Mean?

Imagine communities in the United States that lack the most basic features of a safe, healthy, sustainable neighborhood—potable drinking water, sewer systems, safe housing, public transportation, parks, sidewalks, and streetlights.

This is a reality for too many families, simply because they live just outside of city boundaries in unincorporated areas. Frequently, disadvantaged unincorporated communities are home to low-income people and people of color who have been systemically underserved by public funding—prevented from accessing resources to become livable and economically viable communities.

The Community Equity Initiative (CEI) is a partnership with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation to address the infrastructure and community service challenges faced by the low-income unincorporated communities in California’s eight-county San Joaquin Valley region and in the Coachella Valley. 

Guided by an advisory committee that includes academics, nonprofit and community leaders, and legal advocates, CEI seeks to catalyze equitable development, foster more accountable and inclusive governance, and engage residents in decision making through the four strategies highlighted below. 


Local and Regional Policy Change

CEI partners work closely with community leaders to reverse long-standing patterns of exclusion and neglect in their communities. CEI focuses on reforming policies that direct state and local infrastructure investment decisions and allocations, local electoral procedures, and planning processes at the state and local levels. 

Creating Inclusive Planning Processes

The Community Equity Initiative has led efforts at the regional and statewide levels to raise awareness of, and develop consensus around, the importance of addressing infrastructure and service deficits in disadvantaged unincorporated communities.

  • In 2011, CEI co-sponsored and successfully passed SB 244 that reforms planning and annexation practices as they relate to disadvantaged unincorporated communities.
  • CEI partners designed, advocated for, and is now supporting the implementation of a 20 percent set-aside for economically disadvantaged communities (EDCs) in the allocation of state planning grants for sustainable growth. This translated into more than $12 million of grants to support targeted planning for EDCs.

Directing More Infrastructure Funding to Disadvantaged Places

  • CEI co-sponsored and passed AB 516 that prioritizes disadvantaged communities in Safe Routes to School funding and rewards community participation as part of the proposal process.

Ending Unfair Election Practices

In Fresno County, CEI partners reversed decades of unfair and unlawful election practices by educating community members about pertinent election laws and requiring responsible government agencies to enforce and abide by said laws.



Research supports all of the CEI strategies and is undertaken with the full engagement of residents. Research conducted by CEI is intended to build the case for positive change and to create a shared understanding of the breadth and scale of issues facing disadvantaged communities. CEI is embarking on mapping and research to understand more about the hundreds of disadvantaged unincorporated communities that have yet to be mapped or named by local or federal agencies. 

Support and Education for Residents

The Community Equity Initiative works directly with residents and community leaders to develop their capacity to participate meaningfully in local, regional, and state decision-making processes. Through intensive educational curricula and regular community meetings, residents are encouraged and prepared to play an integral role in critical decisions such as the allocation of local, state, and federal funding; long- and short-term county and city land use planning; and other processes impacting infrastructure and community service provision.

Legal Representation

CEI partners has successfully represented community members in a breach of contract claim against the manager of the community services district, returning almost $30,000 in water user fees to the community. In the unincorporated community of Matheny Tract, CEI partnered with local residents to achieve an unprecedented planning decision by Tulare LAFCO which secured safe drinking water, facilitated the development of a sewer system, and institutionalized fair planning processes.