History of the Caucus
For a more detailed version of this history, please see Social Equity Caucus Comprehensive History.
The Urban Habitat Program (UH) (1) was founded in 1989 by Carl Anthony, Karl Linn and David Brower of Earth Island Institute to build multicultural leadership for sustainable development in the Bay Area. With Anthony as Urban Habitat’s Executive Director, the organization quickly became a leading figure in the environmental justice movement and an early advocate for sustainable development.
In 1997 two Bay Area members of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development —Michele Perrault, International Vice President of the Sierra Club, and Richard Clarke, Chairman and CEO of PG&E – approached Anthony and Urban Habitat about starting a version of the council for the Bay Area. Along with Sunne Wright McPeak of the Bay Area Council (BAC) and Gary Binger of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the group established the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Development—known today as the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities (BAASC). The Alliance was created to be a multi-stakeholder coalition of groups—from government and from each of the “3 E” sectors (business/economy, environment and equity)—that would play a major role on issues of regional development and “smart growth.” As described by Innes (2), “The tacit mission was to change the patterns and practices of land use in the region to achieve a more compact, transit-friendly form of growth, which these leaders equated with sustainability.” ABAG, BAC and Urban Habitat each became caucus chairs, and the founding groups became the Alliance’s steering committee.
Anthony saw participation in the Alliance as an opportunity —long overdue—to push the equity movement forward by mobilizing social change organizations to weigh in on regional issues alongside the major players in business and government. Urban Habitat created and chaired the Social Equity Caucus with the vision of eventually expanding the Caucus to become an independent, “metropolitan assembly for socially-just land use,” (3) That vision was put on hold while the SEC primarily concerned itself with Bay Area Alliance activities. Those activities included the launch of two major initiatives: the Compact for a Sustainable Bay Area, a collaborative multi-sector effort to produce a guiding framework for regional development that included the “3 E’s,” and the Community Capital Investment Initiative (CCII), still active today, which invests capital in underserved communities to generate “double bottom line” returns (financial and social). (4)
By 2001 the SEC was inactive. Anthony was leaving Urban Habitat to become Program Officer for Sustainable Metropolitan Communities at the Ford Foundation and Juliet Ellis, Anthony’s former assistant, returned from her work at the San Francisco Foundation determined to keep the organization alive. Ellis reconvened the Caucus in December of 2001 to assess its future. Attendees affirmed the need for a regional coalition around social equity but expressed a strong desire to move beyond simple networking to carrying out actual campaign work. They also stressed the importance of holding regular meetings and increasing regional and grassroots representation in the membership.
On the weekend of April 26th, 2003, approximately ninety-five representatives from Bay Area social justice organizations met at the Bridging the Bay summit to build relationships, participate in workshops around regionalism and power analysis, and identify potential SEC campaign issues. (5) After considerable deliberation, two campaign priorities were identified—opposing the upcoming statewide ballot initiative known as Proposition 54, the so-called “Racial Privacy Initiative” and transportation justice. Bridging the Bay energized attendees more than any previous SEC event and signaled a new phase in the caucus’s development. Urban Habitat quickly joined with other Bridging the Bay organizations to create the “No on Proposition 54 Taskforce” and later partnered with the Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) to create the SEC’s Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG).
While No on Prop 54 was a statewide initiative, Urban Habitat and its partners recognized that the state-level opposition strategy was not effectively engaging the Bay Area, particularly people of color and immigrant communities. By serving as an organizing bridge and resource provider, the taskforce allowed grassroots groups to coordinate their message while tailoring their materials to their individual audiences—those communities that would be most impacted if Prop 54 were to pass, the same communities that statewide strategists had chosen not to prioritize. In October of 2003, Proposition 54 was defeated, with the Bay Area voting against it in overwhelming numbers. (6)
The Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG) was established that same month. At the time, Urban Habitat was one of the only environmental justice groups in the Bay Area participating in regional conversations about transportation and they were looking to bring allies to the table. By all accounts they succeeded. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) 2004 Regional Transportation Plan represented the first major victory for the Working Group as $200 million was allocated to the MTC’s Lifeline Program to improve transportation options for low-income Bay Area residents. Two years later, the TJWG successfully lobbied the MTC to adopt two of four proposed environmental justice governing principles. TJWG members have also joined the board of TALC, taken seats on the MTC’s Minority Citizens Advisory Committee and, in an ongoing case, have sued the MTC for discriminatory funding patterns.
In 2006 the SEC launched its second working group to address a critical situation facing low-income communities: many people can’t find jobs and are stuck in a near permanent state of unemployment, while an equally large number of people have jobs and work full-time but earn wages which are insufficient to raise a family. Members of the Quality Jobs Working Group (QJWG) began confronting these issues in a variety of ways, including contributing to an edition of Race, Poverty, & the Environment, called “Just Jobs: Organizing for Economic Justice,” and by supporting “Putting Oakland to Work”, an economic development & job quality analysis produced by the Oakland Network for Responsible Development.
While maintaining focus on the regional level, the SEC has also developed a strong tradition of engaging with social equity allies around the world. Since 2002, SEC delegations have traveled to South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to Washington, D.C. for the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to India and Brazil for the World Social Forum and to Atlanta, Georgia for the first-ever United States Social Forum. Delegates have shared their experience with multi-issue, multi-sector regional coalition work and have brought lessons and connections back home to share with the larger Caucus.
In 2005, Urban Habitat determined that formally documenting the SEC model would enable the organization to identify what had been lost or gained along the ten years of the SEC’s evolution. This was in part an effort to guide programmatic planning, but also to respond to regular requests to share the SEC’s model and provide technical assistance to groups all over the country. To support Urban Habitat staff in a more rigorous documentation process, Institute for Social & Environmental Justice Education (ISEJE) was contracted in late 2006 to facilitate the SEC’s evaluation and strategic planning project. (7)
For a more detailed version of this history, please see Social Equity Caucus History.
1) The Urban Habitat Program name was subsequently shortened to Urban Habitat.
2) Judith Innes. “Taking the Three ‘E’s Seriously: The Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities / Working Paper 2004-07” (Institute of Urban and Regional Development, University of California at Berkeley, no date), iii.
4) Richard Rapaport. Sixty Years of the Bay Area Council, (Bay Area Council, 2005), 18. Available at: http://www.bayareacouncil.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLRK7MMIqG&b=1419407.
5) “Bridging the Bay.” DVD available from Urban Habitat.
6) California Secretary of State. Statement of Vote: 2003 Statewide Special Election. Statewide Measures. http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/2003_special/measures.pdf.
7) Georgiana Hernández, Ed.D. and Matthew S. Fitzgerald. Social Equity Caucus Evaluation and Strategic Planning Project: Findings from the Evaluation Phase, (ISEJE 2007) Available at: http://urbanhabitat.org/files/SEC_Eval_Full.pdf.