2019 Wins, Losses, and Lessons Learned

APEN members and staff pose on the State Capitol steps after lobbying for Healthy Homes.

As this legislative season comes to a close, we’re sharing our big takeaways from 2019 — the wins, the losses, and lessons learned.

1. The Landscape of Power in Sacramento is Changing (For the Better!)

Thousands of people from all over the state came to the capitol this year to make those progressive political possibilities real. Whether it was renters who had bumped up against the limits of state law while campaigning for rent control in their cities or teachers and students re-energized by local teachers strikes, the capitol building was full of real people advocating for their priorities.

We also saw how entrenched corporate interests are in Sacramento — from the corporate landlord lobby that fought against renter protections to big oil and gas companies that continued to block basic health protections for people living near oil wells. Big corporations fought to protect their profits, and from what we saw this year — they still hold a lot of sway with our legislators.

2. Game-Changing Wins for Renters and Workers

Ultimately, AB 1482 protects families from the most egregious cases of rent-gouging by capping annual allowable rent increases at 5% plus regional inflation throughout the state, and protects people from arbitrary evictions by requiring that landlords have a ‘just cause’ for any eviction.

The victory is a testament to the growing power of California’s renters.

“The coalition partners introduced the media to renters living in overcrowded apartments, getting huge rent hikes, facing eviction, and to those compelled to live in their cars. ACCE members held a sit-in at Newsom’s office to prod the liberal governor, who had pledged to address the state’s severe housing crisis, to get more directly involved in pressuring legislators to support the Chiu bill.”

Their organizing paid off. When just cause eviction protections failed to make it out of the Assembly and the anti rent gouging bill was watered down to cap rents at 7% plus regional inflation, local tenant organizations held sit-ins at the Governor’s office and pushed back. Ultimately, Governor Newsom responded by pushing legislators to restore the original 5% cap and add just cause eviction protections to the final bill language.

The momentum also pushed forward the passage of SB 329 which bans discrimination against renters using Section 8 housing vouchers.

The fight to secure real rent control for all Californians isn’t over, and we’ll be mobilizing people to win rent control at the ballot box, but our victories this year will help keep a lot of Californians in their homes.

In addition to big wins for renters, we also saw game-changing wins for workers in the gig economy. This year, the legislature passed AB 5 — a measure that recognizes Uber drivers, DoorDash couriers, and other gig workers as actual employees with rights to fair wages and working conditions.

It showed that with the support of labor unions, legislators will stand up to the big tech corporations that are remaking our economy in ways that leave so many of us behind.

Unfortunately, companies like Uber and Lyft have resisted complying with laws to treat workers fairly. Instead of improving the lives of the people who keep their businesses afloat, these corporations are spending millions of dollars to fight workers in court, and will likely spend even more to overturn this law at the ballot box.

3. Public Banks — A Real Alternative to Wall Street

Image via Climate Justice Alliance

The Public Banking bill may be one of the least sexy pieces of legislation to come out of this session. It’s also one of the most transformative. AB857 makes it possible for cities and counties in California to create real alternatives to big Wall Street banks that can provide low-interest loans to build local economies and invest in community priorities.

An all-volunteer alliance of economic justice advocates, environmental justice groups, socially responsible businesses, big greens, and divestment activists banded together to win over the opposition of Wall Street.

Editor’s note: APEN’s Policy Director, Sylvia Chi, co-wrote California’s Public Banking bill. Sylvia was inspired by elders at Standing Rock who told people to go back to their cities, schools, and institutions and divest from the big Wall Street banks that were funding the Dakota Access Pipeline and many other destructive fossil fuel projects. When she returned to Oakland and encouraged the City to divest, she found that there were no real alternatives to Wall Street.

4. Mixed Bag on Environmental Justice

The more ambitious bills like AB 345 that would have prevented new oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals were shelved — largely because of fear-mongering by CalChamber, big oil and gas corporations, and a few labor unions that represent oil and gas workers — but a handful of bills that lay the groundwork for future efforts to make our communities safer and healthier, did make it through.

APEN members designed the Healthy Homes Act, AB 1232, to direct existing state energy efficiency funds to working class families to fix leaky roofs, insulate walls, and eliminate mold. In exchange for funding real upgrades, it guarantees that rents won’t go up. In the legislative process, the Healthy Homes Act was amended to study rent increases and displacement in the Low Income Weatherization Program, and require energy efficiency and public health programs to collaborate on an action plan to promote financial and health benefits for renters.

In addition, APEN joined Women’s Policy Institute and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, to help pass SB 160, which calls on counties to incorporate community engagement and cultural competence in their emergency plans.

Although ultimately neither bill ended up as ambitious as we originally envisioned, AB 1232 and SB 160 help clear the path for us to win more transformative changes.

5. Real Gains for Racial Justice

photo via LA Progressive

We saw real gains for racial justice this year.

Act to Save Lives, AB 392, solidifies the gains of the Black Lives Matter movement by requiring that police officers only use deadly force when “necessary.” This bill was amended so that it is less bold than the version that was originally introduced, but many of our allies are still hailing this as a significant win. The Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project calls AB 392 “one of the strongest use of force laws in the country.”

Governor Newsom vetoed AB 1393, which calls for the creation of a model curriculum on Laotian history and culture for California public schools. The bill was created to correct an oversight within the school curricula on the Vietnam War, and had overwhelming support in both houses of the legislature, but got caught up in the firestorm around ethnic studies this year.

What happened? When the ethnic studies draft model curriculum was released this spring, it came under attack by right-wing groups that wanted Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement removed, and advocated that ethnic studies move away from its historic focus on race, power, and liberation and instead focus on multicultural education. The Save Ethnic Studies campaign successfully moved the draft ethnic studies model curriculum forward to the next step of the process, but the Include Lao History bill was vetoed because of the firestorm created by critics of ethnic studies.

The fight to Include Lao History isn’t over — LaoSD’s campaign got Laotian communities across California involved in the process, and folks are not taking no for an answer:

What’s Next?

2020 is a big year for us. We are already diving deep into our next big project: a California Green New Deal that will make our state a true leader in climate resilience, racial justice, and stemming inequality. We’ll set out a bold vision for what our communities really need to thrive, bring together powerful alliances to pass the first pieces of a Green New Deal for California, and mobilize our communities to the ballot box to restore $11 billion per year for our schools and local services.

Want to help pass a Green New Deal for California? Sign up here.

CORRECTION: The original piece incorrectly listed AB 1393 Include Lao Studies as having passed. While the legislature did pass the bill, Governor Newsom vetoed it.

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)--Uniting Asian and Pacific Islander communities for environmental and social justice. #apen4ej