Sunday, September 27, 2020

Guest Blogger: Alvaro Sanchez “California’s Smart Climate Policies Help Latinos”

Alvaro Sanchez hi-res

Something amazing is starting in California. It’s changing Latino lives for the better all over our state, and could set a precedent for the rest of the nation.

Leticia and Gerardo Ramirez live in Madera, a small town in California’s Central Valley – a corner of the state where the economy still struggles, untouched by the Bay Area’s tech boom. They have a home they literally helped build themselves under the auspices of Self-Help Enterprises, but with four kids and not much money for extras, the Ramirezes – like many working families – never imagined they could have solar power for their home.

But they have it now, thanks to a state program that helps low-income families afford clean, efficient rooftop solar systems. That program is about to grow, thanks to California’s climate change law, AB 32, and follow-up legislation called SB 535.

Under AB 32, polluters have to pay for the filth they put into our air – carbon that damages our climate and the soot and toxic chemicals that come with it. That money then goes to fund projects that further cut pollution – for example, by promoting energy efficiency and clean power – and SB 535 mandates that one quarter of those funds must go to projects in highly polluted, economically struggling communities. Sadly, many Latino communities – in the Central Valley, parts of Los Angeles and elsewhere around the state – fit that definition.

These policies don’t just help consumers, they’re providing real jobs – not minimum-wage service jobs, but actual careers – to real people like Jesus (Jesse) Magallanes.

Born in Los Angeles, Jesse has lived in Visalia, another Central Valley town, since age 17, working in construction most of that time.  But the construction industry “took a big old hit with the economic downturn,” he explains. So he did odd jobs to get by – at packinghouses, driving a forklift, whatever he could get. The jobs were always part-time, at or near minimum wage, and he often had to juggle four or five small jobs at a time to barely make ends meet.

It was a struggle. “I was making $300 a week and I had to move back into my parents’ house in Visalia,” he recalls.  He helped his parents out with rent, living with them for three years while working multiple jobs and looking for better opportunities.

Then, he heard that jobs in the solar energy industry were starting to open up in his area, so Jesse went through solar installation training at a local technical school. While training, he did over 100 hours of volunteer work with GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit that provides job training in solar installation and no- to very-low-cost solar power systems for low income families. He did well enough that he became a GRID team leader.

When we met Jesse, he was leading the crew putting solar panels on the Ramirez family’s home, part of a day of solar installations done by GRID Alternatives.

That’s where California’s policies to fight global warming come into the picture. GRID Alternatives manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing solar for low-income families like the Ramirezes who otherwise couldn’t afford it. SASH is part of California’s effort to promote clean energy and combat climate change.

Thanks to AB 32 and SB 535, SASH and similar programs are getting a $75 million boost in the current fiscal year, and will continue to grow over time. And that’s just the start: Over a quarter of a billion dollars is ready to flow into a variety of projects in low-income, highly polluted communities, funding clean energy, home retrofits, urban forestry, affordable housing near transit and much more.

The polluters, led by Big Oil, don’t like it one bit, and they’ve been pressing the state legislature to weaken and kill these good laws.

We can’t let them succeed. To help get the word out to our communities about the benefits of California’s climate and clean energy laws, we’ve assembled the stories of people like Jesse and the Ramirezes, along with practical information for families and business owners, and put it all onto a special website, in both Spanish and English. We invite you to visit UpliftCA.org(English) or es.UpLiftCA.org (Spanish) or to learn more.

And please help spread the word – our air, our health and our communities depend on it!

Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute, which created UpliftCA.org.  He leads the organization’s work on SB 535, which directs at least one quarter of California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to disadvantaged communities.