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Report from New Orleans - Regional Equity 08: The Third National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice and Smart Growth

The reason I publish these reports of conferences on the E-FORUM is because California Government Code §53232.3(d), which was added by AB 1234, requires City Council members to “provide brief reports on meetings attended at the expense of the local agency at the next regular meeting of the legislative body.” I figure that if I have to make a report anyway, I might as well share it with the public. These are probably longer than they need to be, but maybe some people are interested in the level of continuing education that I and other City Council members participate in.


On March 6-7, I attended the PolicyLink Regional Equity ’08: The Third National Summit on Equitable Development, Social Justice and Smart Growth. It was my first time back in New Orleans since shortly after Katrina (see Report on a Week in New Orleans, November 13, 2005). Although I had worked in the lower Ninth ward in 2005 (Holy Cross neighborhood), I didn’t have a chance to go take a look at it. Interestingly, the Lower Ninth seems to have become sort of pilgrimage destination for people who want to see what utterly failed public policy looks like.


PolicyLink’s Mission is described as:

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by Lifting Up What Works.

PolicyLink work is guided by the belief that those closest to the nation’s challenges are central to the search for solutions. With local and national partners, PolicyLink is spotlighting promising practices, supporting advocacy campaigns, and helping to bridge the traditional divide between local communities and policymaking at the local, regional, state, and national levels.

By developing and implementing multifaceted strategies, PolicyLink seeks to ensure that everyone—including low-income communities of color—can contribute to and benefit from local and regional growth and development. Among our approaches is equitable development, which is grounded in four principles: the integration of people and place; reduction of local and regional disparities; promotion of “double bottom line” investments; and ensuring meaningful voice, participation, and leadership from community members. This framework is used to promote a range of economic and social issues, including achieving the fair distribution of affordable housing throughout regions, equity in public investment, and community strategies to improve health.

I was part of a “delegation” from Richmond that included my fellow councilmember Maria Viramontes and Pam Aguilar, Executive Director, Contra Costa Labor Council AFL/CIO, Heather Hood, Director, Center for Community Innovation, Thomas Mills, City of Richmond Economic Development Director, Richard Mitchell, City of Richmond Director of Planning and Building, Connie Malloy, Social Equity Caucus Coordinator, Urban Habitat, Mary Louise Hintz, Pastor, Greater Richmond Interfaith Program, Sheryl Lane, Urban Habitat Campaign Coordinator, Maria Alegria, Executive Director, Faith Works and Venesia Thompson, Associate Director, Urban Habitat.


The delegation was assembled by REDI (Richmond Equitable Development Initiative) included representatives form the City of Richmond, Contra Costa Faith Works, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Organization (CCISCO), Contra Costa County Central Labor Council, East bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), University of California, Berkeley – Center for Community Innovation (CCI), Urban Habitat,  and Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA).


For a full description of all the workshops, see http://www.regionalequity08.org/site/c.hrLRK0PCLqF/b.3389633/k.9C35/Workshop_Series.htm.


March 6, Opening Plenary: Building Bridges for Infrastructure Equity


The opening plenary was moderated by Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and CEO of PolicyLink. The session focused on the impact of aging and inadequate infrastructure in the United States that typically affects those who need it the most and have the fewest choices for alternatives. The devastation caused by failed infrastructure in New Orleans provided clear examples. Panelists included Ronald C. Sims, Executive, King County, Washington, Richard D. Baron, Chairman and CEO of McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc. (the developer of Easter Hill Hope VI Project in Richmond), Victor Lopez, Mayor, City of Orange Cove, CA.


March 6 Morning Breakout: Environmental Justice Partnerships: Building Healthy and Sustainable Communities


This session, moderated by Scott Darling, III, Environmental Land Use and Privacy Counsel, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, provided examples of innovative strategies that connect grassroots communities to the sustainability movement in ways that promote health and economic vitality. Panelists were Robert D. Bullard, Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Founding Director, Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark Atlanta University; Alan Hipolito, Executive Director, Verde in Portland, R and Donele Wilkins, Executive Director, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. Robert D. Bullard is a captivating speaker and a prolific author on environmental justice. Alan Hipolito described his project that particularly interested me. Verde is a non-profit that raises native plants and uses them to create sustainable landscaping. The organization trains and employs low income residents while teaching them how to operate a business.

March 6, Luncheon Plenary: Trouble the Water: Documentary Clip and Conversation with the Filmmakers

Trouble the Water, Winner of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize: Aspiring rap artist Kim and her streetwise husband Scott show what survival is all about when they are trapped in New Orleans by deadly floodwaters, and then seize a chance for a new beginning. Directed and produced by Fahrenheit 911 producers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal and executive producers Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes, Trouble the Water featured an original musical score by Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack, and the music of Dr. John, Mary Mary, Citizen Cope, John Lee Hooker, and the Free Agents Brass Band, and introducing the music of Black Kold Madina.

Moderator: Judith Bell, President, PolicyLink



  • Carl Deal, Director and Producer, Trouble the Water
  • Danny Glover, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Louverture Films, and Executive Producer, Trouble the Water

March 6, Early Afternoon Breakout: The Latest Research to Make the Case for Regional Equity


Moderator: Carl Anthony, Associate Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley




  • Myron Orfield, Executive Director, Institute on Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota; Executrive Director, Institute on Race & Poverty
  • Manuel Pastor, Professor of Geography and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California; Director, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity
  • David Rusk, Consultant, Sustainable Metropolitan Communities Initiative, Ford Foundation
  • Lisa Servon, Associate Professor of Urban Policy. Director of the Community Development Finance Project, Milano the New School for Management and Urban Policy


Lisa’s presentation focused on what she calls “cultural authenticity,” as an urban economic strategy. This concept involves assessing what is special and unique about an urban area an capitalizing on for economic growth. She demonstrated how an urban area can proceed from decay through being attractive to urban professionals but eventually get so expensive that locally owned businesses cannot afford the rent. They are forced out by national chains, and eventually lose the uniqueness and authenticity that once made them attractive to visitors. Instead of attracting business, they become just a duplicate of what is available at the mall.


March 6, Late Afternoon Breakout: Legal Strategies for Regional Equity

Moderator: Dayna L. Cunningham, Executive Director, Community Innovators Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


·         Marice Ashe, Director of the Public Health Law Program, Public Health Institute

·         William Kennedy, Managing Attorney, Legal Services of Northern California

·         Rosalyn Arlin Mickelson, Professor of Sociology and Adjunct Professor of Public Policy, Information Technology, and Women’s Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

This panel was really inspirational, providing lots of examples of how proactive litigation can move public policy agendas. One example was how the City of Folsom had been forced to provide its regional share of low income housing. Kennedy described how basic equity is built into much federal, state and regional legislation involving such things as housing, transportation and water policy. Mining these for legal bases to challenge inequitable distribution of public resources can yield amazing results. Ashe talked about the broad and flexible powers of local government to do almost anything that relates to the health, safety and welfare of residents and has some rational basis.

March 6, Evening Reception: Official City Welcome and The Inaugural Carl Anthony Regional Equity Award presented to Mr. Carl Anthony

Remarks by Angela Glover Blackwell and a Live performance by The Jamil Sharif Quintet featuring Lady B.J. (Crosby) and Wanda Rouzan.

The first Carl Anthony Award for Regional Equity was presented to Carl Anthony, a tireless advocate for sustainable, equitable communities.  Anthony, a senior Ford Foundation fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Geography, formerly served as acting director of the Ford Foundation Community and Resource Development Unit.  Prior to his time at The Ford Foundation, Anthony was an outstanding and passionate advocate for urban social justice and environmental change in the San Francisco Bay Area, chairing the Berkeley Planning Commission, and founding and leading the Urban Habitat Group.  A trained architect and town planner, Anthony began his career in the mid-1960s in Harlem at Architect's Renewal Committee, the first community design center in the nation. Anthony is working on a new book, The Earth, The City, and The Hidden Narrative of Race, examining the connections between the fields of environmental justice, community development, and the changing face of globalization.

March 7, Morning Plenary: Election 2008: Keeping Race, Poverty, and Equity on the Political Agenda 

With the 2008 election season is in full swing, panelists were asked “Where are race, poverty, and equity in the discourse?”

Moderator: Tavis Smiley, Host, The Tavis Smiley Show 


·         Maria Echeveste, President, Nueva Vista Group LLC; Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

·         Antonio Gonzalez, President, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project; President, the Williams C. Velasquez Institute

·         Gerald Hudson, International Executive Vice President, Service Employees International Union

·         Robert K. Ross, President and Chief Executive Officer, The California Endowment
Jim Wallis, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners

March 7, Afternoon Breakout: Urban Greening, Parks, and Social Justice

Moderator: Kathy Blaha, Principal, Kathy Blaha Consulting, LLC


·         The Honorable Christopher Doherty, Mayor, City of Scranton, Pennsylvania

·         Robert Garcia, Executive Director and Counsel, The City Project

·         Michael Howard, Executive Director, Fuller Park Community Development

Parks, recreation, and open space are critical elements of community life, and disparities in the quality and accessibility of parks is an important social equity issue.   The growing understanding of the relationship between the built environment and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes is fueling new partnerships bringing together parks advocates, leaders in community development, and public health experts.  In this session, leading activists, researchers, and policymakers explained how to win greater public investment in parks and services that promote active living. 

March 7, Afternoon Breakout: America's Gateways and the Possibilities for a Progressive Ports Agenda


The nation’s ports have a tremendous impact beyond their host cities. They often drive regional economies, and they’re barometers of national economic health. This session dealt with a lot of the issues involving Richmond’s port: pollution, rail traffic, truck traffic and low paying jobs in the freight transfer business. Panelists discussed social responsibility and community economic development, roles and responsibilities of ports in terms of labor, workforce development, housing, community benefits, and small business contracting opportunities.


Moderator: Martha Matsuoka, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, Occidental College




  • Bernida Reagan, Director of Community and Client Relations, Merriwether Williams Insurance Services
  • Nancy C. Button, President, The New Rosemont Homeowners Association
  • Andrea M. Hricko, Director, Community Outreach and Education, Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center, University of Southern California

March 7, Closing Town Hall: Claiming the Big Idea 

Equity advocates are on the cusp of a significant advance in framing problems and approaching solutions to improve the lives of low-income families and communities of color. Have we hit on the “big idea” that will take the burgeoning equity movement to a new level? This town hall concluded the summit with an exploration of lessons learned throughout the event and questions still unanswered.  Panelists explored the role of PolicyLink and other organizations in supporting the movement to reach its highest goals.

Moderators:  Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, PolicyLink; and Dwayne S. Marsh, Associate Director, PolicyLink.

Conference Summary: The conference was a really good convergence of speakers and activists working on problems that have much n common with Richmond. As usual, I met a lot of knowledgeable people I intend to stay in touch with. It was time well spent.