Gov. Jerry Brown, sitting atop the spiral parking garage overlooking downtown Fresno, on Wednesday signed a package of climate-change bills that supporters and advocates say will reduce greenhouses gases while directly benefiting poor regions of the state, such as the central San Joaquin Valley.
The two main bills – Assembly Bill 1613 and Senate Bill 859 – detail how $900 million in cap-and-trade funds will be spent, including a plan to produce more biomass energy from California’s tree mortality epidemic in the Sierra Nevada. SB 859 also would aid programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farms and dairies.
Two companion bills – AB 1550 and AB 2722 – direct more of the cap-and-trade funds to benefit disadvantaged communities.
“That’s what this bill is all about,” Brown told a crowd of guests who witnessed the signing, including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount. “It’s cleaning things up. The pollutants. It’s reducing the greenhouse gases. That’s good for people, rich and poor alike, but particularly for the people with the lowest incomes, because if this climate change gets away from us – and I’m not saying tomorrow – but in the next years, decades, it could be so hot here it becomes unlivable.”
Brown took a broad view of the legislation, but Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, and local advocates for clean air and the poor focused on Fresno and the Valley – and they said this area will see significant benefit from the bills.
“Our community suffers from the worst air quality in the nation,” Arambula said in an interview. “We have the highest areas of concentrated poverty. I was proud today that the governor and Mr. Speaker (Rendon) came to town to make us ground zero for how to change our environment.”
Arambula said the bills will mean funding will come to the region.
AB 1550, by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Echo Park, requires that at least 25 percent of the cap-and-trade funds benefit disadvantaged communities, and at least 10 percent go to low-income households. AB 2722, by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, puts cap-and-trade money into a competitive grant program that benefits projects in disadvantaged communities. Both Gomez and Burke spoke at Wednesday’s bill signing, with Gomez saying his bill will help “close the green divide” between wealthier, coastal regions and poorer inland regions of the state.
“We’re looking at tens of millions of dollars, each year, over the next five years, to be invested in our community,” Arambula said. “The programs will start to improve our air quality.”
He specifically said Burke’s bill would prioritize multiple projects in the same areas as a way of showing that the investments work. “If you can transform our community, you can prove to the rest of the state that these programs work,” Arambula said.
Just how much money might come to the Valley was unknown.
“But we know that the program was fashioned with places like Fresno in mind,” Swearengin said. “So I think we stand a chance of seeing some fairly significant resources coming to Fresno.”
She said the money could support additional downtown housing, especially around the proposed high-speed rail station, as well as boost public infrastructure projects by acting as a catalyst for private investment. Many of the projects are ready to build, she said.
“We’ve seen $100 million in private investment alone just from the $20 million public improvement of the Fulton reconstruction project, so we know that as we take care of infrastructure and other public realm issues, we see private investment follow that,” Swearengin said.
That’s great, said Veronica Garibay, co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, a nonprofit group focused on community health. But she also wants to make sure any downtown revitalization projects are done right, and that the poorest and most polluted parts of Fresno, such as Calwa and southwest Fresno, aren’t forgotten.
Garibay said if the city seeks money for any projects, there must be strong community support and participation in the process.
“We want to make sure that the investments in downtown don’t cause any displacement or gentrification risks for communities that are already here,” Garibay said.
Brown also made a pitch for the cap-and-trade trade program, which has been controversial and hasn’t generated the kind of money that was anticipated. Under cap and trade, companies can purchase “credits” to make up for any air pollution they create. That money goes into the fund used for programs like what the bills will create.
Citing the state’s high speed rail project, Brown said jobs are being created. After the bill signing, Brown visited a local high-speed rail construction site just north of downtown, where workers are digging a trench for the line to run under Highway 180.
“This is how you actually move people into the middle class,” he said at the bill signing. “It’s one thing to depend on the global market. That’s fine. And it stimulates the overall economy, but also can drive down wages, and the way to drive wages up is to invest in the very kind of programs that we’re signing into law today, so this is really important for jobs.”
Brown added that the program can drive innovation. He cited waste ponds near dairies, which he said could become clean energy. That could mean new jobs, new technologies – and a better way of life.
“I’m glad we’re doing it in Fresno,” Brown said of the bill signing, “because this is a place that can lead not just the state, but the whole world.”