Driving Out of the Red with Greener Cars

Policies for Cheaper, Cleaner Auto Transportation in California’s Central Valley
By Lisa Margonelli

March 24, 2014 | New America Foundation

Income inequality in California is already high, and it continues to increase. This income inequality is exacerbated by unequal access to jobs, credit, and efficient vehicles. Wages in California’s Central Valley are lower than in the rest of the state, and workers there must commute long distances, with little access to alternative transportation, in older, inefficient cars. As a result, some working families in the Central Valley spend as much as a third to half of their income on fueling and maintaining their vehicle. Some lower-income neighborhoods also suffer from very high levels of tailpipe exhaust from cars that have become unregistered. This new white paper contains on-the-ground reporting, a new survey of farmworkers, and empirical analysis of the burden of transportation costs on Valley families. Amidst the bad news, the report also discovered that the Central Valley is a hotspot for transit innovation: Valley workers have used their social networks to carpool and vanpool at a higher rate than the rest of the state.

This white paper builds a case for “double green” vehicle policies that work to reduce smog and carbon emissions while saving households money. The passage of Senate Bill 459 started a statewide conversation about how to use millions in state vehicle scrap-and-replace funds to better reach middle and lower income households. Building on that premise, the second half of this report looks at policy options that would reduce families’ costs, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and give workers more choices. A range of national and state programs have successfully made auto loans to lower income households, and this report suggest how the state of California might leverage state tools such as loan loss replacement funds, state low-cost insurance, and scrap and replacement funds to create a sustainable auto loan program. Done well, such a loan program could be expanded to middle class households and advanced vehicles in the future. In addition, the state should work to maintain and expand the use of carpools and van pools in the Valley so that rural families have convenient low-cost and low carbon transportation choices.

Making policies more equitable is key to making them more effective. In California, as elsewhere, policies have awarded rebates and tax breaks to early adopters of hybrid and electric vehicles, even though they tend to have incomes well above $100,000 a year. Another sector of policies raises prices to change behavior. Lower income families, who cannot access credit on fair terms, are left paying higher costs without being able to get electric vehicles or rebates. Yet, they are already changing their behavior–many save on education, medicine, and food to afford their commute. Not only are these policies unfair, they also undercut the effectiveness of millions the state is spending on rebates for electric vehicles. A single 1984 vehicle emits more than 70 times as much tailpipe pollution as a 2012 conventional vehicle, effectively negating rebates for that number of electric cars. To reach its high environmental goals, the state must find ways to partner with working families to reduce their costs while making California greener.

Click here to read the full paper

Witness to Courageous Indignation

Arcela Nunez-Alvarez
Founder and Executive Director at Transnational Communities Corporation (TCC)
Witness to Courageous Indignation
March 9, 2014
By Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez

Over 8,577 farmworkers live in the community of Mecca, California. They include men who work from sunrise to sunset under scorching sun to satisfy America’s hunger for fresh fruits and vegetables; women work alongside the men in the fields while caring for their family’s every need at all times; children who go to school, laugh and play with contagious energy like all children do. What’s different about this farmworker community; however, is that every breath of fresh air they inhale, every drop of fresh clean water that quenches their thirst, every bite they take into a crunchy juicy apple, and every step they take as they walk along ancient dirt roads lined with palms is only a mirage.

The community faces serious socio-economic and environmental issues including air pollution, arsenic in local water, unemployment, low educational attainment, few afterschool programs and activities for youth, limited access to professional development and training opportunities for adults, limited access to technology, and limited access to healthy food.

Unity has real meaning here because people know each other. Their lives are familiar and intertwined. Good news travel quickly and bad news even faster. The majority of adults traveled from distant and faraway lands in search of work and a better future at some point in the last century. Ninety-nine percent (99%) of the population migrated from Latin America, Mexico specifically. Over time, they planted themselves in this land where the success of agriculture in the desert became an admirable scientific miracle for the crops that abound as well as for the strength and resilience of the people who work the land and are now deeply rooted in this community. Today, ninety-two percent (92%) of the population speaks Spanish. Over seventy percent (70%) of the population has less than a high school education and forty-nine (49%) of the population lives below the poverty level with a median household income of $26,592.

Nonetheless, they wake up every morning with the vision of a life, like the rest of us, in which sacrifice gives way to fulfilled dreams and plentiful opportunities. They eat, love, play, pray and die like the rest of America. They believe in democracy and understand it through their children’s pledge of allegiance. They are faithful believers of the American Dream. “Our children are citizens,” a community member pointed out, “and they deserve to be treated like Americans.”

They go to local and state representatives seeking support to help them improve access to basic infrastructure and services such as electricity, safe drinking water, drainage and pavement. However, their pleas for help go unheard time and time again. Everyone around them seems to be deaf and blind to what is happening to them and their children. Some of the community leaders are facing eviction and other forms of intimidation yet they remain strong and unafraid. When they should be bitter and outraged, they speak passionately and poetically about human rights and the wrongs perpetrated against the community. When they should be aggressive and skeptical, they talk about respect and dignity. When they should be greedy and protective of what they have, they willingly share their bottled water and food with others. When they should be exhausted from working so hard, they volunteer more. Action by action, they demonstrate what it means to be a caring person and collectively embody courageous indignation.