The central coast community has been severely impacted by state cuts to services due to the perpetual California budget disaster. Without budget and fiscal reform in California, we at The Central Coast Alliance Unified for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) know there can be no basic fairness or real opportunity in our communities. Public education, the social safety net, and public transportation that meets the needs of low-wage working students and families, are all at risk. Political representation generally responds to the needs of middle-class and wealthy homeowners who dominate this suburban landscape, and can be blind to the pressing needs of the region’s growing poor neighborhoods and towns. Poorer communities are also at risk of increased environmental hazards as polluters target those areas that have less political clout.
Currently, one in seven Ventura County children lives in poverty. Poverty in the county has reached 11 percent, the highest level in ten years. Further, income is increasingly concentrated among the top earners: the top 20 percent receive 46 percent of all the county’s wages. Poverty is concentrated among Latinos, 18 percent of whom now live in official poverty ($22,050 for a family of four). Poverty conditions in an otherwise wealthy suburban/rural county such as Ventura have several unique elements and include a level of isolation not seen in urban areas. Stretches of inaccessible gated neighborhoods, a commercial landscape dominated by malls rather than neighborhood stores, the lack of public transportation and housing density, and few community-based organizations dedicated to social justice all contribute to the impact of poverty here. The California Budget Project estimates that it costs a family of four more than $82,000 per year to meet basic needs in Ventura County, a much higher figure than the California average of $75,000.
Protecting these pockets of working-class communities will become an increasing priority in a changing economy, as gas prices rise, public investment is threatened, and home ownership becomes less of an option for upward mobility.
That’s why CAUSE, as a part of a statewide project led by the California Alliance, has prioritized civic engagement and voter turnout in the Central Coast. CAUSE is coordinating a local campaign to promote a Yes vote on Proposition 25 (allowing a simple majority vote of the Legislature to pass a budget), and a No vote on Proposition 23 (the so-called “dirty energy initiative” that would suspend California’s landmark global warming act). CAUSE is also committed to advocating for central coast low-wage working families and disproportionately impacted Latinos to protect a transparent and public redistricting process established by Proposition 11. A No vote on Proposition 27 will allow traditionally marginalized communities to have an opportunity to elect officeholders who respond to their communities of interest. It is particularly important that these communities have a decisive impact on elections and a stake in the way they are represented in Sacramento.
CAUSE’s goal is to ensure that the voices of the growing low-wage working communities are fairly represented as our economy changes. We are developing a base of budget reform voters in the region who will vote to protect education, public services, infrastructure, and sustainability. We’ve had more than 40,000 issue-based conversations with voters in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since the beginning of 2010, all of which make the connection between the conditions in our neighborhoods and the dysfunctional budget process in Sacramento.
In speaking to tens of thousands of voters, CAUSE has begun to build a bridge between disconnected Sacramento-based political processes and the difficult economic, social, and environmental conditions impacting people locally. Each of these conversations challenges voters to recognize both how state budget cuts impact their daily lives, and that they hold power, through their vote, to help create an economy and environment that are sustainable for everyday working people.
Maricela Morales is the Associate Executive Director of The Central Coast Alliance Unified for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Chris Lanier is the Civic Engagement Organizer.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog by our guest elections columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of California Forward or our Leadership Council.