California Forward (CA FWD) launched the California Dream Index today at the annual California Economic Summit, a gathering of nearly 800 elected, civic and business leaders held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dream Index is a platform that tracks progress toward a more equitable California.
“To create a truly equitable State, we need facts and tools to provide insights and inspiration and accountability,” said Blue Shield of California Foundation President and CEO Debbie Chang. “The California Dream Index creates a holistic measure of economic mobility that can be used at the state, regional and local levels.”
This year’s Summit theme is Leading Resilient Regions acknowledging that, even before the pandemic hit, California faced equity, economic and environmental challenges. The onset of the pandemic only magnified problems faced by many of the State’s regions, especially the Salinas Valley, the original location of the 2020 Summit.
“The California economy, in the midst of all this uncertainty, can go in one of two directions,” said Leon Panetta, Founder and Director of The Panetta Institute to Public Policy and a founding chair of CA FWD. “One is that it could continue to deteriorate and continue to undermine that dream we’re talking about. Or the other is that we could move toward a truly resilient recovery that puts California back in the lead of all the economies in this country.”
University of Southern California’s Dr. Manuel Pastor says that California should not strive to just “recover” from the COVID crisis and subsequent recession. “It’s important for us to realize the nature of the recession that we’re in, this recession that’s incredibly unequal and that is propelling us to reimagine a different economy – one that would be more equitable, more inclusive and more sustainable in the future.”
Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs agreed, saying “Now everyone talks about essential workers and women and people of color, but these folks were in a pandemic before COVID-19. We know that one in two Americans were one paycheck away from financial ruin.”
Although the Salinas region is an example of an area that faced challenges before the pandemic with high poverty rates coupled with a low rate of college degrees, local community groups are working together with CA FWD to reverse that trend. Said Dr. Carissa Purnell, director of the Alisal Family Resource Center Network, “Through collaborative movements like Regions Rise Together, we can now be deliberate in combatting the historic disinvestment our community has faced. We now have the opportunity to change.”
Summit attendees broke into nine workgroups to discuss the issues important to a resilient California. They focused on centering equity in their work, by ensuring conversations and discussions are inclusive, lifting up a broad range of voices, and holding key players accountable for action. Highlights from those sessions include:
Increasing Community Investment
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transformation of retail and hotels, with big impacts on local government finance. Cities and other municipalities need to creatively use land use, tax increment financing and other innovative tools to ensure an equitable recovery.
Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District’s provide a great platform to “build back better,” although there is a need for enhanced legislative flexibility as provided by SB 1389.
Expanding Home Ownership
The workgroup agreed for the need set an agenda to make sure that home ownership is front and center for state and local governments in 2021. Not surprisingly, the governments themselves came in for criticism because as one said, “their regulations make affordable housing, unaffordable.”
Jennifer LeSar, CEO of LeSar Development Consultants added, “We need to keep making the case that home ownership is an equity issue first and a housing issue second.”
The Summit and CA FWD will issue a white paper in early January addressing the issue with a game plan of how the legislatures and local governing bodies can better support homeownership.
Broadband for All
Earlier this year, Governor Newsom issued a Broadband for All Executive Order to close the digital divide. Workgroup participants overwhelmingly approved of the three principles put forward to achieve this goal, which include: achieving swift and collaborative legislative solutions is imperative, California must proactively implement a State Broadband Action Plan and the digital crisis cannot be solved without innovations to address funding and implementation strategies.
ISPs were encouraged to collaborate on solutions, and the group acknowledged additional community models like infrastructure and financing would be needed to serve more rural communities, as well as the need to do more to reach all tribal lands.
Strengthening Education Cradle to Career
Given the success of Cradle to Career programs and Promise Neighborhoods, the group gathered to refine the Cradle to Career Grant Proposal and highlighted the need to ensure that those doing this work are steeped in race, equity, diversity and inclusion and to alleviate systemic inequities.
Providing Meaningful Career Pathways
The workgroup highlighted the need to have a better use of data to measure program successes.
Empowering Resilient and Productive Landscapes
This workgroup supports the immediate scaling of state investments in wildfire reduction and forest restoration work while also developing longer-term policy and legislative strategies to drive funding and action. Also, the work supports the establishment of a set of pilot projects to champion that includes the potential for landscape-scale resilience-building and wood product utilization to support healthy forests, watersheds, landscapes, ecosystems and community well-being.
Investing in Small Businesses Owned by People of Color
The workgroup, dedicated to redressing racial inequity through access to capital and technical assistance, brought together eight experts to discuss transforming capital access programs and scaling affordable lending systems.
Some recommendations highlighted by the group include working with the financial ecosystem to include system players such as oversight bodies, financial institutions and philanthropy on systemic changes, improve access through connections to mission lenders, and create pathways that leverage technology to increase capacity and scale of mission lenders.
During the transforming capital access programs section of the working session Marquis Jackson, immediate past director of the San Diego/Imperial Valley Small Business Development Center said “We have to own the inequities that exist in the capital access process. We’ll never overcome them if we don’t own them and call them out for what they are and how they impact businesses. I believe this is the first step we must take, and this group is taking this step.”
Everett Sands, CEO of Lendistry commented on the need to scale affordable lending systems mentioning that from 2010 until now, we have seen a decline of 10,000 community banks, with only 1,000 left.
The workgroup advocates for the creation of a California Sustainable Manufacturing Council with the Newsom Administration, as well as upskilling the industry’s workforce, rebuilding its infrastructure and fighting for free and fair trade in light of COVID-19.
Planning Regional Inclusive Economies
The group is committed to elevating the Regions Up Prosperity framework with a renewed focus on equity and authentic collaboration which will be an important tool in our state’s regional economy recovery and rebuilding.
The afternoon session celebrated outstanding California leaders and workforce programs.
GO-Biz’s Isabella Casillas Guzman was awarded the 2020 California Steward Leader of the Year. “Not only is she an immensely knowledgeable and terrific leader, a liaison and an advocate for small businesses across the state, she was described as one who not only understands small businesses, but fights for inclusion in the California economy for small business ownership by people of color, women and all underserved populations,” said Lenny Mendonca, CA FWD Leadership Council Member and former GO-Biz Director. “She helped businesses get access to information, capital and other state departments, she has been truly amazing.”
Longtime Summit leader Dr. Alma Salazar was posthumously awarded the Regional Steward of the Year. “My impression of Alma is she lived her life on purpose, she dedicated her entire career to helping vulnerable youth and young adults, black and brown youth, dreamers, foster youth — that was her cause and she was relentless in that cause,” said UNITE-LA’s President and CEO David Rattray who worked with her for 22 years as he accepted the award on her behalf.
The Summit also presented SLO Partners, Ventura County Unified School District’s STEMbassadors team and Year Up with the 2020 Partnerships for Industry and Education (PIE) contest awards.
Panetta added this advice to Summit attendees: “We can grow if we can expand opportunity for all in every region, in every income level and invest in our innovators, but for this to happen we’ve all got to step up.” Panetta referred to his time as U.S. Secretary of Defense and working with members of the military, saying “We need to have that same kind of courage here in California so that all of us can continue to fight together to make sure that we have a resilient recovery and that we give all of our people the opportunity to live that California Dream.”