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Posts from the "Civil Rights" Category

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Featured Headline: Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants Not About Immigration

Assemblyman Luis Alejo has actively pursued immigration reform issues, but the Daily News says his efforts to allow undocumented workers access to drivers licenses isn't an immigration issue. It's a public safety one. Image: Assembly Dems

I don’t think I’ve ever taken a tongue lashing in the comments section for any article or opinion piece as I did when I wrote in December of 2011 that it was past time for the State of California to license undocumented immigrants. The piece also supported LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s position that cars shouldn’t be taken from undocumented drivers because they don’t have a license, if the state makes it impossible for these immigrants to obtain them in the first place.

This year, A.B. 60, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, has a real chance of becoming law.

Last week, the Assembly passed legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants access to driving licenses. An editorial in today’s Daily News, while not touching on the Beck issue today, basically agrees with our larger point from December 2011. Allowing undocumented immigrants access to our driver training and licensing program isn’t an “immigration issue,” it’s a “safety issue.”

No — licenses wouldn’t be “given” to immigrants any more than they’re given to U.S. citizens. Everybody has to pass written and driving tests to earn licenses. This certifies that you know how to operate a vehicle and know the rules of the road, and means you can be identified after an accident. Read more…

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The BRU Roars: Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights

Streetsblog estimates 250 people were at the rally at any given point. The BRU put the total number between 350-400 as people came and went from the rally as it went on.

We’re the BRU. This is our fight
Mass transportation is a human right
We want 50 cent fares and $20 passes
‘cause mass transportation belongs to the masses
-
BRU Chant, heard yesterday.

Hoping to leverage the importance of minority and lower income voters to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, the Bus Riders Union (BRU) launched “a national campaign calling on President Obama to stand for the civil rights of Black and Latino transit riders in Los Angeles,” in front of City Hall’s west entrance yesterday afternoon.

The BRU’s campaign attracted the support of twenty allied organizations including the East Los Angeles Community Council, Koreatown Immigrants Workers Alliance, and SEIU United Service Workers West; each of whom had representatives sprinkled in the sea of yellow-t-shirt clad supporters wearing their own organizations’ colors.  A full list of supporting organizations is at the end of this story, after the jump.

Disappointed that a  Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights Title VI review didn’t roll back recent service cuts, the campaign is aiming over the FTA’s head. The campaign appeals directly to Obama to, in their words, order the agency to restore one million hours of service. In the wake of a recent announcement that Metro is extending hours on Metro rail and Bus Rapid Transit late into the night, the BRU also wants to know why bus riders aren’t seeing a return of bus service eliminated over the last four years.

Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the BRU said, “This is a major civil rights test case for President Obama. With clear evidence that the nation’s second largest mass transit agency violated federal civil rights law, the case offers President Obama an important opportunity to bring justice to 500,000 Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander bus riders who have been slammed by service cuts and fare increases.”

Even if the President wanted to over-rule the FTA’s decision on Metro’s service policies, it’s doubtful he has the legal right to do so.  Streetsblog spoke with a legal expert familiar with the FTA’s recent review of Metro’s civil rights policies, who asked not to be identified.  This lawyer said that direct intervention by the President overruling a report by the FTA would create legal problems for the President if Metro opposed his decision.  If Metro accepted the President’s oversight, it would create a “terrible” legal precedent.  After all, would the BRU want Mitt Romney making decisions on what kind of transit service Metro should provide?”

Despite the t-shirts and banners with the president’s picture, the real target of yesterday’s rally could be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Obama chose Villaraigosa to Chair of the Democratic National Convention in September. Attacking Villaraigosa’s progressive bona-fides, especially on his signature issue, could be an attempt to embarrass the mayor into taking a proactive role in restoring the slashed service hours.

“Sadly, Mayor Villaraigosa, as Chair of the L.A. Metro Board, has failed to take a clear stand for civil rights and for the restoration of the deep service cuts that are so devastating for the urban poor,” said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union. “Will he allow black and latino communities to be pushed to the brink of economic survival and displaced from their own neighborhoods in order to pursue a transportation agenda that gentrifies the city and fattens the pockets of corporate developers and the construction lobby? Or will the Mayor take a stand for civil rights and for the restoration of one million hours of bus service?”

The mayor’s office declined to comment on the story, but recent comments made in Streetblog’s exclusive interview with Villaraigosa paint a picture of a mayor concerned about the cost and quality of local bus service.  When asked directly about his future plans, Villaraigosa commented, “My goal is to convince the Congress we need to spend more money on operations. That’s going to take more time.”

Whether the BRU can make enough noise to get the President’s attention has yet to be proven.  But regardless of one’s view of the BRU or this campaign, yesterday’s rally marked the first attempt by a group outside of Washington, D.C. to aggresively insert the plight of transit riders into the 2012 presidential debate.  BRU leaders listed allies in other cities: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and others. They’re going to need all the help they can get to be heard through the white noise of a presidential campaign.

Endorsers of the “Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights” Campaign to date:

ACUSLA – Association of Communities United of South Los Angeles

CADRE – Community Asset Development Re-Defining Education

CHIRLA – Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

CLEAN Carwash Campaign,

Coalition for Educational Justice

Comité Pro-Democracia de Mexico

Communities for a Better Environment

D.R.E.A.M. Team Los Angeles

Committee of Ex-Bracero Workers

East Los Angeles Community Corporation

Inner City Struggle

Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance

Los Angeles Community Action Network

Restaurant Opportunities Center-Los Angeles

SEIU United Service Workers West

Union de Vecinos

Youth Justice Coalition

 

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Separate but Eco: Livable Communities for Whom?

New plans and developments, such as the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Plan pictured above, are great for the environment, but what impact does it have on the community it's placed in? Image via City Planning

Note: The authors are active advocates in the urban sustainability movement, focusing on non-motorized transportation in low-income urban areas. As mixed race women of color, we believe that we are in a unique position to bridge the advocacy communities trying to better conditions for the urban poor and for the environment. In this series, we draw on our experiences in the bicycle and environmental movements to shed light on the unfortunate divides we have noticed between urban sustainability communities and low-income communities of color.

When environmental advocates talk about urban sustainability, we often focus on how people use space and how we can encourage design that has a lesser impact on the environment.  How do people get around, are there single or mixed use developments, how can we minimize commutes between work, the grocery store, and home? Rarely do we mention class differences in who lives in the same neighborhoods or, crucially, the issue of segregation and how discrimination has shaped where Americans live and with whom they associate.

Surely we’re aware of the legacies of 1950’s white flight and urban redevelopment, where cars enabled Americans to flee the supposed contamination of newly integrating city centers. We know about the subsequent trend where city agencies labeled those neighborhoods left behind as “blighted slums” ripe for redevelopment. And yet we remain silent about the parallel between these twentieth century traumas and our current interest in promoting urban sustainability in these same areas through large scale economic redevelopment. Because race and class inequalities have been left out of the conversation, eco-friendly developments that aim to increase property values and, consequently, reduce affordable housing stock, get promoted as the key to urban sustainability.

Sustaining the ethnic and cultural diversity of our shared spaces should be an explicit priority of the environmental movement, and this means confronting the trend toward making “eco-friendly” neighborhoods primarily exclusive enclaves of wealth. We have seen this in countless neighborhoods in Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, where bike lanes often get striped in “up and coming” neighborhoods only after more affluent residents move in.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Fleet: Civil Rights Stickers Posted on Metro Vehicles

A week before Christmas a decal titled “Metro Notice of Civil Rights” began appearing on Metro bus and rail vehicles. This is a response to the recent FTA Title VI Compliance Review stipulation “Metro must provide an updated Notification to the public of their rights within 30 days” (see page18).

In its Civil Rights Corrective Action Plan Metro stated on the first page “As of Monday, December 5, 2012 Metro has rewritten the Notice to Beneficiaries and a copy of the proposed notice is included as attachment #2. Upon approval of the FTA a decal will be produced and this notice will be posted throughout the system.” Note how accelerated the process has been that hardly two weeks after the draft text was prepared the decals began appearing on the vehicles, a clean signal how seriously Metro takes the various stipulations by the FTA contained in the compliance review.

This is part of a media campaign by Metro of outreach regarding civil rights protections which so far has also included a paragraph (“Metro Civil Rights Policy”) in the Metro Brief ads that appear in various media around the region such as for example the latest issue of the Downtown News — click on “This Week’s Issue” and flip to page two. We can expect more of this in the coming weeks and months.

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Advocates Respond: What to Make of the FTA’s Civil Rights Report on Metro

fta civil rights compliance review for L.A Metro

Over the past week, Streetsblog published four stories on the Federal Transit Administration’s report on Title VI Civil Rights violations at Metro.  Most of our reporting focused on the conflict between the Bus Riders Union and Metro staff on what the report means.  However, advocates around the city have pored over the report and have opinions of their own of what it means and what Metro should do to respond.

As is often the case when seeking the opinions of a range of advocates, there was some disagreement.  One thing everyone agreed on is that Metro has to do better.

Going easiest on Metro was Jerard Wright, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, Transportation Committee Co-Chair.  Wright argues that the report is a positive document for Metro as it shows how the agency can improve to better improve outreach for all users.  Wright writes, “I see the FTA report as nothing more than a punchlist of items that Metro needs to complete on top of what is already being done when decisions are being made on service, fares and the overall operations of the LA County Transportation system.

It clearly didn’t find fault with the agnecy as the directives reported were communication measures that will aid both Metro and FTA in the long run. The claims that this is a damning report is further from the truth as those claims are nothing more than a smokescreen to create a political whirlpool of drama.”

Southern California Transit Advocate Board Member, and Streetsblog contributor, Dana Gabbard took issue with both Metro’s outreach process and the idea that this report should be seen as an indictment of the agency as a whole.

“As somebody who has in the past severely criticized Metro for the poor handling of outreach for service change hearings (including in a series of commentaries that appeared on this blog earlier this year) I hope this report results in a more open and fair process,” Gabbard writes.  ”That said the notion promoted in certain quarters that this audit will result in federal intervention and or mandates regarding fares and levels of service seems fanciful and frankly disingenuous demagoguery that obscures needlessly.”

As with Wright and Gabbard, Bart Reed has been a long time critic of the Bus Riders Union, however in this case Reed’s criticisms sound similar to the BRU’s, although Reed’s style is signifigantly more measured than the Union’s.

“Metro should now shift from making service decisions based primarily on triaging cuts when revenues were falling to having a system that has both higher frequencies and better coordination of connections that attracts more riders and serves the transit-dependent better. This means revising how the load factor is used when establishing service levels,” writes Reed.

“For example, lines serving Koreatown may experience peak load when reaching the heart of Koreatown, but lines in South Central LA or the valleys may be close to peak load over a much longer portion of the route. Thus, holding all lines to the same load factor might result in disproportionate cuts to service in the areas with a more even ridership distribution.”

Reed goes on to argue that changing headways along commercial corridors is one way that Metro policies are hurting the transit dependent.

“One of the results of service cuts is low-income workers who previously took buses with 10-15 minute headways on a major commercial corridor like Ventura Boulevard are now faced with up to 40 minute headways. Therefore, if one bus is late, the tardy worker is in danger of losing the job.  This creates a powerful incentive to switch to driving.”

Also weighing in is Public Counsel, a legal non-profit that defends the rights of the less-advantaged.  The group’s president is one of the few people I’ve met who both have a law degree and have read the FTA report.

“Government must protect its citizens from discrimination on account of race and ethnicity. Yet by failing to properly analyze how its policies, including service cuts, disproportionately affect minorities, Metro has failed  in this core obligation.  This failure has resulted in major barriers to economic survival for Metro’s core riders — including access to jobs, education, and health care,” writes Public Counsel President and CEO Hernán Vera.

“We urge the Metro board to take seriously the FTA Compliance Review which found Metro to be deficient in 5 of the 12 Title VI requirements: Notice to the Public of Title VI Rights, language access, adoption of system-wide service standards and policies, evaluation of service and fare changes, and monitoring transit service.”

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FTA: Metro Deficient in Five of 12 Civil Rights Categories

Yesterday, the Federal Transit Administration publicly released its Title VI Civil Rights Review of Metro that was completed earlier this year.  The FTA outlines a series of deficiencies in almost half of its twelve civil rights categories.  Metro insists these are minor issues that can be easily fixed while critics of the agency call the report “a crushing indictment of the MTA.”  The document is available as a word document off the FTA’s website and a pdf off Streetsblog’s Sribd Page.

The FTA identified deficiencies in five of the 12 requirements of the Title VI Circular applicable to urban transit agencies that receive federal funds.  The five deficient areas are:

  • Notice to the Public of Rights
  • Language Access to LEP Persons
  • System-wide Service Standards and Policies
  • Evaluations of  Service and Fare Changes
  • Monitoring Transit Service

Despite the strong critique of Metro policies, the FTA report stops short of requiring that Metro roll back any of its recent fare increases or service cuts that led to the Bus Riders Union to call for a Civil Rights Review in the first place.  BRU spokespeople noted that the report doesn’t rule out making such a determination in the future, but for now the agency has time to answer the FTA’s complaints, create and implement a Civil Rights Corrective Action Plan, and fill in some gaps in its reporting.

For example, when a Metro policy is shown, by its own analysis, to have a “disparate impact” on a minority or disadvantaged community  Metro is required to prove that the policy is absolutely necessary and there is no other less discriminatory alternative available.  In the case of its 2009 and 2011 service cuts, the agency did show a “disparate impact” in over three fifths of its service changes, but didn’t show that cuts were a “business necessity” in its own documents explaining the cuts and there were no other “less discriminatory alternatives.”

In plain English, Metro didn’t sufficiently prove that its service changes, cuts and improvements, were a business necessity after determining that they had a systematic negative impact on minority and disadvantaged communities.

In addition to studying the impact of its fare policies, including the reduction in cost for the Metro Day Pass that went on the books this summer, Metro is required to do a study of the cumulative impact of the changes to bus service that have occurred since 2009.  But it’s not like Metro is just ticking off a series of studies that it has to do, pending the findings of these studies, the FTA could require changes, including a requirement to roll back past policies, service changes and fare changes once Metro concludes its reporting.

Some of the other findings in the report were just strange.  For example, by its own standard, Metro has to examine why there is a significant difference, 3% or more, in survey answers from different demographics when completing its bi-annual survey of riders.  However, when their rider surveys showed that difference, there was never any examination of why, just a blanket statement that: Read more…

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Spinning a Civil Rights Complaint

One of L.A.'s less attractive bus stops. Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

Late last week, most likely in response to a report by the Bus Riders Union and their community allies, a letter from Metro CEO Art Leahy dismissing the Civil Rights complaints of the BRU appeared on The Source.  The letter basically announced that the Title VI complaints against the agency announced last Spring were dismissed, leading to much cheering from Metro supporters.

While there’s nothing in Leahy’s letter that is factually incorrect on its own, it paints a picture that the Federal Transit Administration has already ruled that Metro has not violated Civil Rights laws with recent fare increases and bus service cuts.  While the FTA may rule that way, they haven’t yet.

Here’s a timeline of the BRU’s complaint and where we are now.

Over the past four years, Metro engaged in a series of fare hikes and service cuts in the name of efficiency and stabilizing the farebox recovery ratio of the agency.  Thanks in large part to Measure R, fares on students, people of lower income and the elderly have not gone up as dramatically as they have on other people.  Despite a 40% increase in its base fare, with more increases to come, Metro has one of the lower fares in the country.  The agency has also cut almost 1 million hours of bus service including many of the “lower performing” routes completely.

In November, the Bus Riders Union wrote the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) asking for a review of Metro’s practices under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 12898 and Department of Transportation Regulations.

In March, the FTA declined the request but announced that it would conduct an on-site compliance review of the agency.  The letter from FTA credited the BRU’s complaint to the Civil Rights Department as one reason for the compliance review.  This began a split narrative on what the FTA’s review actually is.  Metro claims its a routine review and that the BRU’s complaint was dismissed, which is technically true.  The BRU claims that they pointed out a system of decision making at Metro that further disadvantages the disadvantaged.  In fact, the BRU trumpeted the announcement of the compliance review in a major press blitz.  You car read the FTA’s decision letter, available exclusively on Streetsblog, here.

This summer, the investigators came to Metro and interviewed staff, Board Members and other interested parties including the Bus Riders Union.  Following their meeting, the BRU submitted a brief on the service cuts passed by the Metro Board since their initial complaint.  This was not a second complaint, rather an informational packet submitted to the reviewers. Read more…

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Bicycling is for Everyone: The Connections Between Cycling in Developing Countries and Low-Income Cyclists of Color in the U.S.

Photo: Ray Fuentes

A Missing Story

As urban transportation bicycling becomes more popular, planners and advocates often use “bike friendly cities” like Portland, Amsterdam and Copenhagen as examples for facilities as well as political strategies and tactics.  Although these are wonderful cities with dazzling bike networks and impressive ridership numbers, a narrative is emerging that bicycle advocacy needs to follow their methods. On the contrary, the bicycle movement in Los Angeles is not rooted in mimcry of Europe or the “whitest city in America”. It owes much of its progress to the participation of immigrants of color who can share uncountable stories of everyday bicycling in their countries of origin.

The stories often sound like this one (told to author Allison Mannos as a family story):

In the 1950’s, my mother grew up in a rural area of Toisan, in southern China. When she was two, she contracted polio in her leg. At that time, polio vaccines weren’t available in her area and other developing places. Without medicine, doctors said her leg would require amputation. Her grandfather, in an attempt to provide whatever he could, hopped on his bicycle and pedaled down unpaved dirt roads to numerous villages nearby, looking for the prescribed milk and herbal remedies, which were scarce.  He eventually found enough milk and herbs, and he ferried them back to my mother with his bicycle, which helped to save her leg.

Although it’s tempting to focus on the role of bicycle as savior, the moral of the story is actually the ubiquity of bicycling—the foregone conclusion of it. These journeys for milk and medicine were simply one of many daily trips made for commuting, errands, and everyday life. This unconscious, mainstream, and frequent use of the bicycle to accomplish daily tasks without a dedicated bicycling infrastructure is common to developing places around the world.

Although not all Los Angeles’ bicyclists are immigrants from these places, work within the bicycling community reveals that the success of Los Angeles bicycling is based on the established behavioral patterns of these people.  They are immigrants, or children of immigrants, from rural and urban parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa; their motivation to ride does not necessarily stem from an environmental or political stance. For them, bicycling is a cultural norm of inexpensive transportation that provides means for survival.

Moving Forward, Margin to Center

Infamous for car culture and congestion, Los Angeles has dramatically developed a large and visible bicycling community in the last ten years. It boasts hundreds of monthly rides, over half a dozen bicycle repair community spaces, an outspoken advocacy community, and a recent ambitious update to its bicycle master plan. While some planners and advocates attribute these changes to Los Angeles adopting ideas from bike-friendlier cities, the characterization overlooks the fact that a substantial number of people already rode in relative invisibility—invisibility based on their race, immigration, or low-income status. Many of these riders live and/or work in neglected parts of Los Angeles including portions of Westlake/MacArthur Park, Downtown, South LA, Pacoima/Van Nuys, and East LA. Read more…

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A Call to Plan Cities for Tomorrow, While Bracing for Transit Cuts Today

USDOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari kicked off the Transportation Equity Network’s “One Nation, Indivisible” conference yesterday with a call to think long-term. By 2050, he said, we can expect the U.S. population to grow by 100 million people, and nearly all of them will live in large urban centers. Problems like crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transit systems, grinding traffic and pollution will be much worse then if we don’t start acting today.

“Are we doing right by the next generation?” Porcari asked. “We know we’re not.”

Echoing President Obama’s “winning the future” rhetoric, Porcari framed the administration’s push for a six-year, $550 billion transportation bill as a potential watershed that can reform a transportation system which has become increasingly burdensome for lower income Americans. “If you make between $20,000 and $50,000 a year,” he said, “odds are that transportation is your number one household expense, higher than housing.”

With the GOP-controlled House making noise about a much smaller reauthorization bill than the one Obama has proposed, better days for affordable transportation are not here yet, nor are they necessarily around the corner. Transit agencies have already been through a couple of years of widespread service cuts and fare increases. The brunt of these cuts have been felt by people of color — who make up at least 60 percent of public transit ridership.

So in addition to not doing right by the next generation, our current policies are not doing right by today’s generation.

Read more…

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