In the short two months since I took the helm of EBCLC, my respect for our organization, our staff and the resilience of our clients has only deepened. I feel so privileged to be in collaboration with you, our community, as we recognize collective wins and meet significant challenges.
This Black History Month, my family and I have celebrated by centering African American history in our children’s books, music and hikes. Here at EBCLC, I’ve reflected on the legacy of structural racism, the damage caused by race neutral policies, and the way it all manifests in our work. Through fierce eviction defense, tenant empowerment policy advocacy, and affirmative constitutional rights litigation, we are reckoning with redlining, restrictive covenants, the foreclosure crisis and other racialized public policies designed to protect white wealth and impoverish African Americans. We are committed to helping borrowers navigate the complexities of student loan debt because we know how it contributes to the racial wealth gap. And as the country reckons with the devastating consequences of Stop and Frisk, EBCLC is working to address the direct impact of racial profiling in today’s California by fighting fines and fees. I’m especially proud to do this work alongside our newest class of 49 law and social work students, who are here to learn how to take on oppressive systems with courage and creativity. Every day, these new advocates inspire me with the innovative ways they address historical injustices.
As we grapple with these tremendous wrongs, it’s also important that we take time to celebrate our many shared triumphs. From the New York Times to KQED, our recent policy wins have enjoyed national coverage and will restore economic security and opportunity to low-income people throughout our county and state. Here are a few meaningful victories from the past few weeks:
- After five years of holding focus groups, mobilizing the community, meeting with the Mayor’s office, and drafting the ordinance language, we introduced California’s first Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act in the City of Berkeley on February 20th. This groundbreaking affordable housing preservation tool will give tenants the ability to pool their power and take their buildings off the open market, keeping rents stable and families housed.
- With the historic settlement of Sanchez v. Caltrans, we enshrined the constitutional rights of homeless people who have had their property destroyed in encampment sweeps. In addition to paying around $5,500 to each impacted Bay Area resident, Caltrans has agreed to procedures that will prevent future property loss. Our own Osha Neumann represented these plaintiffs, which follows his many decades of fierce advocacy on behalf of homeless communities.
- Our trailblazing fines and fees work took root in Southern California, as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to end the assessment of adult criminal fees and to discharge $1.8 billion in criminal justice system debt. This decision builds on EBCLC’s Bay Area fees abolition campaign, and establishes a strong case for state lawmakers to pass our bill SB-144, the “Families Over Fees” Act, which would permanently abolish criminal justice system fees across California.
This year holds much for our country and for EBCLC. I hope you will continue to share this journey with us and to stay in touch as we plan for the work ahead. Thank you for all the ways you help EBCLC take care of our clients and our community.
Zoë Polk, Executive Director
East Bay Community Law Center