Afrikatown Tour and Land Liberation Strategy Session

By Van Dell and Chris Tittle, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff

afrikatown community garden

On a warm spring day at the end of April, Sustainable Economies Law Center and Qilombo/Afrikatown hosted an Afrikatown District Tour and Land Liberation Strategy Session as part of an ongoing effort to build solidarity and develop cooperative responses to Oakland's displacement crisis. A diverse group of community organizers, neighbors, funders, lawyers, and comrades gathered in the Afrikatown Community Garden to share visions for community self-determination and introduce our respective work. It quickly became a space for cultivating new relationships and rooting ourselves in the social and material ecology of Afrikatown’s particular project to liberate land for community need.

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3 Steps to Building Just Transition Now with a Permanent Community Energy Cooperative

By Subin Varghese, Community Renewable Energy Director

Step 1. Start now.

Don’t wait. That's rule #1 for living in a world where we're already feeling the impacts of climate change; millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk -- or stand to benefit from solutions -- in this and future decades. We needed a just transition of our energy economy yesterday. And while there are challenges to universal access and equitably shared benefits from clean energy, there are steps we can take today to start building projects, jobs, and improved health in local communities.

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New Volunteer: Camille Stough

Camille Stough

The Sustainable Economies Law Center is pleased to welcome a new volunteer, Camille Stough, who will be working with us part time for the next six months, focusing on our Community Compost Law & Policy Project and on developing resources to support our Legal Cafe clients.

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Taking Back Our Soil: Our Project on Compost Law & Policy

A little-known fact about Sustainable Economies Law Center: We have a project focused on Community Compost Law & Policy. Like many of our projects, it developed in direct response to a need that surfaced repeatedly for our clients and collaborators. Making soil is a legally complex matter, and community-based compost organizations and urban farms have been hitting legal barriers that sometimes make their work impossible.

The fate of a banana peel can illustrate this. Different regulatory frameworks apply when the peel is:

  1. picked up from a restaurant or residence (local waste collection laws);
  2. transported in a vehicle (state and local laws);
  3. dropped at an intermediate location (state transfer laws and local zoning laws);
  4. taken to a composting facility (state compost facility licensing laws, environmental laws, and zoning laws);
  5. rotting (ongoing reporting requirements by the compost facility);
  6. bagged up for sale (testing and labeling laws); and
  7. sold (special sales tax rules sometimes apply).

Those are a lot of legal considerations for a decomposition process that nature has traditionally managed without any guidance whatsoever!

Compost is a hot topic now, mainly because compost can save the earth! Or, at the very least, it can greatly enhance our ability to sequester carbon. Also, many states now have legislated mandates to systematically divert organic waste from landfills. In California, this requires that we scale our composting infrastructure rapidly. One legislative analyst estimated that more than 14,000 jobs could be created by such a mandate.

We have only a short window of time to influence the shape of the nascent compost industry. Will large corporations build massive compost facilities and seek exclusive rights to manage our communities’ green waste? Or can we act now to create a decentralized, community-based composting sector that will create rich soil, fertile local gardens and farms, educational opportunities, and good jobs? Law and policy play a significant role in answering that question, which is why the Law Center has gotten involved.

Over the past two years, volunteers have helped us research compost law, draft policy recommendations, pitch legislative proposals in California, and provide legal advice to community-based compost organizations. Now, we are collaborating with a loose coalition of California-based compost organizations to explore advocacy routes. If we can raise sufficient funds, we’ll likely expand to do this work nationally.

We've also been working with wonderful law students and Berkeley Law School's Environmental Law Clinic to produce a draft brief for policymakers on ways to advocate for community composting. We are currently working to revise and expand this brief. In the meantime, we've inspired law students to draw cartoons about compost law. Here is a bewildered banana peel on its way to a community compost center. True story!

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Learn more about our compost work here

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New Homemade Food Legislation - 2017

On Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the California legislature to expand the types of homemade foods allowed to be sold in California, especially hot meals. The bill, AB 626, was introduced by Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Joaquin Arambula, however, the bill is still in “spot bill” form, meaning that the full details are not yet written in the public record. The current bill just paints a picture in broad brushstrokes of what the two Assemblymembers seek to achieve. Nevertheless, this is really exciting and potentially groundbreaking legislation! However, after much deliberation and meetings with stakeholders around the state, we’ve decided that we will only support further homemade food legislation if it ensures some form of community ownership of any web platforms intermediating the sale of homemade foods.

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Sustainable Economies Law Center Awarded American Bar Association Award

The Sustainable Economies Law Center was awarded the 2017 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The Louis M. Brown Award recognizes our center for "improving access to legal services for those of moderate and middle incomes in ways that are remarkable and replicable." Our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe Program and our Fellowship Program are two ways in which our Center is improving legal access for those of moderate income. 

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New Workers' Comp Law Undermines Worker Ownership in California

California State Assembly.pngBecause of a new California law that passed last year, starting January 1, 2017, any worker cooperative corporation with seven or more members must now obtain workers compensation insurance for its worker-owners, even when everyone serves on the Board of Directors.

Although Assembly Bill (AB) 2883 was framed as a bill to clean up ambiguities in the code, it failed to take into account its impact on Cooperative Corporations. Many worker cooperatives are now being hit with enormous insurance bills costing worker-owners as much as 20% of their income. Prior to AB 2883, worker-owners had a choice in how this money was spent, sometimes setting it aside instead for higher wages that are paid directly to workers, or using it to provide comprehensive medical insurance. AB 2883 effectively takes this decision-making power away from worker-owners, undermining worker self-determination.  

This article provides background, steps that cooperatives can take to respond, and information about the worker cooperative community’s current efforts to change the law.

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