Should Berkeley tenants get first dibs on buying their landlord’s property?

By Natalie Orenstein of Berkeleyside

Two men hold signs that say "Greed" and two women hold signs that say "Stop TOPA"

The Law Center's Jay Cumberland, second from the left, congregate alongside supporters and opponents of Berkeley’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) outside a City Council policy committee meeting Thursday, March 5, 2020. Image credit: Natalie Orenstein

Excerpt: Under TOPA, authored by Mayor Jesse Arreguín, landlords who wanted to sell their rental property would have to give their tenants the first right of refusal to buy it, at a price named by the owner. The tenants can assign their rights to a city-approved affordable housing organization — like a land trust — if they couldn’t afford the cost themselves. If the tenants decided to move out instead of buying the building, those housing organizations would get second dibs.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published on March 6, 2020.)

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Rethinking Our Climate Vision: Beyond Pass/Fail

Subin Devar, the Law Center's Director of Community Renewable Energy, penned this essay, Are You Thinking About Climate Change Wrong?as part of our membership campaign in January 2020. It was recently republished in Nonprofit Quarterly.

Everyday people, at least in the US, are more concerned and more pessimistic about climate change. Perhaps this is because of diminishing trust in government or the sheer scale of the problem. From my experience, people who work on climate, energy, or social justice issues are a bit more hopeful than others, even if they are weighed down at times by worry. It appears that people around the globe are a little more optimistic that we can avoid the worst effects of climate change. But is that enough? Avoiding the worst effects?

In this context, a pass/fail framing of climate change has two key problems. 

Read the article on Nonprofit Quarterly here, or the original post on the Law Center's blog here.

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Report: Designing Community Solar Programs That Promote Racial & Economic Equity

The Law Center's Director of Community Renewable Energy, Subin Devar, contributed to this white paper which provides guidance for creating community solar programs that promote racial and economic equity. 

SUMMARY: This paper is intended for city elected officials and policymakers, administrators of municipal electric utilities (i.e., munis), and local advocates building equitable third-party or muni-owned community solar programs. It is most applicable to municipalities with a municipal electric utility or other lever that provides flexibility in sourcing energy, such as a Community Choice Aggregation entity. Much of this paper is relevant for policy makers and advocates designing regional or state-level community solar programs, as well.

Read the full report here.

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An Enormous Land Transition is Underway. Here’s How to Make it Just.

Neil Thapar, the Law Center's Director of Food and Farms, penned this essay, How to Win Land Justice in a Decade, as part of our Land Justice campaign in January 2020. It was recently republished in Civil Eats.

Excerpt: In the next decade, we can rewrite the story of our collective future—one that manifests indigenous sovereignty, reparations, and a livable climate. Winning land is a precondition not only for a racially equitable food and farm economy, but for a real, thriving, and inclusive democracy. And, true to the definition of democracy, we all have a role to play.

Read the full article on Civil Eats here, or the full, original version on the Law Center's blog here.

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You might actually love this year!

How is February almost over already? As we look forward and make plans for the coming year, we made this video to share how 2020 is turning into the most lovable year yet. Enjoy! And see below for the many ways we want you to be part of it. 

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AB5 Legal Cafe Teach-In Video

How AB 5 Might Affect Worker Cooperatives, Nonprofits, & Small Businesses

Do you hold an HR Role in a worker cooperative? Are you starting or converting to a cooperative and wondering what employment policies you should have for your workers? This teach-in was recorded just for you!

Click here to watch the video and to learn about how new employment laws under AB 5 might affect your business.

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How to #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize land in a decade

A housing lawyer, a farmland lawyer, an energy lawyer, and a grassroots finance lawyer walked into our office and formed the Law Center's new Land and Resources Circle. Together, they agreed on a collective vision: Democratize. Decolonize. Decarbonize.

And so they launched the #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize campaign. Their goal? Recruit 20 new Community Members. Their game plan? Set some time aside away from their daily grind. Reflect on the Law Center's work on housing, farmland, and energy. And then take a deep-dive with a three-part essay series explaining why we do what we do.

Image: two women with a map, text: #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize

Neil wrote about unjust farmland ownership in How to win land justice in a decade.

"The land we occupy today has been stolen from the indigenous peoples of this continent. A crime repeated every time land is bought and sold as a commodity.* Anyone who has felt the sand between their toes on a beach, stood in awe of a mountain range, or laid their head to rest in a warm place they call home knows that land is not simply a commodity. Its value cannot be reduced to dollars and cents. In the case of the farmland that nourishes all of us, commodification has created a crisis in our food system that only a strong commitment to land justice can solve."

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Berkeley Revises Loan Requirements to Help Finance Employee Ownership

By Karen Khan of Fifty by Fifty

The Cheese Board Collective, in Berkeley, CA, has been owned by its workers since 1971.

Excerpt: For worker cooperatives, one of the barriers to growth is access to capital. Small business loans usually require the business owner to offer what is known as a “personal guarantee”—i.e., if the business fails to pay off a loan, the owner is on the hook to pay it back. Without a lone owner to guarantee the loan, lenders have been wary of lending to cooperatives, where multiple people own the business. To help grow local cooperatives, Berkeley, CA, is changing the rules.

Berkeley established a small business loan fund with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration in 1987, writes Oscar Perry Abello in Next City.  The fund has been used to support minority-owned and women-owned businesses denied traditional loans, but because of the personal loan guarantee, loans to cooperatives have been exceedingly rare.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published on November 19, 2019.)

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These Organizations are Putting People Over Profits

Law Center staff at the Law Center's 10-year anniversary party held on October 12, 2019.

Excerpt: Many organizations — including those funded by AmbitioUS — are popping up in recent years to develop new economic systems focused on local production, sustainability, and community. However, many of these organizations run into entrenched legal barriers and regulations that work for free-market capitalism but not so well for collaborative ventures. The Sustainable Economies Law Center is a nonprofit law center that is working to cultivate a new legal landscape. AmbitioUS is supporting SELC’s project, Next Egg, which will give individual investors a community-based option for investing outside of Wall Street.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published January 8, 2020.)

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Are you thinking about climate change wrong?

Democratize Decolonize Decarbonize

By Subin DeVar, Director of the Law Center's Community Renewable Energy Program

This is the final part of #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize, a three-part essay series exploring the Law Center’s work on housing, land, and energy. More goodness: Part 1: “Social housing is the only way forward” & Part 2: “How to win land justice in a decade.”

Read time: 6 minutes

Are you thinking about climate change wrong?

Hi! It's me, Subin DeVar. I’m the Director of the Community Renewable Energy Program at the Sustainable Economies Law Center. I am writing this as I prepare for parental leave — I’m going to be a dad soon! And as a soon-to-be father, I feel a special type of urgency in my need to tell y’all that… most of us are thinking about climate change wrong. 😬

Image: My partner and me

(Thankfully, young people know better, but I’ll get to that later.)

For most Americans, the general assessment goes something like this: 

Humans need to do something soon to prevent catastrophic climate change. 
And if we do what’s necessary, yay! we’ll have saved the planet. 
If we don’t, it’s going to be really bad, maybe irreversible. 

With worsening droughts and fires already affecting us, it’s easy to think about climate change itself as a fire that just needs to be put out.

There’s nothing obviously wrong about this win or lose way to think about greenhouse gas emissions and its impacts. It follows a typical logical flow:

Society has a problem. 
Problem requires solution. 
Whether society responds with necessary solution determines success or failure. 

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Policy Advocates for Sustainable Economies supports Oakland Participatory Budget Campaign

Oakland, CA – Policy Advocates for Sustainable Economies, a 501(c)(4) arm of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, partnered with Cooperative 4 the Community to support a participatory budget ballot initiative campaign in Oakland.

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Kicking off 2020 with a fireside chat with the Law Center!

2020 Hot Takes!

We recently hosted our first-ever livestream, featuring members of our Land and Resources Circle: Chris Tittle (Housing), Neil Thapar (Food & Farm),Cameron Rhudy (Grassroots Finance), and Subin DeVar (Community Renewable Energy)! If you missed our online fireside chat, fear not! We recorded the livestream and you can now go back and relive our tarot card reading and meet our surprise guest (most undeniably the cutest guest we've had in Law Center history).

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How to win land justice in a decade

Two women and a map

By Neil Thapar :neil:, Law Center's Food and Farm Director

Read time: 6 minutes

This is part two of #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize, a three-part essay series exploring the Law Center’s work on housing, land, and energy. ICYMI, click here to read the first essay, “Social housing is the only way forward.”


This is the decade of possibility. And as a new father, I feel a stronger sense of purpose and motivation than ever before to help build a just world that my daughter will grow into. Ten years from now, if we take advantage of the opportunities to secure land justice that are in front of us, I see a world where many more people feel a sense of belonging and security because they govern the land they live on, together.

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Social housing is the only way forward

By Chris Tittle, Law Center's Director of Organizational Resilience

Read time: 6 minutes 

This is part one of #DemocratizeDecolonizeDecarbonize, a three-part essay series exploring the Law Center’s work on housing, land, and energy.

It’s time to think big about housing. Twelve million beautiful and green new housing units in the next ten years. A massive reinvestment in housing under public control, resident control, and community control. Tenant protections, rent control, and anti-displacement measures across the nation.

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Major advances in 2019 toward a more democratic economy

By Juliana Broad with the Next System Project

Excerpt: Recent pro-cooperative policy changes in Berkeley, California have given rise to what could be heralded as a new “Berkeley Model” of cooperative economic development. In February, the city council unanimously adopted a set of recommendations that will support the development of worker co-ops in the city. The city council’s resolutions include giving worker co-ops preference for city contracts, providing technical assistance for existing small businesses to convert into worker co-ops, and implementing a workaround so that worker co-ops can access the city’s revolving loan fund.

The council’s workaround deserves some attention. Revolving loan funds are pools of money sustained by the U.S. Economic Development Administration that can be extended as lines of credit to businesses that have been turned down by loans elsewhere (for example, by “risk-averse” private banks). Like most small-business lenders, revolving loan funds normally require an individual associated with the business to personally guarantee to repay the loan if the business defaults. Rather tellingly, this requirement is at odds with the multiple-owner model of a worker co-op. The Berkeley City Council’s innovation—developed in conjunction with the Oakland-based Sustainable Economies Law Center—makes it easier for worker co-ops to access these loans by adding an alternative to the conventional individual guarantee. Given that there are more than 500 other revolving loan funds across the country, there will be plenty of opportunities to replicate and build off of the framework established with the “Berkeley Model.”

Read the full article here.

(Originally published December 19, 2019.)

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