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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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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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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The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative’s new way to build housing equity

By Jade Yamazaki Stewart of Oakland Magazine

Excerpt: [East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative's] organization uses cooperative ownership models to turn tenants into owners and give them the opportunity to build equity and intergenerational wealth. It’s part of a larger movement to make housing affordable one property at a time. In the Bay Area, the Oakland Community Land Trust, the Bay Area Community Land Trust, and the Northern California Community Land Trust are all buying properties and turning them into affordable housing. But the East Bay co-op’s funding and ownership model is unique.

Tia Taruc-Myers and her husband had been living in a North Oakland fourplex on 61st Street off of Martin Luther King Jr. Way since 2008. Although she had an absentee landlord, rent stayed at around $460 per room, so she didn’t complain. Then, last summer, the landlord painted the building a color Taruc-Myers describes as “gentrifier gray” and put it up for sale. “We were really scared when we heard the building was going to be sold,” she said. “We felt that we were definitely going to lose our home.” So Taruc-Myers reached out to the co-op's Executive Director Noni Session, and she eventually agreed to take on the property as its first project, to be known as Co-op 789.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published October 2, 2019.)

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Making a More Democratic Economy, One Revolving Loan Fund at a Time

By Oscar Perry Abello of Next City

Excerpt: The Sustainable Economies Law Center supported worker cooperative members to participate in the local policy-making process that eventually led to the changes to Berkeley’s small business loan fund in September. The center’s “policy brigade” initiative brought together a group of worker co-op members into a yearlong cohort, providing hands-on experience in policy advocacy work.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published November 19, 2019.)

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Santa Clara, California is taking steps to invest in worker cooperatives


Excerpt: In a unanimous vote last week, the Santa Clara City Council adopted recommendations put forward by the Committee on Economic Development, Communications and Marketing to advance worker cooperative development in the community. The motion to move the worker co-op effort forward was led by Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor.

Read the full article here.

(Originally published November 5, 2019.)

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