Brightline Defense Project began operation in 2006 as a traditional legal aid organization, but a chance 2007 City Hall meeting between community leader Espanola Jackson (pictured above) and Brightline founder Joshua Arce led the organization on a path to becoming a strong voice in the advocacy movement to bring environmental justice and quality-of-life improvements to San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point community. A high-profile campaign to close San Francisco's Potrero Power Plant without building new dirty power plants among the city's southeast sector low-income communities of color built Brightline's capacity to promote renewable energy programs such as San Francisco's GoSolarSF and CleanPowerSF. Subsequent efforts to develop green-collar job opportunities for those historically burdened by power plant pollution led to Brightline's leadership role in working with Supervisor John Avalos and other community advocates to craft San Francisco's local hiring policy for construction, widely viewed as the strongest of its kind in the country.
The evolution from environmental justice activism, to clean energy support, to green job promotion, to local hiring policy development has elevated Brightline’s reputation as a capable advocate for underserved and underrepresented communities.
Brightline’s three most successful advocacy efforts to date are 1) our work to end fossil fuel power plant pollution in San Francisco, 2) our push for green jobs for residents historically burdened by dirty power plants, and 3) our work to develop and advocate adoption of San Francisco's local hiring policy for construction.
No New Power Plants
Since 2003, the City of San Francisco’s plan to shut down its last remaining fossil fuel-burning power plant had been to build four new natural gas power plants to replace it. The argument that the new power plants would be cleaner than the aging Potrero Power Plant began to look increasingly unviable over time, leading us to become engaged in July 2007.
Brightline joined Bayview-Hunters Point community leaders in calling for environmental justice for the low-income African-American, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander residents of Southeast San Francisco who have borne the brunt of the city’s power plant pollution for decades. Our advocacy began in the form of a lawsuit filed on behalf of community members and groups in September 2007 and a San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed jointly authored by Brightline Executive Director and national environmental justice leader Van Jones in October.
Those efforts kick-started a movement that found Brightline bringing together environmental organizations such as Sierra Club and Environmental Defense and social justice organizations such as the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment to advocate a power plant-free plan to close the Potrero Plant and end the history of power plant pollution in Southeast San Francisco.
By August 2008, Mayor Gavin Newsom had declared his commitment to no new power plants for San Francisco and in May 2009 the city announced the development of a plan to begin shutdown of the Potrero Plant by the end of the year without any replacement power plants.
Green Collar Jobs For Polluted Communities
The winding-down of the power plant campaign allowed Brightline to hone its mission statement as one promoting sustainability and empowerment of low-income, disadvantaged communities such as Bayview-Hunters Point. With an end to power plant pollution in sight for Bayview-Hunters Point, we focused on creating a role for residents who have disproportionately suffered from the effects of dirty power plants in the greening of San Francisco’s energy grid.
In the summer of 2008 we advocated on behalf of a workforce development incentive in the city’s GoSolarSF program that would provide San Francisco residents an increased discount on solar panel installations if they hired a company that employs economically disadvantaged San Franciscans. That incentive was later expanded to included commercial installations through Brightline’s advocacy in February 2009.
In March 2009 Brightline began working with the Southeast Jobs Coalition, a collection of Southeast San Francisco job advocates with a history going back nearly forty years, to win jobs for underserved San Franciscans on the state’s largest municipal solar project to date at the city’s Sunset Reservoir. Brightline engaged San Francisco’s CityBuild program and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to advance a requirement that solar developer Recurrent Energy hire no less than thirty percent of the project workforce from San Francisco’s most economically disadvantaged communities.
The next two years will find Brightline expanding its scope by 1) offering policy recommendations and advocacy tools that can be replicated at the state level and in other low-income environmental justice communities, 2) increased coalition and capacity building among San Francisco community advocates, and 3) collaborating on an employment barrier removal program to help ensure that disadvantaged communities are able to take advantage of green workforce opportunities.
Policy Recommendations and Advocacy Tools
Brightline has been at the forefront of the type of community-based action that is required to meet the state’s goal of promoting renewable energy and reducing greenhouse emissions while creating jobs for distressed neighborhoods in the process. Our hands-on experience in engaging community groups, residents, and local elected officials to implement those goals has led us to a place of expertise that we plan to offer in proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission and Air Resources Board.
In addition, Brightline’s efforts to identify the legislative and bureaucratic inertia that very nearly forced San Francisco to spend over $250 million on unnecessary power plants to replace the Potrero Plant provide valuable lessons to other similarly situated communities throughout the state. We plan to publish a set of advocacy tools, including sign-on letters, petitions, appeal notices, press releases, and other documents, that we used to shut down the Potrero Power Plant without building new power plants to replace it. We intend that communities and the non-profit sector can use these tools to conserve resources that would otherwise be used to reinvent the wheel in tackling their own Potrero Power Plant or proposed new fossil fuel power plants.
Coalition and Capacity Building
We have spent the past two years working exclusively with Bayview-Hunters Point community groups. The approval of San Francisco’s Sunset Reservoir solar plant highlighted with great fanfare the leadership of our Bayview-based coalition’s effort to propose project hiring requirements that will include seven other disadvantaged communities such as Chinatown, the Mission, and the Western Addition in the city’s most exciting green workforce opportunity to date. Our advocacy allowed us to establish a working relationship with community development groups in San Francisco’s Latino and Asian communities in a way that will allow us to challenge larger systemic barriers to local hiring and disadvantaged community-based opportunities in the green sector.
In turn, our defense of the rights of qualified disadvantaged San Franciscans to participate in the city’s major green initiatives in alternative energy, energy efficiency, water system improvement, and green building provides capacity and knowledge to our community-based partners that are actually recruiting and training members of the workforce that we collectively seek to empower. This citywide coalition will only stronger and more skilled and effective over time as we unite in a green workforce movement that spans neighborhoods, colors, and languages.
Brightline plans a limited return to providing direct services in the form of targeting removal of one of the common barriers to green collar employment and employment in any instances where government dollars are involved: possession of a valid California driver’s license. As seen most vividly on a recent Memorial Day solar installation internship that we organized, otherwise qualified candidates from San Francisco’s economically disadvantaged ranks too often are denied the opportunity to take part in workforce development programs because of something as simple as lack of a valid drivers license. One of the Memorial Day trainees who would be a very qualified candidate to work on the Sunset Reservoir solar project does not have a valid driver’s license because of complications caused by a vehicle that was towed.
Our program will be based around the fact that we have a team of lawyer volunteers that have offered their time to further Brightline’s mission of community empowerment, allowing us to develop best practices that can be used to tackle issues related to driver’s licenses that our community-based partners refer to us. In addition, a streamlined, legal advocacy approach to removing the driver’s license barrier can be replicated with respect to other barriers that may exist.
It goes without saying that Brightline can also be counted on to deliver its passionate advocacy with respect to policy suggestions to eliminate the barriers themselves before direct services are required.