Green-collar heat

Low-income community groups hope to turn Obama's stimulus package into an opportunity to make local government accountable for creating decent green-collar jobs.
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sarah@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Local residents, workers, and businesses are anxious to learn who and what will be stimulated by the billions of dollars that President Barack Obama authorized for release when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Since January 2008, unemployment in the Bay Area has risen from 4.9 percent to 8.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, and house prices and consumer spending are down.

Despite all the anxiety, representatives from local low-income community groups hope to turn Obama's stimulus package into an opportunity to make local government accountable for creating decent green-collar jobs. And Sups. Eric Mar, John Avalos, Sophie Maxwell, and Board President David Chiu seem happy to help further the community in this environmentally friendly cause.

Mar scheduled a March 23 hearing of the board's Land Use and Economic Development Committee "to obtain community input on the creation of jobs, particularly green-collar jobs, in San Francisco as the city positions itself for federal investment dollars."

"The hearing was the first step toward building a grassroots coalition to hold government accountable," continued Mar, who worries that the Mayor's Office is not sharing enough information related to the stimulus package. "Labor and community groups, not just department heads and City Hall, should be at the table."

At the hearing, representatives from the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development said that a substantial part of the first wave of stimulus package dollars has already been allocated, mostly to shovel-ready projects such as the Doyle Drive rebuild and massive development projects at Treasure Island and the Hunter's Point Shipyard.

OEWD representatives also indicated that more waves of formula funding are expected, for which San Francisco must compete with other cities, and that the city's Department of Technology is constructing a Web site to track all local money from Obama's $787 billion package.

OEWD deputy director Jennifer Entine Matz says community-based organizations, unions, and community colleges need to work together to ensure that people are successfully brought through any work program. "In many cases, green collar jobs are existing jobs," Matz said. "If we are successful in training people with green power technology, they will be more marketable here and beyond. We can also train and modify people in existing programs."

But representatives from the Chinese Progressive Association, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights), and POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights) expressed their belief that stimulus package funds should go to help low-income communities, not rich corporations.

"Let's make sure we stimulate quality to make sure we stimulate the economy," said PODER's Oscar Grande, who warned against using the funds on low-paid jobs with few advancement opportunities. He and others suggested tracking what communities receive funding. "We want to go past the green hype, the green-washing, and the green lifestyle marketing," Grande said.

Raquel Pinderhughes, an urban studies professor at San Francisco State University who helped Berkeley's Green Business Council and Oakland's Green Jobs Corp program, defined green-collar jobs as "blue collar jobs in green businesses.

"Green collar jobs can function to get more people out of poverty," Pinderhughes said. "They can provide living wages. They have low barriers to entry. They provide an opportunity for occupational mobility.