By Marcos Vargas, CAUSE Executive Director
The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) began its seventh year of operations in 2008 guided by its founding vision, that together the people of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties can create a community where we all contribute to and benefit from a sustainable, just, and prosperous regional economy. Building from such accomplishments as the adoption of four city and county living wage ordinances, expanded health coverage for 27,000 of Ventura County’s uninsured children, to the creation of a regional women’s organizing center, CAUSE has expanded its mission to include campaigns around environmental justice and regional transit equity with a renewed commitment to building grassroots power.
Through the adoption of the Iroquois planning concept of “seven generations” as our approach toward bringing about long-term regional sustainability, CAUSE made a significant leap into the area of environmental justice. In 2007, CAUSE organized grassroots opposition to a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal off the coast of Oxnard. The LNG terminal was estimated to generate over 180 tons of smog producing contaminates into the regional environment each year. The proposed LNG terminal pipeline was slated to go directly through the low-income communities of South Oxnard. The campaign, organized in large part out of Centro Mujer -- CAUSE’s Women’s Organizing Center - culminated in the successful mobilization of over 2,500 residents of diverse backgrounds for an April 9th California State Lands Commission hearing that provided the necessary political support for California Lieutenant Governor, John Garamendi and State Controller, John Chiang, in a 2-1 vote, to deny certification of the LNG project. CAUSE, in collaboration with the California Coastal Protection Network, continues to remain vigilant, as another LNG project is being proposed off the coast of Ventura.
Reflecting the growing public awareness of the severe community health impact of environmentally harmful development projects, CAUSE - with the leadership of predominately immigrant working women of CAUSE’s Centro Mujer - has taken on the clean-up of a waste dump left in their community by the former Halaco metal recycling plant. Even though the former recycling plant was designated as a super fund site in 2006, little progress has been made for the clean-up of its approximately 700,000 cubic yards of toxic waste sitting near several low- and moderate-income residential communities off the coast of Oxnard. The campaign, which has included community meetings with EPA officials, continues to focus on getting the public authorities to comply with their responsibilities to eliminate the threat to public health and safety of neighboring residents.
There is a dramatic need by Central Coast residents for an integrated regional transportation system. This year CAUSE launched a six-year, two-county campaign to significantly expand the region’s bus system and bring a commuter rail system that links Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Seen as both an equity and environmental issue, the campaign has initially focused on public demands on the two regional transportation commissions for increased bus services on key routes for transit dependent populations. An organizing campaign is also underway to build a broad-based regional public transportation coalition to continue pressure on city, county and the regional transportation authorities for expanded services. The campaign is also looking into placing a public transportation half cent sales tax measure on the Ventura County ballot for November 2010. On March 1st, 2008, CAUSE and the Santa Barbara-based Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) kicked off a regional public education campaign with a well attended transportation forum, featuring Governor Michael Dukakis, as well as county and city elected representatives from both counties.
CAUSE has held its ongoing commitment to sustainable development. Since November 2004, CAUSE, in conjunction with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and Livable Ventura, has led a local campaign to stop the development of a proposed Wal-Mart on the Victoria Avenue Corridor in Ventura. The effort has included grassroots organizing, community education and policy initiatives including the adoption of a one-year 2006 moratorium on its development. In 2007 we successfully advocated for the adoption of an interim form-based code ordinance. Unfortunately, the campaign had a significant set-back when the final ordinance adopted by the Ventura City Council in February 2008 resulted in limiting the size of any big box over 100,000 square feet at the proposed site (Wal-Mart’s original pre-application was for a 99,000 sq. ft. store). Given the limitations of the ordinance, the campaign has now stepped up its effort by seeking a big-box ballot measure for the November 2008 election. The measure would prohibit any super store larger than 90,000 sq. feet that sells groceries or other taxable items on more than 3% of its floor space. The campaign has generated increased participation from many local community leaders and union members and expects to gather 8,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2008 ballot.
Recognizing that achieving meaningful policy reform and long-term social change in the Central Coast region requires building power. Last year CAUSE took a major step in its development through the establishment of the Central Coast Organizing Project. The mission of CCOP is to build a regional power base by establishing a broad-based regional affiliation of institutional partners committed to building the power of their own respective organizations while also building the collective power of CCOP. Towards this end, over the last eighteen months CAUSE has trained over 250 community leaders, including having sent twenty-five leaders to a seven-day leadership training with the national community organizing institute, the Gamaliel Foundation. CCOP plans on hosting its formal coming out event in September 2008.
As a member of the Partnership for Working Families and the Gamaliel Foundation, as well as strategic partners with such national organizations as the Center for Community Change and Roots for Change, CAUSE leaders believe that meaningful social change requires movement building associated with the establishment of strategic alliances at the local, state and national level. Consequently, since our formation in 2001, CAUSE has meaningfully engaged over two-hundred and sixty community, labor and faith-based organizations and institutions, including public institutions, universities and local business groups. Consistent with our vision that creating a sustainable region and world requires building our collective social change capacity, CAUSE has spun-off five independent social justice organizations, including VC CLUE, Arts for Action, and the Social Justice Fund of Ventura County. We are also happy to announce that in May we will be launching a two-month capital campaign feasibility study to explore the purchasing and renovation of the current three acre office complex which currently houses CAUSE’s Ventura office. Our vision is to create a regional justice center at this site, housing multiple organizations, and serving as a leadership training center and incubator for socially responsible non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses.
For more information about CAUSE and its work in California Central Coast Region of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties log on to www.coastalalliance.com.
Blog & News
CAUSE: Working for the Benefit of the Seventh Generation
By Marcos Vargas, CAUSE Executive Director