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Keep spreading the wealth in California’s clean energy boom

New housing for farm laborers in Woodland features solar panels, part of California’s green energy boom.
New housing for farm laborers in Woodland features solar panels, part of California’s green energy boom. rbyer@sacbee.com

Nine years ago, California committed to reducing the carbon pollution that leads to climate change. Today, that commitment is paying off – not just with cleaner air, but also good jobs and strengthened local economies.

As leaders of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce and ASIAN, Inc., we’ve too often seen our members left on the sidelines when a new industry starts to boom. This time, our state’s growing Latino, African American and Asian American communities are in the thick of things, and we’re seeing the difference.

But don’t take our word for it. Listen to Connie Stewart, Denny Sysaknoi and Jesse Magallanes. They all have jobs that didn’t exist not too long ago, in fields that are growing because California chose to be on the cutting edge of clean energy.

Stewart puts together circuit boards at US Hybrid in Torrance, which converts high-polluting vehicles into cleaner ones. It deployed America’s first hybrid electric street sweepers in 2010 and released the second batch last year.

Sysaknoi and Magallanes are solar installers in the Central Valley. Both came to their jobs after extremely tough passages in their lives. Sysaknoi grew up in a rough part of Fresno and came within inches of getting sucked into a life of guns and gangs. But after a scary but brief brush with the law, he changed directions and got into vocational training that led to a career as a solar installer.

Magallanes lives in Visalia, where he had a solid career in construction – until the Great Recession sent the area’s building industry into a free-fall. After years of struggling to make ends meet with part-time, minimum-wage jobs, he also found his way to a solar career. Both he and Sysaknoi volunteer for a nonprofit that installs free solar systems for low-income residents, helping them save money while helping clean the Valley’s notoriously polluted air.

All three have good jobs in industries that have grown rapidly and will continue to grow. Much of that growth is thanks to two smart laws, Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 535, which charge polluters for the filth they put into our air and put that money into projects that clean the air even more – with a guarantee that at least one quarter of funds must go to projects benefiting disadvantaged communities.

Ultimately, that means more contracts, more jobs and more income for the businesses we represent, and more sustainable prosperity for our communities.

Recently, we joined other business leaders and community advocates to brief legislators and the Governor’s Office on how these important laws bring real opportunities to our neighborhoods, and what must happen to keep those opportunities coming.

That should include passing the EmPower California Act, AB 865, which would level the playing field for businesses owned by women, people of color, disabled veterans, and gay, lesbian and transgender individuals in projects funded by the California Energy Commission, as well as adequate funding for SB 535 projects in disadvantaged communities.

We told them that California is creating a model that other states and the federal government should follow, fighting pollution and climate change while bringing sustainable jobs and growth to communities that need it. As businesspeople, we prosper when our communities prosper, and that’s just what these laws are doing – despite what you may hear from big polluters and their shills.

Azizza Goines is president and CEO of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce. Michael Chan is president of ASIAN Inc.

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