Has the Ninth Circuit Confounded the Supreme Court Again?

The Ninth Circuit (AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA) has a reputation for listening to the beat of its own drummer.  And the Supreme Court has a reputation of taking the drum back and correcting the beat.  Will this happen in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council?  NLC and the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) have both filed amicus briefs in this case and thinks (and hopes!) so.

The controversy in Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council is over whether the Los Angeles County Flood Control District has violated a federal permit because of the level of pollutants from stormwater that it gathers in municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) located in two California Rivers.

The technical legal question the Court agreed to decide is whether the transfer of water within a single body of water through an MS4 constitutes an addition of any pollutant under the Clean Water Act (CWA).  In 2004 in South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe the Supreme Court held that an addition of a pollutant only occurs if a pollutant is transferred from one “meaningfully distinct” water body into another, which did not happen in this case.   As NLC’s brief points out “where an MS4 includes portions of a waterway, and water is just being conveyed from the MS4 portion of a navigable water to the non-MS4 portion of the same navigable water, no addition of pollutants to a navigable water has occurred or been proven merely from the movement of that water downstream.”

The SLLC’s brief also notes that the Ninth Circuit “failed to determine . . . whether the segments of the rivers above and below [MS4] were the same bodies of water or different bodies of water, and apparently attached no significance to the question.”  From NLC’s and the SLLC’s perspective, the Ninth Circuit simply ignored the Supreme Court’s holding in Miccosukee Tribe.

It seems unlikely the Court is going to say it didn’t actually mean what it said in Miccosukee Tribe.  After all, this isn’t one of those cases where changing social values or new information might convince the Court to change its mind.

The bottom line for local governments is that state and local governments regulate water quality in MS4s and federal regulation is redundant.  While all signs point towards the Supreme Court applying Miccosukee Tribe and concluding the CWA does not apply in this case, only time will tell.

A date for oral argument in this case has not yet been set.  The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2013.

Measure, Monitor, Adjust, Repeat: Cities Effectively Use Performance Measures to Achieve Community Goals

“What is City government doing?

How well are we doing it?

How can we do it better?”

These three questions guide Devin Quirk’s work for the City of Boston.  Devin serves as Citywide Performance Manager and runs the “Boston About Results” (BAR) Program, an online database of performance measures that, over the last six years, has allowed the city to deliver services more efficiently and effectively to Boston residents. With roughly forty-five city departments contributing monthly and over 2,000 performance measures in all, the BAR program provides a central location to report and monitor city agencies’ progress over time.  Additionally, a publicly accessible scorecard provides transparency and accountability, allowing residents to view and track the city’s responsiveness to various community goals.


Although the comprehensiveness of the BAR program is quite impressive, Devin notes that the notion of tracking government performance through indicators is nothing new.  “The truth is, Boston’s been doing it for decades,” he says.

So if tracking performance is old news, why all the recent buzz around it?

The City of Boston, like many other local governments across the United States, recognizes that establishing baselines and tracking results helps to achieve targets quickly and efficiently.  The city’s Environment Department, which oversees many of Mayor Menino’s sustainability initiatives, utilizes the BAR program to not only track their own efforts, but also identify and work with other departments who are either intentionally or peripherally helping to achieve some of the city’s sustainability goals.  For example, as the city aims to reduce its overall carbon footprint, BAR is used to track greenhouse gas emissions for every large city department, breaking down emissions into four major drivers (gasoline, diesel, electricity and natural gas) and identifying areas where improvements can be made.

Similarly, for the last ten years, the City of Minneapolis, Minn. has used twenty- six indicators to track the community’s progress towards creating a more sustainable city.  For Minneapolis, where sustainability is defined by far more than environmental conservation and protection, these indicators cover a wide range of issues, from public health, education, employment and poverty, to air and water quality, transportation, and renewable energy.  The targets for each of the indicators are quite ambitious and require that the city partner with community groups, non-profits, and residents to achieve them.

It’s clear that the recent innovation and creativity in the field of performance measurement comes in the form of interdepartmental coordination, as well as collaboration with those outside of local government.  For example, we see that to achieve sustainability goals, local governments are recognizing their local partners non-profit organizations; faith-based institutions; and universities (to name a few)—and are accordingly measuring and tracking these groups’ efforts as well.  Similarly, while many cities have a standalone sustainability office, some of the most effective initiatives are those that tap into internal operations, connecting work already carried out by various city departments.  For example, Kansas City, Mo., known for its innovative programs and initiatives, created the Green Solutions Steering Committee, a partnership between 10 city departments that informs and guides the creation of the city’s sustainability metrics.  City staff from these departments pilot tested indicators within internal operations first to ensure that the final indicators chosen are those most relevant for city-wide sustainability goals.  Similarly, the City of Pasadena’s Department of Transportation has reframed its indicators to have a multimodal focus as a way to 1) align with city council’s sustainability interests and 2) help residents understand the tradeoffs between investments in various forms of transportation.

So, in many cases, the type of work isn’t new and the idea of measuring isn’t new, but howwe think about all of it sure is. Particularly for cities invested in advancing sustainability– whether it’s the desire to improve the quality of life for all their residents; increase the number of public parks and open spaces; provide more residents with access to transportation; or eliminate racial disparities in unemployment—comprehensive performance measurement necessitates the type of collaboration and communication that is needed within and outside of city government.

In this vein, cities are recognizing that identifying and developing indicators does not mean starting from scratch.  Rather, Boston’s BAR program and others like it are creative in the way that technology is used to measure the cumulative impacts of (seemingly) isolated initiatives; for sustainability, this means that partnership-based performance metrics are reframing the way local governments engage with stakeholders within and outside of city government.

As Devin says, “The ultimate goal of Boston About Results is not to measure performance, it is to find ways to improve the services we are delivering for Boston.”

Register for NLC’s Congress of Cities in Boston (November 28- December 1) to hear directly from Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Pasadena at the “Utilizing Performance Tools to Measure Your Cities’ Sustainability Efforts” workshop.

The workshop will focus on how data can help to forecast needs; the strategies to dynamically manage long-term sustainability goals; and the types of tools that are most effective to measure and track success.

Speakers include:

  • Gayle Prest, Sustainability Director: City of Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Katherine Carttar, Cookingham-Noll Fellow, City Manager’s Office: City of Kansas City, Mo.
  • Mark Yamarone, Transportation Administrator, Department of Transportation: City of Pasadena, Calif.


Also, come early for a special pre-conference training on “Implementing STAR: The Sustainability Framework Built By and For Local Governments” – Thursday November 29th!

Full conference schedule and registration information can be found here.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a Brookings event focused on skilled immigrants, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City summit held last week, a book review by the Urbanophile’s Aaron Renn, and new trends in venture capital.

Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Last week,  Brookings hosted a presentation and panel discussion on “Building and Unlocking Immigrant Skills.” The focus was on providing middle and highly-skilled immigrants (which make up 70% of all immigrants) resources to unlock their full potential in the United States. The panel highlighted some promising programs to do just that. Jose Ramon Fernandez-Pena explained the Welcome Back Initiative, which he founded; WBI assists medically trained professionals educated abroad to meet the requirements needed for positions in the US health care industry. Kevin Kelly talked about Upwardly Global (he is on the board), which bridges the gap between employers and skilled immigrants. And Bob Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, elucidated the need to make younger immigrants aware of opportunities in their communities to develop skills that they may have never thought about pursuing.

Also last week, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City held its 2012 Inner City Economic Summit. According to ICIC: “During the 2012 Inner City Economic Summit, city, civic and business leaders will gather to share practices that are proving durable in this fiscal climate; an engaging agenda will extend on-the-ground efforts and identify adaptable solutions.” They have made videos of the presentations (which include talks from Michael Porter and Cory Booker) available on their website.

Over at the Urbanophile blog,  Aaron Renn gives a thoughtful review of The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti. The central premise of the book as Renn explains it is an idea that has been quite obvious to those observing economic trends of the last 30 years or so: “As radical productivity enhancements and global competition reduced employment and wages in traditional sectors like manufacturing, new knowledge based industries took their place. However, these knowledge industries require… highly educated workers with specialized skills. This leads to clustering of workers and jobs in select hubs, leaving many communities out in the cold.”

The recent investor obsession with social networking platforms is slowly shifting to companies that provide actual business solutions. Rough IPO debuts by companies like Facebook and Groupon have definitely contributed. The Wall Street Journal writes of Marcus Ryu, head of Guidewire Software, which makes software for insurance companies: “Some investment bankers told him he couldn’t hope to land a similar valuation to Groupon’s or Zynga’s – even though his firm… was increasing revenues by double digits to around $175 million a year and was profitable.” With the change in investor sentiment, now Ryu is “getting a dozen calls a week from investors.”

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a training program for high school students spearheaded by Mercedes-Benz, encouraging news for metropolitan exports, the difficulties in redeveloping small city blight, and a survey of recent economic development incentive articles.

Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Regardless of where you fall in the “skills mismatch debate,” it can’t hurt if younger generations are learning the finer points of advanced manufacturing. Mercedes-Benz is doing its part to make that happen. Realizing that they will need a steady stream of work-ready graduates, Mercedes is partnering with the Tuscaloosa City School System in Alabama to offer weekend classes for students interested in potential employment with the auto company. When enrolled in the Workforce Development Academy, students will participate in “applied mathematics, measurements, team building, team projects and field trips to the (Mercedes) plant. They’ll also participate in hands-on projects and learn about robotics.” Building a (free) bridge to future employments seems like a good deal to me.

Metropolitan exports increased nearly 40 percent since 2009 to total $1.31 trillion in 2011” says a blog post from the International Trade Administration. Here’s some good news: 13 smaller metro areas, including Asheville, NC and Yakima, WA, surpassed the $1 billion threshold in exports for the first time in 2011. Also, Detroit exported $49.4 billion in 2011 – the first time reaching this level since before the recession. ITA notes that “communities and metropolitan areas can leverage exports as an economic development tool.” NLC agrees.

To create a community redevelopment agency or not? That is the question being asked by some small cities in Florida in response to blighted districts.  For the city of Deltona, creating a CRA would allow a portion of property tax revenues to be allocated to “everything from landscaping and new utility lines to small-business loans in neighborhoods deemed blighted.” DeBary and Orange City are also exploring creating development districts. While city officials deem CRAs necessary for attracting jobs, they may be fighting an uphill battle. Since the CRAs would divert tax revenue from county to city coffers, poor revenues and strained budgets are causing the county do be more careful in doling out cash.

The economic development incentive debate is in full swing. Here are some recent highlights:

Samsung has indicated that it could “double its $13 billion investment (in Austin) over the next five years.”  But it depends on the Texas legislature. The issue at hand is a tax break that “allows steep discounts on school property taxes for qualified companies.” It could be the deciding factor in the company’s choice to expand in Texas or Korea.

Joe Taylor, the CEO of Panasonic, said that the company would have left New Jersey if not for tax incentives. Taylor stated that even with the incentives the company received, “it wasn’t the best move from a financial standpoint.” Good Jobs First called the New Jersey incentives a “very costly corporate tax giveaway.”

Steven Lanza of the University of Connecticut says that it would be better if all states discontinued aggressive incentives for economic development.  But because every state takes part in the zero-sum game, Connecticut has to play its part or risk “being taken to the cleaners.”

Policing incentives has moved to the forefront in Florida after a highly publicized deal with a James Cameron-backed animation company went bust.  Apparently, less than half of the jobs promised by companies receiving incentives from the Dept. of Economic Opportunity were actually created over the last 16 years.

Consequences of Underfunding Transportation

What was billed as the release of a new report exploring the expected consequences of a 35 percent cut in federal funding of transportation programs quickly turned from a Washington, D.C. wonk-fest into far more interesting speculation about how Congress will expand revenue streams for the Highway Trust Fund.

The setting was the joint release by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Eno Center for Transportation of their latest research on transportation.  The Consequences of Reduced Federal Transportation Investment emphasizes the need to institute a sustainable flow of transportation revenues and investment resources to achieve national prosperity goals. The report trumpets the adoption of Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the newest transportation authorization measure, but acknowledges that the long-term funding issues surrounding the federal programs are still unresolved.

From that point of departure, a panel of transportation stakeholders spoke in optimistic terms about the likelihood of expanded revenues for transportation. In this regard the only relevant bone of contention was whether the new revenues would be part of a future surface transportation bill or a future tax reform bill.

What is clear is that the highway trust fund does not generate enough revenue to fund even the most necessary infrastructure investments. The 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4 cents tax on diesel remains unaltered since 1993.  Moreover, ongoing efforts to improve the fuel efficiency standards in cars and trucks are expected to reduce fuel consumption, shrinking the trust fund still further.

In practice, Congress has been willing to dip into general revenues to fund infrastructure rather than raise the fuel tax or restrict spending to the available revenue dedicated for such purposes in the highway trust fund. Such action seems to suggest, assuming Congress is disposed to act at all, that the advantages of economic competitiveness that makes infrastructure investment so necessary trumps the fears about both deficit reduction and pledges against new taxes.

User fees and other forms of directed funding, as well as public-private partnerships, have proven to be politically palatable at the local and state levels (Measure R in Los Angeles, for example) and may indeed prove useful for the Feds. However, collecting fees on vehicles miles traveled rather than on toll roads or at the gas pump still presents implementation challenges, even when including the pilot program in Oregon. For the moment, technology alone may not be able to solve this problem.

Although the decisions about significant future revenues remain in the hands of Congress, some important decisions continue to rest with state and local government leaders.  (For a thoughtful discussion see the NLC publication, Understanding Urban Transportation Systems: An Action Guide for City Leaders.)  Metropolitan-wide mobility planning that includes multi-modal options offers local decision makers the opportunity to highlight innovative approaches with strong performance measures that support national priorities.

The long and drawn-out debate that finally resulted in MAP-21 ought to serve as a reminder to state and local leaders that even if Congress acts to establish an enhanced highway trust fund, the long-term vision and the implementation of that vision will rest at the local level. Solutions to unique and complex transportation needs will need to be found in each community regardless of the whims of Congress.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a different kind of university business park, manufacturing in Silicon Valley, the future of economic growth, a new report from Deloitte on fixing joblessness, and a closer look at the last jobs report.

Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

How do you mix academics, nonprofits and businesses to bring research to market?  According to Bill Fulton in Governing, the Centennial Campus at North Carolina State is doing it right. “Centennial — located just south of the main North Carolina State campus in Raleigh — is now everybody’s poster child for how a university business park should work.” As expected, because of Centennial’s success, “it seems every university wants to create a mixed-use research/commercialization campus within walking distance of faculty labs.” Universities like Arizona State and Nebraska have followed suit in their own way.  Fulton exclaims the future of economic development lies not in research parks with “proprietary innovation on closed corporate campuses, but in the walking, strolling and random interaction of Centennial.”

Silicon Valley is a place dominated by the “knowledge economy,” with firms churning out apps and software like hotcakes,  but there are more companies making tangible stuff there than you may think. Silicon Valley actually has the second highest concentration of production jobs among America’s big cities. But of course, this isn’t the manufacturing of yore; these firms are “boutique manufacturing operations relying on fewer workers, more computer code and mind-boggling machines.” So, some of these firms definitely provide opportunities for lower-skilled workers, but the article points out that “as manufacturing becomes more sophisticated they’ll need more training for the best jobs.”

A recent post on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog asks an intriguing question: Have we reached the end of economic growth? Brad Plumer summarizes the work of Northwestern economist Robert Gordon, who postulates that before the industrial revolution, there was hardly any growth whatsoever followed by a relatively short period of extremely high growth (aided by technological progress) leading us to today. Could we hypothetically be headed for another long period of low/no growth? Probably not. As expected, there are many in the economics community who don’t share this unconventional view, and Plumer does a nice job boiling down the responses of John Cochrane, Matt Yglesias, and Chris Dillow, among others.

This week, Deloitte released a report on fixing joblessness through education, employment regulation, immigration, foreign investment, and unemployment insurance. The report stresses continual learning, making the case that “specific job skills learned through a BA will last for five years, and will then have to be renewed” – not necessarily through formal education, though. The report also calls for removing licensing restrictions on a host of occupations; this has been well documented recently. Other suggestions the report makes are to increase FDI inflows and relax immigration rules to encourage entrepreneurs to stay in the US.

In the last jobs report, the unemployment rate declined from 8.25% in July to 8.11% in August; what accounts for this improvement? Unfortunately, some of this was due to people exiting the labor force – “the labor force participation rate hit a new post-1980 low.” Initial reactions perceived this as a sign that people are giving up, sitting home and doing nothing because they can’t find work. But according to the Atlanta Fed, “the number of discouraged, marginally attached people corresponds to… approximately 1 percent of those not in the labor force.” So, although the unemployment rate improves in many cases because of people leaving the labor force, it is usually not for reasons which we most often think.

Cities and Universities: Natural Partners in Advancing Sustainability

As city budgets and resources continue to feel the weight of economic pressures, one word has been at the center of recommendations to overcome challenges: partnerships. And when considering the range of topics contained within city sustainability efforts, the types of available partnership opportunities can become extensive: private sector, community groups, advocacy organizations, state agencies, regional councils, faith-based communities, health care providers, local businesses, schools and more.

As a big supporter of community engagement, multiple perspectives and maximizing value through collaboration, I’ve always been excited and encouraged by creative partnerships and strategies to pull together diverse skills sets and similar interests to work towards mutually agreed upon goals. It’s always been curious and somewhat perplexing to me then, that partnerships between cities and universities – seemingly natural allies in the pursuit of sustainability – have not received more encouragement and recognition.

Afterall, universities and their campuses are in many ways (to a certain extent), microcosms of cities. Functionally, if not physically, cities and universities have a lot in common, from the management and delivery of services (i.e. transportation, housing, utilities, food, public safety, waste management and recreational facilities); ‘behind-the-scenes’ processes (i.e. procurement of goods and services, attraction and retention of skilled residents); and the at times laborious administrative processes and procedures critical to daily operations and crafting long-term visions.

More recently, cities and universities also share an explosive growth in interest and demand for action around sustainability. In the past few years organizations such as the Princeton Review and Kaplan’s have rated university “greenness” while others (here and here) have tried to assess the impact of university’s sustainability commitments may have on admissions. Organizations such as The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), GreenerU, and many more have grown to support and advance sustainability throughout campuses. Academic programs have also responded to the demand to prepare the next generation of sustainability leaders by creating new degrees in sustainability and “greening” existing degrees such as MBAs.

Similarities in form, function, and demand for action with regards to sustainability should make cities and universities natural partners. And to be fair, many cities and universities have fostered great working relationships. This piece highlights the impressive and expansive efforts by Oberlin College to advance sustainability not only within their campus, but throughout the surrounding communities (also highlighted here as an NLC emerging issue). There are even groups such as the International Town Gown Association focused on
forging and strengthening these relationships. And yet, on the issues of sustainability so many more opportunities exist.

The following is a summary of some of the strategies and opportunities that I have identified for city-university partnerships for sustainability. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list and in fact, just scratches the surface. I would welcome your ideas for city-university partnerships as well as your success stories! Please post them here in the comment section or email sustainability@nlc.org!

–        Student research opportunities: Cities provide real-world opportunities in complex settings for student researchers to explore issues, identify needs and develop practical solutions. By working directly with local governments students are able to apply academic training, gain practical experience and get a better sense of the various challenges and priorities that city leaders must balance in their path to pursuing sustainability. An emerging area that offers opportunities for academic/ technical skill development for students while responding to immediate and tangible needs for cities is that of sustainability metrics such as monitoring and evaluating performance of sustainability initiatives over time.

–        Universities as demonstration projects: Universities, at times comparable to the size of actual cities (in population and/or land area), can employ sustainability strategies at a scale that can be instructional and even replicable within the surrounding community. From green roofs to bike share programs, “greening” offices to behavioral approaches to energy efficiency, universities (with R&D grants and/or determined student groups and faculty) can often ‘pilot’ an initiative more easily and quickly than a city may be able to pass an ordinance or secure funding. Results and lessons learned from these initiatives can then be used to inform city practices and/or make recommendations to bring these programs to a community scale.

–        Coordinated planning efforts: Just as many cities are developing sustainability plans for local government operations, so too have many colleges and universities been developing sustainability plans based on a long-term vision for their future. Using a ‘strength in numbers’ approach, and recognizing that many elements within these plans (i.e. air and water quality, waste disposal options, etc.) are not confined by borders we’ve created, cities and universities can explore opportunities to collaborate on a shared (or at least complementary) vision and shared strategies to achieving a sustainable future.

–        Academic advisors within citywide sustainability taskforces: University faculty, students, and staff bring a wealth of information, research, data and experience to lend to city sustainability processes. Conversely, cities provide an opportunity for the academic community to transfer analysis into action by informing policy decisions or contributing to tangible community projects.

Finally, cities looking to attract a skilled, educated workforce may take note of the interests and priorities of incoming students and recent graduates. As mentioned earlier, interest in sustainability-focused degrees has been skyrocketing in many universities, while evidence is growing that a university’s commitment to sustainability may influence enrollment. It is thus not a far stretch to imagine that individuals who value commitments to sustainability within their university setting would also prioritize these elements when selecting a place to live and work. While practical considerations such as job availability, affordability, and proximity to family will naturally continue to have the greatest bearing in location preferences, it’s hard to imagine that the recent grads who selected their university communities based in part on features such as multi-modal transportation options, open space, healthy food options, energy efficient buildings, and a sense of place and community, would not be seeking similar attributes in a city. Furthermore, graduates trained for sustainability-focused careers will be looking for jobs in cities that share these values, contain these opportunities and allow them to contribute their skills and training to actively engage with their communities. Is your city ready to be a ‘sustainability destination’ for these new leaders?

Partnerships involve a lot of work and just like any relationship take time to fully develop. Join NLC in Boston this November for our annual Congress of Cities featuring the workshop “Building a Big Tent: Developing and Strengthening Partnerships to Advance Sustainability Goals”. Learn more and register today!


photo (cc) via Flickr user Edgar Zuniga Jr.

One Stroke of a Pen Could Mean Less Violence, More Vibrant Communities for California

Jack Calhoun, director of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network and senior consultant to NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the U.S. Department of Justice, wrote the following post on youth violence prevention legislation in California, which is cross-posted at Mr. Calhoun’s Hope Matters website at www.hopematters.org.

Assembly Bill (AB) 526 sits on the desk of California’s Governor Jerry Brown.  The bill, the first of its kind in the nation, would underscore the core principle that preventing violence and building communities that don’t produce violence requires the active involvement of all key community entities – law enforcement, schools, business, the faith community, health, housing, child welfare and more.

Single interventions such as offering afterschool programs, locating Boys & Girls Clubs in mistrusting neighborhoods, and applying targeted enforcement can help, but they are insufficient in the absence of a broader, more strategic approach.  In most cases, municipalities that have crafted and implemented more comprehensive, citywide plans blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry for returning prisoners can point to reductions in youth and gang violence and improvement in other indicators of safety and well-being.

Preparing, launching, and sustaining such a plan takes enormous political will and a proven capacity to write effective grant applications and secure funding from a wide variety of sources.  In carrying out their plans, city and county leaders draw upon numerous disparate funding streams to support a wide range of efforts such as family resource centers, early childhood education, mentoring, drug abuse prevention, community-oriented policing, and job training for returning prisoners.  Yet while most of the funding exists to support the necessary range of efforts, much of it is trapped in fiscal silos, which makes it extremely difficult to pull together and activate a comprehensive community effort.   California has identified roughly $2.2 billion located in several funding streams that can and should be applied to youth and gang violence prevention.   But it can’t get where it is needed without AB 526 and support from the state level.

AB 526 enhances violence prevention work taking place at the local level – in the communities and neighborhoods that need help in restoring or maintaining public safety – making it easier to braid various funding sources into a comprehensive effort that fits the community’s needs.  It would require the newly-minted Board of State and Community Corrections to “…identify delinquency and gang initiatives and prevention grant funds and programs for the purpose of consolidating those grant funds…moving toward a unified single delinquency intervention and prevention grant application…”  And it will produce better results while costing the state no additional funding.

Underneath AB 526 lies a commitment to community-wide solutions, engagement of local leaders, and streamlined funding from the state level that will generate efficiency, effective coordination, and increased in-kind engagement of the community’s own resources.

Persistent violence leads to fear, citizen isolation and blame.  “It’s the fault of the police…it’s the parents’ fault…it’s violence in the media,” some say as they grasp for answers.  Perceived single causes of violence often lead to single interventions – usually by law enforcement – that struggle and often fail to address a multi-faceted problem.  But law enforcement cannot help beleaguered parents parent, conduct afterschool programs, provide jobs and job training, or mobilize neighborhoods for action. The causes of crime are problems of the community.  The whole community must do the work.  Every element of the community can and must play a role.

Abraham Heschel, one of the 20th century’s leading theologians, said, “In a free society, some are guilty, but ALL are responsible.”  AB 526 helps California’s communities fully utilize their talents, coordinate their efforts, and allocate state funds to address the local conditions that have generated community safety problems – building prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry into the fabric of communities.  That’s what really lies under this revolutionary bill, AB 526.

We eagerly await Governor Brown’s signature.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses the many reasons for America’s persistent unemployment problem, explores New York City’s ambitious bet on an “innovation economy,” looks at an emerging market for microlenders, and highlights the changing environment for America’s malls.

Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

In discussing the reasons for America’s continuing unemployment problem, the arguments usually diverge into two camps:  Some think that advances in technology are the culprit, while others believe globalization is to blame. It’s probably a combination of both. A study highlighted by Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post makes the case that America’s recent jobless recoveries are a product of the permanent wiping out of “middle-income” jobs due to technological advancement. Jobs previously earning middling incomes were commonly routine assembly jobs, but with productivity enhancing robots – among other advances – these opportunities have gone by the wayside. Also mentioned is the polarized nature of the post-recession job market, marked by available high and low-income jobs, but not much in the middle.

On the other side of the argument, Edward Alden, writing on the Economix blog at the New York Times, says that economists are now coming around to the idea that globalization is the cause of persistent unemployment. Surveying work by other economists, Allen notes that in the US, there has been almost “no net job growth in sectors… in which global trade played a large role.” Also, “regions that faced growing exposure to Chinese competition had higher unemployment, lower labor-force participation and lower wages that might otherwise be expected.”

Although structural explanations of joblessness have come under fire recently, evidence suggests that a mismatch between what employers are demanding and the skills of prospective employees, at least for middle skill jobs, is real…with implications for local and regional economic development.  In light of this evidence, NLC’s Christiana McFarland criticizes those pushing for a sole focus on talent attraction and “college for everyone,” instead noting the importance of aligning workforce development with economic development to grow an appropriately skilled pipeline of talent in the community.  “Everybody wants to be Seattle, with its 50%+ population of college graduates. But if your city’s percentage is nowhere near Seattle’s, no amount of coffee shops, artist lofts and talent attraction will solve your underlying economic challenges.”

“Can a city really engineer an innovation economy?” Nancy Scola, writing for Next American City, asks this question in her intriguing article about New York City’s Roosevelt Island project. The city is investing $100 million and a piece of real estate to develop a two million square foot graduate engineering campus run by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The expected return for the city: $23 billion over 30 years. Other places have tried to build their own “Silicon Valleys” before, so there are understandably some skeptics raising legitimate questions. But if it can happen anywhere, New York might just be the place. And since I can’t possibly summarize the whole article, I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Microlending is usually associated with “mom and pop” stores, helping them to smooth expenses such as payroll or inventory, but a new market is emerging for microlenders: virtual stores. Unable to access traditional lines of credit due to online sellers’ small business scope and sometimes mixed credit histories, individual entrepreneurs that sell small quantities of product online are turning to firms like Kabbage, Inc. for help. Microlending firms like Kabbage are assessing creditworthiness based on factors other than traditional credit scores. They “put more weight on UPS shipping information, Amazon.com and PayPal records to assess the probability that they’ll get their money back.” As ecommerce continues to grow at a fast clip, non-traditional sources of funding will most likely flourish.

Independently owned small businesses in malls? What? A product of the recession, Simon Property Group (a huge mall developer) started targeting small businesses to fill space in struggling northeastern New Jersey malls. Now that bigger retailers are getting back on their feet, Simon wants to find a happy mix of national retailers and smaller businesses. Explaining how Simon attracted small businesses through expos three years ago, Joan Verdon writes that “some of the retailers recruited then turned out to be so successful that the company… expanded the sessions.” By some accounts, “about a third of our existing malls are ‘dead’ or dying.” So it’s no wonder that the whole idea of the mall is dramatically changing.

Running the Relay: Thoughts on Mayor Castro’s Keynote

San Antonio Mayor and NLC Board Member Julián Castro entered the national spotlight with his highly anticipated keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night.  While pundits assess the tone and framing of his speech, I find myself reflecting on how its core message of expanding opportunity for all residents is being fulfilled in the City of San Antonio.

Weaving in his personal story, Mayor Castro spoke of his upbringing and how it inspired his commitment to building a strong economy that supports good jobs and lasting security for all those who are willing to work hard.  His grandmother, Victoria, an orphan who emigrated from Mexico at a young age, spent her life working hard as a maid, a cook and a babysitter to give her children a life of opportunity, Mayor Castro said.

Mayor Castro now lives these values through his duties as mayor, placing education at the top of his administration’s agenda.  The staff of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families have been fortunate to work with the mayor and other San Antonio city leaders as they develop a stronger, cradle-to-career educational pipeline.

Pre-kindergarten programs and student loans are “a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow.”  Mayor Castro said.  “We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

Look no further than his time as mayor to reveal that these words are more than rhetoric. Shortly upon his arrival in office in 2009, Mayor Castro instituted the Café College program, a one-stop college preparation and advising center. Beginning their efforts with middle school children, the center helps students create an educational road map and educates them about future financial aid possibilities. These early efforts help increase hope and create a college-going culture among younger students. As students continue through high school, Café College prepares them for standardized tests and advises them on their college application materials. Through checklists and other educational resources, Café College attempts to make high-quality college advising accessible to all students.

The initiative has been well received in the community and has engaged numerous local partners to make the program successful and sustainable. With the prominent leadership of Mayor Castro, Café College has gained the support of Texas College Advising Corps and Generation Texas, a nonprofit organization promoting college attendance and completion in Texas. Café College also works alongside another city-initiated program, Mentoring Matters, which facilitates mentoring relationships between local business partners and middle school students to foster college and career exploration.

At the younger end of the age spectrum, Mayor Castro was instrumental in the establishment of new Very Early Childhood Centers that bring together a wide range of vital services for young children ages 0-5 and their parents in two high-need neighborhoods.  To ensure that more children read at grade level by the end of third grade, the city has also collaborated with local school districts and early education providers to improve Head Start programs, connect parents and other caregivers with resources and support, and invest in professional development for early childhood teachers.

Through efforts like these, Mayor Castro is bringing his community closer to the vision of his grandmother’s generation.

“In the end, the American dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay,” Castro said. “Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor.”