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Trial Update: City of Los Angeles Faces Final Trial Postponement in Street Vendor Lawsuit

Amid Ongoing Negotiations, City Council Introduces Motion to Address Harassment by Street Vending Enforcement Agency

LOS ANGELES, CA, MAY 15, 2024 – The non-profit legal team and plaintiffs in Community Power Collective v. City of Los Angeles released the following joint statement today:

“In December 2022, vendor plaintiffs Merlín Alvarado and Ruth Monroy, along with three community empowerment organizations—Community Power Collective, East LA Community Corporation & Inclusive Action for the City—filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging a number of regulations in their Sidewalk Vending Ordinance. Our lawsuit alleges that these regulations violate a 2018 state law—SB 946—that legalized sidewalk vending statewide.

“The goal of this lawsuit is to ensure that the City of Los Angeles follows state law, repeals illegal policies that it previously enacted, and makes vendors whole who have been harassed with citations pursuant to clearly illegal policies. We have already successfully forced the City to repeal its most harmful policies so that vendors will not be cited for operating their businesses in lucrative pedestrian areas. However, to ensure that the City fully addresses its obligation to make those harmed by its actions whole, we have agreed to continue negotiations and will postpone our trial date until July 16, 2024. The Judge overseeing this case stated that this is the last continuance he will grant.

“The lawsuit also includes several references to harassment by Bureau of Street Services (BSS) officers, which have not only continued but tragically increased since filing our lawsuit over 18 months ago.  We are pleased to see that the City introduced a motion last Friday to consider several measures to ensure that BSS does not continue to violate its own regulations and that it treats street vendors with respect.

However, the City has still not addressed the past harm it has caused hundreds of low-income vendors. While we have reached high-level agreement with the City of Los Angeles on changing certain sidewalk vending regulations and addressing certain citations issued to sidewalk vendors, the City has yet to agree to a comprehensive plan that will enact these changes and remedies effectively. Reaching a potential settlement agreement is an urgent issue—for one because all parties involved continue to invest time and resources in this process, but more importantly because street vendors will continue to experience state-sanctioned harm and harassment until these issues are resolved.

“If a satisfactory resolution between the parties cannot be reached by July 16, the sidewalk vendors, vendor advocates, and their counsel are fully prepared to take our case to trial and ask a judge to order the City to fully comply with state law and to make vendors whole.

“Whether through settlement or in court, we are confident that this lawsuit will result in the restoration of vendor rights in the City of Los Angeles and will serve as a signal to other jurisdictions that they cannot arbitrarily exclude vendors from their local economy.

“We appreciate your understanding and support as we proceed with these negotiations for the rights and fair treatment of our street vendor community. Due to the confidential nature of these discussions, we are unable to share further details at this time.

The plaintiffs are represented by Arnold and Porter, a private, worldwide law firm, providing pro bono co-counsel support, and the nonprofit law firms, Public Counsel and Western Center on Law & Poverty.


For media inquiries, email Josh here.

Public Counsel: Public Counsel is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to advancing civil rights and racial and economic justice, as well as to amplifying the power of our clients through comprehensive legal advocacy. Founded on and strengthened by a pro bono legal service model, our staff and volunteers

seek justice through direct legal services, promote healthy and resilient communities through education and outreach, and support community-led efforts to transform unjust systems through litigation and policy advocacy in and beyond Los Angeles.

Arnold & Porter: Arnold & Porter combines sophisticated regulatory, litigation, and transactional capabilities to resolve clients’ most complex issues. With over 1,000 lawyers practicing in 15 offices worldwide, we offer deep industry experience and an integrated approach that spans more than 40 practice areas. Through multidisciplinary collaboration and focused industry experience, we provide innovative and effective solutions to mitigate risks, address challenges, and achieve successful outcomes.

Western Center on Law & Poverty: Fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care, and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice. For more information, visit

Community Power Collective: Community Power Collective builds power with low-income workers and tenants through transformative organizing to win economic justice, community control of land and housing, and to propagate systems of cooperation in Boyle Heights and the greater LA region.

East LA Community Corporation: ELACC is a Boyle Heights-based community development corporation that uses an equitable development model to engage residents traditionally left out of decision-making processes. In addition to affordable housing, they provide financial capability services through their Community Wealth department, which supports sidewalk vendors with free tax preparation, financial coaching, Technical Assistance, and social loans. ELACC is co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC) and has worked with micro-entrepreneurs for over a decade.Inclusive Action for the City: Inclusive Action for the City (IAC) is a Community Development Financial Institution and nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles whose mission is to bring people together to build strong local economies that uplift low-income urban communities through advocacy and transformative economic development initiatives. IAC serves the community through policy advocacy, research, consulting services, business coaching, and a lending program, among other efforts. IAC is a co-founder of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign and has worked with street vendors and other small business owners for more than 10 years.

Analysis Of Governor Newsom’s May Revision of California’s 2024-2025 Budget

May 10, 2024

The Governor released his May Revision on May 10, estimating that the budget shortfall for the 2024-25 fiscal year grew by approximately $7 billion from the January Proposal to approximately $44.9 billion. This differs from the Legislative Analyst’s Office earlier estimate of $73 billion, with differences attributed to higher revenue projections and different Proposition 98 calculations. After accounting for the early action budget package that included $17.3 billion of solutions, the remaining budget problem is approximately $27.6 billion.

Western Center on Law and Poverty appreciates that the Governor maintains some of the previous expansions and grants proposed in the January budget. However, we oppose the Governor’s approach to address the current budget shortfall through cuts to critical safety net programs. This approach balances the budget on the backs of low-income Californians through over $3 billion in cuts. Instead of considering additional revenue solutions, the Governor proposes to cut In-Home Supportive Services for people who were previously excluded from Medi-Cal due to their immigration status, deeper CalWORKs cuts, and continued housing cuts. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature on a final budget that reflects our values and protects vulnerable Californians.


Cuts In-Home Supportive Services for Undocumented Individuals — Despite historic investments in Medi-Cal expansions, the May Revision proposes treating people who were previously excluded due to their immigration status differently. Specifically, the May Revision cut IHSS services for those who were previously excluded at a reduction of $94.7 million. IHSS allows seniors and people with disabilities to safely stay in their home.

Managed Care Organization (MCO) Tax — Sweeps $6.7 billion over multiple years from the Medi-Cal provider rate increases, Medi-Cal workforce funding, and equity payments planned for January 2025 and proposes amendment to include Medicare health plan revenue resulting in an additional $9.7 billion in total MCO Tax funds over multiple years. The related November ballot initiative raises uncertainty. If the measure passes, billions of dollars could be diverted, resulting in budget deficit that may result in future cuts to safety net programs.

Cuts Acupuncture as Medi-Cal Benefit — Eliminates acupuncture as a Medi-Cal benefit starting January 2025 at reduction of $5.4 million this budget year and $13 million ongoing.

Healthcare Workforce Reduction— Eliminates about $900 million various healthcare workforce initiatives including community health workers, nursing, social work, Song-Brown residencies, Health Professions Career Opportunity Program, and California Medicine Scholars Program as well as eliminates $189.4 million Mental Health Services Fund for programs proposed to be delayed to 2025-26 at Governor’s Budget.

Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative Reduction— Reduces $72.3 million onetime in 2023-24, $348.6 million in 2024-25, and $5 million in 2025-26 for school-linked health partnerships and grants, behavioral health services and supports platform, public education campaign, and youth suicide reporting and crisis response pilot.

Eliminates Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program and Reduces Bridge Housing Program— Eliminates $450.7 million from the last round of the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program and reduces funding for the Behavioral Health Bridge Housing Program.

Eliminates Public Health Funding—Eliminates $52.5 million in 2023-24 and $300 million ongoing for state and local public health.

2022 Health Trigger Investments not Included: • Share of Cost Reform so that seniors and people with disabilities can afford to access needed Medi-Cal services • Continuous Medi-Cal Coverage for Children Aged 0 through 4.


One of the highest priorities for California lawmakers and residents is the housing and homelessness crisis, which requires more investment in affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs. We are concerned about the proposed cuts to these crucial programs, especially as Californians are grappling with housing insecurity and the continued legal attacks on our unhoused neighbors.

The May Revision proposes a total $1.76 billion in continued cuts to the following program (with additional cuts to January Proposal noted):

• Adaptive Reuse Program – additional $127.5 million cut

• Foreclosure Intervention Housing Preservation Program – additional $236.5 million cut

• Multifamily Housing Program – additional $75 million cut

• Infill Infrastructure Grant Program – additional $35 million cut

• Homeless Housing Assistance Program (HHAP) – additional $260 million cut

• Veteran Housing and Homeless Prevention Program – additional $26.3 million cut

The May Revision will include funding of $500 million to the state LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credits) program.


While the May Revision does not propose to cut CalWORKs grants, the proposal continues the deep cuts proposed in January, including:

• The elimination of the Family Stabilization Program (FSP), which provides housing assistance, mental health, substance use and domestic violence services. This is a core program within CalWORKs that keeps people housed, safe, and well.

• The elimination of the Subsidized Employment Program, which provides additional job opportunities to participants to provide job experience and a path to unsubsidized employment.

• The draining of the safety net reserve, which was created to protect human services programs against cuts. The use of these funds results in a double cut to the CalWORKs program.

Additional cuts to CalWORKs include:

• The reduction of $47.1 million for the CalWORKs home visiting program ongoing, which is a cut of 45%. This highly effective program, which pairs professionals with new parents, prepares families for new infant household members and provides early supports to ensure a successful transition to new and increased parenting responsibilities. This cut could result in new referrals to child welfare services.

• The permanent elimination of the CalWORKs Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services program which is a cut of $126.6 million. These are critical services that stabilize a family and can also prevent referrals to child welfare services.


The Governor’s proposed budget did not propose a cut to SSI/SSP grants, but additional investments are still needed for this program which provides grants to seniors and people living with disabilities. The grant for individuals is currently 94% of the 2024 Federal Poverty Level (FPL). We hope to work with the administration in future budget years to strengthen these programs to bring the individual grant to at least 100% of the poverty line and to reinstate the annual cost of living increase. We would also request a revival of the special circumstances program to assist SSI recipients with unexpected expenses.

Child Support

Despite 2022 budget trigger language, the May Revision did not include a provision to fund full pass-through of child support payments to currently assisted CalWORKs families. Based upon current revenue, this trigger was not pulled and there is a need to renew this language in the 2024-25 budget.

Child Care Slots

The May Revision pauses the promised expansion of child care slots and keeps them at the current level. By pausing this expansion, the state will reduce support for California’s working families by $489 million in 2024-25 and $951 million in 2025-26.

In-Home Supportive Services for Undocumented Individuals

As previously mentioned, the May Revision cut IHSS services for people who were previously excluded from Medi-Cal due to their immigration status at a reduction of $94.7 million. IHSS allows seniors and people with disabilities to safely stay in their home.

California Food Assistance Program Expansion

• The May Revision delays the promised expansion of the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for two years, pushing benefits back to the 2027-28 budget year. CFAP is the state-funded CalFresh counterpart that serves some immigrants who are excluded from CalFresh due to their immigration status.

• This delay prevents California from fulfilling the promise to expand food benefits to undocumented older adults, therefore perpetuating poverty, food insecurity, and again inflicting harm specifically on California’s low-income immigrant communities.

Download the full analysis here: WCLP Analysis of 2024-25 May Revision

Will the Supreme Court Criminalize Poverty and Homelessness And if it does, what will California do?

Advocates working to house California’s homeless population exhaled last week when a bill designed to criminalize poverty, SB 1011, didn’t make it out of committee and onto the Legislature’s floor for a vote.

That bill would prohibit people from sitting, sleeping or placing personal property, among other actions, or face fines and incarceration—the worst possible approach to ending this crisis. It isn’t designed to reduce the number of unhoused people, only to make them disappear from view.

Our moment of relief, however, was just that, a moment. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering Grants Pass v Johnson, and it is entirely possible that the federal government will green light the same cruel policies criminalizing homeless people that nationally we are fighting to avert here in California.

The question to be decided by the Grants Pass case is whether a federal court can determine state policy with regard to homelessness.

In a class-action lawsuit, a group of homeless people sued Grants Pass, Oregon for making sleeping on public property illegal. Their argument: sleep is a physical need, Grants Pass has no shelters and the city is criminalizing not their behavior, but their poverty. The district court issued an injunction, halting enforcement of the law, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, writing that the city’s law violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.’

The Western Center joined with other civic organizations to file an amici brief with the U.S Supreme Court on April 2. The brief asserts that cities across California have unfairly scapegoated unhoused residents for a statewide affordable housing crisis that State and local governments created with decades of virulently racist anti-housing policies. As a result, thousands of long-time residents, disproportionately people of color, have been forced onto the streets. But instead of addressing the root causes of the affordable housing crisis,  California cities punish homeless residents, fining or arresting them for being poor.

But here’s what else should be understood about anti-homelessnes measures at the state and federal level that criminalize the poor; they pose a specific threat to Black people already suffering due to the state’s draconian and racially imbalanced policing laws and practices.

For context, these inhumane rhetoric and policies are surging alongside hyperbolic discourse about increased criminality supposedly plaguing our cities. The data, however, tells a different story. For example, violent crime declined 13% in 2013 according to the FBI. Similarly, retail theft appears to be down nationally.

But these policies are not just inhumane. They are anti-Black.

This shift toward punitive housing policies is occurring at a socio-political moment. Even the goal of racial justice is under attack. A drive for turning a blind eye to the racialized impact of these policy decisions, is the issue of the day.

Worse, California, the big blue progressive beacon of America, is leading the nation, not with effective policy solutions but rather with disproven policy proposals, steeped in anti-Blackness.

How do we know?

The data tells the tale. Black Californians are disproportionately impacted by houselessness and all of the on-ramps to houselessness: rental burden, evictions, and systems contact, to name a few. According to the Benioff Homeless and Housing Initiative, Black Californians make up 7 percent of the population but “represent more than a quarter of the state’s homeless population.” In addition, 70 percent of unsheltered people experiencing houselessness report a history of incarceration. The intersections between the criminal legal system and houseless are apparent from all available data.

For example, the 2024 Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board report shows that traffic stops continue to be racially driven. Specifically, the data shows that “Black individuals were stopped 131.5 percent more frequently than expected given their proportion of the population.” Moreover, Black people are searched at a rate of 1.66 times greater than White people, despite the fact the contraband is found on Black and Hispanic people less and no action is taken after a stop and search more often.

The disparities in police and systems contact don’t stop there. A report by the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights in San Francisco analyzed non-traffic stops and found that “among people who were issued a citation under local codes as a result of non-traffic stops, Black adults were up to 9.7 times more likely to receive citations than white adults.” It also found that Black men are incarcerated at a rate nearly 5 times their share of the male population California. Black women, it determined, are incarcerated at a rate “more than 4 times higher than their share of all women in California.”

It is this population, over-policed, over-incarcerated, forcibly impoverished by the unequal application law and often pushed into homelessness, that stands to suffer the most from Grants Pass and will suffer locally if SB1011 lives on –which although held up could still yet come to the floor for a vote.

Of course, none of this is unknown to the state. I was lucky enough to testify before the state’s Reparations Task Force on the issues of homelessness and gentrification highlighting this issue. And last week I testified at the Senate subcommittee.


We must face the reality that houselessness is a distinctly racialized problem. It requires solutions that actually consider those most severely impacted.

The Supreme Court’s decision is likely months away, but our decision should be made how. In criminalizing the poorest and most vulnerable among us, we would be adopting not only a failed strategy, but simultaneously doing something even worse: morally impoverishing ourselves.

This article has been updated since it’s original posting.



California should enact reparations to atone for the legacy of slavery. Here’s why / Opinion


Too often, conversations over reparations jump straight to the bottom line: Who should be compensated? How much should they be paid? And who pays? But to get the answers to those questions, we must first create a political environment in which reparations are recognized as a moral necessity. That starts with telling a new and authentic story: Why do we need reparations? What are we trying to repair? And how do we all stand to benefit? Indeed, one reason there is now a need for reparations is that throughout our nation’s history, we have been told a false story — one that demonizes Black people in an attempt to justify not only the slave trade, political disenfranchisement and unspeakable horrors committed against Black people, but that continues placing barriers to opportunity and full participation in our society. Through media, books, popular culture and religion, people in power have utilized tropes and stereotypes to relay a message that Black people are less than and deny our full humanity. OPINION We can’t take California where it needs to go if we don’t understand where it’s been. CALIFORNIA’S HISTORIC RECKONING An important step in making reparations fully viable is to develop a curriculum for our public schools that provides students with an accurate historical account of state-sanctioned discrimination and its vestiges, as well as anti-Blackness that continues to impact current systems, policies, practices and outcomes. No shortage of resources can inform this curriculum — from the new documentary “Stamped from the Beginning,” to The 1619 Project Curriculum, to The California Reparations Report, which delves into historical issues like slavery, racial terror, housing segregation and environmental racism. At a moment when conservatives are censoring educators because they fear the impact of honesty, California can play a leading role in declaring that we actually can handle — and benefit from — the truth. This historic accounting must not be limited to classrooms but also explored in our local and state legislatures, houses of worship and other venues where we gather as a community. We must also tend to our public memory with monuments that mark the sins of our past to both educate and declare that these sins will not be repeated. OUR OWN FORGOTTEN HISTORY In California, examples of forgotten or buried history include a majority-Black neighborhood in Palm Springs that was destroyed as families were forced out through eviction, demolition or the burning of their homes in the 1960s. In 1945, Black refrigerator engineer O’Day Short, his wife, Helen, and their 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son were murdered just two weeks after police and a vigilante group threatened them for moving into the white neighborhood of Fontana. KKK violence through the 1960s included cross-burnings in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Riverside; more than 100 cases of violence in Kern County in 1922 alone; and the cross-burning and stoning of a Black family’s home in a white Bay Area neighborhood. These and other acts of systemic violence and their repercussions must not be ignored or glossed over.

As we shine a light on our history, we should also take immediate steps to pay reparations now. Willa and Charles Bruce owned a popular lodge, cafe and dance hall on what became known as Bruce’s Beach. In 1924, after several other Black families moved into the neighborhood — and after the KKK failed to drive them out of town — the city of Manhattan Beach, California used eminent domain to destroy the neighborhood, stealing more than two dozen properties. The California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom acted to return the Bruce’s property to their descendants. We hope this will be a precedent-setting act of how we can repair the denial of generational wealth to Black families. Anthony Bruce, center, holds up the property deed to Bruce’s Beach in 2022 as his wife, Sandra, second from right; Kavon Ward, with the Justice for Bruce’s Beach movement, far right; and state and county officials cheer. A unanimous bill passed by the California Legislature cleared the way for the property’s return to descendants of a Black couple that had been driven out of Manhattan Beach in the 1920s. Christina House Los Angeles Times file/TNS GLOBAL EXAMPLES We can also look at the examples of the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa and Rwanda to help inform our effort to develop a shared understanding of why reparations are needed and just. In South Africa, one commission investigated “gross human rights violations” under the apartheid regime; developed compensation recommendations for the victims of those abuses; and determined which perpetrators received amnesty in exchange for “full disclosure of all relevant facts” (1,200 individuals were granted amnesty and 5,000 were denied). Following the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, where an estimated 800,000 people were massacred in just 100 days, many Rwandans have participated in The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission’s peace education programs, which examine the origins of division, work to overcome “mutual fear and suspicion” and promote unity. The commission offers age-appropriate curricula for all Rwandans which teach the pursuit of national reconciliation and tasks graduates with training others, and dialogue groups focus on reconciliation and “shared citizenship” between people with diverse identities. THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW We need not wait to take laws off the books that continue to do systemic harm to Black people. The California Task Force offers dozens of policy reforms to end discriminatory harm and suffering, including repealing three-strike sentencing; eliminating legal protections for peace officers who violate civil or constitutional rights; repealing Proposition 209, which prohibits the consideration of race in public education, employment and contracting; removing barrier of proving identity to vote; eliminating barriers to licensure for people with criminal records; eliminating or reducing charges for phone calls within detention centers; repealing crime-free housing policies that ban renting to individuals with a criminal history; and extending the right to vote to people currently incarcerated. As we learn about our shared history, it becomes increasingly clear that reparations are really about repairing our social fabric and shared humanity, and recognizing Black people as equal. We must ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes, compensate for what was lost and reduce barriers to participation — unlocking the potential of a population that has been barred from full participation for 400 years. Michael Tubbs is the founder of End Poverty in California, a senior fellow for the Rosenberg Foundation and a special advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Crystal D. Crawford is executive director of the Western Center on Law & Poverty. Joseph Tomás Mckellar, who also contributed to this piece, is executive director of PICO California, the state’s largest multi-faith, multi-racial community organizing network.

This story was originally published February 29, 2024, 5:00 AM.


Wealthy L.A. philanthropists loosen grip on donations, shifting money toward social justice

Fernando Torres got his first gang tattoo when he was 15, a rite of passage among some members of his family. “I thought it was an honor to die for your gang,” he says.

Acknowledging that he was quick to throw a punch, he says that he was soon expelled from high school. But two years later, Torres, then 17, was enrolled at FREE L.A. High, a charter school affiliated with decarceration activists at the Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition.

It wasn’t a smooth transition. It took an arrest for carrying a loaded handgun and the threat of prison time, he says, before he finally started to listen to FREE L.A. teachers and staff — several of whom had been incarcerated — and extracted himself from gang life.

“They see themselves in us,” says Torres, who is now 22 and works in construction, “and want us to have a better outcome.”

For 20 years, young people like Torres have had their lives turned around by the Youth Justice Coalition — an organization that relies on support from California philanthropies. The key to that success has been no-strings-attached grants, says Emilio Zapién, the coalition’s director of communications.

How some foundations get philanthropic dollars inside L.A. County bureaucracy

“It has been a heavy lift,” Zapién says.

Over the last decade, more and more of L.A.’s institutional foundations have gotten behind that idea: trusting nonprofits with increasing amounts of money, with fewer restrictions. The trend accelerated during the pandemic.

The Youth Justice Coalition is one of dozens of community organizations to benefit from what the leaders of these foundations say is a collective effort to support those closest to the problems the foundations hope to solve.

According to the foundations involved in this effort, L.A. County nonprofits received at least $476.2 million in grants in 2021, compared with at least $282.1 million in 2017.

This more generous approach has allowed the Youth Justice Coalition to “strengthen” staff and support services at FREE L.A., where 66 students are now enrolled, Zapién says.

A man handing a woman a bag of groceries, one of dozens lined up below a colorful mural behind him in a parking lot
Louis Neal, a volunteer with the New World Academy Foundation, hands out groceries during a food giveaway at Chuco’s Justice Center, run by the Youth Justice Coalition in South Los Angeles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The coalition reported $2.5 million in contributions for fiscal year 2021, up from $1.9 million a year earlier, and $1.2 million in fiscal year 2019. Contributions came from the Roy + Patricia Disney Family Foundation and Liberty Hill Foundation, among other organizations.

Zapién and other nonprofit activists are quick to say that local philanthropists need to give more with even fewer restrictions. But they agree that the era of L.A.’s leading philanthropists dictating what is best for all Angelenos is fading.

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
California Endowment
James Irvine Foundation
Annenberg Foundation
Broad Foundation
California Wellness Foundation
Weingart Foundation
California Community Foundation
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
United Way of Greater L.A. ($4.5 million)
Liberty Hill Foundation ($4.1 million)

The need to move money quickly to disadvantaged communities during the pandemic accelerated this movement, according to the nonprofit community groups, philanthropic foundations and government agencies interviewed for this story.

“Our landscape is ever-changing,” Zapién says. “Our funding has to be general operating support. Our funders have to trust us.”


For decades, Southern California’s wealthy business leaders burnished their reputations by creating charitable foundations, which built glitzy theaters, high-ceilinged concert halls, and museums showcasing their donors’ art collections. Local hospital wings and university buildings bear their names.

In 1937 James Irvine stashed a chunk of the wealth from his 110,000-acre real estate empire in the James Irvine Foundation. Hotelier Conrad N. Hilton launched his foundation in 1944. Insurance and banking mogul Howard F. Ahmanson and real estate tycoon Ben Weingart each created one in the 1950s. Engineering pioneer Ralph M. Parsons started his in 1961, and Walter H. Annenberg established his in 1989.

Those campaigns funding brick-and-mortar civic institutions still dominated local philanthropy in 1999 when Fred Ali, who had recently run Hollywood’s Covenant House, which serves homeless youth, was named president of the Weingart Foundation.

It was passionless, Ali says.

It’s easier for a leader of an endowed foundation with money in the bank to shift funding priorities if they have the support of their board of directors. With an “aging, all-white” board, Ali says, he started early in his tenure to replace retiring members with people aligned with his progressive vision.

Can homelessness in L.A. ever be ‘rare, brief and nonrecurring’?

A man half-sitting, hands clasped and one foot on the floor, at the head of a large meeting table surrounded by empty chairs
Dr. Robert Ross said the California Endowment has moved from trying to “alleviate misery with charity” to funding community-led advocacy groups that are increasing access to healthcare and mental health services.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A year later, Robert Ross, a doctor trained in public health, arrived in L.A. as president and chief executive of the California Endowment, then a young multibillion-dollar statewide health foundation. During his first decade at the foundation, Ross says, he worked hard to “alleviate misery with charity.” One project he championed was the Children’s Health Initiative, a program delivering healthcare to a limited, underserved population.

Then he changed course.

“Poor Black and brown folks are at the short end of health disparities,” says Ross, “which tells you what we’re dealing with is structural. It’s systemic. It’s not bad luck.”

In 2010 he shifted millions of dollars from the health initiative and started funding advocacy efforts by several nonprofits that, by 2021, permanently expanded Medi-Cal eligibility to a broad underserved population across the state.

Where Ross had initially directed California Endowment funding to individual mental health programs within a cohort of local-level probation departments, he shifted those funds to community-led advocacy groups that secured public funding for similar mental health services.

The pivot started, Ross says, when he began to collaborate with Liberty Hill Foundation, which introduced him to community activists in L.A. who were working to empower poor people of color.

“People who are most impacted by problems know best how to fix them,” says Shane Goldsmith, president and CEO of Liberty Hill.

A woman seen from the waist up, looking into the camera and resting her left hand on a large white object in the foreground
“People who are most impacted by problems know best how to fix them,” says Shane Goldsmith, head of the Liberty Hill Foundation, which funded community groups in their decade-long battle to stop oil and gas drilling in L.A. County neighborhoods.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In 2013, Liberty Hill began funding STAND-L.A., a coalition of seven community groups — led by Communities for a Better Environment and Physicians for Social Responsibility — demanding an end to neighborhood oil and gas drilling. It took 10 years and $4.5 million in philanthropic funding, but in 2022, Goldsmith says, city and county governments agreed to ban new drilling and phase out the operation of existing wells across the county.

The community groups identified the wells, tracked the health effects and worked with regulators on the solutions, Goldsmith says. She calls these grassroots coalitions “our next generation of community leaders.”

When Antonia Hernández was named president and CEO of the California Community Foundation in 2004, it was a conservative “don’t rock the boat” organization, she says. And it was struggling to survive.

But she figured the organization wanted to become a more progressive funder; after all, they’d hired her — an activist attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund — to run the show.

A woman sitting at an angle, her hands on her lap, looking into the camera
“I wanted donors interested in serving the vulnerable, giving voice to the poor,” says Antonia Hernández, pictured in 1998. Under her leadership, the California Community Foundation changed from a struggling conservative philanthropy into a progressive powerhouse.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hernández transformed the foundation into a progressive powerhouse by cultivating new donors among the wealthy social activists she’d met through the Mexican American fund. “I wanted donors interested in serving the vulnerable, giving voice to the poor,” she says.

In less than 20 years, the California Community Foundation went from $540 million to $2.3 billion in assets. It gives money directly to dozens of groups supporting marginalized communities, including the South Asian NetworkFilipino Migrant Center and African Communities Public Health Coalition. And through countywide collective philanthropic initiatives supporting education, Black empowerment and the arts, the foundation funds hundreds more groups.

Ali, Ross, Goldsmith, Hernández and Judy Belk, then president and CEO at the California Wellness Foundation, formed a new progressive core within L.A.’s philanthropic ecosystem. In 2014, Don Howard became president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation and joined their ranks.

The Annenberg Foundation is well-known for the institutions that bear its name, and President and CEO Wallis Annenberg has supported progressive initiatives, particularly in food equity, and has expanded her giving to include efforts by these foundation leaders.

These philanthropists are following national trends. But observers say they stand out for having turned their organizations around quickly, thoroughly and collectively.

L.A.’s leading philanthropic foundations have “transformed” themselves, says Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. These formerly tradition-bound charitable institutions have become “national leaders in their commitment to equity and justice,” he says.

Institutional foundations in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area are far wealthier, according to Dorfman. They can, and do, dedicate more resources to fighting injustice. But L.A.’s leading foundations dedicate a greater share of their resources to that fight, he says, adding that “it has become a consistent theme in L.A., a steady beat,” in recent years.

Whether this transformation continues depends on the foundation boards — Ross, Belk and Hernández recently announced their retirements. The foundation boards are picking their successors.

Ali retired in 2021 and was succeeded as president and CEO by Miguel Santana, a longtime L.A. civic servant who continued Ali’s efforts to use all of the foundation’s assets, including its endowment, to redress the racist redlining practices that were once endemic within L.A.’s real estate industry.

“We think about all of our assets as vehicles to advance racial and social justice,” says Santana, who estimates Weingart is a third of the way toward moving its entire endowment into mission-aligned investments.

Weingart recently invested $5 million in Primestor, a Latino-owned real estate developer based in Culver City that invests in historically ignored communities of color; $5 million in the Female Founders Fund, which invests in women‘s entrepreneurial ventures; and $500,000 in iimpact capital, a Latina-owned real estate investment firm based in El Segundo that invests in affordable-housing developers owned by women.

To help guide this “truth and reconciliation” effort, Santana hired Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth,” an indictment of old-school American philanthropy. “Coming to terms with that history,” says Villanueva, “grieving that, apologizing for it,” sets the stage for “reparations to repair the harm caused by that history.”

Apparently this impressed the California Community Foundation’s board. In October, they poached Santana to replace Hernández.


Eli Broad, who died in 2021, was one of L.A.’s leading philanthropists for decades — a holdover from a generation of business leaders who believed they knew what was best for the city. In addition to building the Broad, a museum to house his art collection, he helped bring the Museum of Contemporary Art and Walt Disney Concert Hall into existence.

He was also a driving force in private efforts to enhance public education, leading a coalition of billionaires — Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and others — whose ultra-wealthy foundations pushed charter schools as a singular solution to bring about some much-needed changes to public schools in Los Angeles.

A woman standing in a white room, next to a large window with a city view of tall buildings below
Under President Gerun Riley, the Broad Foundation’s new approach focuses on out-of-school enrichment programs, support for science, technology, engineering and math education, and workforce training to “advance social and economic mobility for students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.”
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Broad’s “impatient” style foreclosed any easy avenues to collaboration with the community he believed he was serving, says Gerun Riley, president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Parents and teachers loyal to their existing schools often felt voiceless and powerless in the ensuing political maelstrom.

At the start of Riley’s tenure as president, three years before Broad’s death, she urged him to change his approach. Her suggestion: Ask local families what they want from their public schools. Broad had never, nor would he ever, do such a thing, Riley says. So she did it for him.

“I set up a listening tour. I met with over 300 people, drove 600 miles,” she says. Parents expressed “frustration, exasperation.” They told her the battle over charter schools was “an ugly, unnecessary debate.” And they were clear about what they wanted for their children, she says: preparation for jobs in a technology-driven economy.

With Broad’s blessing, Riley says, the foundation is expanding beyond directly funding traditional K-12 education. It stopped using high school graduation rates as a measure of the success of its programs, she says.

The Broad Foundation’s new approach focuses on out-of-school enrichment programs, support for science, technology, engineering and math education, and workforce training to “advance social and economic mobility for students from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities,” Riley says.

She points to the foundation’s Expanded Learning Alliance, or ExpandLA, which aspires to bring public schools, after-school program providers and government and philanthropic funders together to create a countywide network of opportunities for students. The foundation established ExpandLA, still in its formative phase, as an independent nonprofit with an initial $5-million grant in 2020.

Separately, the Broad Foundation is supporting groups that provide services under the ExpandLA umbrella, including DIY Girls, a Latina-focused science, technology, engineering, art and math program in northeast San Fernando Valley ($584,650 over five years), and the Hidden Genius Project, an Inglewood-based computer science and entrepreneurship program for Black male high school students ($310,000 over five years).

Today, “L.A.’s core progressive foundations consider Broad in league with their efforts to strengthen community-based organizations,” says Christine Essel, president and CEO of Southern California Grantmakers, an association of philanthropists whose progressive leadership tripled membership during this transformative decade.

The Broad Foundation’s endowment is $1.8 billion — but, Riley says, it’s “not set up to exist in perpetuity.” The plan is to give it all away over the coming decades.

As it plans to clear out its coffers, it is worth noting that the Broad Foundation sets itself apart from L.A.’s core progressive foundations in one important way: It funds advocacy, but it does not fund activists, according to staff.

It’s a distinction some other L.A. philanthropists also make. Both activists and advocates seek to influence public policies. But Los Angeles foundations define advocacy as something that typically happens behind the scenes. Activists take it to the streets, foundations say, with overt political agendas.

(The $1.2-billion Ahmanson Foundation is one leading L.A.-centric foundation that does not participate in philanthropic efforts to influence public policy. President and CEO Bill Ahmanson has distanced his foundation from this progressive movement.)

Like Broad, the Hilton and Parsons foundations support advocacy to change public systems, but they do not fund activism.

L.A.’s newest philanthropic force — former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie — are also in this camp, according to Nina Revoyr, Ballmer Group’s L.A. executive director.

Steve Ballmer speaking into a microphone at a basketball game as a Clippers player and a crowd of fans look on.
Steve Ballmer, at a preseason Clippers game last year, and wife Connie have become a philanthropic force in Los Angeles.
(John Froschauer / Associated Press)

With a personal fortune that Forbes estimates is in excess of $100 billion, the Ballmers, who reside in the Seattle area, started their Los Angeles County philanthropic work in 2016, two years after buying the L.A. Clippers.

So far this year, Ballmer Group has committed $115 million to nonprofits in L.A. County, compared with $55 million in grants last year. Much of this year’s increase is associated with a $39.2-million commitment to early childhood education workforce support, including scholarships and training.

Among their many early childhood education grantees is Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit receiving $1.3 million over three years to provide child-care services, research and advocacy tailored to Black educators.

Ballmer recently announced a $24-million multiyear commitment to 170 Boys & Girls Club sites in Los Angeles County, an increase from their previous $2 million in multiyear grants to the clubs. South L.A.’s Brotherhood Crusade received a $2.3-million commitment.


A young man with a black bandanna on his head, seen from the shoulders up in front of a mural of several large portraits
The Youth Justice Coalition helped Fernando Torres get through high school and avoid prison. He now works in construction and is having his gang tattoos removed.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Before it was home to FREE L.A. High School, the Youth Justice Coalition’s 35,000 square-foot building on South Central Avenue was a juvenile court. The courtrooms now are classrooms and the dank holding cells are open to the community as places to pay respect to friends and family who have been or remain incarcerated.

Coalition staff worked with Torres’ court-appointed attorney to create a diversion program: If Torres could graduate from high school and complete 40 hours of community service, he would do no prison time.

In his spare time now he draws portraits, Torres says, flipping through phone photos of a dozen pencil and crayon drawings of young women of color. His gang tattoos are in the process of being removed.

“Seeing the cells motivates me,” Torres says. “I don’t want to be in a box. I want to be free.”

Among the Youth Justice Coalition’s supporters is the California Black Freedom Fund, a collective statewide philanthropic response to the 2020 police murder of George Floyd initiated by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund’s goal is to get $100 million in unrestricted funds into Black-led community groups.

The fund’s L.A.-focused contributors include the Irvine, Weingart, Annenberg, Liberty Hill and Hilton foundations, the California Community and California Wellness foundations and the California Endowment.

The Black Freedom Fund’s ambitious goal recently expanded, says Marc Philpart, its executive director. His backers are pushing the state to match their $100-million commitment and turn the fund into an endowed foundation that survives long into the future.

A man pictured from the waist up, standing, with Los Angeles City Hall and trees in the background
“We want to establish a long-term, sustained approach to racial equity, racial justice,” says Marc Philpart, executive director of the California Black Freedom Fund, which began as a statewide philanthropic response to the 2020 police murder of George Floyd.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“We want to establish a long-term, sustained approach to racial equity, racial justice,” says Philpart.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has agreed to an initial investment of $3.5 million, nudging the project forward, according to Philpart.

In addition to the Youth Justice Coalition, which has received $200,000, other nonprofit beneficiaries of the Black Freedom Fund include the Afrikan Black Coalition ($100,000), the Los Angeles Black Worker Center ($500,000) and the Los Angeles Community Action Network ($350,000).

Howard, of the Irvine Foundation, says California has a long history of erecting legal and structural barriers that block Black people and members of other marginalized groups from jobs, healthcare and housing, and each community faces different barriers.

“We need to understand how to dismantle those barriers,” he says. “If we’re going to transform society, everyone has to have a seat at the table.”

“There’s a sea shift in who has power in California,” says John Kim, president and CEO of Catalyst California, which advocates for racial justice and whose revenue has doubled in recent years. “Money is power, and the foundations are giving it directly to people of color.”

Community groups have used that power to make “real gains” in L.A. County and city budget allocations, Kim says.

But “after 170 years of exclusion and extraction, it’s just one decade of progress,” he adds. “L.A. has a long way to go.”

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

Western Center’s 2024 Legislative Agenda

February 28, 2024
Following is a list of bills to help secure housing, healthcare, and a strong safety net for low-income Californians that will be sponsored or co-sponsored by Western Center on Law & Poverty during the 2024 legislative session.


AB 2297 (Friedman): Medical Debt Protection
This bill would modernize the Hospital Fair Pricing Act by prohibiting the use of home liens to collect unpaid medical bills from financially eligible patients, clarifying hospitals must review financial assistance eligibility at any time, clarifying Medi-Cal and Medicare cost sharing amounts can be deducted under financial assistance policies, defining charity care as free care, and other changes.
(Co-sponsored with Bet Tzedek)
AB 2297 Fact Sheet

AB 2319 (Wilson, Weber): Reducing Black Maternal Mortality through Implicit Bias Training
This bill would reduce the disproportionate maternal mortality rate of Black women and other pregnant persons of color by ensuring successful implementation of the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 (SB 464 (Mitchell)) by clarifying which facilities are mandated to administer anti-bias trainings, confers enforcement powers to CDPH and the Attorney General, establishes administrative penalties for noncompliant facilities and requires compliance data to be posted online.
(Co-sponsored with Attorney General Rob Bonta, Black Women for Wellness Action Project, Reproductive Freedom for All California, California Nurse-Midwives Association and the California Black Women’s Collective)
AB 2319 Fact Sheet

AB 2753 (Ortega): Rehabilitative and Habilitative Services: Durable Medical Equipment and Services
This bill would clarify that durable medical equipment is a covered essential health benefit in California-regulated health plans and policies when prescribed by a doctor for rehabilitative or habilitative purposes. The bill would also remove limitations such as annual caps on durable medical equipment coverage.
(Co-sponsored with National Health Law Program)
AB 2753 Fact Sheet

AB 2956 (Boerner): Protecting Medi-Cal Coverage for Californians
This bill would allow people to keep their Medi-Cal coverage for a full 12 months, regardless of changes in their income and would direct California to seek federal approval, when necessary, to make permanent the federal Medi-Cal flexibilities to reduce and remedy procedural terminations, simplify income verification requirements, increase automatic Medi-Cal renewals, and improve program outreach and customer service. (Co-sponsored with The Children’s Partnership and Latino Coalition for a Healthy California)
AB 2956 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1289 (Roth): County Call Center Oversight and Reporting
This bill would remedy the barriers at county call centers by directing the promulgation of regulations that set basic standards for things like wait times and requiring DHCS to publish online call center data from all 58 counties.
(Co-sponsored with Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations)


AB 653 (Reyes): Increasing Voucher Utilization
This bill would create a competitive grant program for public housing authorities (PHAs) to fund housing navigation services, landlord incentives, and deposit resources to increase lease-up success rates for tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers. This bill would require PHAs to annually report their success rate and require those with a success rate below 60% to adopt certain policies to increase housing choice and work with HCD to analyze and improve their policies.
(Co-sponsored with Housing California, Corporation for Supportive Housing, United Ways of California, and the National Housing Law Project).

AB 846 (Bonta): Low-income housing Credit.
This bill would establish anti-price gouging protections for rent in properties funded by the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Public Advocates)

AB 2304 (Lee): Masking Limited Civil Unlawful Detainer Cases
This bill will close the gaps in the state eviction masking laws and ensure that all tenants are protected as originally intended.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

AB 2347 (Kalra): Protecting Tenant Due Process Rights
This bill would preserve the due process rights of tenants by preventing evictions when a tenant has not been properly served.
(Co-sponsored with the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation).

ACA 10 (Haney): Housing is a Human Right
ACA 10 will recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis. Should the measure pass in the legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote to add this right to the state’s constitution, creating an obligation on the part of state and local governments to take meaningful action to fully realize the right.
(Co-sponsored with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Housing Now, ACLU California Action, Abundant Housing LA, National Homelessness Law Center, and PowerCA Action)

Public Benefits and Access to Justice

AB 274 (Bryan): CalWORKs: CalFresh: Eligibility: Income Exclusions
This bill would exempt any grant, award, scholarship, loan, or fellowship benefit provided to any assistance unit member for educational purposes from consideration as income or resources for purposes of determining CalWORKs eligibility or grant amounts. The bill would also require the State Department of Social Services to exercise a federal option to exclude, for purposes of calculating a household’s income under CalFresh, any type of income that the department excludes when determining eligibility or benefits for CalWORKs.

AB 1815 (Weber): Discrimination: Hairstyles: Amateur Sports Organizations
This bill expands upon the CROWN act by prohibiting an amateur sports club or organization from discriminating against any person based on race, inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles in the operation, conduct, or administration of a youth or amateur sports competition, training, camp, or club.
AB 1815 Fact Sheet

AB 3170 (Ortega): Drug Testing of Pregnant People
This bill will be amended to indicate that any drug or alcohol test or screen performed by the staff or contractor of a health care institution on a pregnant or perinatal person or newborn, or any information on drug or alcohol use in the pregnant or perinatal person or newborn’s medical records, shall not be admitted in any criminal or civil proceeding, including juvenile dependency proceedings, over the objection of the person who was tested.

SB 1107 (Durazo): Public Social Services: County Departments: Mail Programs
This bill would require a county human services agency that administers public benefits to develop and implement a program to ensure that, at a minimum, homeless residents of a county can pick up and receive government-related mail addressed to the resident at a place designated by the agency.

Contact our Sacramento Advocates: For more information about Western Center on Law & Poverty and our advocacy priorities, go to

Brandon Greene, Director of Policy Advocacy
[email protected]

Linda Nguy
[email protected]

Sandra O. Poole
[email protected]

Cynthia Castillo
[email protected]

Tina Rosales
[email protected]

Public Benefits and Access to Justice
Christopher Sanchez
[email protected]

Rebecca Gonzales
[email protected]

‘Coolio-style hair’: LAPD union official’s column Sparks backlash and debate

By: LIBOR JANY, Staff Writer
Dec. 8, 2023

Hours into a standoff with a barricaded suspect in northeast Los Angeles earlier this year, a Black officer said he was cornered by a white lieutenant who berated him for sporting a beard that was longer than permitted by LAPD regulations.

“This department is accepting anything now,” the lieutenant said, according to a complaint filed in the case. The officer who reported the incident declined to comment and asked that his name be withheld, citing fear of retaliation within the department.

The officer explained in his complaint that he had been granted a medical exemption to grow facial hair, but the lieutenant’s rant continued until another supervisor stepped in. The officer said the April 23 episode was humiliating and left him feeling no longer “included or accepted in the LAPD.”

Shaving is painful, the officer said. He was diagnosed with pseudofolliculitis barbae, or PFB, a skin condition that disproportionately affects Black men, causing blemishes and acne-like bumps that can scar or bleed.

The incident touched a nerve among some Black officers on the force, who described their own brushes with racial discrimination because of beards or the way they styled their hair. Some of those concerns resurfaced last month after a high-ranking police union official wrote a column accusing the department of lowering its standards on beards and allowing officers to have “Coolio-style hair,” referring to the late rapper who sported trademark twists.

Jamie McBride, a board member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, wrote that while making the rounds at police stations around the city during recent contract negotiations, he noticed numerous officers with beards or the “craziest hairstyles” that didn’t adhere to the department’s on-duty grooming standards.
One officer “looked like he was going to a Bob Marley concert,” with long braids “running down past his collar and then folded up, “McBride wrote.

The officer needed a “female hairband to keep his hair out of his face,” he wrote. McBride also noted the presence of a female captain whose hair sits “high on top of her head it looks more like a hat in search of a propeller,” in such a way that she couldn’t properly wear a department-issued hat.

The captain attends recruit graduation ceremonies and other department functions, McBride wrote, “so it is clear that Chief Moore and the entire command staff are well aware of this.”

“Wearing a beard while in uniform looks shoddy and unprofessional, and it is disrespectful of every LAPD officer who has and still does wear this uniform,” McBride wrote. He noted that some officers have medical or religious exemptions that allow beards, but said: “To be honest, I’m not buying it.”

“Sometimes when I shaved, the wool uniform would irritate my skin and cause ingrown hairs or a rash,” he wrote. “However, I would be too embarrassed to request a medical exemption because beards look like crap in uniform.”

McBride suggested that officers with beards may not be able to carry out certain tasks essential to the job, such as properly donning a gasmask. Those with sensitive skin, he wrote, should “perhaps buy a better razor.”
The piece was titled “Don’t Crown Me,” a reference to the CROWNAct, federal legislation proposed last year to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle.

The House bill was modeled after California legislation enacted in2019 that made the state the first in the nation to prohibit the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color, particularly Black people. This included bans on hairstyles such as Afros, braids, twists, cornrows or dreadlocks — or locs for short.

McBride claimed some officers are abusing the policy, but department brass has been “too scared to do anything about it. “Just the typical selective enforcement, I suppose,” he wrote in the column, which appeared in the November issue of the union’s Thin Blue Line magazine.

In interviews with The Times, numerous Black officers said they felt targeted by what they saw as dog-whistle language in McBride’s column about “Coolio” hairstyles. Some said that while the LAPD has a policy against hair discrimination, they still felt the scorn of fellow officers through dirty looks and comments. A few were told their appearance would prevent them from being promoted.

Those with PFB talked of facing the dilemma of having to choose between their health and shaving their beards to appease colleagues and higher-ups in an organization where conformity is deemed a necessity.
Others questioned his choice of language but agreed with McBride’s argument for the importance of keeping up appearances. The officers only agreed to speak with The Times on the condition of anonymity, because they feared retaliation from the police union.

The Oscar Joel Bryant Assn., which represents the department’s Black officers, said the union leader’s words were divisive. “Fomenting divisiveness is easy; it is far harder to recognize the need for change and lead others in that direction,” the association’s president, Capt. Shannon Enox-White, said in the statement. “The Department continues to educate leadership at all levels on the law and how it impacts the communities we serve.”

Like other law enforcement agencies around the country, the LAPD has in recent years loosened its standards on cops’ hair, tattoos and other body art. In some ways, McBride’s commentary tapped into resentment inside the LAPD over what some see as the erosion of the professional, spit-and-polish image of the department dating back tothe days of Chief William J. Parker, who was a stickler for grooming.

Even as the department has become more diverse, the traditional look of a city cop — ironed LAPD blue uniforms, shined shoes and neat haircuts — has remained largely unchanged for decades. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said that while he only skimmed McBride’s column, it was clear from what he read that the union leader’s views were “out of step” with changing social norms.

“I would ask that Jamie reflect upon the evolution of our societal standards and that he evolve as well,” Moore said in an interview. He also pointed to what he saw as the hypocrisy of McBride talking about officers’ appearances, when the union leader proudly displays sleeve tattoos off duty and has been known to sport a goatee in the past.

“I find it interesting that he would throw rocks at others,” the chiefs aid, noting that since McBride doesn’t regularly wear a uniform or appear in court, he doesn’t have to adhere to the same standards as other officers. Moore said he also “supports his criticism when officers don’t follow our requirements.”
But, the chief added: “I think his criticisms go beyond that. I think his criticisms went to disagree with the CROWN Act provisions, and that is where I think he’s out of step.”

McBride told The Times that his column had everything to do with upholding a certain standard of appearance, not race. He said he had received nothing but positive feedback, including from “active command staff [who] said that they agree with me but they can’t say anything because of their position.” “This isn’t picking on any one group, white, Black and Latino officers with beards,” he said. “We’re LAPD: We’re supposed to look sharp, we’re supposed to look processional.”

Moore recently updated the department’s policy on tattoos. Officers must now cover up body ink on their arms, hands, legs, neck and behind their ears. Under an administrative order, dated Nov. 29, all facial tattoos are banned, with the exception of “permanent make-up” such as eyeliner, lipliner and eyebrows that are tattooed on someone’s face. Officers with larger tattoos on their arms are required to wear long-sleeved uniforms, except those in undercover assignments.

The department offers exemptions for officers with beards from certain faith groups, such as Sikhs, whose religion expects devout members to maintain unshorn hair and beards. In recent years, several legal challenges have arisen against grooming standards seen as arbitrary and discriminatory. Last December, a federal appeals court granted a preliminary injunction allowing two Sikh men to immediately begin basic training with the U.S. Marine Corps without shaving their beards. The men had argued the Marines ’grooming policy violated their right to freedom of religion.

A series of high-profile incidents in recent years have thrust the politics of hair into the national conversation about race. In Alabama, a Black woman was fired for not straightening her hair. Gabby Douglas, the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around gymnastics title, faced criticism early in her career for not pulling her hair into a ponytail, and a young Black wrestler was asked to cut his Locs or face disqualification before a match.

While more organizations have loosened their grooming standards in recent years, many rules on workplace appearance are “based on a Eurocentric standard of beauty,” said Gail A. Dawson, a business professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Dawson said such policies are part of the dehumanizing legacy of chattel slavery, in which people with darker skin and kinkier hair were never allowed to work indoors.

Dawson, whose sister is a police officer in Philadelphia, acknowledged that some rules for law enforcement are based on safety; for instance, an officer’s overly long hair can turn into a liability during a struggle, she said. But other grooming standards are unrelated to job performance and place an especially unfair burden on Black women, in particular, who have to follow elaborate routines to tend to their curls, or turn to relaxers, weaves or wigs that are expensive and can damage their hair, she said.

Yoseph Dalia, a dermatology instructor at Harvard Medical School, said that despite the CROWN Act and other state laws, some of his patients of color tell him they feel stigmatized in their workplaces because of their hairstyle. Others report having their abilities being called into question. “What’s considered professional? Why is someone’s hairstyle considered professional or not professional and if we’re going to talk about acceptance of people?” said Dalia, who has written about PFB.

In law enforcement, police officers and recruits face pressure to alter their appearance, which is part of their identity, in order to fit in, he said. “So not only can they not get a gun, or keep a job or excel at, but they also have to deal with these kind of financial … to try to get in,” he said. “It’s kind of hypocritical to say and we love our law enforce mentor we love our military, but then also make it hard for them to serve.”

Black Midwifery in the US

Since the inception of the United States, midwifery has been the most customary practice for pregnancy care and childbirth. Today, the primary care for pregnant people in most developed European countries is facilitated by midwives. However, in the United States a divide began to take root in the 1800’s, when white male physicians began to explore childbirth with greater interest. Their approach was based on a patriarchal and colonial framework that was highly experimental and racist, often times using enslaved African to test explicit drug therapies, shock treatments, and surgeries without any anesthesia.

Prior to the creation of formalized medical education in obstetrics and gynecology, midwives were the sole experts in birth work and medicine relied heavily on Native American and African American knowledge of plants and indigenous healing modalities. For millennia, birth work was considered a female occupation or “woman’s work” (Hoch-Smith and Spring, 1978; Leavitt, 1983; Rooks, 1997; Donegan, 1978; Litoff, 1990). The midwifery model of education was a indigenous model of apprenticeship under more experienced midwives that were often grandmothers who also learned from their grandmothers. In the United States midwifery was largely practiced by enslaved Africans who were responsible for women’s healthcare of all enslaved women on the plantation as well as the white women who owned them. A large part of midwifery apprenticeship on the plantation included various forms of training such as herbalism, procedures for dealing with birth complications, perinatal care, and serving as traditional healing.

Once the field of medicine became “professionalized” and legitimized by the legal system with the invention of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1927, physicians sought to dominate the field of birth work as its primary practitioners. Their claim to jurisdiction spurred racist propaganda campaigns depicting Black midwives as caricatures falsely accusing midwives of being “incompetent”, “witches”, “unclean”, “savages”, and “untrustworthy”. These physicians also lured white women to trust them because they offered “innovative” pain relief options such as opioid tampons, and mercury. In addition to the propaganda, because pregnancy began to be viewed as a pathological condition beginning in the late 1800s and continuing into the 1900s, physicians claimed that only legally trained individuals could “treat” this “condition”. Such assertions/claims served as manipulative tools that “pushed the scales” in favor of physician-assisted births versus granny midwife assisted births.

The public perception of midwives began to shift as the midwives who had for centuries in the Americas served as the primary maternal and infant healthcare providers were essentially deemed illegitimate. These smear campaigns were supported by the white male physicians who were founders and members of State Boards of Health which controlled who was able to care for and treat women in childbirth. By the 1900s white male physicians attended approximately half of births, despite having little to no training in obstetrics.

In rural America, however, Black midwives continued to attend births especially for Black folks who lived in the segregated south and had no access to hospitals in their communities. In the Southern states, Black midwives, sometimes called “granny” midwives, attended up to 75% of births until the 1940’s.

Racist laws, educational restrictions, and campaigns against midwifery care led to the dismantling of the practice especially for Black women, for example:

  • The 1910 Flexner Report recommended hospital deliveries and the abolition of midwifery. The study has since been recognized for its racist, sexist, and classist approach to medical education.
  • “Twilight sleep” was introduced in 1914, an amnesiac given to women by white physicians preventing any memories of giving birth.
  • In 1915, Dr. Joseph DeLee – a prominent obstetrician – called pregnancy and childbirth “dangerous” and “evil.” Dr. DeLee promoted the use of forceps, sedatives, ether, and other interventions that needed hospital-level care. He argued that midwives were incompetent.
  • The Department of Indian Affairs passed legislation that moved births from the home to the hospital.
  • The Shepphard-Tower Infancy and Protection Act became a federal law in 1921. It encouraged states to develop their own maternal and child health legislation. Before these changes, lay midwives practiced mostly without restrictions. The new laws severely reduced their practice in many states. For example, Alabama began requiring all midwives to obtain a license, then later required nurse-midwives to practice only in hospitals. These changes prevented 150 “granny midwives” from practicing across the state practically overnight.
  • Public health nurse Mary Breckenridge founded Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in rural Kentucky in 1925 which led to the more formalized field of nurse-midwifery also developed at this time. Breckenridge’s racist rhetoric impacted Black midwives’ entry into the nurse midwifery route though Breckenridge has been for “creating a pathway for midwifery education and certification.”

The formalization of education and certification ultimately delegitimized apprentice-trained midwives in every community. Today, less than 5% of midwives in the United States are people of color. Disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality rates are striking; Black mothers are 2-3 times more likely to die in childbirth than white mothers. This impact reflects the powers and forces that disconnected midwives from their communities.

Black Midwives that Birthed Communities

Mary Coley was born in Baker County, Georgia. She began training as a midwife under the tutelage of Onnie Lee Logan. She became an advocate for the health of Georgia’s black population and was known for her willingness to work with women regardless of race in a time of segregation. It is estimated that she delivered over 3,000 babies in her career.

Ms. Arilla Smiley was trained by the local Health Department in Brunswick Georgia and apprenticed with her mother-in-law. She received her license to perform midwifery in 1963 and retired in 1987. During her career as a midwife, Ms. Smiley delivered over 1,000 babies in Mitchell County.

Maude Callen was a nurse-midwife in the South Carolina Low country for over 60 years. Her work was brought to national attention in W. Eugene Smith’s photo essay, “Nurse Midwife,” published in Life on December 3, 1951.

Margaret Charles Smith delivered more than 3,000 babies. In 1949, she became one of the first official midwives in Green County, Alabama, and she was still practicing in 1976 when the state passed a law outlawing traditional midwifery. In the 1990s, she cowrote a book about her career, Listen to Me Good: The Life Story of an Alabama Midwife, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Fraser, Gertrude Jacinta. 1998 African American Midwifery in the South: Dialogues of Birth, Race, and Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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Garden Party 2023 Reflections

Western Center’s Garden Party 2023 was a night for the ages. We gathered in community, indoor and outdoor, and virtually, on October 19th to celebrate social justice and anti-poverty trailblazers at the Ebell of Los Angeles. Our annual fundraiser contributes to our own work while giving us the space to shower glitter on colleagues and partners in this fight for a more just world.

Over 300 friends, colleagues, mentors, activists, and more gathered for this beautiful, heartfelt night. Crystal Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director, opened the night by bringing our attention to the 60 anniversary of the March on Washington and the 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed 4 little Black girls in Birmingham. While highlighting the connection between these historic social justice moments and the founding of Western Center, she celebrated the progress that has been made with completion of the long-awaited final report of the California Reparations Task Force this year.

In addition to the spirit of celebration in the air in recognition of Western Center’s 56 years of legal and legislative victories, the night was also heavy with grief as we mourned innocent lives lost in Israel and Palestine. Honoree Gina Belafonte powerfully drew a throughline from colonization to slavery to the abject terror and violence happening in Israel and Gaza.

It’s a stark reminder of the people we’ve lost along the way for justice, for desegregation, for voting rights, for a right to live with dignity and respect. So many are not here with us today, but we can celebrate them, say their names, and honor them in our own fights.

Our emcee, Chike Robinson, highlighted several Western Center victories and drew our attention to the jump in poverty, the largest single year jump, due to the refusal of policymakers to continue lifesaving programs like eviction assistance, the child tax credit, and more.

But those paying attention knew this would happen. Ending poverty takes all of us, and it takes direct and meaningful action, not the status quo.

We were privileged to honor four individuals and one firm this year, all of whom have been amazing partners in this work.

Harry Belafonte and Gina Belafonte received our Inaugural Derrick Bell Award 

Harry Belafonte was more than a musician, actor, activist, and philanthropist. He was a force. He was a freedom fighter. He was an anti-apartheid warrior. He was a movement mentor extraordinaire. He encouraged and challenged generations of artists of color to stretch the ways they moved within the industry and their communities.

Gina Belafonte is an award-winning Producer, Director, Actress, Educator, Prison Abolitionist, and Freedom Activist. She has been using art as a tool for over 25 years to communicate messages of hope and civic engagement.

Derrick Bell was a distinguished legal scholar, prolific writer, and tireless champion for equality. His work inspired the development of critical race theory, a body of legal scholarship that explores how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions. Professor Bell was a co-founder and past Executive Director of Western Center.

Covington & Burling, LLP  received the Max Gillam Pro Bono Award 

Covington & Burling, LLP did 1,500 plus hours of extraordinary pro bono work in Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action v. the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Covington worked alongside Western Center and our partners to hold the state accountable for multiple systemic failures in distributing Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds intended to keep people housed during the pandemic. 

The Max Gillam Pro Bono Award memorializes preeminent litigator Max Gillam, who served as pro bono counsel when Western Center faced an attack aimed at shutting our doors and ending federal support for legal services providers

Eva Paterson, Civil Rights Activist & Social Justice Champion received the Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award

Eva Paterson is a civil rights champion and litigator with more than four decades of experience. Paterson co-founded the Equal Justice Society, a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts and served as its President from 2000 through August 31, 2022.

The Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award is named after and presented by Justice Earl Johnson (ret.), Scholar in Residence at Western Center on Law and Poverty, who served as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, from 1982 to 2007. Both Justice Johnson and Eva Paterson are graduates of Northwestern and both made history when they served as Student Body President.

Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of LA received the Mary Burdick Advocate’s Award 

Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, was selected unanimously by Western Center attorneys to receive this honor. This award recognizes Yolanda’s extensive work as a litigator, trainer, and mentor in the field of public benefits, medical debt, foster care, and immigration.

Mary Burdick joined Western Center as a staff attorney in 1975, later serving as co-Senior Counsel, and ultimately, Executive Director. During her tenure, Mary argued two of the three U.S. Supreme Court cases ever argued by Western Center attorneys, Cabell v. Chavez-Salido, 454 U.S. 432 (1982), and Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988). 

Throughout the night we listened to music by DJ T-Kay (Dublab) who blessed us with worldwide diasporic sounds including Brasilian jazz, African funk, and Latin soul.

And we ended the amazing night with singer and philanthropist Aloe Blacc performing “Someday We’ll All be Free” in a moving special musical tribute to Harry Belafonte. 

A special thanks to the Western Center Development Team as well as their partners – the Ebell of Los Angeles, Carol Kono-Noble, First Option Entertainment, Designs by Her, Fotospark, Pablo Aguilar photography, and House of Printing for working tirelessly to make Garden Party 2023 a success.

We look forward to seeing many of you at future events and webinars, and we’ll see you next year for Garden Party 2024.

Time Is Running Out To Cash Riverside County Juvenile Fee Settlement Checks

Around 1,200 Riverside County families who paid juvenile detention fees between December 2016 and April 2020 were mailed settlement checks earlier this summer. But around 400 have yet to cash them, and time is running out.

The backstory: California families that had a child in the juvenile system used to be charged a daily fee for every day their child was in juvenile hall. California legislators banned that in 2021. But earlier this year Riverside Superior Court approved a $540,307 settlement for families who paid those fees between 2016 and April 2020. Those checks were mailed in July.

Why it matters: Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the fees loomed over the families while their child was incarcerated. “This is just such an important opportunity for us to undo some of that financial stress that these fees cause” Miller said.

Why now: Families who think they’re eligible have until Nov. 11 to cash the check. There’s about $150,000 left unclaimed from the settlement. Hong Le, a senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law says she hopes all community members are able to access the money that’s owed to them. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members,” Le said. “Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

How to know if you’re eligible? Head to the settlement site or call Riverside County’s settlement administrator.

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