The Green Collar Community

Advancing green jobs and resilient communities through cooperative enterprise.

GC3 Tours Local Coops as part of Summer Intern Training

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The Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) primarily focuses on providing transactional legal and business planning assistance to advance a worker-owned, cooperative economy. As an introduction to our summer internship with GC3, we went on a tour of our local cooperative and resilient economy ventures to better understand the success of cooperatives and the burgeoning sharing economy.

According to the Network of Bay Area Cooperatives (or, NoBAWC, pronounced “no boss”), a trade association for worker cooperatives, there are roughly 30 cooperative businesses in the Bay Area. These coops don’t necessarily account for the dozens of developing coops that will eventually change the landscape of the local economy. We hope that replicable models born here in the East Bay will be easily transferable to other parts of the country, and even abroad, in order to ground community economic development in egalitarian principles.

Our tour witnessed the daily operations of Oakleyville/PLACE (Oakland), Phat Beets Produce (Oakland), Arizmendi Bakery (Oakland), Ink Works (Berkeley), Design Action Collective (Oakland), and Mandela Foods Cooperative (Oakland).

Oakleyville community space

Oakleyville community space

Oakleyville is a multi-stakeholder cooperative led by a group of intrepid community organizers with a grand vision. This self-sustaining community space resides in the intersection between Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. They coexist with PLACE for Sustainable Living, and provide maker-space for entrepreneurs, artisans, and even coops like Spokeland. As a multi-stakeholder coop, Oakleyville will be worker-managed and community-owned. Community members will participate through attending classes and sharing their skills.

 

Max Cadji of Phat Beets

Max Cadji of Phat Beets

Phat Beets is a food justice collective that has been active in the North Oakland community since 2007. As we pulled up to the Dover Street park, transformed by Phat Beets into an edible park, we could barely see Max, one of the founders, weaving in and out of thickets of vegetation. The playground and the grass field seemed oddly juxtaposed next to the substantial garden growing around the perimeter. Turns out, this isn’t just perception, it’s policy. As we munched on arugula flowers and radishes, Max explained the hurdles that Phat Beets had to overcome to create an edible park in Oakland. There are city ordinances in place that keep people from growing edible plants and trees in Oakland for fear of rot, pests, and liability. Max showed us a blooming apple tree that was grafted to an ornamental one, and spoke with pride about the Edible Parks Task Force which is working on changing these seemingly absurd rules which ban such grafting practices. We left with the sense that initiatives trying to engage community members in sensible, healthy choices, are often blocked by ordinances that purport to protect the community’s health and safety.

Arizmedi Bakery: Worker-Owned Cooperative since 1997

Arizmedi Bakery: Worker-Owned Cooperative since 1997

On our visit to the Arizmendi Bakery at its Lakeshore Avenue Oakland location, we had to scout a table as it was a typical busy afternoon. Arizmendi is entirely worker-owned. It’s named after a priest who started the Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain. Since 1956, Mondragon has grown to a massive organization of coops, employing 80,000 worker-owners. Arizmendi itself began as a spin-off coop from the successful Cheeseboard, and now boasts 5 locations around the Bay Area. Each Arizmendi is conceived from the same foundational coop model and uses Cheeseboard recipes, but each one is owned and operated independently. Our host explained to us the inner-workings of this location, including its probationary process for inducting new worker-owners and how they’ve been navigating the bakery’s business trends.

 

GC3 students and worker-owners at Mandela Food Cooperative - Oakland, CA

GC3 students and worker-owners at Mandela Food Cooperative – Oakland, CA

Our next stop was the Mandela Food Cooperative in West Oakland. As a resident of this community, I have personally struggled with the lack of good grocery options in the area. The founders of this coop, long-term West Oakland residents, had a vision of a healthier West Oakland. They pooled their resources and followed Arizmendi’s model to bring this much-needed resource to the Lower Bottoms. The team is made up of mostly worker-owners, and two part-time employees. As we chilled by the specialty probiotics and produce, people milled in and out excited by all the uncommon grocery goods. I see a bright future for this coop, as healthier lifestyles become common-place in our communities, and coops like this start cropping up to support them.

 

Ink Works Press of Berkeley has been operating as a worker cooperative for 40 years. They are also a unionized workplace and an Alameda County Certified Green Business. Unlike a typical worker cooperative, Ink Works is organized as a non-profit. This means that upon dissolution, the assets of the business will be given back to the community rather than the workers. In 2002, Inkworks helped to spin off another worker coop, Design Action Collective, which has a focus on digital design. Unfortunately for Inkworks however, the printing business has taken a hit as many clients have moved to online newsletters and websites.

In March 2014, Inkworks signed a deal with the Cheeseboard Collective to sell their space and then lease their space back from Cheeseboard for two years. In line with one of the 7 cooperative principles, cooperation among cooperatives, Ink Works has received support from the Cheeseboard Collective, another deeply-rooted coop in Berkeley. Even in an era where the print industry is fading, Ink Works will remain a valuable example of a community-minded cooperative for years to come.

 

Natalie Koski-Karell is a GC3 Summer Legal Intern and J.D. Candidate at UC Hastings School of Law.


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Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Building capacity for collective reliance

It’s common knowledge that opening and running a family business is hard. This rings especially true for immigrant entrepreneurs who face additional challenges such as immigration status, language barriers, lack of capital, and lack of information networks. Nonetheless, small businesses owned by immigrants continue to thrive and are a steadily growing sector of the California economy. According to an immigrationpolicy.org article, immigrant business owners in 2010 generated $34.3 billion in total business income and made up 33.4% of all business owners.

As immigrants, my family depended on running their own businesses in order to earn a livelihood. Even though my parents possess a great deal of savvy, they lacked the education and skills that our society values and knows how to quantify, like a high school or college degree. Growing up, my siblings and I knew that we all would help out in the business as much as we could. At age seven, I started washing dishes behind the bar in our Chinese restaurant in Germany, and my duties only expanded as I grew older.

After we moved to America, my parents grew more dependent on me because they did not speak English well. I helped staff the cash register, make phone calls, apply for permits and did whatever else needed to be done for the business. These experiences led me to participate as a law student in the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (“GC3”), because I wanted to learn how to provide better assistance to immigrant entrepreneurs like my parents. More specifically, I was interested in learning how to build capacity and promote self-sufficiency among immigrant entrepreneurs.

When Sarah[1] dropped in for help with filing her Cottage Food Operations Permit, which would allow her to produce fruit empanadas in her home and sell them at markets, I saw many similarities between her family and mine. Even though GC3 had prepared some of the forms for her already, Sarah had obtained the necessary permit applications and filled them out on her own. Sushil Jacob, the supervising attorney, gave her the instructions she needed to submit the filled-out forms and complete the last few steps. To finish the undoubtedly long process, Sarah probably would have to go to three different agencies to submit her finalized paperwork.

After she left, we wondered whether it would have been better to take the final step out of her hands and submit the applications on her behalf. Streamlining the process for Sarah probably would have saved her trips to government offices and temporarily made her life a little easier. But then I considered the feeling of empowerment she gained when she completed the last few steps on her own. For example, Sarah had taken many of the initial steps of filling out forms, before asking GC3 for assistance, despite the fact that these forms were not in Spanish. She may have relied on her daughters to translate and fill the forms for her, thereby giving them exposure to the permitting process.

Now, both Sarah and her daughters have gained familiarity with three different government agencies that they will have to deal with in running their cottage food business. Sarah knows that GC3 is there for her if she needs it, but she has taken the lead role in developing her business and her determination has convinced me that she will be able to tackle other challenges as they arise. Running a business is never easy and takes the kind of drive that Sarah showed to get it started and keep it going. Her story reflects a crucial process of empowering entrepreneurs, building their individual capacity, and even raising their daughters to take the next entrepreneurial step.

[1] Client’s name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Amy Tu is a second-year law student at Berkeley Law and a former law clerk at GC3.

 


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EBCLC Hosts Fourth Installment of “Think Outside the Boss: How to Create a Worker Owned Business”

On Saturday, April 19th, the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) of the East Bay Community Law Center and the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) hosted the fourth “Think Outside the Boss” Workshop. This year’s Workshop also marked the launch of a year-long grant to create a “Blueprint for Worker-Ownership in the East Bay,” funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The “Blueprint” grant funded a Cooperative Academy that will include a twelve-week curriculum providing participants with an integrated course covering the theory and practice of cooperative enterprise, followed by intensive business and legal coaching.

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Debbie Li, GC3 law clerk, discusses securities laws and cooperatives.

Think Outside the Boss is geared towards providing an introduction to the law and business issues related to worker-owned cooperatives. Almost all of the forty-plus people who gathered at the Eastside Arts Alliance, a community space in the San Antonio district of Oakland, were planning to start worker-owned cooperatives or were already members of them.

Sushil Jacob, GC3 director and Staff Attorney, introduced the audience to the principles and history of cooperatives and discussed several examples of successful worker-owned enterprises, such as the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, Ohio, and The Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley. Jane Ehinger, the GC3 legal fellow, described for-profit entity types and explained what aspiring worker-owned cooperatives should think about when selecting an entity type and engaging in preliminary business planning.

Rory Collins, Amy Tu and Debbie Li, law clerks at GC3 and law students at Berkeley Law, presented on topics including: what to consider when deciding between forming a nonprofit and forming a cooperative, employment law issues specific to worker-owned cooperatives, and securities law issues that arise when raising capital for cooperatives.

Ricardo Nuñez, Legal Services and Cooperatives Program Director at SELC, shared advice on how to govern a worker-owned cooperative once it has been formed. Janelle Orsi, Executive Director of SELC, used creative cartoons to depict how money flows through a cooperative.

Miriam Joffe-Block from One PacificCoast Bank provided an overview of how to finance a worker-owned cooperative and explained what lenders take into consideration when reviewing a business loan applicant.

In the second part of the workshop, participants attended breakout sessions that delved further into specific law and business topics and allowed participants to ask questions and receive tailored information. The breakout session topics included bank loans and business plans, advice from current worker-members of cooperatives, legal questions and answers, bookkeeping and accounting, and Co-Op “Speed Dating.”

If you’d like more information on how to participate in the Cooperative Academy check out the application on the SELC website.

If you missed the Workshop, or you want to review what you learned, check out the videos of the first “Think Outside the Boss” Workshop and SELC’s cooperatives page. And watch for the fifth “Think Outside the Boss” Workshop, coming in Fall 2015!

GC3 and SELC would like to thank Eastside Arts Alliance, Project Equity, Bicycle Coffee and Arizmendi Bakery for their generous support of the Workshop.

From left to right

From left to right: Ricardo Nuñez, Julia Stephanides, Rory Collins, Sushil Jacob, Jane Ehinger, Debbie Li, Amy Tu, Lee Simmons and Janelle Orsi

Rory Collins is a law clerk at GC3 and a second-year law student at Berkeley Law.


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BREAKING NEWS: LIMITED LIABILITY WORKER COOP STATUTE INTRODUCED INTO CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY

BREAKING NEWS:

Worker-Owned Job Creation on the Rise: Assemblymember Bonta Introduces California’s First Limited Liability Worker Cooperative Act to Facilitate Worker-Owned Business Development

 Bill introduced in the California State Assembly would eliminate cumbersome requirements of existing law so that local worker-owned and managed businesses can thrive.

 Oakland (February 21, 2014) – The Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Sustainable Economies Law Center and a broad coalition of worker-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, business developers, and community-based organizations championed AB 2525, which would create a new business entity in California tailored to the needs of worker-owned, democratic businesses. Joined by Assemblymember Marc Levine as co-author, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) introduced the bill stating, “I am proud to work together with this strong coalition in introducing a first-of–its-kind bill to grow jobs and develop our economy by removing barriers to the creation of new cooperatives in California. Worker owned businesses are a central piece to a full economic recovery. AB 2525 will benefit working Californians by not only providing jobs but a means to build long-term wealth and assets for individuals who have traditionally been denied these opportunities.”

“This bill would have been extremely useful if it had been adopted when we were starting our cooperative,” says Alejandra Escobedo, an owner and member of Richmond, California-based cooperative Fusion Latina. “We wanted to use the word ‘cooperative’ in our name to increase awareness about this type of alternative business that benefits disadvantaged communities, but we weren’t allowed to because of existing law. Especially during tough economic times, the Limited Liability Worker Cooperative Act would help immigrants and low-income families to become economically self-sufficient.”

Workers trying to create their own cooperatively-managed businesses face a choice: create a Limited Liability Company (LLC), or use the existing consumer cooperative statute. The LLC does not guarantee that workers will own and control the business over the long-term, and the consumer cooperative requires workers to treat themselves as employees and comply with cumbersome meeting notice requirements. The new bill will create a special purpose LLC, in which workers can be partners in their business, or employees of it. The bill will provide much more flexibility for tax and employment law purposes, to meet workers needs. In addition, it mandates that workers own, and control the business democratically, while allowing them to bring in outside capital investment.

Local entrepreneur Marc Swan founded Local Flavor Catering, as a traditional small business in Berkeley, California in 2003. He converted it to a worker cooperative business structure in 2013. “I believe strongly in worker cooperatives,” says Swan. “I see how in a worker cooperative my co-workers and I are inspired to take entrepreneurial initiative and build our business when we have a real stake in both the risks, rewards and decision-making that goes into building a successful business.”

From our work with community-based entrepreneurs, we have come to recognize the benefits of a dedicated legal structure for cooperatives,” says Sushil Jacob, attorney at the Green-Collar Communities Clinic of the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, California. “The Limited Liability Worker Cooperative Act would provide low-income workers with a clear pathway to create local businesses that will create jobs, address income inequality and stabilize the community.”

The effort is the latest step in a growing movement to strengthen local economies through the creation of small businesses that are democratically owned and operated by their workers. As low-income communities continue to struggle with the dual problems of high rates of unemployment and low-wages, worker-owned, worker-managed small businesses have emerged as an effective way to rebuild the local economy and address economic inequality.


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Richmond’s Immigrant Entrepreneurs On the Rise

Through her work with low-income Latino families at the resource center behind Richmond High, Maria Resendiz has realized that the key to autonomy for the families she serves lies in reaching economic stability and independence.  This was her main motivation in helping a group of women from the city of San Pablo organize and develop a business plan for a worker-owned food business. For help with structuring the cooperative she reached out to us at the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) of the East Bay Community Law Center.

GC3 has partnered with the group in order to provide the legal assistance necessary to get the project off the ground. Students in the clinic are helping the San Pablo women navigate the licensing and permitting process, draft a partnership agreement, and adapt to the challenges that inevitably arise while launching an enterprise.

Maria’s hope is that the San Pablo women’s business will serve as a model for the rest of the community.  Currently, all of the women are in single income family households, with the majority of their husbands employed in construction and custodial work. By providing free legal services to the San Pablo women, GC3 will help increase their autonomy by facilitating the creation of their own source of income. GC3 will also simultaneously help inspire others who will see a local and tangible example of community members taking the reins of their economic destiny through entrepreneurship and solidarity.

The group plans on making mole, a traditional Mexican sauce, and packaging it for sale to small shops and markets who will then sell it to the end consumer. Though the women had originally envisioned the project as a catering service serving a variety of foods, they soon realized that a focus on a single packaged product would provide a more reliable source of clients and require less labor. GC3 is currently in the process of researching the permits required for the group to sell their mole—prepared in a commercial kitchen—to shops and specialty supermarkets. With a renewed business plan, newfound determination, and the help of GC3, the San Pablo group hopes their mole will be able to hit the market in the near future.

The group will then join a long legacy of immigrant entrepreneurs that have historically created businesses at greater rates than the general U.S. population. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s report “Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners, and their Access to Financial Capital” immigrants have higher business ownership and formation rates than non-immigrants and roughly one out of ten immigrants owns a business.

This project is a prime example of the work we strive to do here in our clinic. The mission of GC3, a community-economic development clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center, is to advance green jobs and resilient communities through cooperative enterprise. We are the first legal clinic in the country that focuses on incubating cooperatively-owned or cooperatively-managed businesses in low-income communities. Recently, we have expanded our services in order to directly reach low-income micro-enterprises, particularly in the City of Richmond’s Latino community. GC3 endeavors to help these entrepreneurs overcome the unique challenges they face due to language barriers and immigration status. We do this by advising clients on how to legally own a business, obtain required business permits, and protect their personal assets.

GC3’s involvement goes beyond permitting and entity formation, however. The clinic regularly makes cross-referrals to other EBCLC practices which have helped our clients with health benefit and immigration issues, such as applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows for a discretionary grant of relief for certain undocumented youth that came to the U.S. as children. GC3 also aims to be a source of referrals to other valuable Bay Area resources like La Cocina, a food business incubator and the Women’s Initiative, which helps women create their own jobs. By focusing on clients that are promoting collective entrepreneurship and providing wrap-around business and legal support, GC3 is increasing the community’s resilience, one startup at a time.

Brian Ortiz is a second-year law student at Berkeley Law and a former law clerk at the East Bay Community Law Center, working with GC3.


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So you think you can COOK?

Come to our food workshop!

 

Come to a free workshop to learn how to navigate the legal issues that might affect your project, and to get other resources to help you get started.

 

Here’s the info:

Legal Eats Workshop

Saturday, October 19, 2013, 12:30pm-5:30pm

HUB Oakland

1423 Broadway

Oakland, CA 94612

To RSVP, or to learn more about the workshop, visit https://legaleats5.eventbrite.com/


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Dig Deep for Food Justice

Not too many decades ago, Cherryland—an unincorporated community between San Leandro and Hayward—was fittingly known for its cherry orchards.[1] Neighboring Ashland comprised swaths of farmland that produced fresh food for the Bay Area. But that era is long over. After years of race and class dynamics that funneled low income people of color towards the edges of Alameda County, these neighborhoods are a very different place. Ashland and Cherryland now have some of the largest housing densities in the East Bay, rampant unemployment, and average life expectancies that are up to 10 years shorter than those in wealthier Alameda County cities like Emeryville and Piedmont.[2] The very same land that used to produce food for the Bay Area now does not have a single supermarket (though there are plenty of corner stores that sell liquor and canned foods).

Dig Deep Farms & Produce is on to a solution to those problems: community-owned urban agriculture.

Dig Deep is currently cultivating nine acres of land in Ashland and recently planted 140 fruit trees to create their first orchard. They are employing five community residents as urban farmers. They have a modified Community Supported Agriculture program with over 200 subscriptions to provide “Grub Boxes” to the community at an affordable price.[3] They have set up produce stands in Ashland and Cherryland so that residents finally have a place where they can buy fresh, healthy, local food.

Beyond Just Food

But Dig Deep, like all food justice enterprises, is about more than just the food itself; Dig Deep is working to build community control. They are providing job training to their urban farmers who are not only improving their farming skills but also assuming responsibility for packing and delivering food and financially managing Dig Deep’s CSA program and produce stands. They are gearing up to provide business incubation services for food enterprises that will serve Ashland and Cherryland and other vulnerable neighborhoods. They are even helping to reduce crime.

Dig Deep is a project of the Deputy Sheriff’s Activities League (DSAL), a nonprofit whose goal is to reduce crime and enhance the lives of Ashland and Cherryland inhabitants. The link between Dig Deep’s urban agriculture project and crime reduction is not necessarily an obvious one, but founders Hank Herrera and Marty Neideffer explain that Dig Deep’s focus is providing jobs to the reentry community, i.e. people with law enforcement records, which is a key recidivism reduction strategy.

What’s Next for Dig Deep Farms

With help from EBCLC’s Green-Collar Communities Clinic, Dig Deep Farms & Produce aims to spin off its farming and retail activities from the nonprofit to the workers, by forming a worker-owned cooperative. The low-income worker members of the cooperative will benefit from the growing business that Dig Deep is catalyzing in the form of increased produce sales, both to residents and local restaurants, and the establishment of a commercial kitchen.  Dig Deep’s long-term vision is to create a local food system that will be owned and controlled by the community —one of the benefits of turning the farm into a worker cooperative is that its profits will go to local workers rather than distant shareholders, giving members a very real stake in their food enterprise and the community it fosters.

Thanks to Dig Deep Farms & Produce, it looks like Ashland and Cherryland might see a return to their roots, housing the farmlands and orchards for which they were once known.

Dilini Lankachandra is a Law Intern at EBCLC’s Green-Collar Communities Clinic and a second-year law student at UC Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall).


[1] Castro Valley/Eden Area Chamber of Commerce. http://www.edenareachamber.com/history-of-cherryland. Accessed 6/17/2013.

[2] Alameda County Public Health Department. The Health of Alameda County Cities and Places: A Report for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, 2010. Oakland, California. July 2010.

[3] In collaboration with People’s Grocery in West Oakland.

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