The Green Collar Community

Advancing green jobs and resilient communities through cooperative enterprise.


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DIG Coop: Taking Ownership of Business and Water Conservation

Recently, NASA scientist, Jay Famiglietti, wrote an LA Times op-ed with a headline stating that California has one year of water left. Immediately causing great panic on the Internet, LA Times later corrected the headline to state that California has just one year of water stored. Regardless of whether California has one year of water left or just one year of water stored, we don’t need a NASA scientist to tell us that California needs to conserve more water.

Entering its fourth year of record-breaking drought, California continues to experience unusually high temperatures and historically low precipitation. As a result, the state’s groundwater and snowpack levels remain at all-time lows without a contingency plan in place. Although Governor Jerry Brown recently introduced a $1 billion package of emergency legislation targeted at combatting California’s drought, critics are clamoring for more.

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DIG Cooperative, Inc. located in Oakland, CA (Credit: GC3)

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In his controversial op-ed, Famiglietti calls for the public to “take ownership of this issue” and actively engage in discussions and decisions surrounding our most important, commonly owned resource. Here at the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3), we have been fortunate to provide assistance to DIG Cooperative, Inc. (DIG Coop), an Oakland-based worker-owned cooperative whose members are not only taking ownership of their business, but also taking ownership of water scarcity and conservation.

Established in 2005, DIG Coop is an innovative general contracting firm specializing in integrated water solutions for people and the environment. Responding to the ill effects of global warming, DIG Coop provides its clients—individuals and organizations alike—proactive strategies for more sustainable and efficient use of natural resources, specifically water. These strategies include rainwater catchment and greywater irrigation systems—two viable alternatives to the punitive fines that California has put in place for excessive lawn-watering.

Rainwater catchment systems harvest and reuse rainwater for various purposes including irrigation and indoor plumbing use. Through a DIG Coop rainwater catchment system, just an inch of rainfall can provide up to 600 gallons of water. Rainwater can be reused for washing machines, toilet flushing and landscape and garden irrigation. With proper filtration and sterilization, rainwater can also supply a home or development with potable quality water.

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(L-R) Tondre, Niko, Javier, Maria and Anya of DIG Cooperative, Inc. (Credit: GC3)

Similar to rainwater catchment, greywater systems also harvest and reuse water. However, instead of rainwater, greywater systems reuse the wastewater from a home or development’s plumbing system. The system typically reroutes water from a shower, bathroom sink, or washing machine to irrigate a landscape or garden. More extensive systems can also filter and reuse greywater to flush toilets. On average, one home can produce over 30,000 gallons of greywater per year. To put this number in perspective, data shows that on average, California residents (including all businesses except agriculture) use 196 gallons of water per day, or about 71,000 gallons of water per year. A greywater system can cut that figure down by at least 40 percent.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that DIG Coop pushes beyond traditional business ownership to create a democratic workplace in which each of the coop’s five members have a vote and share in the profits. As both workers and owners of the business, members have a say in all aspects of the coop ranging from how much they get paid to selecting client projects. As a result, members are just as invested in the business’ success as they are in its mission.

Through cooperative ownership and its commitment to ecological regeneration, DIG Coop advances GC3’s mission to support the creation of green jobs and resilient communities. After participating in the first Worker Coop Academy, DIG Coop has set out to expand its model with our assistance. We have since revised the coop’s bylaws, advised on its tax status, and completed an employment law audit with the goal of fine-tuning the coop’s business operations and preparing it for growth while maintaining its cooperative principles. In the near future, DIG Coop seeks to hire employees who will have the potential to become members.

Although rainwater catchment and greywater systems cannot solve California’s water crisis alone, DIG Coop’s integrated water solutions provide a more sustainable alternative to the status quo. Fittingly, DIG Coop’s cooperative business model itself embodies a more sustainable alternative to the status quo of undemocratic workplaces. Each of DIG Coop’s members wears the hat of owner and worker. And this increased decision-making power increases the business’ overall commitment to ecological regeneration through water. On both fronts, DIG Coop is taking ownership and creating better systems for both water consumption and the workplace.

Jassmin Antolin Poyaoan is a third year law student at UCLA School of Law. She is spending her final semester of law school as clerk with GC3.


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Cooperative Networks, A Market Advantage

inkworks

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures. — The Sixth Cooperative Principle.

Cooperative business support networks are a valuable market advantage, creating resilience in an unstable economic environment.

Inkworks Press — a 40 year old Berkeley printing collective rooted in social activism — experienced the challenges of a shifting economy. Internet-based printing, heightened competition, and a financially struggling nonprofit client base presented major challenges to print shops, including Inkworks, across the country.

But unlike many other print shops that were forced to close their doors over the past decade, Inkworks has positioned itself for a successful and graceful shift into its next chapter.

Inkworks’ advantage over other print shops was its utilization of the sixth cooperative principle: cooperation amongst cooperatives. The Cheeseboard — a well-known and thriving Berkeley coop — purchased the Inworks’ building in 2014. This transaction provided Inkworks with the cash necessary to continue operations, while also providing the Cheeseboard with prime real estate in a hyper-competitive market — a clear win-win for both businesses.

Before the sale, Inkworks was in a bind. They needed to sell their building to provide immediate capital for their business. But they weren’t ready to close shop, abandoning their workers and community without a conscientious plan for moving forward.

Inkworks and the Cheeseboard found a solution. By considering each other’s interests, rather than approaching negotiations as a zero-sum game, the two cooperatives were able to cooperate!

Each member of Inkworks and the Cheeseboard was involved in the sale; all 40 members of the Cheeseboard inspected the Inkworks property before the sale was finalized, and the final decision required a consensus from both organizations. The methodical process of getting each member involved in the sale respected the needs of both organizations and their members. Although this process slowed down the sale, it also provided both sides with the time needed to hash out a deal that would benefit each party.

Inkworks lowered the sale price in exchange for the Cheeseboard agreeing to lease the building back to Inkworks at sub-market rent, giving Inkworks the time it needed to plan next steps. The sale guaranteed Inkworks both the opportunity to fairly compensate its collective workers and a cash flow for the next few years.
Whatever their next move may be, Inkworks is sure of one thing: the next Inkworks incarnation will continue to be based on a commitment to social activism and community. Inkworks’ current members are all contributing to the collective’s future vision. Inkworks has even reached out to its clients, old friends, and local community to provide input on how Inkworks can continue meeting the needs of the activist community.

We look forward to seeing their next move, we’re sure it will be done in the spirit of cooperation!

For more information on Inkworks Press, visit their website at http://inkworkspress.com/.

Amanda Whitney is a second-year law student at UC Davis, School of Law and was a 2014 summer law clerk at GC3.


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From Homes to Gardens: Land Trust Covers New Territory in Oakland

Oakland Community Land Trust, a nonprofit community-based corporation, has been facilitating community economic development in Oakland by providing affordable housing since 2009. The Trust buys and rehabilitates vacant, foreclosed homes and sells them to new homebuyers at a price affordable to low-income families. The Trust leases the land to the new homeowner for a 99-year renewable term through a residential ground lease, and retains ownership of the land under the homes. By retaining land ownership, the trust ensures that the home will remain permanently affordable and cannot be transferred to a for-profit buyer, thus removing it from the speculative market.

The Trust has one vacant lot on a parcel in East Oakland that is not currently suitable for a family. Rather than put the land to residential use, the Trust will convert it into a community garden in collaboration with a local youth urban farm project, Acta Non Verba (ANV). ANV operates an urban farm in Oakland, which provides garden education, a safe space, fresh vegetables and healthy living resources for local youth and the wider community. ANV has discussed using the Trust’s parcel to create a community orchard and demonstration site in the neighborhood. Putting the Trust’s land to this kind of agricultural and educational use would bring the surrounding community together and offer productive and engaging activities, as well as a safe space for parents, children and families to use.

Conveniently, the City of Oakland recently approved changes to the Oakland Planning Code, which will allow limited agricultural use of land without a permit—such as community gardens and urban farms—in residential zones.

Because the Oakland Community Land Trust has thus far focused on affordable housing and residential ground leases, it has requested GC3’s assistance in putting this parcel to non-residential agricultural use. Assisted by pro bono real estate counsel from the law firm Paul Hastings, LLP, GC3 is drafting an agricultural ground lease for the parcel. GC3’s work on this lease could pave the way for the Trust to expand the ambit of its land trust model to include new ways to involve low-income Oakland community members in access to increased community gardening, healthy food, and green space.

Anuthara Hegoda is a second-year law student at Berkeley Law and was a Fall 2014 GC3 law clerk.

 

A glimpse of the Acta Non Verba Community Garden in East Oakland

A glimpse of the Acta Non Verba Community Garden in East Oakland.


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Shining a Light on Cooperative Ownership Transitions

Worker cooperatives help create resilient, vibrant local economies.  While American corporations relocate their production and “invert” their headquarters overseas in a never-ending quest to maximize shareholder value, cooperatives in the East Bay have been flourishing – creating stable, high paying jobs that serve the interests of the local community.

Supporting worker cooperatives has been a core mission of the GC3 clinic.  At the local level, GC3 has been on the frontline, helping entrepreneurs successfully launch worker cooperatives and assisting in a variety of advisory matters.  Recently, GC3 has entered the area of cooperative ownership transition, which is when a business is sold to the workers and re-organized into a worker cooperative.

Several recent ownership transitions demonstrate the flexibility of this approach as an exit for business owners.  Select Machine, a tool and equipment manufacturer based in Illinois, converted to an employee cooperative in 2005 through several stock redemptions, financed by a combination of cash buyouts, bank loans, and a note from the owners, spanning over the course of several years.  Real Pickles, a local and growing pickle manufacturer that converted in 2014, financed their conversion through a direct public offering, issuing non-voting preferred shares to local investors.  Conversion is a real option for larger businesses as well: more than sixty employees formed a cooperative to buy out three privately owned businesses from their employer in the recent Island Employee Cooperative conversion.

There are many reasons for businesses to transition ownership.  For example, a retiring business owner who has a strong working relationship with and respect for her employees may be interested in selling the business to the employees rather than an outside buyer.  Conversion offers these business owners a pathway to retirement that also protects their employees’ livelihoods.

Most business owners fail to consider conversion as a viable exit strategy.  There are multiple reasons for this, including a lack of understanding of how to successfully convert, few precedents to follow, and few consultants who can assist a business owner through the process.

To encourage more conversions, GC3 has teamed up with local non-profits Sustainable Economies Law Center and Project Equity to publish a how-to guide to inform business owners, employees, and outside consultants about how to sell a business to its employees.

If you are interested in learning more about cooperative conversions, keep an eye out for the guide in the spring of 2015.

Phil Garber is a GC3 law clerk and a second-year law student at Berkeley Law.


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East Bay Community Law Center Statement of Solidarity with #blacklivesmatter Protesters in Berkeley

Statement by the East Bay Community Law Center in Solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter Protests in Berkeley, CA

 December 8, 2014

The staff of the East Bay Community Law Center stand in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter protests in Berkeley, CA over the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the countless other people of color who have died at the hands of the police. We are concerned that the Berkeley police response to demonstrators on the nights of December 6 and 7 far exceeds what is needed and called for. We demand an inquiry into the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, “kettling” and other tactics used by the Berkeley police on demonstrators exercising their fundamental constitutional rights of assembly and speech.

The protests in Berkeley reflect outrage with a criminal justice system in which race, wealth and state power — not truth, accountability and culpability — dictate outcomes. This is what the clients and staff of EBCLC experience daily in courthouses and jails, as well as social services offices, schools and on the streets.  What is new — and gives us hope — is the public outcry. The protests in Berkeley and across the country suggest a critical turning point in the conversation about racialized poverty and the over-policing of communities of color.

Berkeley has a proud history of public protest. It fits that Berkeley be a leading voice in the #blacklivesmatter protests taking place across the nation. Of all police departments, the Berkeley police should be well prepared to respond to protests in careful and measured ways. But a measured response is not what we have seen over the past two days.

Many, particularly in the media, have tried to justify the heightened police response because of a few acts of vandalism and property destruction, which appear to have been carried out by a small group of demonstrators.  EBCLC does not condone property destruction and supports those small businesses impacted. However, there are ways to protect both protesters and businesses without relying on, and sanctioning, police violence. In the days to come, protesters in Berkeley and across the nation who take to the streets to voice their outrage against police violence should have their rights protected — not their bodies endangered by a further escalation of state-sanctioned force.

EBCLC stands in solidarity with the protesters in Berkeley and demands an inquiry into the Berkeley Police Department’s use of force on protesters.

Statement by the East Bay Community Law Center in solidarity with blacklivesmatter

urban tilth farm2


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GC3 Assists New Community Farm Project in Richmond

December 2, 2014 by Elizabeth Yates

Urban Tilth (UT), a Richmond-based non-profit organization, works to promote food justice through education, food production, and community engagement. UT strives to provide access to locally grown produce from farmers who engage in sustainable agricultural practices in the west Contra Costa County region.

UT is partnering with Contra Costa County to create the Roots and Restoration Farm, located at 323 Brookside Drive in Richmond, California. The Roots and Restoration Farm will be an Agricultural Park and Riparian Learning Center with the mission of creating a space in the heart of North Richmond, where youth and adults can engage with nature. The Roots and Restoration Farm will feature:

  • “You Pick It” Learning Gardens
  • Community kitchen
  • Earthwork amphitheater
  • Outdoor garden and creek classrooms
  • Petting zoo and egg farm
  • Working urban farm that will provide North Richmond with fresh fruits and vegetables through a year-round youth-operated market stand and Community Supported Agriculture project
  • Riparian Restoration Technician Training Program
  • Agricultural cooperative incubator space, which will create meaningful employment opportunities for North Richmond residents

The Roots and Restoration Farm is in the development stage and will be under construction in 2016, but UT has already begun archaeological testing and surveying of the land. UT plans to have the Roots and Restoration Farm up and running by 2017.

GC3 has assisted UT on their new Roots and Restoration Farm project in several ways. In Fall 2014, GC3 drafted agreements for UT to use with contractors conducting environmental planning studies, design, and construction at the farm site. GC3 also advised UT regarding a their youth field trip and educational program, which it plans to implement at the Roots and Restoration Farm beginning in 2017.

For more information, visit Urban Tilth.
urban tilth farm

Elizabeth Yates is a second year law student at Berkeley Law and a law clerk in the Green-Collar Communities Clinic of the East Bay Community Law Center.

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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