The top 14 list

The Climate Action and Resiliency Plan adopted by Council on September 3 comes with a bonus:  It includes a map (with accompanying table) that purports to identify the 14 most “socially vulnerable” neighborhoods in the city.

Until now, all the demographic data the Merry-Go-Round has seen about Alameda has been presented on a city-wide basis.  But the CARP analysts broke down the city into 57 individual census blocks and, for each, evaluated 12 separate socio-economic factors.  They then ranked the results and came up with the most vulnerable list.

Now, we lack the training to critique the methodology used to produce the map and table, and we can carp about (sorry) a few of the underlying premises and assumptions.  Nevertheless, the end product, which the CARP calls the “Social Vulnerability Assessment,” is well worth looking at.  And here’s a teaser:  Generally speaking, the most “socially vulnerable” neighborhoods in Alameda are arranged in a strip in the center of the island running from Wood Street on the east to Main Street on the west.

The starting place for preparing the SVA was to compile the list of socio-economic factors.  According to Appendix G to the CARP, the analysts based the list on the “social vulnerability indicators” selected for the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s “Adapting to Rising Tides” program.  In order to rank the census blocks in Alameda on each factor, the CARP analysts used the “threshold” levels for the nine-county Bay Area as determined by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Here’s the list:

Social Vulnerability Indicators 2

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll skip a dissertation about percentiles – which we probably couldn’t give anyway – and instead refer to the “70th percentile rate” as “high” and the “90th percentile rate” as “very high.”  So, what the table is telling us is that if more than 58% of the households in a particular census block are renters, it ranks “high” on that socio-economic factor; if it has more than 81% renter-occupied households, it ranks “very high.”

The next step for the CARP analysts was to review the data on each factor for each census block.  According to the appendix, this data came from the American Community Survey five-year estimates “and were compiled by ABAG.”  The analysts then created a matrix to determine the “social vulnerability level” of a census block based on the number of socio-economic factors for which it had received “high” and “very high” rankings.  For example, if a census block ranked “high” on eight of the socio-economic factors, and “very high” on six of them, it went into the top category of “socially vulnerable” neighborhoods.

This process resulted in this map:

Social vulnerability map

. . . and an accompanying table showing the geographic boundaries of the most vulnerable census blocks and the socio-economic factors that got them onto the list:

List of Neighborhoods 2

According to the appendix, the purpose of the SVA was to “direct[] our attention to areas that need more targeted community resilience strategies” so that the City could “develop[] the most effective and holistic climate change adaptation strategies and policies.”  Whatever that means, we’re not sure the analysts achieved their objective, since it is not readily apparent how some of the selected socio-economic factors correlate with exposure to the impacts of climate change.  (Are people without a high-school diploma more likely to be harmed by floods or storms than people with a master’s degree?  Why?)

Moreover, we were a bit disappointed by the recommendations made by the CARP for “climate change adaptation strategies and policies” that specifically addressed the most vulnerable neighborhoods.  There weren’t many, and a few struck us as pretty obvious.  For example, the appendix urges that, because a lot of Chinese speakers live in high-vulnerability neighborhoods, “communications materials should prioritize translation into Chinese” and the City should “conduct targeted outreach to these areas.”  That seems logical enough – so logical, in fact, that one wonders why it wouldn’t be done even without the SVA.

Nevertheless, the information contained in the SVA can be used for purposes other than designing climate-change adaptation plans.  For example, the City departments responsible for delivering social services to local residents may want to focus their efforts – and the City’s financial resources – on the 14 most “socially vulnerable” neighborhoods.  Likewise, those who want to see more transit options and more affordable housing made available on the island may be moved to refine their arguments to emphasize where in Alameda it would do the most good.

We can even imagine political uses for the information put together by the CARP analysts.  A candidate who wants to portray herself as the champion of the least fortunate – and what office seeker in Alameda doesn’t? – may decide to spend her time knocking on doors in the 14 most “socially vulnerable” neighborhoods.  (She can cover the rest of the electorate through mailers paid for by the firefighters’ union – assuming, of course, she pledges to play ball if she’s elected.)

In addition, after an election is over, one might be able to analyze a candidate’s vote totals demographically by using the map in the SVA.  We were frustrated in the last election when our go-to election expert, Mike McMahon, told us that sufficient data wasn’t available to be able to confirm, or refute, the assertion that a particular candidate got her support from a particular demographic group.  (Of course, this didn’t stop the bloviators in the blogosphere from making the assertion anyway.)  Next time around, using the map and table in the SVA, maybe it will be.  Mike, you’re on the case.

The CARP, of course, is intended to show Alamedans what can and should be done to protect against, respond to, and recover from the impacts of climate change.  Getting the demographic information provided by the SVA as well is like getting a free scoop of ice cream on top of a slice of apple pie.  Thanks, CARP analysts, for making our meal a bit sweeter.


CARP: 2019-09-03 Ex. 1 to staff report – CARP; 2019-09-03 Ex. 2 to staff report – Plan Appendices

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in City Hall, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The top 14 list

  1. Steve Gerstle says:

    It takes a lot of effort to maintain this level of discrimination for generation after generation for over 80 years.

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