During the late 1990s it became increasingly apparent to the Ventura County Living Wage Coalition and The Fund for Santa Barbara that poverty had been intensifying in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. In response, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)—a community planning and policy research center—was born. The organization’s primary goal was to address the root causes of poverty and improve the standard of living for the thousands of working poor in the area.
CAUSE’s vision includes the local community working together to create a sustainable economy that benefits all of the citizens of the Central Coast region. “For us, a sustainable economy is one that is just, prosperous, and environmentally sound,” says Marcos Vargas, the organization’s executive director.
To realize this vision, CAUSE has adopted a culture of “change, not charity” that relies on policy advocacy, research, organizing, leadership development, and community building to achieve progress. As the only successful coalition builder of its kind in the area, CAUSE acts as a “hub of progressive activity in Ventura County” by uniting an array of local organizations. To date, CAUSE has engaged over 240 organizations, corroborating their belief that grassroots efforts and the combined voices of the working poor can evoke change.
Over the past six years, CAUSE and its constituents have achieved a number of goals, including the adoption of four living-wage ordinances that have led to pay increases and/or health benefits for over 5,000 working families; the adoption of the first living-wage in the country endorsed by a local chamber of commerce; the organization of an initiative that halted the development of a floating liquefied natural gas terminal off the coast of Oxnard; and the unionization of over 2,300 in-home health care workers, resulting in a higher salaries, health benefits, and collective bargaining capabilities. According to Vargas, “We believe there are structures within society that need to be transformed to bring justice to those who experience injustice.” Yes, there is a system—and CAUSE is making strides to improve it.
Continuously seeking to solve relevant and timely issues, CAUSE is currently garnering support of a children’s health initiative to provide health care coverage for 30,000 uninsured children in Ventura County by working through legislation at the state level. Also, in an effort to protect the local economy and small businesses, CAUSE is supporting Livable Ventura in their efforts to prevent Wal-Mart from developing a store in the Victoria Avenue corridor in the city of Ventura.
Although history consistently proves that the common man can make a change, people continue to feel powerless to change their circumstances. Geoff Green, the executive director of The Fund for Santa Barbara, feels that one of CAUSE’s core strengths is the organization’s ability to empower the individual. “CAUSE shows people that there are ways to affect change in their everyday lives as working people.”
Perhaps a nonprofit organization’s ability to successfully engage and serve the community lays in their transparency and steadfast pursuit of justice. Green agrees that CAUSE has a proven track record that exemplifies the organization’s ability to accomplish these feats. “CAUSE is very much locally based, rooted in the community, truly of and by Ventura County. They are who they say they are—and they do what they say they’ll do.”