In June of 2016, Davis voters narrowly voted for Bernie Sanders who received 54.5 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton’s 45 percent. By November, the Davis voters overwhelmingly rejected the man who would become the next president with just 11.5 percent voting for Trump – a number that was lower than either John McCain or Mitt Romney had previously received in the city of Davis.
But, while Davis’ national politics are overwhelmingly progressive – our land use policies conflict with our expressed national views.
Last fall, the Obama White House put out a “white paper” that indicated that antiquated land-use regulations are responsible for not only holding back economic growth, but also increasing housing costs and inequality.
“Significant barriers to new housing development can cause working families to be pushed out of the job markets with the best opportunities for them, or prevent them from moving to regions with higher-paying jobs and stronger career tracks. Excessive barriers to housing development result in increasing drag on national economic growth and exacerbate income inequality,” the report stated.
This week, David Brooks added fuel to the fire, linking these policies at least implicitly to the rise of Trumpism in his column, “How We Are Ruining America.”
The main drift of the article is that the college-educated class has taken a number of steps to ensure that their kids retain their privileged status.
What is of particular interest to me is research he cites from the Brookings Institution that details “some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.
“The most important is residential zoning restrictions,” Mr. Brooks writes. “Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.”
He continues, “These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.”
Long time readers of the Vanguard will note that the Vanguard has often pointed to the fact that Davis has a progressive veneer on national issues. But scratch beneath the surface and you will find some surprising developments. We first saw this a decade ago on the police issue, where otherwise very liberal white, well-educated, upper middle class residents rejected a call from the Human Relations Commission for more police oversight.
When the Picnic Day incident occurred this year, people were quick to jump on the point that the conflict between police and citizens occurred with out-of-town people, outsiders if you will.
This year, when the Acme Theatre Company received a Thong Hy Huynh award, one of the high schools students receiving the award talked about “the implicit recognition of how much further we have to go.” He talked about areas where the city has progressed, but that “we cover up tragedies with flowers.”
Colin Walsh noted that he was in school when Thong Hy Huynh was murdered in 1983. “Growing up in Davis as a white person, the issue of race was always something I had to self-evaluate and think about.” He said, “It was not an easy place for people of color growing up here.”
We saw this, this week, as well.
One commenter this week, a Latino who grew up in Davis, stated, “The problem of racism is not unique to the police or limited to potential cases of excessive force – after the Picnic Day violence occurred, there was a palpable sense that I felt in the community of vindication for many people as the kids who fought the police were one by one revealed to be out of towners.”
He said he grew up in Davis and attended school at DJUSD, and “I still never felt entirely like a normal Davis kid because of my heritage. I’m still not sure I belong here. All my friends of color that I grew up with here with me who I’ve talked to a lot about this – most even all feel the same way.”
Samantha Chiang, representing ASUCD, made similar comments. She addressed her unprepared remarks to Mayor Robb Davis, who she said has “been an incredible ally to students.” She said, “I believe that the rhetoric at hand is deeply problematic that there’s a need to create a safe space for everyone. Particularly people whose opinions may not be consistent with the majority. That comes at the price of students of color and people of color.
“The majority is voicing the opinion that people of color matter,” she said as her voice began to shake. “That our lives matter. That we are being treated poorly in Davis – because of systemic issues that it is not safe here for us.
“I can’t walk out of my skin – brown and black folks can’t walk out of their skin – but people can change their opinions. People can realize that our lives matter.”
What David Brooks is arguing, however, is that the impact of our zoning policies not only cuts the less privileged out of our community, creating a largely white and upper middle class community, but ends up perhaps damaging our national ideals as well.
While we are not the size of Portland, New York and San Francisco, the impact of our zoning policies, our land use restrictions may well protect the aspects of the community that we have come to love.
At the same time, we are becoming a walled-off city, keeping the poor and people of color out and protecting the unique character of Davis for the privileged.
As someone who has generally supported Davis land use policies, I chose to live in Davis despite the cost of living and the reality of not owning a home, because I prefer the small town atmosphere, the good schools, and the engaged citizenry. Nevertheless, I have long been troubled by the darker underbelly of Davis and now I am troubled by the disconnect between our land use policies and our national political viewpoint.
It is something we need to think about as we begin to re-think Davis in the coming months and years.
What does this community want to be and how might its privilege be contributing to the national problems that we see?
After all, the majority of Davis voted for Bernie Sanders who fought hard against the increased inequality, and yet here we are living in a walled-off city of relative privilege. Is there not a disconnect here?
—David M. Greenwald reporting