It is perhaps ironic that this year marks the 10th year of the founding of the Vanguard because, in 2006, I learned what should have been the most valuable lesson I ever learned. I began my involvement after I listened to disturbing comments, which came from councilmembers, about the issue of police oversight.
When Ted Puntillo stated, “What I want are police officers out there that are using their training and their instincts, I don’t want them thinking about oh somebody’s going to be reviewing what I’m doing.”
I remember meeting with a number of people after that comment and I believed that the community would back those who were seeking police oversight. When I listened to stories about racial profiling and police harassment of people of color in this community, I was convinced that, if the public knew this was going on, they would be just as horrified as I was.
This is a liberal community, I would say. All we have to do is raise the issue and the people will back us.
I was wrong. It was an eye-opener. And the attacks were mean and vicious. One person wrote in a letter to the editor, referring to my wife and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia, “Ms. Greenwald and Ms. Garcia apply their racist views to every possible issue that confronts them. They look at the world through their prism of hate. … The mere fact that they support numerous frivolous and hate-based lawsuits against the city should be enough to invite them and the rest of the Human Relations Commission to practice their trade in a more appropriate city. I recommend Johannesburg, South Africa.”
You would think the community would rise up against this veiled racism and put a stop to it, but, other than a letter from Paul Boylan, whom I did not know at the time, the response was silent indifference.
Just two years later, the community voted overwhelming (75-plus percent) for the first African American president. How can you square the indifference to community members complaining about racial profiling and racially charged discussions in this community, with the overwhelming and enthusiastic support for the nation’s first black president? I remember inauguration day and people celebrating in the streets – it wasn’t just tepid support.
I know there will be some who will say that the reason is because the former is a figment of your imagination, but talk to African-American long-time community members, talk to college students of color – heck, even the chief of police last week admitted there are problems in policing locally and nationally, and he spent two hours laying out how our local police are taking things like implicit bias training to try to deal with these long-standing issues.
No, there is a disconnect between the values of a community when the issue is at the national level and when the issue is plopped down in their face and in their community.
That has been my concern for ten years. A citizen having support for affordable housing in general is clearly different when the issue is plopped down in their face and into their neighborhood where they have to address it, not just in principle but in fact.
There was a comment on the Vanguard last night, “I wonder if the Vanguard has gone too far in its coverage and has just facilitated the building of a mountain out of a molehill. Instead of just addressing the neighbors issues about privacy, etc., we have people fearing rapists and kidnappers pouring into their neighborhoods, strangers hurling verbal attacks over backyard fences toward children, crashing property values, vague what-ifs, and more. Meanwhile, the City desperately needs revenue. Our schools are underfunded.”
I get it. I am very concerned about the need for revenue. I am very concerned that our schools are underfunded. But unless we as a community are willing to address not just land-use issues but human relations issues, I don’t see how we make progress.
On that line I want to really applaud what the Davis Planning Commission did on Wednesday night. I feel that they addressed the real concerns that the neighbors have about neighborhood impacts and privacy by agreeing to go view the site so they can see first-hand how the hotel will impact their neighborhood – but at the same time, they very forcefully pushed back on other issues.
Commissioner Stephen Mikesell said, “I heard reference to a number of things that might individually or collectively constitute a nuisance – the visual impact of the hotel.” In addition to noise, he noted that there are concerns from the neighbors about public safety or “bad actors being added into the neighborhood,” traffic and privacy.
“I think I heard enough to come to the general conclusion that almost of those really don’t rise to the level of being a nuisance,” he said. “The one that was bothersome to me was, and was probably listed by 80 percent of those who opposed the project, was the subject of privacy.”
He said, “Privacy is a really sticky issue because even a residential development raises the issue of privacy because you have two-story buildings next to one-story buildings and it’s impossible to have a backyard that no one can look into.”
“That was the most strong statement that I heard from the community,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Cheryl Essex added, “I really don’t understand the concern about strangers. I have to say.”
“At our best, we’re really an open-hearted community,” she said. “We want to be a model … we talk about, all the time, how proud we are of our community and how we want to be a model and so many different ways. To be a model, you have to show it off. We’ve got one of the finest universities in the world here – we like to show it off. We love strangers in our town.”
“I don’t understand the concerns about security in the neighborhood,” Ms. Essex continued. “I think the hotel would be a real benefit to that.”
She went on to note a number of benefits to the city in terms of business as well as noise reduction from the freeway. “I feel like it could increase security, so you don’t have to worry about arson in your backyard,” she added. But she said, “I think there is a strong potential for privacy impacts to the neighbors. I’m really concerned about that.”
Ms. Essex said she felt like they couldn’t move forward at this particular meeting because she doesn’t think “we know for certain what those privacy impacts may be and whether we have adequately mitigated them.”
I think both of these commissioners exemplify the need to take very seriously community and neighborhood based concerns about impacts, while pushing back very strongly on other issues that are inappropriate and do not belong in our discourse.
I think it is an open question whether the location for this hotel is appropriate, and that is an issue that the planning commission and ultimately the city council have to address.
At the same time, our community is increasingly expensive and we have to figure out a way to supply housing to those who are less fortunate to be able to share in the beauty of our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting