What Even Is A “Progressive” Anyway?

By Neil Ruud

As another self-proclaimed progressive, I’m a bit confused about how to vote this year. Am I supposed to vote to “poison toddlers” or should I be more concerned with the protection of endangered burrowing landowner’s property values? Sarcasm aside, every side of each issue in this town’s impending election is claiming the progressive mantle. But the truth is, we cannot all be progressives in Davis if many of us are on opposite sides of the fundamental policy choices before us.

It seems to me a lot of self-proclaimed progressives want to “Make Davis Great Again.” They refer to their childhood and how great the town was 40-60 years ago, when the population of Davis happened to be largely determined by a history of racist housing policies. Davis had some of the most restrictive Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions in the region. While unenforceable now, the effects of those policies can be felt today: housing opponents argue that, in order to relive this mythical time period where everything in Davis was great for everyone, we have to prevent densification, reject investment in community infrastructure, and sue our way to greatness (by bullying the University into giving up on working with us). That doesn’t sound like progress to me and progressivism is about looking forward, not clinging to the past.

Even more recently, some No on J supporters accused Nishi proponents of pimping out students since they happened to be wearing jean shorts while knocking on doors on a hot day. Don’t the residents of this town know it gets hot? Or that people can make up their own minds about what to wear? Maybe being a progressive is about being ahead of the times until you’re behind them.

But here I am, just another progressive spouting my own beliefs so I turned to a notorious progressive, the self-proclaimed founder of the Progressive movement at the turn of the century in the United States, in search of some ideological guidance:

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

–Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

What? Maybe Teddy would also be for and against Measure J/R’s voter-controlled urban boundary—just like some Davis politicians. In all seriousness, there is a deeper truth to what he’s saying here:

“Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.”

At the core of Roosevelt’s progressivism lies a philosophy that we aren’t entitled to all the comforts we’ve garnered in our lives because we earned them together as a society. Sometimes we have to sacrifice a little comfort to provide the same opportunities to others—especially the next generation.

It’s possible that many of us in this community, who were once progressive, have grown into reactionaries by taking a good idea so far it became a bad one. Preventing suburbia turned into pulling up the ladder and ensuring that existing Davis residents were the only people adding to the town’s population. The ironic part is, even their kids cannot find housing in this town anymore.

Either way, a lot of this fight seems to be about housing and I think that there’s nothing progressive about opposing housing folks who love this town. For me, progressivism is about improving the human condition through creativity, hard work, and sacrifice. We talk a lot about preserving neighborhood character, but in our efforts to “Keep Davis Boring” we have priced out working families, entrepreneurs, seniors, and artists alike.

Our fight to preserve the Davis we love is actually changing it: It’s time to stop paying lip service to inclusivity and put our money where our mouths are. Stop demonizing folks experiencing homelessness, treat everybody like people (yes, even students), and make space for the working families who yearn to call Davis home. That’s the progressive thing to do.

Neil Ruud is a local progressive activist and political consultant.


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48 Comments

  1. Alan Miller

    Today in the Vanguard we’re defining “Crisis”, “Satus Quo” and “Progressive”.

    Tune in tomorrow for the definition of “Cynical Old F*rt”.

  2. Richard McCann

    I have been making this point ever since I moved here and the so-called “progressives” took several seats on the City Council. Fortunately, they’ve been pushed out of the Council of late, but they still make a lot of noise.

  3. Ken A

    Neil asks: “What Even Is A “Progressive” Anyway?” It seems that the people that work the hardest to let you know that they are a “Progressive” and love “Diversity” are the same people that work the hardest to keep the area they live in white (or at least limit the people of color to those with advanced degrees).  These people are a lot like the people that work the hardest to let you know that they are “Conservative” and support “Family Values” that work the hardest to keep anyone from finding out about their mistress (or that they go to strip clubs)…

  4. John Hobbs

    “Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.” T. Roosevelt.

    Shared sacrifice can certainly be an important part of civic life.

    “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard… I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.” You know who.

    I don’t think TR would think much of modern Davis politics to be at all progressive. The liberal social values and conservative fiscal values that were prevalent in Davis and most of America in the 1950s and 60s have been blown into the maelstrom by the self aggrandizing, “corporations are people-money rules over all” virtues of post Reagan America.

  5. Jeff M

    “For me, progressivism is about improving the human condition through creativity, hard work, and sacrifice. We talk a lot about preserving neighborhood character, but in our efforts to “Keep Davis Boring” we have priced out working families, entrepreneurs, seniors, and artists alike.”

    Well-written article.

    As a long-time student of the answers to the question “Why does my nice neighbor who lives a life similar to mine seem to me to have lobsters coming out of ears when we talk about things like land use and other political issues?”

    Because I am similarly irritated with traffic, congestion, more people, etc… it would seem that I would also fall in line to be bent on opposing any and all new densification and peripheral development.

    But my business mission statement is: Improving the Human Condition through Job Creation by Providing Small Business Financing.

    When I was a Boy Scout and when camping with my parents the lesson was Leave the Place Better than you Found it.

    The way I see it… I have a good life and I owe it to others to be charitable so they too can have a good life.  It is my human responsibility to sacrifice and give of myself to help others.   And TRUE giving means to accept and offer up some of the things I value the most if those things would be helpful.

    This is the thing that is disappointing to me about Davis.  It is filled full of people that claim to be the most caring about people less fortunate; yet their opposition to development is in direct conflict to that claim.  They seem incapable of giving up what they value to help others have a better life.

    I agree that Davis does not look progressive… it looks stubbornly selfish.  I have said so before.  But I also add that Davis does not appear to be truly liberal.   It seems to be more a bunch of old conservatives that claim membership in the more hip and politically-correct ideology in part to allow them to be selfish while deflecting responsibility for their behavior.

    From the outside looking in… it isn’t a good scene.

  6. Alan Miller

    As a long-time student of the answers to the question “Why does my nice neighbor who lives a life similar to mine seem to me to have lobsters coming out of ears when we talk about things like land use and other political issues?”

    That was a stretch.

    And TRUE giving means to accept and offer up some of the things I value the most if those things would be helpful.

    Such as YOUR MONEY in the form of HIGHER TAXES?

    1. Jeff M

      “That was a stretch”  Your comment is incongruous.

      I already give lots of MY MONEY from some of the HIGHEST TAXES in the state.  And I am working on things that will result in EVEN MORE MONEY going to government.   What about you?  Are you working and paying lots of taxes and thinking about how you could be doing more?

  7. Todd Edelman

    Just for fun.. if Teddy was the President of Davis back in 1917, he would have:

    * Invaded and annexed Sacramento, leading the final battle on a bicycle;

    * Dug a new canal from the Sacramento River towards further down the Delta, right next to Davis – e.g. the current alignment of I-80;

    * Killed all the owls, raccoons, mosquitoes, bats and turkeys;

    * Regulated bike share so that Uber/Jump would not have a functional monopoly, and also make it impossible for bike share operators to discriminate against youth, as does Uber/Jump.

  8. Alan Miller

     . . . how great the town was 40-60 years ago, when the population of Davis happened to be largely determined by a history of racist housing policies.

    N.R., can you expand on this?  Having lived in Davis for nearly 40 years, I honestly don’t know what “racist” policies you are referring to.

    Before that, my sister lived here in the 60’s and 70’s, and most of her housemates in two houses, one on C Street and one on J Street, were black, and I knew several other of her friends who lived in town then who were black.  I really have no idea what you are referring to.

    We do know about the “name” mayor who after WWII didn’t want to let Japanese back into town after the war, but that was well before 60 years ago.

    1. Ken A

      It was just about 40 years ago when many of my friends (some who were “people of color”) started moving to Davis to attend UCD and I think first lady Rosalynn Carter came to visit Davis about 40 years ago and I’m pretty sure it was not to see the town’s “racist housing policies”.  Even El Macero had minority residents (and country club members) 40 years ago…

    2. Howard P

      Alan… not to support N.R., but as a history nut, have seen deeds, CC&R’s, where up thru the mid 1950’s, were drafted to prevent folk “of color” from living in Davis housing “unless employed as a servant, (etc.)”  that was real… Unruh, and the CA Fair Housing Act, and subsequent federal action rendered all those provisions moot.

      See any title report for Old North, Old East properties… specific exclusions… sometimes specifically inluding Asians…

      Never a policy, per se of the City as I’ve been able to determine, but there was the wink/nod by the City when developers included those provisions…

      1. Richard McCann

        To follow up on Howard P’s answer, those racist CC&Rs were enforceable under federal mortgage laws until 1971 (I think) when the Supreme Court struck them down. So by 1978 (40 years ago) the CC&Rs were unenforceable. However, the housing patterns established by those CC&Rs locked in racial patterns, not only in Davis, but all over the U.S.

        NPR has had a couple of stories about a study that goes into detail on this issue. I estimate that African American families have been jilted out of about a quarter-million dollars on average in lost home equity due to these actions. https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

        1. Alan Miller

          those CC&Rs locked in racial patterns, not only in Davis, but all over the U.S.

          OK, again, that was all over.  Yes, this is important and abhorrent and this fact should be taught in elementary schools, but the way it was written it sounds like it was uniquely a Davis thing brought on by Davis policies.

          AND . . . I asked the author what the author was referring to.  Was this what you were referring to?

        2. Ken A

          There is a big difference between actual “racist” deed restrictions and “redlining” where lenders decided not to lend in crappy areas (that often had older homes built without any permits or inspections) that just happened to be where a lot of people of color lived in Oakland or Sacramento but they had the same maps with red lines around the crappy areas of Bend, OR and Cheyenne, WY that did not have a person of color for miles.

          Since most white Americans have LESS than “a quarter-million dollars of home equity” I would be interested to see the math where Richard shows that the average African American family has been “jilted” out of a quarter mil on average due to redlining.

          https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/05/25/the-typical-american-has-this-much-in-home-equity.aspx

          P.S. I read the NPR piece and it has quite a few errors and I can tell it was written by someone who is not familiar with California real estate history.  I was not surprised that the author was “Senior Fellow, Emeritus at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP” and while racist deed restrictions were horrible and wrong it is interesting that Jews and Asians who were also restricted from buying in many areas (and joining many clubs) seem to be doing fine (actually on average better than the average white family).  If the author knew much about the Bay Area he would have known how to spell Daly City and that with rare exceptions the white family that bought a new Daly City home in the 50’s would have a home worth LESS today than a black family that bought a similar size home in San Francisco’s Fillmore (black) neighborhood the same day…

        3. Richard McCann

          Ken A

          After correcting for the home ownership rate of 65%, the average equity in a house is $200k according to the site you referenced.

          Deed restrictions on other ethnic and religious bases were much more limited, and redlining even less prevalent than those against African Americans. I’m not aware of a federal policy restricting loans to any group other than African Americans. There is no comparison in the breadth of impacts on African Americans versus other groups.

          As for being 50+ years ago, wealth disparities continue for generations, as do neighborhood housing patterns. Real estate is much less fungible than other sources of wealth, which causes it to perpetuate differences for much longer.

          And California was well known for having such deed covenants–it wasn’t always progressive milk and honey here. Of course, the federal loan restrictions prevailed everywhere.

  9. Rik Keller

    This would all be well and good if the project that Neil Ruud is promoting actually was affordable, inclusive, and, well, “progressive.”.
     
    I analyzed project details and found that there is a lot of dishonesty in how the project is being marketed by the proponents. Fundamentally, the way the project is structured with lease arrangements by the bed would provide a large profit margin for the developer for the provision of expensive, exclusive housing compared to existing Davis rental rates, at the same time that it is being touted as affordable.
     
    There is a very interesting provision in the “Affordable Housing Plan” on p. 61 of the Approved Development Agreement: “There will be no distinction made between the Affordable Beds and beds rented at market rate, except that market beds may in one-bed bedrooms while all Affordable Beds are anticipated to have two beds per bedroom.” What I make of it is: that’s a pretty big exception! The developer is proposing to cram two students per bedroom in the ‘affordable’ bedrooms while the vast majority of rest of the project will be one student per bedroom. Three big implications for this:
     
    1) the provision for 15% affordable beds in the project (which itself required a temporary reduction to the City of Davis’ affordable housing ordinance requirement of 35%) works out to only about 9% of the actual <bedrooms> in the project being designated as ‘affordable’;
     
    2) the students who qualify for the affordable beds will be treated as second-class citizens, crammed two to a room for the privilege of paying a combined room rent either slightly lower (for the designated extremely low-income (ELI) beds) or substantially higher (for the designated very low-income (VLI) beds) than the market rate rooms.
     
    3) because the developer will be doubling up beds in the ‘affordable’ bedrooms, these will be likely be generating more average revenue than the market rate bedrooms;
     
    When you combine the above with the fact that, contrary to the Yes On J promo materials, the ‘market beds’ are projected to rent for substantially more than actual existing market rates for all rental units across Davis, this project seems to me a deeply cynical and exploitative scam to provide expensive housing using bed leases as cash cow, and collect huge profit margins while claiming “affordability.” The project represents a lost opportunity for the affordable units that COULD be built on the site (if it is indeed an appropriate site for residential uses at all: a whole different debate) with a real affordable housing component that paid more than lip service to the issue.
    [If you want the numbers and details behind these conclusions, I have the ‘receipts’ based on my analysis and 17+ years of experience in affordable housing policy & analysis in Texas, Oregon, and California after obtaining my master’s degree in city planning; and I am also a 10+ year Davis resident and a renter].

    1. Ken A

      It looks like Rik has a good understanding of the Nishi plan that in the end should allow the developers to be”generating more average revenue than the market rate bedrooms”.

      Developers hate the plans that require them to be “generating LESS average revenue than the market rate bedrooms”.

      I wonder if Rik will share with us why a guy with a master’s degree and 17+ years of experience in affordable housing policy & analysis in Texas, Oregon, and California is still renting in Davis after ten years?

      We can’t go back to 2012 when many homes and condos in town were selling for half as much as today, but even at bubble 2.0 prices today someone who plans to stay in town can buy a condo for around the same price as renting (and for even less if they get a roommate).

      Even if Nishi 2.0 passes it is not like home and condo prices are going to drop like a rock (but I would not recommend anyone who does not plan to stay in Davis for at least seven years buy today).

      1. Rik Keller

        Ken A.

        1) Your very first statement betrayed your lack of understanding of the analysis. The statement I made was was that the”‘affordable’ bedrooms…will be likely be generating more average revenue than the market rate bedrooms…” That’s one of the ironies of the project.

        The analysis further states the so-called ‘market rate’ units of the project will also be priced well above actual average Davis market rates.

        2) Why am I renting? My ex-wife committed suicide and it is impossible to afford a mortgage on a single income. Does that answer your stupid, irrelevant personal question about why I am renting?

    2. Richard McCann

      Nishi 2.0 will create more housing which in turn will relieve supply constraints and result in lower rents than would otherwise occur. That’s how true affordable housing is created for a broader population. And Nishi developers will not be able to demand high rents if the market won’t support those rents. West Village had vacancies early on because developers demanded rents that were too high.

      If you want a developer to build for a specific affordable housing segment, you must either provide a subsidy from somewhere else (and redevelopment agencies which use to do this are dead), or accept cheap substandard slumlord construction.

      1. Rik Keller

        R. McCann, Your trickle-down theories of housing affordability don’t fly. If you’ve done your research on regional housing market dynamics and take into account pent-up local demand, you’d know you can’t build your way into affordability. Especially when it comes to high-end, expensive projects.

        The project is projected to have very high rental rates, especially when converted to actual rental cost per unit compared to existing average Davis rents. The marketers only want people to consider the lease rates per bed so as to obfuscate the real rates. There is quite a high ceiling for what top-end rents are in this town, and that is what the project is targeting. The richest of the students will be able to afford to live there, along with a handful of lottery winners crammed two to a room in the ‘affordable’ beds.

        To emphasize what I said before, the project represents a lost opportunity for the number affordable units that COULD be built on the site (if it is indeed an appropriate site for residential uses at all: a whole different debate) with a real affordable housing component that paid more than lip service to the issue. What this could look like would be 2- to 4-bedroom units, leased by the unit, that would rent for rates commensurate with existing average Davis rents. Compared to the $900 projected lease per bed figure I’ve seen for Nishi (a figure that almost certainly includes the ‘affordable’ units, and thus would be higher for the ‘market’ units), average current rents in Davis per bed for market rate leased units based on reported beds/bedroom stats for bed lease units as applied to leased units by bedroom size are as follows: $790/bed for 2-bedroom, $709/bed for 3 bedroom, and $595/bed for 4-bedroom units (based on the 2017 Bay Area Economics study commissioned by UCD that the Nishi project misquotes). Nishi rates per bed would be at least 15-50% higher across the board than the current average market rates. There should also be significant proportion of affordable units (much higher than the paltry 9% of bedrooms proposed by the project) that don’t require a cramming students two to a bedroom to achieve a sham affordability.

        1. Richard McCann

          Rik, you can’t achieve affordability through either rent control or a building to meet a tiny portion of the affordable housing demand. The only answer is to increase overall supply that gets certain population groups out of housing that is not appropriate for them, e.g., students sharing single family housing units. What research do you have that demonstrates that you can’t build your way to affordability?

  10. H Jackson

    “Davis had some of the most restrictive Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions in the region.”

    Just curious, do you have a source to support this statement?  I am interested to explore this issue further.  It would be interesting to research which forces were influential in bringing this about — banks/lenders, real estate outfits, others?

      1. Alan Miller

        it’s real…

        Yes, it’s real, but was it unique or especially egregious in Davis, and was it due to City policies at the time, and at what time?

        If this is how things were all over, that’s one thing.  If Davis is actually built on especially egregious racial bias on historic City policy, let’s put it out there for our City to come to terms with, like Germany with Death Camps, or the U.S. with the slaughter of Native Americans.

        What we shouldn’t do is shout out that Davis is especially bias and not back it up.

        Author!?!?!!!

        1. Alan Miller

          P.S.  For the record, I’d be up for renaming Covell Blvd. due to that mayor’s attempts to block Japanese from returning to Davis after WWII.  Also, we wouldn’t have the problem of people and mail mistakenly going to Cowell Blvd.

          How about Dunning Blvd.?  That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

      2. Ken A

        I have also seen some deed restrictions in CA that basically only allowed WASPs to buy homes (No Catholics Jews or People of Color) but most of them were from 70+ years ago when 90% of us were not even alive (and only a tiny number of people alive today were shopping for a new home)…

  11. Neil Ruud

    Regarding the CC&R’s,  I’ve mostly learned this through speaking with Sociologists, realtors, and some folks who’ve lived in Davis for decades. I actually plan on doing some digging with the County Clerk to focus specifically on this issue after the election becuase I think it’s an important aspect of community development across California that has been swept under the rug.

    On a broader scale, not only were race restrictions rampant and legal until the Rumford Act was passed in 1963, Yolo County voted to repeal the Rumford Act (along with the rest of the state) in the form of Proposition 14, which was later ruled unconstitutional (I also plan on tracking down the vote #s in Davis proper for that year).

  12. Alan Miller

    I think it’s an important aspect of community development across California that has been swept under the rug.

    I agree, and support your efforts to bring this out in the open.  It is important, and these subtle but very real aspects of institutionalized racism gets lost in the “south vs. north”-style teachings (“bad vs. good”) of U.S. slavery.

    I just want to caution about the implication that Davis was/is “more racist” than other places unless that can be backed up by fact.

    1. Howard P

      The “race restrictions” were, as near as I’ve been able to tell, unique to “exclusive” subdivisions, where they had deed restrictions/CC&R’s… so, in Davis, tract housing (done by the evil cookie-cutter developers) often had none.  Have not seen hard copies, but my understanding is it was more a function of individual developers, throughout CA and other states… there was no governmental requirement, in Davis or elsewhere (that I’ve heard of), but local government ‘looked the other way’, to be sure… all the Davis subdivision deed restrictions I’ve seen, were part of City records.

      Reason the City had copies, is that many deed restrictions were actually “disclosures” reflecting zoning and design review (architectural) standards… but at least a dozen areas in town, including much of “Old North”, the subdivider also played the “race card”… which was not illegal by City ordinance, nor State law.

      The ones I’ve seen were from late 40’s, early 50’s…

  13. aaahirsch8

    I suggest the anti-government  arguments of the  “No on J” folks have a lot in common with Tea-Party Republicans.

    The NO argument: “You voters, we know you won’t read the detail, but trust us… we know you will buy in to  the DEEP GOVERNMENT meme. You will  reject the findings of Volunteer on Davis Commissions, Davis City staff, and 5-0 vote of City Council, the over 100 plus people who actually did spent hundreds of hours reading and reviewing stuff.  But you low information voters will believe Davis is just like every other government in America:  Corrupt is the only word to describe the commissioners and even those so-call progressives on city council folks.  We unelected few know best.

     So vote no on J! Send Davis Government a Lesson: Drain the Swamp! Tear it down!

     

    1. Howard P

      Am thininking your “tongue is in cheek” on the last line, and the upper end of the alimentery canal…

      Will say again, all should vote… I sorta’ don’t care which way… outcome doesn’t affect my life… and, yes, I’m voting…

  14. Barbara King

    Some time in the last few months, the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis had an exhibit that included some of the CCNR’s talked about above.  That material is probably still available at the museum.

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