There was a moment in the Nishi campaign during the candidates forum during an exchange between opponent Colin Walsh and Sandy Whitcombe, representing the applicant team where weeks of absurd nitpicking comments by the opposition finally came home to roost.
Finally, Sandy Whitcombe had enough, she said, “There’s no way to get financing for a $100 million project telling the bank, oh and by the way, we don’t know how people are going to get here.”
She then said, “We need to focus on reality and the need and the merits of the project and not all these weird red herrings. This is serious, let’s get rational. People need housing. This is good for everybody.”
That might not have been the “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moment that forever doomed Dan Quayle as a serious public figure, but it embodied the absurd arguments opposition on their way to being routed in the election.
That was kind of how I reacted upon receiving the letter from the Fair Housing Council of Orange County. The email that came in just before 1 am from Alan Pryor seemed at first like it would simply double-down on fair housing claims already made by the opposition.
Directed to Katherine Hess, the group, not a government agency, but rather a private 501c3 located in Santa Ana with a more official sounding name, describes their mission as conducting “fair housing education, counseling and enforcement activities.”
In their letter they write: “We have recently become aware of the above-referenced development project proposed to be built within the city of Davis. We became aware of the project as a result of the concerns raised by some of the project’s opponents regarding a possible resident preference to be imposed in 90% of the housing in favor of individuals that are “Davis-connected.”
But instead of going down that road, they quickly veer away writing: “While we believe that aspect may raise some legitimate fair housing issues, that is not what has prompted this letter.”
What is their concern?
So what is their concern?
They write: “Our concern goes directly to the name that has been given to the project. More particularly the use of the term ‘active adult.'”
Why? They explain that while fair housing and civil rights laws recognize senior housing, “those laws do not recognize or sanction adult-only or otherwise age restricted housing within California that falls outside of the specific definition of what constitutes senior housing. Straightforwardly, housing that is described as ‘adult’ housing rather than senior housing may give the impression that families with children are not welcome to live in that community.”
Of course this is a name – not a policy.
Nevertheless, we are then told, “don’t use” the following terms:
– “Adult” – It has been illegal to have an adults-only community since the addition of the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988.
– “Active” – Every senior should be welcome, whether active or not active. The Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA) specifically addresses housing for persons over the age of 55 and/or 62 and the best way to identify those folks is the word “Senior.”
– “Empty nester” – the exemption is based upon age of occupants, not familial status.
– “Adult Living” or “Adult Community” – Some state and local enforcement agencies claim these phrases are illegal as the terms are incompatible with the requirement.”
Writes the opponents of the project: “It is apparent that this grievous – and possibly illegal – fundamental problem in the simple naming of the West Davis Active Adult Community senior project calls into question the overall competency of the entire project management team (David & Jason Taormino and Neighborhood Partners LLC) to manage such a complicated real estate endeavor. At minimum, there is going to have to be another apology to the community and some very quick rebranding to comply with legal marketing requirements.”
I have to tell you, it was really hard to take this thing seriously. To make matters worse, the opposition had sent this to me at the last moment, asking me to post their statement along with the letter. It seemed reasonable to simply post a link to the letter which I uploaded at the bottom of their statement. That apparently wasn’t enough for them.
I have to tell you, I was up in Woodland most of yesterday covering three murder trials – one of which involved two teenagers who were missing for over a year and the other two involving Davis incidents – while down in Davis people are complaining about the name of a senior housing project and whether the words “Active” and “Adult” are appropriate words.
So here we have brutal murders going on in our own community and we are debating over whether the name “Active Adult Community” – again THE NAME – is “misguided and probably illegal.”
It is hard to take this stuff seriously.
As one poster put it: “I’m a far left liberal, but this is just PCism run amuck.”
Later they put it another way: “ You’re actually not only harming your own campaign, but you’re setting back the cause of racial justice in this community by at least a decade. The next time someone has a racial claim, it will be that much easier to dismiss.”
In fairness, I think Eric Gelber is correct that this issue “has nothing to do with race issues.”
But given the overall attempts by the No on L campaign to claim racial disparities, some will have to be forgiven for seeing this whole thing tied together.
From my perspective, the opponents of the project should have asked themselves a very simple question – at this point there is a group of people who are going to be voting for the project no matter what and there will be another group of people who will be voting against the project no matter what.
So then ask yourself, who is in the middle? Are they likely to be swayed by this type of argument?
I have talked to a lot of people in the last few weeks that could go either way with their vote and they are weighing the sorts of issues that I am. A lot of them like the large affordable project and do not see another way to address that need in the near future, but are concerned with peripheral development, the low density of the project, and whether single family homes for seniors is our biggest need.
In the last two weeks, the No on L project should double down on these issues that actually address people who are in the middle’s concerns and leave the weird red herrings for another day.
—David M. Greenwald reporting