By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A comment from last week struck me at the time it was written and I have been pondering it for several days now: “If you want to work to build consensus to find solutions on housing with a broad coalition of stakeholders, it is a good idea to work to find common ground first. It is a bad idea to use pejorative phrases and insults that create an adversarial situation.”
It reminds me of calls for a community visioning process whereby the community can come together, put forward a vision, that can then be adopted by our city leaders.
All of that sounds great. Who doesn’t want a more collaborative process that reaches consensus – but is that really realistic?
Since 2016, we have seen five Measure J votes – two on Nishi, two on DISC, and one on WDAAC. Two of those five won fairly easily. Two were narrowly defeated. One was overwhelmingly defeated. None of them were devoid of contention and acrimony.
If anything, moving to district elections is likely to make Davis politics more rather than less contentious. We have already seen this during this round with constant attacks mainly on platforms like NextDoor, but even letters to the editor have become more pointed as in order to knock off an incumbent in a single member district, you have to attack that incumbent.
Things in Davis are probably not as bad as they are in the nation. Probably. Hopefully. Not certainly.
I remember a long time ago reading Tip O’Neill’s book. If you recall, O’Neill was the leader of the Democratic opposition to President Ronald Reagan in the early 80s. They would fight contentiously over policy, but O’Neill was fond of going to the President’s ranch and chopping wood with the President.
When Joe Biden got elected, he had institutional memory from a bygone era where bipartisanship was still possible. He talked during his Presidential run in 2020 of bringing both sides of the aisle together. Whether that was sincere or empty political rhetoric I will leave for another day, but the bottom line – and you can blame both sides of the aisle, it proved impossible.
The nation remains divided as ever – probably more so.
And you could argue that it should be that divided. There is no middle ground on the legitimacy of the 2020 or January 6. When you have a majority of the Republican members of congress believing the lie of the stolen 2020 election, there is no place for common ground.
As I said, hopefully the city of Davis is not nearly as divided as the nation, but things are not headed in the right direction.
Let’s be clear: it may or may not have been a mistake to legally challenge the No on H ballot language. It was certainly a mistake for Dan Carson to have been the one to do so. It was even more a mistake for Carson to ask for attorney fees.
At the same time, I believe that the ballot language was in fact misleading if not false. But the legal remedy was fraught with not only legal risk but political risk. Contrary to the claims of the No on H side, the judge did not rule that their language was accurate, he ruled that it did not rise to such a level of falsehood that it compelled legal action. The ruling on the field stood – the call was not confirmed – if you understand instant replay rules in sports.
I’m sorry, but my reaction to all of this is that if you want to complain about the use of the term NIMBY, perhaps you should look at the language used to demonize every single project that has come before the voters and many that came before council.
Developer has long been a four-letter word in Davis. The motives of citizens who support housing projects are called into question. Politicians are accused of being shills or “stooges” for developers (even in a letter published today).
And you want to complain about the use of the term NIMBY? You want to talk about consensus?
That’s not to defend the conduct of either side in this debate. Both sides have made mistakes. But the well was poisoned long before those who believe that our lack of affordability in housing is permanently changing and altering the character of this community started to push back.
It is clear that the adversarial process for city planning is flawed.
Look no further than the University Commons project. Brixmor purchased the University Mall – a dilapidated and antiquated facility. The city pushed for them to include mixed use housing given the underutilization of the site and its proximity to the university.
But this is not Sim City. There are actual costs to redevelopment that make it prohibitive (which is why we used to subsidize it through RDA money). In order to pencil it out, Brixmor figured it would take about seven stories. That was too tall for the neighbors – rightly or wrongly.
What transpired was the worst of all worlds, an adversarial process, a compromise on the dais, and an agreement that no one was happy with. After attempting to make it pencil out for a couple of years, Brixmor finally conceded and will now not do the infill project. Instead it will be commercial only.
For those asking for infll as our way out of the housing crisis – it was a blow. To those arguing for consensus, it was a blow.
How do we move forward? If you don’t like the term NIMBY, fine. But what happens when every single proposal meets with the same response from the same people, over and over again? When there are accusations of impropriety on every single project?
Expecting one side to stand down, is not going to work. Is there a middle ground? I don’t know. I would to hear it. But unfortunately, I think things are going to get worse before they get better.