Community Comes Together to Discuss Privilege, Discrimination and Housing Solutions

Richard Rothstein speaking in Davis in 2019

By David M. Greewald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – It was November 2019, and the community didn’t know it at the time but their lives were about to dramatically change in just a few months.  But more than 200 people packed into the Davis Community Church to hear Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law—a book on the manner in which the American government deliberately imposed racial segregation on housing—discuss the history of housing discrimination.

For Ellen Kolarik and Vera Sandronsky it would be a life changing experience.

A member of the audience asked, “How can we maintain that small town feel and still deal with our housing issues?”

Rothstein responded, “That small town feel is a euphemism for a segregated community.”

As Kolarik and Sandronsky explained to the Vanguard, Interfaith Housing Justice Davis (IHJD) formed as a response to Rothstein’s call to action. IHJD is a loose coalition of faith organizations in Davis who advocate for changes in city policy to encourage more affordable housing, the first step in desegregating a community.

Next month, the group will partner with the Davis League of Women Voters to present an evening with Leah Rothstein. Leah, the daughter of Richard, has co-authored with her father the book Just Action (release spring 2023).

Just Action describes what we can do now, in our own communities, to undo racial segregation and begin to repair the harms it has caused us all.

For Kolarik, a retired ophthalmologist from Kaiser, who did not go to the 2019 event, her friends told her, “You have to read this book.  And I did.  It was kind of an epiphany about understanding why we have, why whites are so damn rich and blacks and other minorities are so darn poor.”

Kolarik recognized, along with other people at the church, “this was a really valuable topic to study in depth.”

Sandronsky in the meantime was going through a parallel process.  “I was at the event in 2019.  I didn’t know the history, but I was very taken by it, it was a memorable evening.”

At the same time, she said, “I didn’t then think, Okay, I’m going to launch into activism. I was still working. My daughter was  starting her senior year. My life felt very busy.”

But having gotten more active at the end of her law career with the election of Trump in 2016, she said, “I felt like I needed to do something.”  I wanted to have some kind of local political engagement that felt tangible and sort of more knowable than just working on these long structural issues at the national level.”

Kolarik explained, “When I read The Color of Law, I was guilty.  I read already a number of books on white privilege.”  It was when she retired from Kaiser five years ago, “At that point, I suddenly had enough time to lift my nose off the grindstone and look at the larger world, there was no time before.”

She said reading the book Waking Up White was her “first epiphany about white privilege.”

But she said, “When I read Color of Law, it was like well, okay, now I can see concretely how my own family has benefited from this.  It was against the law or it should have been.  And it was so unfair.  The unfairness of it just deeply troubles me.”

Sandronsky , an attorney who retired in 2020, became more active politically following the Trump election, but came from a very politically active family.  She said that she started getting active, using the skills she had as an attorney, but when she did some work for a national nonprofit, “I never got an acknowledgement of the work I did.  I did a substantial amount.  I felt like I made a really important contribution, but it pulled me that, for my activism, at least some of it I need to pair with some social nexus with the people I’m active with.”

That caused her to focus more locally on housing issues.

“Richard Rothstein’s book, in the thesis it’s memorable.  I believe it,” she explained.

Kolarik described themselves as a group of “novitiates.”  They had no experience with this sort of work.  “We’re beginning to understand the cultural aspect of this, which is so key to moving forward. And I’m beginning to appreciate that many of the reasons I came to Davis are the reasons others came to Davis. And some of them are actually rather shallow. But here I am.”

Kollarik explained, “A lot of the things that I liked are not necessarily healthy or good for a long term community. And I would like to help others understand what I’ve learned, that we need a culture shift if we want to have a community that is truly diversified. If we want a community that truly cares for the unsheltered, which is part of this housing issue, one spectrum. I want to wake people up.”

Sandronsky explained that there are policy and structural changes needed.  But she said, “Yes, there are policy decisions, but there also is a need for greater revenues to work with for the continuum of housing needs.”

She said, “So my hope is that the group can be part of a discussion about a culture shift, but also looking for real solutions for our community, or at least the solutions that were within our grounds.”

One idea would be a tax or a funding stream for an affordable housing trust fund.

Kolarik added, “We need a revenue stream because the things that need to happen are big and big things need money. And part of the culture shift is, I’m hoping, encouraging people to understand that there’s some sacrifice involved if we’re going to create a better community.”

One of those sacrifices is paying more taxes.

She acknowledged, “That’s a hard sell, that’s a big culture change when people already feel they’re being overtaxed. But to me, it’s one of the things I’m hoping that we can work on.”

At the same time, while Davis may be a fairly progressive community, it is also an upper middle class, heavily white community that often doesn’t recognize its own privilege.

Sandronsky explained, “They don’t realize the context that they’re in and what goes along with it.”

She added, “People don’t understand how they’re part of the story. Like they think passively if they just have these values that they’re okay, but they don’t see how these values get applied or that they need to support decisions that will make our community a more diverse, equitable place.”

She said she does think that Davis has a strong faith community.

“I think we can help encourage these conversations, be part of them,” she said.

Kolarik added, “I think the issue is that a lot of folks like us who live in Davis, and I’m using us as more like the Davis community, we don’t recognize our privilege. And when we do think about our values, we don’t recognize that to carry those values out to real fruition, it requires some level of sacrifice.”

For her, “As soon as the sacrifice piece hits, we step away because we really weren’t prepared for that.”

The event in November happened when they approached Rothstein and were somewhat surprised to find him a warm and engaging person.

The event will be on November 17 at 6:30 pm at Bet Haverim (http://bit.ly/justactionhousing)

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 Comments

  1. Keith Olson

    It was November 2019, and the community didn’t know it at the time but their lives were about to dramatically change in just a few months. 

    How so?  I hope you’re not going to say what I think you are.

  2. Keith Olson

    One idea would be a tax or a funding stream for an affordable housing trust fund.

    One of those sacrifices is paying more taxes.

    With high inflation, income not keeping up with inflation, higher interest rates and people struggling in many cases just to put food on the table I doubt trying to tax Davis homeowners in order to create a fund to build housing for others is going to get approved.

     

      1. Ron Glick

        Yes, for over 50 years since Johnson and Nixon overspent on the Vietnam War inflation has been devaluing the dollar continuously when measured on an annual basis. It has been higher or lower over time depending on various factors but I do expect it to last forever because inflation serves as a hidden tax that allows the government to overspend.

      2. Keith Olson

        No, but most likely for years.  The thing is once the price of things have gone up and inflation eases the higher prices still remain in place.  So in essence it never goes away.

        1. David Greenwald

          A long term solution should not be blocked by a short term problem.

          But perhaps more fundamentally, we cannot attempt to help others only when it’s convenient.

      3. Keith Olson

        But perhaps more fundamentally, we cannot attempt to help others only when it’s convenient.

        It would be “convenient” if people could afford it.
        “Socialism works only until you run out of other people’s money.” Margaret Thatcher

        1. Bill Marshall

          “Socialism works only until you run out of other people’s money.” Margaret Thatcher

          More than a kernel of truth in that… a significant majority of those I’ve known who advocate more taxes, etc., to help the ‘less privileged’ are actually parsimonious about their own giving of contributions… words, yes, $$$, not so much…

        2. Walter Shwe

          During a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday, United States Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-California) grilled Mike Konczal, the director of Macroeconomic Analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, over the primary cause of inflation in the post-COVID-19 economy.

          Equipped with one of her easy-to-read, data-filled posters, Porter got Konczal to admit that surging corporate profits are forcing American consumers to pay significantly more for goods and services.

          “According to this chart, what is the biggest driver of inflation during the pandemic? The blue – the dark blue is the recent period,” Porter pointed out.

          “It would be corporate profits,” Konczal confirmed.

          “And what is that percentage?” Porter asked.

          “It is 54 percent,” Konczal replied, “and that number does stay that level of high if you update that number to more recent numbers as well.”

          https://www.salon.com/2022/10/19/katie-porter-pulls-out-chart-at-hearing-to-show-corporate-greed-is-the-biggest-driver-of-inflation_partner/

        3. Keith Olson

          Corporations make a profit because that’s what they’re in business for.  It’s always been that way, but current inflation isn’t their fault.  It’s widely known that inflation has been caused by too much money being thrown into the economy by the gov’t, supply and distribution problems and the fact that Biden has curtailed our oil and gas production which has driven up the costs of almost everything with higher delivery costs.

  3. Ron Glick

    Not much can be done on any of this as long as we make annexing land into the City so cumbersome by requiring popular elections under Measure J. Not much to reverse the trend on declining school population, reverse historic segregation, provide Affordable Housing, stop the exodus of newly formed families to where they can afford housing or reduce the unaffordability of housing for young families that don’t have intergenerational wealth.

    Raising taxes might make retired rich locals feel like they are doing their part but as long as we value farmland over housing not much will change for the better.

      1. Ron Glick

        LOL. There is no other solution. I’m not the one in denial David, you are, all the candidates for City Council are, the voters are. Yesterday an article on declining enrollment said that enrollment peaked in 2005. No coincidence there with a five year lag after the passage of Measure J and the subsequent increase in housing prices and the failure of Covell Village. All these articles about overcoming the skeletons of our history without addressing the elephant in the room are little more than mental masturbation.

        Measure J is like GOP office holders support for Trump. Talk to public officials privately and they all know its true that Measure J prevents improvement on any of the issues I listed above. But just like you they are afraid to speak truth to power.

        1. David Greenwald

          I happen to believe you are in denial about the political practicality of your solution. You can spend all the time you want talking about Measure J, but eliminating it is magical thinking for the foreseeable future and will prevent us from seeking out more workable solutions.

        2. Ron Glick

          I’m not in denial about the political realities at all David. I’m not the one writing articles that purport to try to address the problems of the community exacerbated by  Measure J while supporting it and opposing peripheral development of farmland. I’m simply continuously calling out the elephant the room. The elephant you have never been willing to call out.

          [edited]

      2. Keith Y Echols

        Come up with another solution. Yours won’t work.

        Nor will any of the other solutions if you still consider housing a problem.  All but the irrationally stupid understand that infill development alone is not a solution to housing availability and affordability.  I think even David has admitted that infill alone isn’t a solution.  He plays along with the infill only development crowd because at least they’re proposing something that isn’t dead in the water from the start (but give it enough time and there’s a chance the neighbors might shutdown an infill project).  But I think even he knows that if Davis wants sufficiently more housing, it’s going to need to support some form of peripheral development.  But then of course there’s Measure J.

        Rock meet hard place.

        1. Don Shor

          Funding for affordable housing will come from the state or federal government. Those projects could be on peripheral land since they would be exempt from Measure J.

          Funding for workforce housing and some affordable housing will come from the private sector, but only if there’s sufficient profit from the other parts of any project to allow the development proposal to meet industry standards for ROI. Builders really need to be brought into these discussions, but there would have to be a trust level established first.

          Local parcel taxes might raise enough revenues to help with small affordable housing projects but would more likely only be sufficient to augment vouchers or short-term hotel stays. We don’t have enough parcels to tax at politically-acceptable levels to provide for much more than that.

          Local income tax would require charter city status, in which case this particular tax proposal would have to get in line with a whole lot of others that would instantly come forward.

          Infill isn’t going to do it. Local funding isn’t going to do it. I think everyone really knows that, but it seems to be very hard for them to acknowledge it.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          Funding for affordable housing will come from the state or federal government. Those projects could be on peripheral land since they would be exempt from Measure J.

          Not necessarily.  Funding for affordable housing may come from the federal government and even the state government.  It will likely provide some form of supplemental funding for affordable housing. But affordable/workforce housing development should be primarily driven by for profit housing developments.  Even if those for profit projects are developed by the public like school districts and local governments to create public housing. 

          Funding for workforce housing and some affordable housing will come from the private sector, but only if there’s sufficient profit from the other parts of any project to allow the development proposal to meet industry standards for ROI. 

          I provided a blend of market rate, work force and affordable housing in my basic example.  I chose it because 51% of workforce and affordable housing can get a multi-unit (10+ units) project through the state ministerial process that bypasses local approval.  The 49% market rate units pay for the project.  In my example local government and school districts are the developers and create both private and public housing.

        3. Ron Glick

          “All but the irrationally stupid understand that infill development alone is not a solution to housing availability and affordability.”

          Or they might be intellectually dishonest instead of irrationally stupid. I think that is the case with most if not all of our CC candidates and other influencers in town. One elected told me that not supporting the renewal of Measure J in 2020 would be political suicide.

          As a friend likes to say are they lying or are they stupid?

  4. Ron Glick

    “…it is magical thinking for the foreseeable future and will prevent us from seeking out more workable solutions.”

    I posed a question to a local  elected official who shall remain nameless after all the candidates for CC candidates claimed they wanted to solve our housing problems but opposed peripheral development. My question was “How do you do that?”

    This person’s answer was a simple “You can’t.”

  5. Dave Hart

    Well I must say, this discussion thread came the closest to the truth of the problem of dealing with adequate housing.  We need resources, and very big ones like on the order of the New Deal that everyone is afraid to look at with clear eyes.  Mr. Glick, who I believe is a big hearted individual, seems to think the federal government needs to tax us to pay for things.  This isn’t true and has not been true for a very long time.  Not a seminal, but a milestone book, “The Deficit Myth” by Stephanie Kelton, explains how, with proper allocation of spending and policy choices, we can propel out economy to do good things, big things (like housing) without incurring destructive inflation.  And lest you think this is some kind of left wing Marxist rant, understand that the [Republican party] could just as easily implement these kind of policies without violating their so-called principles.

    1. Ron Glick

      Dave Hart, I think you confuse my description of our economic condition with prescription. My remark about raising taxes was responding to someone cited in the article.

  6. Ron Oertel

    It was kind of an epiphany about understanding why we have, why whites are so damn rich and blacks and other minorities are so darn poor.”

    Except that it isn’t true, when it comes to Asians.  (And I believe increasingly, Hispanics.)

    Per an article I read on The Chronicle recently, Asians earn significantly more than white households, on average.

    Good for them.  Anyone want to “guess” as to the reason for that?  (Here’s a hint – it’s not due to discrimination.)

    No one cares about their own skin color, or that of your neighbors, friends (and increasingly – relatives). They care about themselves and those close to them as individuals. Other than those who make it a “business”, that is.

    At some point, I might do some research into “redlining”, as I suspect it was primarily-driven by economic interests (rather than explicitly skin color). Of course, the root of that is likely due to discrimination. But from what I’ve seen of the business world, they’re more “color-blind” than any other entity (except for the color “green”).

    How’s that “Davis buyer’s program” working out, these days at Bretton Woods? Helping to maintain that “small town feel” discussed in this article?

  7. Todd Edelman

    Aside from support of Paul’s Place and other programs or events, and the commitment of Davis Community Church to build housing on its property in the context of the Downtown Plan, how much energy and resources has the Faith Community put into housing on the many large parking lots used by Faith Businesses? Not saying it would result in a huge amount of new units, BUT many churches around town have rather large and not consistently or daily-used to capacity parking lots – and also decorative turf areas – that should at least be considered for a study on construction viability.

    I recognize that in many places the City still prioritizes storing private motor vehicles for long or short periods over providing homes for self-aware, fleshy bags of warm water, and that it’s foolish to assume that the Faith Community in general would have higher ethics on the subject.  Still, we have those good examples I mentioned at the top!

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’m starting to come-around to you on this.

      Every time I see that (Baptist?) church open-space area on Pole Line, for example.  Can’t remember at the moment if it’s also partly a parking lot, or just entirely a lawn / wild turkey sanctuary.

      Not to be “discriminatory”, but “turkey gangsters”, as it were. Probably didn’t have enough services available to them, when they were still turklings. And now they’ve grown up to be turkeys without homes, causing havoc for all of the upstanding citizens throughout the neighborhood. Not to mention their cars, which I suspect you’re “cheering on”. 🙂

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