By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Darryl Rutherford in my opinion, nailed it in his recent op-ed published in the Vanguard. I have long reached the conclusion that people who call themselves progressives in Davis are less interested in equity and more interested in opposing housing.
In short, they have become—whatever they might have been—simply the party of no.
As Rutherford put it, they “complain about any changes in Davis, lob personal attacks at those actually working to improve our city, and do everything they can to sway the public away from true racial, social, environmental, and economical progress.”
He added that “it didn’t take me long to realize that they were just anti-housing/anti-development advocates rather than actual progressives. They had no interest in furthering strategies that promote racial, economic, and environmental sustainability.”
In 2008, the vast majority of Davis residents cast their ballots both in primary and the general election for Barack Obama. Many proudly supported the first Black President of the United States.
But there was a disconnect between their advocacy at the national level and that at the local level. Two years before, many had turned their heads as thousands of UC Davis students marched on the police station demanding accountability for racial profiling.
In 2013, reacting to the death of Trayvon Martin, Obama said, “When Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. “
And yet, the land use policies that many progressives in Davis support help to lock young Blacks and people of color out of our community, out of opportunities for a better life through education and prosperity.
Whether intentional or unintentional, opposition to new housing means opposition to new affordable housing as well and it means preserving a status quo that denies people who cannot afford to buy into the Davis market with that sort of opportunity.
When Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, came to speak in Davis in 2019 before a packed audience, he called out Davis on its own hypocrisy.
One person asked, “How can we maintain that small town feel and still deal with our housing issues?”
Richard Rothstein rose to the mic one more time, and stated that a “small town feel is a euphemism for segregated community.”
While this particular audience roared with approval, I wonder how many residents of this community have even thought about the issue.
The same month, scores of Mace Ranch residents showed up in opposition to the respite center being located on Second Street.
City staff predicted that any location would likely generate considerable opposition from near-neighbors. Original opposition argued that this would put homeless people into close contact with school children going to and from classes.
The overwhelming opposition was in the form of fear of safety concerns and concerns about visual blight and nuisances.
Pastor John Castlefranco explained that his congregation has been part of the rotating winter shelter program since its inception in 2005, and in their time of doing this, “we’ve never had any problems.”
Police Chief Darren Pytel added that the shelters have generated very few calls for service, stating that “we’ve had a lot of users of the program and we’ve had very few law enforcement problems with the shelters.”
Eric Dirkson, a Christian Minister said that he has worked with and gotten to know many folks who are experiencing homelessness.
“It’s important to remember that we’re dealing not with a problem, but with people,” he said. “If folks have a safe space to spend their time, crime does simply go down.”
He recommended that people volunteer and work with the homeless, “it will humanize this entire issue for you.”
Meanwhile there is the ongoing issue with Pacifico. The neighbors voiced some legitimate concerns about nuisance generated around the facility. But the solution proposed was not to crack down on the problems, but to repurpose the facility away from serving the needs of vulnerable residents facing a real possibility of homelessness.
The council took the position that they supported the concept of the residential treatment facility, that it was something they supported—but perhaps not there. The problem remains—if not there, where?
The opposition evoked a rare consensus from the leadership in both the DA’s and Public Defender’s Office.
In a 2019 op-ed, they noted, “Before we can hope to address homelessness, we have to understand the people who experience it.”
They write: “Many people who are homeless struggle with mental illness, addiction or a chronic health issue. All, however, struggle with the stigma and social disgrace associated with their homelessness condition.”
As they point out: “The debate in Davis over the Pacifico complex is emblematic of conversations unfolding in communities throughout the state. With homelessness issues surging to the forefront statewide, finding solutions to the issues of mental health and addiction become increasingly urgent.”
What we have seen in this community, whether it is dealing with people of color, affordable housing, homelessness, drug treatment or mental illness the view is—no. Not here. Now now. Not this.
This community, it seems, is progressive when the problem is over there, but not willing to shoulder the burden of solving the problems here and now. There is always a reason to oppose change. There is always a reason not to do something.
As Darryl Rutherford put it, “Keep in mind that these policies have not only excluded people marginalized by race and class, but they have also forced young professional families out of our town.”
Increasingly I see this as a community that is great at talking the talk, but very poor when it comes to walking the walk.