By David M. Greenwald
Councilmember Bapu Vaitla started out his talk commenting on the recent tragedies, including the murder of David Breaux, which he used to segue into a talk about housing.
Here are some excerpts of his remarks…
I would like to say something difficult that ties to all of this and it relates to David (Breaux) in particular. I know we’ve had a couple of tragedies and I know the father of the second victim quite well, so that is sort of sitting heavily with me as well. But just to, just to sort of say a little bit about David’s situation and how that relates to what we’re trying to do here. And again, this is going to be some hard words for all of us, but I don’t say in the spirit of feeling shame or feeling judgment, but because I think it’s the truth. And that is that even though David’s death was an act of what we might call senseless violence, I hesitate to call it random—I think it was a failure of community and a failure of government.
I believe that and I, it pains me to say that I know there are individuals in this room that loved him and supported him very strongly, very deeply. And I’m not speaking about individuals. I’m speaking collectively because in the final analysis, we were unable to take care of David—and the outcome illustrates that. And all over California, right now tens of thousands of people are sleeping in the street. And some have been, don’t have access to shelter. They tried, they didn’t get access to shelter.
Others like David sometimes refused shelter because the shelter didn’t meet their needs for their wants or because they didn’t trust the system that was supposed to protect them. And that lack of trust comes from trauma. It comes from trust having been broken for decades.
So they sleep on the street and they put themselves in a great risk of violence. And frankly we think now David was a random victim. But it’s just a phenomenon of living on the street in California, increasing the other places you’re exposed to assault, you’re exposed to violence.
But it is the kind of uncomfortable truth that I keep returning to, is that as a matter of policy and as a matter of culture, we knowingly all the time put many individuals at risk of harm night after night, all over this state and all over this country. And for now, communities like ours, we’re not the only one. But communities like ours have restricted, as a choice, housing opportunity. In consequence, people suffer.
And let me be very clear on this point, because the evidence is clear and the evidence is overwhelming. The most powerful fundamental forces driving houselessness are not mental illness and substance use, they’re lack of housing units. We don’t have enough housing.
Housing markets are broken, and we broke them. We broke them to protect the value of our single family homes, to preserve the character of our community, to live our version of the American dream.
There are good reasons, environmental reasons have slowed down development. But I’ll say here that even those reasons, that narrative is always knowingly or unknowingly been incomplete, because there’s always been options to do housing in a way that’s compact, that’s dense, that’s environmentally friendly, that’s climate friendly, and that’s affordable to people of all income levels, that middle way.
We haven’t chosen that path. We’ve instead chosen to preserve a status quo that satisfies our needs. And now we are in this crisis of our own creation. We did this together, not just the Republican party, not died in the wool, not in my backyard people, not climate deniers. We did this, we created this. And so now it’s time to create something else.
Davis CAN, in my eyes, you know, knowing the people who are involved is the most hopeful movement around both social justice, climate action, environmental justice that I’ve seen in a long time, if ever in Davis.
I know personally many of the people who are involved, some I don’t. But they are without exception, humble, thoughtful, hardworking, passionate people. It’s a kind of a can’t miss group.
If I had to choose one, a one word answer to how good change happens in this world, it’s that people organize. That’s what they do when you organize, change happens. And that’s ultimately what this is about.
The other thing I think, innovative thing here, is that D-CAN has very consciously positioned itself at the intersection of housing and climate, and that meets the needs of the moment
I want to talk a little bit about the relationship of city council to this effort to groups like this. And then there’s two points that I want to make about our relationship and the tensions that the very real tensions that we have to acknowledge exist between city council and community groups.
One sort of minor point, but one that needs to be mentioned is that you won’t always see us standing by your side in activist actions. And the reason is a simple legal reason where if we raise our voice on issues about which we’re going to vote, we have to recuse ourself from voting on its issues.
I’ve kind of received a very painful education recusal a couple of weeks ago. I will say that just because you don’t see us in public, doesn’t mean we can’t support you in other ways, and that you can’t reach out.
The other more critical thing to say is, again, it’s important to recognize there’s going to be tensions, there’s going to be ups and downs. That’s okay. And I think sometimes that it’s necessary. We’re all here working for the common good, but we do have different roles. And part of your role is to push us to be better public servant. That’s the reality.
And part of our role is to sometimes take a broad view and make unpopular decisions that will seem to groups that are passionate and committed, like change is not coming quickly enough. I’m not asking you to accept those decisions, but I am asking us to build a relationship of mutual respect and communication and also admitting our mistakes when we make mistakes and being transparent about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
And hopefully over time, those bonds of trust can be created.