Bapu Vaitla Addresses Davis CAN on the Need for Housing

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

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.

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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  1. Ron Glick

    “And hopefully over time, those bonds of trust can be created.”

    The best way for our leaders to engender trust is through leading by example. Just in the last fortnight members of the Davis City Council passed a climate action plan then got on an airplane and flew off to Washington DC blowing a hole in their personal carbon footprints.

    Another lack of leadership is advocating for more density while living in some of the least dense housing in Davis.

    Robb Davis was likely the most universally respected member of the Davis City Council in many years. Why? He led by example. The current CC members would be wise to emulate his leadership style.

    1. Walter Shwe

      I must respectfully disagree with Ron Glick. By far the fastest way to travel to DC is by air. It literally takes days to go to DC by any other method. They must have boarded an already scheduled commercial flight that would have flown with or without them. If Mr. Glick wanted to go to DC, what method would he employ? The answer to my question will be revealing.

      1. Matt Williams

        Walter, I believe you have missed Ron Glick’s point.  The issue isn’t simply traveling to Washington.  An important part is whether the travel to Washington was necessary and/or productive.  Members of City Council have been going to Washington almost every year for well over a decade.  The question that Ron Glick is indirectly asking is what tangible benefit has Davis gotten from these annual Cap To Cap trips.  What contributions to local Economic Development have been realized as a result of these trips?  How have these trips addressed our local housing affordability issues?

        Unfortunately the answers to those accountability questions are elusive, and as a result we are left with Ron Glick’s spot on observation.

        1. Richard_McCann

          The value of relationship building is always difficult, but we do know that is quite valuable in our representative democracy. Sometimes its in actions NOT taken because of the relationship. Not everything of value has to be quantified (and I’m an economist who spends much of work on environmental topics where we try to quantify benefits and costs.) So unless someone can clearly demonstrate that relationship building is a waste of time, such trips are justified.

        2. Ron Glick

          A quick google search shows that a round trip plane ticket to the east coast from SF generates 2-3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Burning one therm of methane generates 11.66 pounds of carbon dioxide. So a back of the envelope calculation estimates that one plane ticket generated 4-6 times as much CO2 as running my house during the coldest March I can remember. If I use last year’s value its more like 6-8 times.

          As I said above, its about leadership by example. The CC discussed at length whether to make end of life replacement of gas appliances with electric appliances mandatory at the last meeting. Then a bunch of them jump on a jet to go to DC. Its not a good look.

          At least Greta Thunberg knew enough about leadership to sail to a conference on global warming.


  2. Ron Oertel

    As I noted yesterday, there’s an interesting article below in regard to a former mayor of Bend, Oregon (and the “results” of his earlier success to encourage growth).  Which ended up biting him (personally) in the you-know-what, as he ended up homeless himself (partly as a result of that pursuit – which focused upon making Bend a “destination” for those escaping big cities – which is still occurring to this day).

    Similar to how Davis (and the Sacramento region) had become a destination for those moving out of the Bay Area. (However, Sacramento is now experiencing some of the steepest home price declines in the entire country.) Typical boom-and-bust, similar to Phoenix, Las Vegas, . . .

    Of course, in the former mayor’s case, mental illness and substance abuse were reportedly the primary causes (as usual). But apparently did not surface until later in life.

    In any case, the article notes that homeless people were a presence in that city even before the mayor and his friends made it expensive via their pursuit of growth.

  3. Richard_McCann

    I’m glad to see this new leadership coming together to address the housing problems in this community. I hope they can build the coalitions required to move us forward.

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