This is what democracy looks like

Hello my babies. It’s been a minute! I’ve been writing. My latest is Myth vs. Fact about SB 827 for the Beacon.

Many groups still vehemently oppose the bill. Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu said it would displace renters and create “a housing boom for a privileged few and eviction notices for everyone else.” The bill has made for strange bedfellows, as Beverly Hills city councilman John Mirisch described SB 827 as “Soviet-style master planning with raging crony capitalism.”

Objections rest on the assumption that upzoning increases land values which drives displacement.

But the data shows that SB 827 isn’t likely to disproportionately impact land prices in vulnerable neighborhoods, and would ease displacement pressures by creating more affordable housing, especially in wealthier, low-density neighborhoods.

In personal news, somehow my life has gotten even more embarrassing since the last blog post.

Unrelatedly, someone recently shouted “white power” at me and my fellow YIMBYs as we were counter-protesting a protest of SB 827. As in, because we support getting new homes that sell at the market rate, (thereby lowering the trajectory of the increase in the market rate) we are white supremacists. It was a clarifying moment for me, as a sliver of empathy crept into my consciousness for Milo Y and Christina Hoff Sommers and even that old coot Charles Murray, all of whom have been shouted down as they tried to speak.

I don’t know. It kind of feels like everyone should be shouting or no one should be shouting. And actually that no one should be shouting. We have signs. Most of us can read. Those who can’t can have the signs read to them in a whisper. Two women shoved Sonja Trauss, though that of course was reported as pushing and shoving on both sides. Why the yelling and shoving? I get that this guy feels embattled. That the stakes are higher perhaps for him than they are for us. That his sense of urgency is strong. Maybe he doesn’t feel that he has access to phone banking and op-ed pages to get his point across. Shelter is a basic human need, and research shows that when you feel that something you need is scarce, your brain actually underperforms. It’s hard to make a well-thought out, empirically sound argument when your brain is malfunctioning.

But I’m not sure who’s served by getting people together on the steps of City Hall to shout insults at each other. (To my knowledge no YIMBYs used insulting language). And to the extent that this guy feels left out of the process, he’s 100% right. Democracy is designed to fulfill the wishes of those who have the time, lack of criminal record, and money to most fully participate. That’s why we have NIMBYism. Renters are 70% of this city yet our housing policy benefits homeowners to the detriment of renters because why? Homeowners have the time and money to get their way. No amount of yelling “white power” on the steps of City Hall will roll back the process by which old white homeowners fuck young renters. Brown people yelling at white people is not what democracy looks like. Democracy looks like a middle-aged white woman named Monica asking the city to block a 50% affordable housing development because losing parking spaces is akin to “ethnic cleansing.” That’s democracy in real life.

Democracy is Redevelopment. Democracy is Forest Hills. Democracy is the process by which the powerful take from vulnerable. The only solutions are to get organized and to put less up for vote.

Getting yelled at reinforced my suspicion that if you leave a live mic up in public it will soon be taken over by Nazis screaming about white supremacy. But now I also realize it’s possible an antifa will get there first. And they will also scream about white supremacy. Sure, government should not moderate speech. But nor should they facilitate it. The mic should be privately owned and moderated. Otherwise it’s just crazy people yelling at each other and that’s not how I want my tax dollars spent.

As for empowering “white power” guy, Noe Valley homeowners’ property values rose by $677,000 last year. That’s not the market at work, that’s government in action. The status quo is unacceptable. I’d love for whatever solutions he supports to get a fair hearing. But in the meantime we’ve got to stop the bleeding. SB 827, SB 35, these are also democracy in action. But unlike 99% of the time, they’re actually creating more affordable housing. They’re helping the dispossessed by taking away the tools the powerful have used to boost their property values and keep their neighborhoods rich and white.

I still don’t love democracy. I wish zoning were not a thing. I think local control over land use is a terrible, terrible idea. But it’s strange to see it kind of seem to work sometimes. Kind of amazing. Democracy sucks but it’s the best thing we’ve got as of now.

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