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Monday, July 23, 2007

Commentary: Weintraub's Critique of Davis Fails to Understand the Fundamentals of Liberalism

I read Daniel Weintraub's critique of Davis in the Sacramento Bee: "Liberal town? Davis is white, wealthy and conservative" with somewhat mixed emotions.

After all I have been a strong critic of Davis' liberal persona at times. In fact, I was quoted in the Bee in January saying:
"Davis isn't as liberal as it thinks."
The irony however is that when I say that "Davis isn't as liberal as it thinks", I am in large part talking about the opposite things that Weintraub is talking about.

As many know, one of my main critiques of Davis has been the failure by some in this community to acknowledge what I have termed "the dark underbelly." The portion of Davis beneath the liberal veneer, that can allow incidents of racism and intolerance to brew without scrutiny. The denial on the part of some as to whether there have been problems in the past with practices by some police officers that call for police oversight. The problems that we have seen in the last year at the high school and junior high with racial incidence of intolerance and bigotry. The failure by school administrators to properly handle these incidents. These are parts of my critique on the persona of liberal Davis.

However, another aspect of this critique is in many ways the inconsistency between public rhetoric by officials and government policy. We see at the same time, members of the Davis City Council talking about environmentalism, talking about global warming, but at the same time supporting massive developments that will lead inevitably to traffic and pollution problems. Supporting the building of big-box retail stores that are globally unsustainable and add vastly to our carbon footprint both as a community and globally. There is a fundamental incompatibility with the expressed concern for global warming and the support for unsustainable policies at home.

Again this is my critique of Davis. Weintraub is complaining about Davis because Davis has failed to grow fast enough for his liking apparently--this in itself is somewhat of a myth. In the 1950s, Davis was a town of a few thousand people and it has grown to a town of nearly 70,000. Contrary to the slow-growth myth, Davis has been a city that has grown rapidly.

The editorial cites Supervisor Helen Thomson's daughter as not being able to buy a home in Davis--a topic that Supervisor Thomson brought up at the Board of Supervisor's meeting last week and that I criticized on this blog during that meeting. In fact, a friend drove me through a Davis neighborhood near the Covell site and I saw a large number of homes that Supervisor Thomson's daughter could afford--unfortunately, she was looking for them at the wrong time it seems. The housing market is considerably better now than it was a few years back.

Moreover, the solution to the problem of housing is not the kind of developments put forward by Supervisor Helen Thomson either at Covell Village which she supported or the county level which were shelved.

Mr. Weintraub writes:
"When Helen Thomson's daughter went looking for housing a few years ago in her native Davis, the cheapest thing she could find was a half-million-dollar fixer-upper.

The home reeked from the smell of too many cats, and the floors sloped. "If you dropped a marble at the front door," Thomson says, "it would roll through the house and into the back yard." Her daughter settled for a house in West Sacramento instead."
In fact, had Covell Village gone through, that is what largely would have been built--absent the cat odor.

The irony is that Davis is hardly alone in Northern California in terms of unaffordability of homes--and those communities largely run the gamut in terms of ethnicity and growth policies. The Bay Area particularly the east and south bay have had large growth and remain highly unaffordable. The basic problem is that demand exceeds supply and that will largely be the case regardless of growth policies--unless Davis is to grow so fast that it becomes more like Lodi and less like Davis. Is that really what we are aiming for?

I am still unclear as to how supporting sustainable growth, agricultural preservation, and environmental protection policies makes Davis conservative?

Have we changed our definitions here to make developers the vanguard of liberalism? To be liberal means to support rapid growth, paving over of agricultural land and nature preserves?

The irony of this is that the projects that have been supported would be building homes that are very large. These policies involve building homes that cost well over what Supervisor Thomson's daughter could afford. And in reality, they involve building homes that would house largely Republicans rather than Democrats.

And Mr. Weintraub believes that would be the hallmark of liberalism? By what grounds?

As Mr. Weintraub suggests:
"While the rest of California becomes more ethnically and economically diverse, Davis remains a mostly white enclave for wealthy, highly educated people... The city is 70 percent white and 17 percent Asian American, but fewer than 3 percent of its residents are African American and only about 10 percent are Latino."
In fact, as someone pointed out recently, Davis does remain ethnically less diverse than other areas of California, however, that does not mean it has not become more ethnically diverse than it had been. The figure of 70 percent white actually represents a strong downturn in the white population that in the 1980s stood over 90 percent.

Weintraub's solution like that of the Supervisor's last week is massive housing developments which would destroy the character of Davis.

I think there are a number of ways that we can have a larger and more diverse housing market without the massive developments, without building more $600,000 homes, without paving over prime agricultural land. I challenge our leaders to be creative and find news ways to do this. But I admonish people like Daniel Weintraub who suggest that if we do not follow the models by other communities to build, build, build, that makes us a bunch of rich conservatives.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting