Tyranny of the Majority
“If it be admitted that a man, possessing absolute power, may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should a majority not be liable to the same reproach? Men are not apt to change their characters by agglomeration; nor does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with Democracy in America the consciousness of their strength.”
–Democracy In America, p. 287-88 (Harry Reeve translation, Penn State, 2002) (http://seas3.elte.hu/coursematerial/LojkoMiklos/Alexis-de-Tocqueville-Democracy-in-America.pdf)
The basis for three council votes that the progressive community lost at last Tuesday’s (Jan. 23rd) Santa Cruz City council meeting is reflected within Alexis de Tocqueville’s phrase, one he coined while observing the potential downside of American democracy, “the tyranny of the majority.” It was practiced with impunity by a 4-member council majority. It happened when the mayor wanted to add the vice-mayor to the closed-door bi-weekly “agenda review” meeting. It’s a meeting I wrote about last week that is held to set the official city council meeting agenda. Fifteen department heads and the mayor sit down and discuss the essence of the coming week’s city business. While I support the vice-mayor attending this meeting I also support other councilmembers attending. So, I made a motion that a rotating councilmember be able to attend. My motion was seconded by Councilmember Richelle Noroyan. (Thank you Richelle!) The majority was having none of it. Why should they let minority members into such a meeting? I can only guess at the reason. The next majority move was to not allow a discussion on an agenda item I brought forward to level the playing field in council appointments to city boards and commissions. The resolution I put before the council was to restore the one councilmember-one commission appointment process in order to avoid the current democratic charade of four councilmembers being able to appoint seven commissioners to each of the city’s thirteen active advisory bodies. Why not have some minority views on those commissions? I would have argued that, but since Councilmember Sandy Brown was under the weather and could not attend the meeting, I received nary a second for my motion from a tight-lipped majority. The third item had to do with renter protection. If renters were forced to leave their domicile by the city because of health and safety violations not attended to by the property owner, shouldn’t the city compensate the renters in terms of paying for temporary housing so as not to be put them out on the street? The city could then sue the landlord to recover costs. Sandy Brown and I brought this to the council back in October and it was coming back now with a big stamp of disapproval by our Planning Director, Lee Butler cum City Manager, Martin Bernal. It would be a city budget buster they argued, put the city into too much risk they declared. Let’s just try it, I argued. If it proved to be expensive, we could bring it back to the council and repeal it. After all, aren’t the city’s renters near the top of the council’s priorties list? Maybe, maybe not? Even if tenants in this town were in the minority, which they’re not, shouldn’t a majority of the council be taking care of tenants? It was too harsh a decision for me, one in which made me feel like I live in a parallel universe and could only watch the majority again step in doo doo. I have to believe the renters will weigh soon.
Good-bye to UCSC College Community System?
Will Student Housing West (SHW) put final nail in UC’s once “different campus” dream?
“Each college is a vibrant living/learning community supported by faculty and staff who provide academic support, organize student activities, and sponsor events that enhance the intellectual and social life of the campus.”
–From UCSC Housing, “UCSC’s 10 Campuses” (http://housing.ucsc.edu/colleges/)
Where were the preliminary planning studies to decide on 3,000 beds? Seems like the last time the UC Admin. did a study of this kind for “west campus housing” it was back in 2015 to look at around 1,000 beds. But, once the bed count was increased, the University changed their process and turned the question over to the three short-listed private developers who were tasked with inventing the project (so much for student and community input) and how it might be sited. As far as I know, the developers were not asked to carefully fuse the project into the campus’ legacy of residential colleges or even really acknowledge the 2005 LRDP, other than superficially (but how could they… the project seems to go against what the 2005 LRDP advises.) Yes, more bed space on campus is needed, desperately, but not so the campus can grow, but so it can catch up with its inordinate bigness within a community of only 62,000 residents. When UCSC houses at least 75% of its currently capped 19,500 students, then maybe we can discuss any further growth. It is a fair guess that UCSC abandoned the process of doing planning studies and jumped in bed with “3P”–public-private partnership– developers because the UC Admin. is under enormous pressure to meet deadlines, so they are essentially cutting corners. They likely view the 3P developer scheme as one-stop shopping, thus killing the “vibrant living/learning community” concept and not yet agreeing how so control its growth impact on the town. In other words, no one has clearly stated that 3,000 more beds are not just a license to grow the campus by 3,000 more bodies. It is beyond irony that with each new revision of the Environmental Impact Report’s Notice of Preparation (EIR NOP), it has come to light some assumptions that were enabling the 3,000 beds, and it just won’t work. For example, the University thought it could build on the Porter Meadow, site of the annual student 4/20 cannabis event, or to the north of the Meadow below Kresge College. Seems like it turns out, due to environmental constraints, the only part of the west campus site that can be developed is the existing Family Student Housing location. This essentially forces that small parcel of 200 apartments–arguably the most affordable housing site in Santa Cruz county for families to live–to fit an even more absurd density of five to seven story residential blocks.
Rent Control, Rent Freeze, and Just-Cause Eviction
People make history, but not necessarily under conditions of their own choosing.
Will this be the year Santa Cruz finally realizes its electoral power and makes some significant community quality of life changes? If so, when historians look back they just might note that February 13th was perhaps the start of a great Surf City march forward, a regular Movement for Housing Justice campaign that woke a once sleepy electorate. I hear that three Santa Cruz city councilmembers may be placing rent freeze and just-cause eviction ordinances on the upcoming Tuesday, February 13th council agenda. If so, this will be an historic occasion you will not want to miss. What these ordinances just might do is provide cover for rent-weary tenants during the lead-up to the November rent control vote. Let me back up. There is a rent control initiative that was submitted last week to the city clerk’s office and if all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed an officially blessed and sanctioned initiative will hit the streets on Sunday, February 11th, I hear. So, come the 13th, folks will be asking the city council to stop landlords from raising rents until the people can decide during the November 6, 2018 election. No, my friends, rent control is not THE solution, but it is an enormously powerful tool, a community bargaining chip in getting the attention of property owners in one of the most expensive real estate markets in California. It also throws down the gauntlet and sends a unified message to those out of control capitalists who are gouging renters and exploiting a housing market that has come to place too much power in the hands of too few landlords. It doesn’t take a weatherman, or women, to predict that fed-up tenants will be trying to stick it to the man this fall by employing Bernie Sanders’, ‘enough is enough,’ and going about leveling the playing field through the ballot box.
Bernie Quote of the Week
“Bernie Sanders recalled his own childhood growing up in a rent-controlled apartment in Flatbush Brooklyn, which ‘meant that my family, which did not have a lot of money, did not have to spend 50 or 60 percent of its limited income on housing.'” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/12/08/we-have-housing-emergency-heres-how-we-face-it)
EXTRA: Bernie on the plight of the working-class: