Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 17, 2015

We don’t need another hero

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Development — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

Last night for those of you that have HBO (or subscribe to HBO Now) might have caught the mini series premiere of “Show Me A Hero” by the creator of acclaimed shows “The Wire” and “Treme.”  It is on the topic of the very sexy and gripping affordable housing.  And not just any affordable housing, affordable housing forced on the city of Yonkers in the 80s to desegregate the city. I thought this synopsis on Slate did a good job of preparing the viewer for what to expect or allow people who don’t intend on watching the show some highlights to sort of understand what the mini series is about.

A long-gestating lawsuit has finally found Yonkers, a working-class city just north of the New York City border, guilty of intentionally segregating its housing. The judge presiding over the case has ruled that 200 units of low-income housing must be built on the east, and white, side of the city. That is, more precisely, 200 units of housing, to be spread out over eight different locations, in the white part of a city of a couple hundred thousand people that has spent 40 years practicing systematic housing discrimination and segregation. That is, also, 200 units of housing greeted by white homeowners as an existential threat to their property values and way of life, visited upon them by liberal outsiders, to be fought viciously and rancorously, lest any of the “public housing people” come to live next door.

Nick [Wasicsko] is happily swept into power by an incensed and racist cohort who expects Nick to fight the housing order, even though it is legal and will never be overturned, and disobeying it will bankrupt the city. Nick is not a simple, straightforward hero: He doesn’t come into office intent on doing the right thing, damn the consequences. He’s a cocky kid, tickled to be the county’s youngest big city mayor, who has to choose between being reasonable, responsible, and righteous or a recalcitrant, unrealistic bigot—when it is the latter choice that will let him keep his job. Nick does what is right. How he does this, and at what personal and professional expense, is the meat of Show Me a Hero, which, tellingly, gets its title from the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

It should be awesome.

This reminded me of some documents that I had requested a while ago.  In the early 80s Alameda was also embroiled in its own affordable housing consent decree — folks around during that time would have the fuller story — and in response there was a measure placed on the ballot via voter signatures to place a moratorium on the books against any subsidized housing being built for five years in the City of Alameda.  The only way around this was to take it to a public vote.  Senior housing was, naturally, exempt from this law.

There’s one familiar name that pops up supporting this measure to stop subsidized housing being built in Alameda and she was just appointed to the Rent Review Advisory Committee by the Mayor.

Measure I, by the way, passed 9690 for and 5716 against.


  1. Nice find. I love that the argument against was about not participating in wasteful spending.

    Comment by BMac — August 17, 2015 @ 9:27 am

  2. Fascinating discussion on KQED’s Forum right now about school segregation. I see school integration and fair housing to be closely related, particularly as to the discussion about building/integrating in my back yard. They mention that in San Francisc’s public schools, the number of schools that have become ‘racially isolated’ has risen by 28%(as I remember) in just three years. This mostly due to the number of white kids being sent to private schools. Is this happening in A-Town as well?

    Comment by Not A. Alamedan — August 17, 2015 @ 9:35 am

  3. The first installment of the series was very good and echoed many of the themes we have encountered in Alameda over the years. In 1987, a similar court order would have rallied a lot of angry citizens here. My husband tells me it would be nothing that would equal white ethnic anxiety shown in Yonkers; however, I beg to differ. Intensity different, intent the same. During the fight to save EAst Housing in 1999, there were many comments to the council that anyone who couldn’t “afford” to live in Alameda should move to San Leandro or Tracy and the usual stuff about “people from Oakland.”
    Folks want to say it’s not about racism, because it’s mostly about fear and reluctance to examine one’s attitudes or look at the societal basis for crime and poverty. Everyone feels some outside force is imposing a solution on them for a problem they didn’t create. That’s why working locally, on a really grassroots level to bring different folks together to confront these issues is important. It looks like in Yonkers there were no local affordable housing advocates, just an NAACP lawyer and NY judge speaking up for the people in need of housing.
    The Council in Alameda, like the council in Yonkers, was paralyzed with fear of saying anything about Measure A, so much so, a simple forum requested by Marilyn Ashcraft when she was a planning board member, was stalled repeatedly as critics tried to cite various dubious grounds for quashing it. The council was afraid to pass the Housing Element overriding Measure A. It took a threat of a lawsuit from Renewed Hope to give them the political cover they needed.
    I think in the next episodes of “Hero”, they will probably discuss the idea that large scale “public housing,”– a term fraught with fear and loathing– is a problem and that there is a better way of building housing for low income folks. Smaller projects, managed locally with support for residents, have been successful all over the Bay Area.
    I want to point out to everyone who gets annoyed at Alameda being labeled as a racist town, that an early organization called HOPE, attracted dozens of activists in the 1960s and fought blatant discrimination in housing on our fair island. Lois Pryor, a Renewed Hope member, tells the story in a video oral history on the Alameda Library site,
    As I have said recently at council meetings, Alamedans have really begun to understand how economic forces are battering people. As a result, they are changing their attitudes about affordable housing. Becoming a good and compassionate community is a long, hard struggle. We seem to be on the way.

    Comment by Laura Thomas — August 17, 2015 @ 10:24 am

  4. Karin Lucas? Only name that’s familiar to me. She’s also listed as an Alameda Citizens Taskforce committee member. Quite consistent. Old Alameda wasn’t pretty. Still, it’s odd that someone so hostile to the interests of those on low incomes should be placed on such a committee.

    Comment by BC — August 17, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

  5. Thanks Laura for the history lesson. It’s always good to know how we arrived at a place in time, and the people we should thank for their hard work and commitment to change. I agree with the idea that we need to move away from large scale “public housing,”– and find new ways to build affordable housing communities. The old model worked for a period in time (perhaps in the 50’s and 60’s), but that model doesn’t work now.

    I’ll have more thoughts to share later on this very important topic.

    Comment by Karen Bey — August 17, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

  6. An interesting post on diversity. I happen to watch the TED talk on Whitopia and how America is continuing to segment itself. The talk discusses how as America becomes more and more multicultural, Rich Benjamin noticed a phenomenon that some communities were actually getting less diverse. So he got out a map, found the whitest towns in the USA — and moved in. In this funny, honest, human talk, he shares what he learned as a black man in Whitopia. He defines Whitopia as more than 6% population growth since 2000, 90% of that growth comes from white migrants and ineffable social charm, a pleasant look and feel.

    The three towns that fit Benjamin’s definition and he lived in were: St. George, UT, Coeur D’Alene, ID; and Forsyth County, GA.

    Comment by John — August 17, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

  7. I’ll have you know, Laura, that it damn was about racism! I sure as hell remember some jokers in Alameda trying to get the bridges permanently raised to keep out the riff-raff from Oakland — and that’s a fact, you can DuckDuckGo it right now.

    Comment by Rodney — August 17, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  8. I think that sort of reporting/commentary on what happened in Yonkers (or Alameda) is just as reactionary as the people who would try to shut out those “others.” The problem is in part racist people but to believe that those people are in the majority is to ignore the real problem (and thereby to fail to find a solution). People were and are legitimately concerned about, in most cases, the only solid investment they might have and for those of you who never saw the Bronx in the 1980s the fear of crime was very real and very legitimate with murder rates we would today associate with Cape Town or San Salvador.

    The problem is that local politicians love to use state and federal money for infrastructure projects but with no plan or funding for maintenance. We see this over and over with everything from parks, to transit, to schools, to housing. This problem was especially acute from the 50s through the 90s. Projects got built, they weren’t probably maintained or managed, and they quickly fell into disrepair. To blame people in the 80s for fearing them because black people would live there isn’t any more fair or accurate than saying that middle-class suburbanites would freak out about a trailer park because white people would live there. I’m not dismissing an explicit or implicit racial tone from some but to say that race was the beginning and end is, like I said, unfair and inaccurate.

    There’s also the myopic, American trait of conflating class with race and vice versa – and it cuts all sorts of ways. There’s the association of poverty with black faces and vice versa. Then there’s the association of affluence with white faces and the trend, especially among people from large metro areas to pretend that poor white people don’t exist. Which brings me back to Alameda and that last vestige of local housing discrimination – Measure A. Of course, the courts have already found measure A type laws in other jurisdictions to be discriminatory. Not racist per se but classist. This issue has been in the courts in New Jersey for 38 years under Mt. Laurel I and Mt. Laurel II. The courts have ruled every time that exclusionary zoning is illegal. In Associated Home Builders of the Greater East Bay, Inc. v. City of Livermore the CA Supreme Court directly quoted the Mt. Laurel case and there’s little question as to what would happen if Measure A made it into the courts. The condos and apartments that are now in the development pipeline are an attempt to keep Alameda out of the courts without having to rescind Measure A – but it will take decades to undo the damage wrought on Bay Farm, South Shore, and Marina Village. And even more than that is the local intransigence when it comes to building new housing of any kind. People want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to complain about racism and expensive housing but then they want to make sure that housing projects got watered down with less housing and more cars. Alameda has built just 5% of its RHNA obligation from 2007-2014. The Bay Area has added 650k people since 2007 and a mere 107k units of new housing (do the math) – that’s half of the State mandated RHNA. Alameda may be a small part of the problem but it’s still an awful example of the problem.

    Comment by Jim — August 17, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

  9. My father, a college graduate and a former Lieutenant in the Army could only find rental housing when he moved to San Francisco in the 60’s in a large scale public housing project; back then they were just called “the projects”. Before the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, there was wide spread discrimination in jobs and housing, and consequently many black families were housed in these large type projects.

    And to my dismay – some 50 years later, the ‘projects’ still exist in many areas of San Francisco and the bay area. If the goal is simply to house low income families and say we’ve done our part – then I guess you can say the projects are a success. Inside the projects there are some success stories – but the projects of today are mostly known for crime, violence, and drugs. This is not success. For me, the crime, the drugs, the hopelessness, and the generations of poverty says there is much more work to do.

    With all the modern technology and innovation we have in the world today,we have not been able to cure the poverty and hopelessness that exists in these communities, and the projects are living proof of our failure to do so.

    Comment by Karen Bey — August 17, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

  10. Raising the Minimum Wage in Alameda would also help. El Cerrito votes on it tonight.

    Comment by frank m — August 18, 2015 @ 9:56 am

  11. I agree with everything you say in post No. 8 Jim, especially in regards to funding infrastructure and not maintenance and all your points regarding Measure A

    Comment by Laura Thomas — August 18, 2015 @ 10:33 am

  12. 9

    “With all the modern technology and innovation we have in the world today,we have not been able to cure the poverty and hopelessness that exists in these communities, and the projects are living proof of our failure to do so.”

    Putting the World in Perspective

    Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day.

    About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day.

    Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate and 1 billion do not have safe water.

    Asia and the Pacific region is home to over half the world’s population and nearly two thirds of the world’s hungry people;

    Comment by Cobalt Black Keys Johnson — August 18, 2015 @ 11:19 am

  13. Lauren Do – I have been enjoying your blogs for several months now. You are putting a lot of time and care into this service – and I appreciate it. I wonder if I could meet you sometime. I live on Alameda Island (not Bay Farm) on Bayview Drive, by the bird sanctuary. I spend part of each year in Olympia WA (where I am now) and part of the year in Alameda, to be near a granddaughter on Bay Farm. Your blog helps keep me connected to the politics of Alameda, and I deeply appreciate it. I will be back in September for most of the fall. I am involved with the League of Women Voters on Alameda Island – but only recently. Just getting started. Anyway, thanks for all you do, all you observe, all you share. Katie Cameron,

    Comment by Katherine Cameron — August 19, 2015 @ 9:15 am

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