Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 11, 2017

Dave Hart: Reformation — with just 2 theses

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

updated: this post was updated to correct some version errors in the original posting.

We have a good thing going here. We live in a very pleasant city that feels more like a town, in a perfect micro-climate with a short commute to one of the world’s foremost cities. Life here is good, well worth the very high cost.

But could it be better? Of course. Except for true love & homegrown tomatoes, anything can be improved in some way.

I have a couple of ideas for legal & political reform. Discuss & critique all you like, and feel free to propose additional ones. To help streamline the conversation, stick to reforms of legal and political structure. For example, instead of saying “add more mass transit” instead propose changes to existing law & political structure that would enable more transit. Approach it more as a “constitutional convention” than a session of Congress, to use an analogy.

I’ll start with the Big One: Measure A: the elephant in just about every room in Alameda. It is a blunt instrument that lacks nuance & allows few exceptions, even ones that would be positive. At the same time, it has saved Alameda. It’s a well-worn line, damn near cliché, but take a drive around town and notice the contrast between lovely single family homes and ugly apartment blocks that look like cheap motels. Measure A preserved the former and staved off the latter. It’s kept traffic and noise to reasonable levels and maintained the architectural character and overall beauty of the community. The ambience & atmosphere it preserved is a very big part of our quality of life & one of the main reasons so many people want to live here.

It remains very popular. Even its staunchest critics will admit that, though many of them won’t do so audibly. There’s a very simple reason why its opponents have only attempted to chip away at it through contrivances like density bonuses instead of attempting repeal: they are keenly aware that A would easily survive a ballot initiative to overturn it.

There is, however, no denying that the measure hamstrings development of the old Navy base. Reasonable proponents of MA get that, but are worried about changing the law & setting the bulldozers in action in the rest of the city. Many of those reasonable people end up as Measure A hardliners because they fear the consequences of repeal. Such consequences were a major reason — perhaps THE reason — for the Suncal initiative losing 85-15.

I propose the following compromise: A ballot initiative that waives Measure A for the Navy base and related areas, but strengthens it in the rest of town by requiring a supermajority vote to alter or repeal it East of Main St.

It gives each side a win and doesn’t cost either a loss: The pro-development crowd get a major easing in zoning that allows a more mixed use plan West of Main. Preservationists get increased protections East of Main. Development is facilitated in new areas while older areas are assured of their status quo. I believe such a ballot measure can (and should) pass.

The other elephant to acknowledge & address is faith in our political leadership. There is widespread belief that our city council is bought & paid for and that it cares more about the interests of donors and developers than it does about the voters. It is difficult to overstate the negative effects of this perception. Not only does it undermine public confidence in our leaders, it also prevents them from getting much legitimate work done as their motivation is frequently questioned & mistrusted. Accepting money from interested parties creates real questions of integrity.

The most obvious example, of course, is the IAFF’s contributions to council members’ campaigns & those council members’ habit of voting rich contracts for the IAFF’s membership. There are other examples, such as building trades unions making contributions in exchange for project labor agreements, as well as candidates’ connections to property developers (both real and imagined).

Fortunately, this is even easier to fix than the Measure A controversy. Here is the second proposed reform, a three tiered recusal statute, structured something like this:

  1. No council member can accept a campaign contribution from an entity or any of its membership and then vote on any contract that enriches said entity or its members. The candidate or council member CAN accept the money, but they must recuse themselves from any vote on issues that affect the donor(s).
  2. Candidates & council campaigns may only accept contributions from named individuals or PACs that disclose ALL of their donors’ names, so the identities of a candidate’s financial backers will be known to the public.
  3. Additional limits & restrictions as needed: volunteering, in-kind donations, mailers and advertisements by entities & their members will be banned or strictly limited.

This is a simple and easy solution. It doesn’t require the expense of a ballot initiative. Like the Measure A idea above, it only has winners, there are no losers. The public regains confidence in council. Contributors are still free to contribute, but will be viewed as altruistic & acting in public service, not as vote buyers. Neither side loses anything. Not that there was anything to lose, of course. Both sides have long maintained that there is no quid pro quo, nor purchasing of influence. There has also never been anything shady like PACs handing out anonymous or deeply covered money in Alameda so that will be a simple matter as well. Passing such a law will be a breeze. Confidence will be restored with a pen stroke.

There would be some details to address, of course. One possibility is to allow affected parties who are registered to vote in Alameda to contribute de minimis amount, say $100, without forcing recusal. Another is a waiver for contracts or expenses that are small & below a stated threshold. Please feel free to propose other matters to iron out.

Each of these proposals is that rare compromise that gives both sides a win without a concomitant loss or cost. The Measure A compromise will please both sides of that debate & allow development to proceed in the West without stoking fears elsewhere. The recusal law will restore public confidence in both council and donor entities by removing the appearance of influence peddling. All sides win in these proposals while the city emerges stronger & better positioned to serve the public.

Dave Hart,
Businessman, parent, property owner, A’s fan, and barbecue master

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13 Comments »

  1. There’s been some sort of snafu here with the Word file. What was posted here was a jumble of earlier drafts and a few other oddities. Most of the gremlins were in the second half, the recusal law portion. Here is the proper, corrected version as it should read:

    ————————————————————————————————

    Reformation, with just 2 theses.

    We have a good thing going here. We live in a very pleasant city that feels more like a town, in a perfect micro-climate with a short commute to one of the world’s foremost cities. Life here is good, well worth the very high cost.

    But could it be better? Of course. Except for true love & homegrown tomatoes, anything can be improved in some way.

    I have a couple of ideas for legal & political reform. Discuss & critique all you like, and feel free to propose additional ones. To help streamline the conversation, stick to reforms of legal and political structure. For example, instead of saying “add more mass transit” instead propose changes to existing law & political structure that would enable more transit. Approach it more as a “constitutional convention” than a session of Congress, to use an analogy.

    I’ll start with the Big One: Measure A: the elephant in just about every room in Alameda. It is a blunt instrument that lacks nuance & allows few exceptions, even ones that would be positive. At the same time, it has saved Alameda. It’s a well-worn line, damn near cliché, but take a drive around town and notice the contrast between lovely single family homes and ugly apartment blocks that look like cheap motels. Measure A preserved the former and staved off the latter. It’s kept traffic and noise to reasonable levels and maintained the architectural character and overall beauty of the community. The ambience & atmosphere it preserved is a very big part of our quality of life & one of the main reasons so many people want to live here.

    It remains very popular. Even its staunchest critics will admit that, though many of them won’t do so audibly. There’s a very simple reason why its opponents have only attempted to chip away at it through contrivances like density bonuses instead of attempting repeal: they are keenly aware that A would easily survive a ballot initiative to overturn it.

    There is, however, no denying that the measure hamstrings development of the old Navy base. Reasonable proponents of MA get that, but are worried about changing the law & setting the bulldozers in action in the rest of the city. Many of those reasonable people end up as Measure A hardliners because they fear the consequences of repeal. Such consequences were a major reason — perhaps THE reason — for the Suncal initiative losing 85-15.

    I propose the following compromise: A ballot initiative that waives Measure A for the Navy base and related areas, but strengthens it in the rest of town by requiring a supermajority vote to alter or repeal it East of Main St.

    It gives each side a win and doesn’t cost either a loss: The pro-development crowd get a major easing in zoning that allows a more mixed use plan West of Main. Preservationists get increased protections East of Main. Development is facilitated in new areas while older areas are assured of their status quo. I believe such a ballot measure can (and should) pass.

    The other elephant to acknowledge & address is faith in our political leadership. There is widespread belief that our city council is bought & paid for and that it cares more about the interests of donors and developers than it does about the voters. It is difficult to overstate the negative effects of this perception. Not only does it undermine public confidence in our leaders, it also prevents them from getting much legitimate work done as their motivation is frequently questioned & mistrusted. Accepting money from interested parties creates real questions of integrity.

    The most obvious example, of course, is the IAFF’s contributions to council members’ campaigns & those council members’ habit of voting rich contracts for the IAFF’s membership. There are other examples, such as building trades unions making contributions in exchange for project labor agreements, as well as candidates’ connections to property developers (both real and imagined).

    Fortunately, this is even easier to fix than the Measure A controversy. Here is the second proposed reform, a three tiered recusal statute, structured something like this:

    A) No council member can accept a campaign contribution from an entity or any of its membership and then vote on any contract that enriches said entity or its members. The candidate or council member CAN accept the money, but they must recuse themselves from any vote on issues that affect the donor(s).
    B) Candidates & council campaigns may only accept contributions from named individuals or PACs that disclose ALL of their donors’ names, so the identities of a candidate’s financial backers will be known to the public.
    C) Additional limits & restrictions as needed: volunteering, in-kind donations, mailers and advertisements by entities & their members will be banned or strictly limited.

    This is a simple and easy solution. It doesn’t require the expense of a ballot initiative. Like the Measure A idea above, it only has winners, there are no losers. The public regains confidence in council. Contributors are still free to contribute, but will be viewed as altruistic & acting in public service, not as vote buyers. Neither side loses anything. Not that there was anything to lose, of course. Both sides have long maintained that there is no quid pro quo, nor purchasing of influence. There has also never been anything shady like PACs handing out anonymous or deeply covered money in Alameda so that will be a simple matter as well. Passing such a law will be a breeze. Confidence will be restored with a pen stroke.

    There would be some details to address, of course. One possibility is to allow affected parties who are registered to vote in Alameda to contribute de minimis amount, say $100, without forcing recusal.
    Another is a waiver for contracts or expenses that are small & below a stated threshold. Please feel free to propose other matters to iron out.

    Each of these proposals is that rare compromise that gives both sides a win without a concomitant loss or cost. The Measure A compromise will please both sides of that debate & allow development to proceed in the West without stoking fears elsewhere. The recusal law will restore public confidence in both council and donor entities by removing the appearance of influence peddling. All sides win in these proposals while the city emerges stronger & better positioned to serve the public.

    Dave Hart,
    Businessman, parent, property owner, A’s fan, and barbecue master

    Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 6:51 am

  2. For non-tax matters, I don’t think you can require a supermajority popular vote to enact (or repeal or amend) a local law. I could be wrong about that. On the other hand, you might be able to have a charter amendment that requires a supermajority Council vote for something.

    No one should be against the idea of arm’s length city contracts (DJT being the exception with his DC hotel deal where he is both lessor and lessee)

    Comment by MP — July 11, 2017 @ 7:47 am

    • Here is a case that can be Googled that generally discusses local supermajority requirements (a thorough reading also works to treat insomnia). Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. City of San Diego (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 374 [Provisions of city ballot measure requiring that certain amendments to the charter be approved by a supermajority vote of the city’s electorate conflicted with state Constitution, which required simple majority vote for such amendments. West’s Ann.Cal. Const. Art. 11, § 3(a)]

      Comment by MP — July 11, 2017 @ 10:54 am

      • Howard Jarvis fighting a super majority requirement is rich with irony.

        Any other way you could suggest to strengthen A as hoped for?

        Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 11:03 am

  3. Post has been corrected. Thank you, editor.

    Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 9:03 am

  4. There is no real reason to wade into an election fray over Measure A. It is fine to keep it for neighborhoods. These days even without it people wouldn’t stand for tearing down a Victorian to erect Soviet style housing units. As for new construction, at the base etc. MA doesn’t really seem to have hamstrung anything, what with density bonus. If anybody does try to put MA back on the ballot it might backfire via a successful lawsuit based on state law. Don’t hold me to that, since I’m far from any kind of expert. As for campaign reform, the entire country needs it badly. Our presidential elections were a mere two years, but DJT isn’t even waiting for midterm. He has never stopped campaigning. Take the money out of all elections, do away with election ads except for ads that promote voting as a civic duty. Too bad the odds are against it.. Just as one sixth of the economy creates an almost un-opposable juggernaut which won’t allow us to transition to a single payer non-profit healthcare system, we are all addicted to 24/7 news and politics as spectacle. S
    pecial interests have a death grip.

    Comment by MI — July 11, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

    • While I agree with you that the whole country could use some campaign reform, the post was about Alameda campaigns. How do you feel about the recusal idea for local campaigns? Does that sufficiently “take the money out of all elections” or do we need something more?

      Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

      • recusal is not a good idea because it doesn’t level the field. Abolish money from politics or come up with another means to have same rules for everybody. Even with Citizens United, or especially because of Citizens United, we need to legislate some sanity.

        ** it may seem obvious but “lobbyists” got their name because they stand in the lobby waiting to pounce on legislators.

        Comment by MI — July 11, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

        • Why does it not level the field?

          How do you propose that I take money out of Alameda politics?

          Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

        • sorry, typo

          should say WE take money out

          Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

  5. I pretty much agree with dave except his argument doesn’t address the elephant in the room, i.e. traffic on and off the Island. Eh?

    Comment by jack — July 11, 2017 @ 6:43 pm

    • That’s a separate, though obviously related, discussion. More dwellings will mean more traffic, ceterus paribus, but there are many ways to build that out and of course the number, location and mix of dwellings all remain open questions. Step 1 is changing the law to allow more mixed use development. Step 2 — number of new households — is indeed the real elephant, but 2 comes after 1. Note also that step 1 is legal framework, step 2 is resulting policy.

      But really, there’s nothing to worry about. The TDM gods have assured us that development will only add 1 more car….

      Comment by dave — July 11, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

  6. Hey dave, how was your trip to Spain?

    Comment by jack — July 12, 2017 @ 8:39 pm


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