Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 25, 2022

“The City should not impact the lives of the highest paying property tax homeowners on the island”

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

One of my absolute favorite journalists working right now is Jerusalem Demas at the Atlantic. She had an amazing explainer on Vox and looks like the Atlantic snatched her up shortly after that. She has put out fire after fire pieces about housing, community input, NIMBYism, all my faves. After reading the public comments for the Transportation Commission’s agenda item about Grand St improvements it reminded me of this article, highlights:

Democracy is at its best when the views and needs of the people are accurately transmitted to their representatives, the representatives act, and voters express their approval or disapproval in the next election. The existing community-input system purports to improve upon this process by offering a platform where anyone can show up and make their voice heard. After all, providing input shouldn’t just happen at the ballot box, or so the thinking goes. But the process is fundamentally flawed: It’s biased toward the status quo and privileges a small group of residents who for reasons that range from the sympathetic to the selfish don’t want to allow projects that are broadly useful.

The community-input process is disastrous for two broad reasons. First, community input is not representative of the local population. Second, the perception of who counts as part of an affected local community tends to include everyone who feels the negative costs of development but only a fragment of the beneficiaries.

Not everybody is a complainer, but pretty much everyone who shows up to community meetings is. 


They found that a measly 14.6 percent of people who showed up to these events were in favor of the relevant projects. Meeting participants were also 25 percentage points more likely to be homeowners and were significantly older, maler, and whiter than their communities.

Instead of empowering communities that most suffered under urban renewal, the local-review process has again privileged wealthier people who routinely block new projects, and many of the projects that do get built are in poorer areas.

Expanding opportunities for political participation failed to solve the problem of inequitable project distribution, because the fundamental problem wasn’t lack of community input; it was a lack of political power among disadvantaged groups. Making it easier for people to lodge their disagreements doesn’t change the distribution of power; it only amplifies the voices of people who already have it.

Here is a taste of the older, whiter commenters expecting the City to accommodate their needs above all others: even kids walking and cycling to school are more expendable than a Grand St resident who might need to be slightly more careful pulling out of their driveway:


  1. I find it hard to believe that the resident who wrote the headline quote is unaware that, in terms of general fund contributions, it’s new property owners who are highest paying. Do we think that level of oblivious entitlement is possible?? Can’t be.

    Comment by Gaylon — May 25, 2022 @ 6:46 am

  2. Although I do not agree with everything in the letter (especially the last line) that was a smart analysis and critique of the very poorly designed and costly changes at the corner of Grand and Otis. It is more dangerous and congested now. Find one person who thinks otherwise.

    As to the public input process, it is indeed broken, but it is different than the Atlantic article you cite. Interest groups like bikers, unions, defund the police zealots, housing activists, and homeless advocates, pile on speakers in public comment segments, crying like a Kabuki theatre performance about their particular issue. Every once in a while an unaffiliated concerned citizen speaks, but is drowned out by a Greek Chorus of determined activists. To the average citizen who tunes in, it appears to be a game where the result is fixed. More housing is always approved, landlords are always burdened by new costs, costly bike bridges are funded, taxpayers are forced to underwrite the homeless industrial complex, and then there is no more money left so the city is forced to tax property owners for infrastructure. Rarely is the voice of the average citizen represented, while local politicians with their bureaucratic allies, plot to ascend to more lucrative higher political offices (Vella, Tam, and both Bontas).

    This is interest group politics, and it has been honed by local groups to stifle dissent, override the few protections we have left (like Measure A) and extract taxpayer money for groups that do not represent the majority of Alameda.

    Comment by Common Sense — May 25, 2022 @ 7:51 am

    • > It is more dangerous and congested now. Find one person who thinks otherwise.

      It is *objectively* less dangerous with all of the pedestrian and cycling safety improvements. It is *objectively* less congested with the dedicated left turn lanes.

      Comment by Josh Hawn — May 25, 2022 @ 8:14 am

    • The difference between “determined activist” and “concerned citizen” is whether you agree with them, right?

      Comment by Lauren Do — May 25, 2022 @ 8:23 am

  3. Between reading comments like this and yesterday’s HBC meeting at Jim’s on the Course and the Carmen Reed/AAPS saga, I’m just dismayed by how we have some soulless ghouls as neighbors. Whatever happened to just being good to one another.

    Comment by Observer — May 25, 2022 @ 8:36 am

    • Also dismayed, but not as surprised. It seems like the push towards more equity and involvement across the board is revealing these gross, entitled attitudes that were always there, but never needed to speak out loud before because the system has alway protected their interests for just existing.

      Comment by bjsvec — May 25, 2022 @ 9:25 am

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