The Artful Dodger, Part Deux

Whence last we left this story, former city councilmember Barbara Kerr was about to school us on why people care about Measure A….we return to the story as she succinctly breaks it all down for us unknowing plebes:

“There are three issues which come up when Measure A is discussed. They are affordability, open space and diversity.”

{sound of a record scratching} Let’s hold on. While one, maybe two of these issues is in the top 10 of issues that commonly come up around Measure A, can anyone pick out at least two that come up immediately? I mean really? If this was Family Feud, Ms Kerr would get soa few me points for her team, I mean she didn’t scream out “Geese,” but all but “Affordibiliy” would score on the bottom end. Meanwhile, people who had been paying attention to the lawn signs that Kerr’s friends have been trying to get up around town, would be screaming at the television “Traffic! Traffic, oh my GOD, It’s Traffic.” And by the way where is neighborhood character, sustainable local commercial districts and maintaining the historic feel we all supposedly cherish?

As you’ll see, diversity in Kerr’s world is “race” which leaves out the oft-discussed income and age catagories. And “open space” in Kerr’s view means waterfront paths, missing out on regional open-space/anti sprawl issues. Lastly, where’s the environment? In the discussions I’ve heard in the past 2 years, the environment comes up more often than racial diversity. I’m not claiming that racial diversity isn’t a concern out there, but top 3, I don’t think so.

Which makes one wonder why these three specific points are brought up as the sole “issues,” to ignore traffic is to ignore the issue’s most meaningful concern.

“Measure A actually saved affordable housing in Alameda from being destroyed. There are small cottages in courtyards which are still with us because of Measure A.”

I’ve noticed that this argument has taken on the stolid existence of “proven fact” when in fact, there are plenty of communities in the East Bay that have maintained their historic architecture without a “Measure A” of the own. The historic preservation laws of the early 70’s did this, as did the election of candidates like Corica, Hurwitz and Beckam. The council they replaced had specifically been passing zoning laws aimed at destroying run-down old buildings with higher density houses. But to say that these houses exist today solely because of Measure A is to admit that these councilmembers, like Corica, would surely have continued letting these buildings be destroyed. I’d like to see some back up on this issue, before I swallow the kool-aid and start droning this talking point.

Kerr’s next point, is another beauty! She says:

“A look at high-density new construction and rehabilitation just across the Estuary disproves that high density equals affordability. Development in the area near the Amtrak station and along Glascock Street illustrate this. In a newly constructed high-density building next to the tracks, the rent ranges from $1,825 for a studio to $2,500 for a two-bedroom. Lofts in a warehouse conversion sell for $695,000 for a two-bedroom unit. A little cheaper are two-bedroom condominiums on Glascock Street which sell for $595,000.”

Missing is her calculation of what those units would have sold for if they were built as single-family homes. She could have quoted the low end condos at City Walk (by the Oakland Fox Theater) which are starting at $190,000, and others in the area that are priced in the mid-$200Ks. But she chooses the high-end, and claims that that’s how much all condos are priced. These two sleight-of-hand tricks lead one to believe that building condos is not worth it.

Kerr then throws gas on the fire, claiming that subsidies must be used to create “affordable” housing. (At the Democratic Club, she made it clear that her money should be spent on herself, not taxes for people who can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, let them move to Nebraska, I guess. It’s a valid point of view, just not one you’re likely to hear espoused at the Democratic Club.) Again, she ignores the idea/issue of creating housing for every rung of the economic ladder by building market-rate (non-subsidized) housing in the form of condos that are affordable to families that earn $100-$200K. It’s easier to ignore it and obfuscate the issue, than it is to say “screw the middle class.”

Now that “affordability” is dealt with, it’s time to narrowly define “open-space” and then show how you can get bike paths next to lagoons with Measure A.

“Drive around the loft buildings along the low numbered streets near the Oakland railroad station. They are built to the lot line. On the other hand, Measure A compliant housing developments have provided open space. The Bay shoreline along the rim of Harbor Bay Isle provides trails for both hikers and bicycle riders.”

Never mind that the Bay Shoreline is built next to non-measure A compliant townhouses, more importantly is the fact that Kerr ignores the idea of open space as also including the wilderness, farms, large parks like Golden Gate and Redwood. Absent is the idea that every house not built in Alameda is a house built somewhere else, and more land lost. I’m not suggesting that Alameda should take on the housing needs of the entire Bay Area in order to protect the Livermore Hills, but we sure as heck should not bury our head in the sands and pretend that it’s not an issue. At Alameda Point, the project must have a non-negative cash flow effect on Alameda’s General Fund. This means that the sales of the properties on Alameda Point (and possibly some tax increment) must finance ALL of the project. Yes, we can have open space (meaning golf cart paths and walkways and pocket parks) while maintaining the sprawl design we demand, but lost will be a lot more open space somewhere else.

The final “issue” covered is “diversity in housing and people.” Reading Kerr’s piece, you quickly understand that diversity in housing means “race” it’s all she discusses. There have certainly been (and continue to be) people bring up race as an issue, but more often than anything, it’s the diversity in housing that is discussed and Kerr doesn’t touch the issue. Doesn’t even attempt to discuss it.

This piece doesn’t even pass the “brief history” test, it’s more of a partial-history, addressing the things that are easy and leaving out the difficult bits.

At the Democratic Club, Kerr was asked two questions that she would not even attempt to answer. First she was asked to explain if her “expensive condo” evidence meant that she believed that single family houses built in Jack London Square would sell for $600K (hint: single family houses in Bayport (no capital “p”) sell for over $800K. She ducked the question. Later, she was asked (by me, I have to admit) what the concerns are about settling on a total number of housing for the Point and then discussing the use of density to reduce traffic. That number could be 1000, 1700, 3000, whatever. It was a very non-personal question. Kerr would not answer, Twice. So while she tells us to trust her history, we need to take into account the fact that at almost every turn, she evades the tough questions, masks the issues in narrowly defined explanation, and just plain old leaves out key ideas, in the hopes that the majority of us are not paying attention.

Kerr leaves us with the words:

“It was put in a form that could only be changed by a vote of the people. They don’t trust city government any more today. Secret meetings of the City Council have become the norm, not the exception. We need the protection of a charter amendment as never before.”

The issue is that Kerr trusts no one but herself.

I present to you an altered version of the biography that ended the Sun Editorial:

Barbara Kerr is a former city councilwoman who came in third and received 22% of the vote when she ran for Mayor against Beverly Johnson who received almost 50% in a competitive three-way race) and she used to be an appointed member of the Alameda Planning Board’s Measure A ad hoc committee before insisting that everything go her way and blocked consensus among the panel.

1 comment for “The Artful Dodger, Part Deux

  1. Lois Pryor
    August 3, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Having been a member of Alamedans With HOPE (Housing Opportunities Provided Equally) for over twenty years, and also a member of ABC during the years it was functioning, (1967 – 71), I need to speak to the diversity issue. ABC, which was actually founded to combat white racism, did a lot of research on the Bay Farm Island Issue, trying to determine what would be built there, and even discussing the possibility, of getting the area rezoned. The primary consideration for ABC regarding Bay farm Island was density, as well as quality of life, which included environment and traffic. Affordable housing was also discussed. An ABC member attended meetings of “the Bay Farm Group”, which I believe morphed into Concerned Citizens. At one point in 1970, this member stated that he did not want to attend the Bay Farm meetings because “they are more interested in keeping Bay Farm white than in the quality of life.”
    HOPE was concerned about discrimination, and along with that, the supply of affordable housing, because many of the minority people we worked with were low or moderate income. HOPE, as an organization, did not support Measure A because “there is no time limit specified, and as multiples are the acknowledged way of providing more low and moderate housing units.” HOPE did support a moratorium on building, which they believed was the intent of the measure, until the Alameda Housing Element should be completed and a plan for growth imolemented. HOPE did support the reform slate, and I am sure that some members voted for measure A as a stopgap. At that time many of us were sure that it would be overturned in court as discriminatory.
    The census figures that MS Kerr cites are correct, but give a totally wrong impression. (There is a chapter in the statistics textbook titled “How to Lie With Statistics”.) It is true that the White population of Alameda is 56.9%, and the minority population is approximately 43%,,which is arrived at by subtracting Black, Asian, Hispanic and several other categories of minority persons. However, Asians are 26.1%, Hispanics 9.3%, and smaller proportions of several others, which leaves the African American population at 6.2%, compared to 35.7% just across the estuary in Oakland. A person who works with fair housing told me that 80% of the African American population of Alameda live in buildings with three or more units. If you look at the census figures for Bay Farm Island, which was one of the primary reasons for Measure A, you will get a picture of what effect Measure A had on diversity, to the point of violation of the Civil Rights Act. The difference in income levels is also relevant.
    All the positive results of Measure A could have been accomplished by other means, such as a Housing Element, zoning, design controls, controls on tearing down historical buildings, etc. some of which are already in place.
    If Harbor Bay Isle had been developed at a reasonably low density, with a mix of apartments, condos, town houses and single detached homes, it would resemble the older part of Alameda, which is what people are demanding for Alameda Point.
    Shortly after the passage of measure A, an Alameda clergyman who was on the HOPE board mentioned that under the original plan for Harbor Bay Isle, he and his wife, who wer due to retire in a few years, could have afforded to buy a home, but under Measure A they had no chance of ever buying one. This was a case of economic, not racial diversity.

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