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Inside the Yimby conference

July 25, 2017

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

Nice civil discussion on the surface — and some nastiness behind the scenes

Last weekend about 120 attendees from 17 cities gathered in downtown Oakland for the Yimbytown 2017 conference. Organized by East Bay Forward, the event was bankrolled by a $40,000 grant from Open Philanthropy, a project of Cari Tuna and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz that also funded the initial Yimbytown conference in Boulder. Chicago Cityscape also funded scholarships for a quarter of the conferees. Admission was $75.

The event featured 20 sessions and three keynote speakers, including State Senator Scott Wiener. For this reporter, the most memorable aspect of the proceedings was the contrast between the participants’ civility and collegiality at the event proper and the organizers’ incivility and paranoia behind the scenes. A close second was Wiener’s disingenuous put-down of his and other Yimbys’ San Francisco opponents…

In an unusual gesture, Open Philanthropy posts the applications of its would-be grantees online. The Yimbytown application describes the conference as the “annual…catalyst for unifying housing organizers, funders, builders, and thought leaders on a national scale.” This year’s grant went to CaRLA (California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund), the legal affiliate of SFBARF (Bay Area Renters Foundation) that sues suburban cities for purported violations of the state’s Housing Accountability Act….

More money for YIMBYs. We already have one running for office in District 6. How many more will we see coming up for election in their effort to take over San Francisco politics?

HALA has united the Housers and the Urbanists in “a new coalition that doesn’t have a cute name.” Durning compared its members to two prison escapees who are handcuffed to each other—a metaphor worth pondering.

For 48 hills readers, HALA itself is worth pondering, because it’s being touted as a model for the Bay Area by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, who, by virture of its hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments, has effectively morphed into a formidable one-stop regional planning agency…

My second session featured Issi Romem on “The Expansion and Densification of U.S. Cities.”… Cities can 1) Not expand and not densify; 2) Densify but not expand; or 3) Expand…In the Bay Area, “outward expansion has ground to a halt.” Meanwhile, restrictive zoning has limited densification. The upshot is the sacrifice of affordability and social character…

In session three, Brent Gaisford, Mark Vallianatos, and Ezra Gale told how Yimbys helped defeat last March’s hotly contested slow growth ballot measure in Los Angeles, Measure S…

Vallianatos began by noting that in 1986, Los Angeles voters approved slow growth Measure U by 70%. Since then, LA’s permitting process has been “highly discretionary.

“Any project,” he said, “is a fight.”

Measure S would have limited reductions in parking requirements; enacted a two-year moratorium on General Plan amendments; and banned spot zoning for specific projects…

Yes on S paid former LA Weekly editor Jill Stewart $50,000 to direct the campaign. They ran ads on TV and billboards. They also did a mass mailing of a mocked-up eviction notice…

Vallianatos presented the fourth session I attended. His subject: “Unhousing the Golden State: who did it, and how to fix it.” He marked three California booms. The first, in the 1920s, unleashed “uncontrolled” subdivisions and sprawl. The second, after World War II, spurred “environmental laws.” The third, occurring from the1960s to the 1980s, was an apartment and office boom, leading to community planning and project review…

He then surveyed eight layers of slow growth sentiment and activism in the state:

  • “exclusionary” suburbanism
  • good planning
  • counter-culture romanticism of the Sixties and Seventies
  • historic preservation
  • the New Right
  • the New Left
  • quality of life/urbanism
  • anti-displacement…

Laura Loe’s Intersectional Urbanism

At all four sessions, the general tone of discourse was engaging and respectful. The precedent for that tone was set on Friday morning by the keynote speaker, Laura Loe, an educator, author, activist, and self-described Yioby (Yes in Our Backyard) from Seattle…

Walking her talk, she told her own story. A resident of Seattle since 2009, she got involved in local politics in 2015 by managing a “slow growth” council campaign in northeast Seattle. She liked the unnamed candidate’s support for historic preservation and more voices in government. But as she went door-to-door, she “got troubled” by the “individualistic” concerns she was hearing. People talked about their street, their path to the grocery store, and seemed oblivious to collective issues. “I thought Seattle was progressive;” this experience shook that belief.

Loe’s politics are quirky. A tenant herself, she was one of the conferees who endorsed renter protections, including move-in fee reforms. She also inveighed against patriarchy and “systemic racism.” A good chunk of her presentation was devoted to deploring “Yimby dudes” who mansplain. She “considers [herself] a socialist,” but thinks that “by taxing developers, we’re not going to get to socialism.” What will get us there is “taking things away from people” who “feel threatened” by the Yimby agenda. Intersectionality, in other words, is a style, not a political agenda…

When it comes to boosting the real estate industry, the party divide is a mirage. Republican or Democrat, it’s the rare elected official who doesn’t side with the growth machine. And as their private thanks suggests, in supporting an aggressive pro-growth agenda, most elected officials are representing their own views (and the views of their major campaign donors), not the views of their constituents…

Indeed, the vast majority of California voters have no idea that SB 35, which, once the building trades unions withdrew their opposition in return for goodies that Wiener traded for their support, sailed through the Senate and is now sailing through the Assembly, will drastically curtail local voice in local development decisions and foster gentrification and displacement of economically vulnerable communities. It mandates no environmental review, no public notice, no hearings, no negotiations for community benefits for market-rate projects with as little as ten percent officially affordable housing. That most Californians are in the dark about this looming calamity doesn’t jibe with the tribute to “transparency” that Wiener also voiced at Yimbytown…(more)


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