In California the Democratic Party has usually sided with the forces of corporate development, even while hiding behind the pretense that their efforts are all for the common good rather than private profit.
Here in Berkeley, that facade is embodied by Mayor Tom Bates, who built his career on the blue side of the state legislature, then, when forced out by term limits, found his calling as the developer’s friend here in Berkeley.
Bates has run an administration under which he and his allies have purged city boards and commissions of those who either called for restraint or insisted that the city follow its own ordinances and demand that builders of apartments and condos build fixed quotas of units for low-income tenants.
On countless occasions while covered land use politics for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet, the saw the city council and the planning and zoning board grant exemptions allowing builders to cut the quotas and substitute funds which wouldn’t begin to cover the actual costs of replacements.
As a result, the city’s poorer residents, many of them people of color, are being driven out, their residences turned over to one percenters and those who aspire to joining their ranks.
Bates and his friends have profited handsomely for their actions, with folks from the development and real estate industries providing the lion’s share of their campaign contributions, as we documented in numerous reports.
And when a specially appointed commission created to propose a new downtown plan came up with proposals that didn’t hand over the keys to developers, Bates and his allies simply tossed it out.
City staff have done well, too. Two of the biggest projects in decades are being headed by the city’s former land use planning manager, who spun through the revolving door with a platinum handshake awaiting him on the other side.
Another Democrat, Jerry Brown stormed onto the scene [albeit with a little help from some shady folks] back in the 1970s, loudly proclaiming himself an apostle of British economist E.F. Schumacher, whose seminal work, Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if People Mattered, argued that development needed to be restrained, the environment preserved, and community values nurtured.
Brown’s devotion to Schumacher began to wavered, in large part because his then-girlfriend met with a rebuff from the California Coastal Commission, agency created to protect the natural wonder that is the Golden State’s coastline.
Brown declared the commissioners were nothing less than “bureaucratic thugs” for denying a permit to Linda Ronstadt to expand her Malibu home.
More from the New York Times:
The commission was voted into existence under California’s ballot proposition system in 1972, and it was made permanent when Mr. Brown signed the California Coastal Act of 1976 during his first of two consecutive terms as governor.
But he grew critical of the commission in the late 1970s after it denied an application by the singer Linda Ronstadt, Mr. Brown’s girlfriend at the time, for work on her home in Malibu. Mr. Brown was elected governor again in 2010 and 2014.
And now, with Brown back in the governor’s office four decades later, he’s sitting back contentedly as his now pro-development commission fires its executive director, a man who scrupulously followed the commission’s enabling ordinance and its charge to protect the coastline from rapacious speculators.
From the Los Angeles Times:
The California Coastal Commission’s decision late Wednesday to fire its executive director, Charles Lester, after closed-door deliberations sparked outrage by environmentalists and is expected to leave deep divisions.
Many of the more than 100 Lester supporters awaiting the decision broke into tears or reacted angrily.
During an emotional meeting before the vote, many speakers warned that replacing Lester would send a powerful signal to staff to be more accommodating to development.
“It’s disgraceful that the commissioners voted in secret to fire Dr. Lester,” Steve Jones, oceans communications specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written statement. “This isn’t over.”
The Sacramento Bee’s Jack Ohman precisely captures the moment in an offering he titled “The Lifeguard”:
So much for Small is Beautiful.
So if you haven’t seen the California coast yet, come quick, before you view is blocked by an endless sprawl of condos.
At least until they’re either leveled by the Big One or drowned beneath rising seas.