Translate fervor into action
When the nation erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and a similar, if not as tragic, incident involved the city’s own police department, Alamedans responded with outrage. Protests before the police department followed and then dancing in the street in solidarity with Mali Watkins. The fervor remains as residents press for changes in the police department and numerous signs affirm that Black Lives Matter.
Hopefully, that fervor will translate Nov. 3 to a desire to pass Measure Z and remove a City Charter amendment that has blocked building multi-family housing in Alameda for 47 years. Known as Measure A, it enshrines a restrictive suburban zoning ethic over the city landscape which features an attractive variety of urban housing developed over 100 years. Whatever the intentions were of the residents in 1973 in voting for Measure A, the effect has been to exclude minorities and severely limit the ability of low-income people to live here.
In the years that followed its passage, you would be hard pressed not to conclude that Measure A was the sacred text for defining those worthy of living here. If you appeared at the city council to question whether Measure A excluded certain people, you needed a tough skin. You faced solid support for it based on a perverse “quality of life” argument with Victorian preservation as a handy cover story — Victorians had long been protected by city design review laws.
You would be told to leave Alameda if you objected to Measure A under the assertion it was the only thing protecting the city from looking like or having the crime problems of Oakland. These coded bigoted statements went largely unchallenged and became gospel.
In the meantime, Alameda’s population of low-income people of color found it increasingly difficult to remain.
One of the few large affordable apartment complexes — the Harbor Island apartments (now Summer House) faced two upheavals in 1989 and 2004. A major rent increase in the first case and in the second, wholesale eviction by investors. In both cases, hundreds of families were forced to leave because the city did little or nothing and there was no alternative housing. So successful was Measure A at blocking anything remotely affordable from being built.
Voters must decide if banning multi-family housing in fact creates a sustainable city. Can we thrive if only people who can afford single family homes live here? How about those essential workers who are keeping us going right now?
Let’s not be just another town of white liberals that can talk the talk, but not walk the walk. Approving Measure Z demonstrates that black lives really matter here. It’s a first step to healing past injustices. Measure A was all about fear. We must cast that away. We should be about hope, resilience and love of our neighbors. Our youth and our collective future demand it of us. Let’s respond by voting Yes on Measure Z on Nov. 3.