Alameda Politics: Not What it Seems

 

This fall’s election campaign will offer Alamedans a glimpse into how national right-wing attempts to undercut democracy can play out locally. 

Alamedans in Charge and the Alameda Citizens Task Force (ACT) have begun their attack on the city’s governance and our elected Councilmembers, as well as labor unions and renters using the rhetoric of “civility,” “property rights” and decrying “corruption” at City Hall.

The city’s old guard and business class will repeat these slogans to persuade the rest of us that the City Council is corrupt or kowtowing to special interests and “real” Alamedans must return to power to set things right. Attacking labor unions and “corrupt” city officials is part of a strategy promulgated by conservative think tank American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose mission is to push legislation subverting individual rights for corporate special interests. 

Real estate interests launched this strategy with the petition to place Ordinance 3148, the city’s rent stabilization law, into the City Charter where it cannot be modified without a vote of the people. The assertion that it gives the public rather than politicians control over how rent stabilization functions in this city is misleading. 

In reality, the City Council elected by the people makes and changes laws quickly and efficiently. Only skillful political consultants and well-financed organizations can mount a campaign to change city law by ballot proposition. This attempt to write weak renter protections into the City Charter is a corporate grab of local decision-making. It will draw huge donations from large national real-estate investors. 

A letter from Don Lindsey, local real estate magnate, spearheaded the formation of Alamedans in Charge, exhorting property owners to join the fight against the progressive takeover of the city. 

It was closely followed by the attack on Vice-Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember Jim Oddie, accusing them of unduly influencing the former city manager in her choice of a new fire chief, again orchestrated by local real estate interests and cheered on by Alameda Citizens Task Force. This incident, which was subject to an outside investigation, was spun into a tale of major city corruption. At a May City Council meeting, more than 100 people, organized by big property owners, the various city chambers of commerce and ACT made a big show of lambasting the City Council. 

Next came the formation of a political action committee by ACT, which was intended to elect councilmembers more in line with their thinking. At its first meeting, Vella was called a “union whore” and, at that point, the civility argument, which is one of ACT’s three founding virtues, became questionable.

We encourage all residents, those who see themselves as “real” or who share a belief that our community should strive for equity and humanity, to consider carefully the manipulation of certain phrases and slogans. What’s at stake is our local democracy, security for both renters and homeowners and a City Council that can act on behalf of all Alamedans. 

 

Laura Thomas in writing on behalf of the Alameda Justice Alliance.