Stop Pandering, Pay Attention to Pandemic

Stop Pandering, Pay Attention to Pandemic

Driving through Alameda, I see campaign signs alternating with piles of possessions left behind by people who can no longer afford to live in Alameda. The $600 additional unemployment benefits many people were surviving on ran out in July.

On the news we see that nationwide 17 percent of FHA-guaranteed loans are in arrears. Multiple surveys show that nearly half of all households are struggling to pay bills and are in arrears on their bills, including rent. In short, whether it is immediately visible or not, a lot of our fellow Alamedans are suffering right now and need help.

If you are following along with city government in Alameda, however, you would never know it. In April and May, the city blocked off a series of streets, including neighborhood arteries like Versailles Ave., making it difficult and dangerous for workers not able to work from home to get around. In June, our City Council voted to place a measure on the ballot to repeal Measure A, a keystone to the protection of our Island’s character, without specifying what would replace it.

In July and August, the city held a series of workshops on plans for reworking most of the streets on the Island, including making Webster and Park streets and Lincoln Avenue one lane with separated bike lanes and turning some residents’ streets into bike boulevards with “reduced” speed limits. And currently, there is a series of surveys available online to create the “Alameda General Plan 2040”.

That is a lot for any one year here in the Island City and to be tackling it all at once in a pandemic year, when people are worried about getting sick and dying, struggling to pay for groceries and utilities and juggling working from home with their toddler in the next room is crazy.

It’s unreasonable and realistic. Especially since we don’t even know what the population of Alameda is going to look like in 2021, after the stays of eviction have been lifted and a lot of Alamedans have lost their homes and newcomers have filled the void. And so, my guess would be that most of the population does not have the bandwidth to weigh in or even to register that our City Council is working to make substantial and long-lasting changes to the island while they are otherwise occupied.

Changes that benefit special interest groups, but which may not actually be what the majority of Alamedans want. For example, I went online to fill out the hopelessly confusing transportation plan surveys on the last evening before the deadline.

On one of the surveys, I was told that I was the 74th person to complete the survey. 74 out of 78,000 residents in Alameda is .094 percent. You can hardly claim a mandate for sweeping and expensive changes when fewer than one tenth of a percent of the population completed the survey, even if a couple hundred more people weighed in at Zoom meetings.

The same thing happened with ballot Measure Z, designed to repeal Measure A. The public received only the legal minimum seven-day notice before the May 7 special meeting on the subject and in response to my objection, Vice Mayor Knox White replied to me that more than 100 people had attended the Jan. 13 Planning Board meeting on the subject and as far as he was concerned there would be plenty of time for public input. Except a population in the midst of a pandemic was slow to the table and so the ballot measure was approved and now the battle for Measure Z is sucking all of the political oxygen out of the city.

Returning to the people who lost their jobs in the pandemic, who have contracted COVID-19, who cannot pay their bills, who are living in fear and stress and whose mental or physical health is suffering, where has the City Council been for them these past few months? Looking over the City’s COVID-19 web page, I can’t actually find anything that has been done since May. Emergency rent relief expired August 10, the Alameda Strong grant program is not accepting applications, and I have not heard a word about anything new in the pipeline.

In this year of all years, it’s time for our City Council to come up with some novel ways of retaining our low-income residents and providing homes for more. It’s time to work out how to help people pay their utilities and rent so they are not evicted when the moratorium expires. What about not tearing down the Navy housing at Alameda Point and using that to meet some of our low-income housing requirement? What about creating a fund at Alameda Municipal Power where those of us who can afford it could pay extra with our electric bill and have that help others who cannot afford utilities?

We are currently complaining about an enormous amount of political overreach on the right in Washington. Overreach on the left here at home is no more acceptable. This reminds me of Disaster Capitalism in which corporations or governments sneak in under cover of a disaster to achieve their own political objectives.

It is time for us to tell our City Council to stop pandering to special interests and reworking our City Charter for decades to come. Instead they need to meet this moment and work to make this pandemic survivable for all of Alameda’s residents.