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Delusional Politics Not Just National

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Delusional Politics Not Just National

By Jay Beckwith

If there is a silver lining to this season’s presidential election debacle it has made many of us hyper-cognizant of the ability of the human brain to construct realities where none exist. We shake our head in wonderment, as friends, family and colleagues support the most outrageous campaign statements and behaviors that would normally be anathema to them. 

Given the heat of this campaign behavioral scientist have begun to weigh-in on this phenomena of mass delusion and show that people will support positions that are demonstrably false because such declarations are really not about facts but about belonging to their social group. Some support lies and conspiracy theories as an act of rebellion using the obvious falsehood as a weapon to counter their fear of loosing control.

This warped thinking is not restricted to the national stage. It is equally on display locally. For example, Healdsburg, like most of the nation has a housing shortage, but unlike most other Sonoma County communities it is exacerbated by a successful campaign to lure tourists and a growth management ordinance (GMO) that put strict limits on the number of new housing units that could be built.

To address the housing shortage the City Council established a citizen committee to study the problem. The committee engaged a well-respected consultant who led an intensive 24-month process of fact finding and community participation. This process resulted in Measure R that replaces a fixed number of permitted housing units with a process, which includes specific housing goals and is governed by a Housing Element and Housing Action Plan. The details include:

Requiring a specified number of new housing units be affordable to middle-income and working families;

Revising the number of housing units available to align with the City’s housing needs; and

Requiring the City to regularly evaluate the community’s housing needs and revise its approach to addressing those needs. 

Reasonable People Can Disagree

Over the course of this effort to find housing solutions hundreds of community members participated in the process and they made it abundantly clear that they want workforce housing and a limit on MacMansions.

Rather than recognize the hard work of the whole community in developing Measure R, the No campaign attempts to demonize the City Council and blame them for the lack of housing. This “you can’t trust government” is a classic ploy to allow voters to justify their unconscious bias. 

The No campaign claims that replacing the existing GMO will result in “sprawl” but the existing Urban Growth Boundary is actually the controlling factor for area that can be developed. Let’s be candid, for many the term sprawl is really just code for the homes of other citizens who are not like themselves, be they of color or less affluent. 

The headline on the No Campaign mailer really says it all; “A BIGGER TOWN IS NOT A BETTER TOWN”.  Really? Over the past five years Healdsburg has lost over a hundred affordable homes as those seeking investment, vacation or retirement opportunities. In addition rents have skyrocketed causing massive displacement of workers and long-time residents. Without building new affordable homes this diaspora cannot be slowed or reversed, but for the proponents of No on R these homes would make Healdsburg “bigger.” Oh, the horror! 

To get a sense of the tone of the Measure R campaign I urge you to check out the yes and no Facebook pages:

facebook.com/NoOnRHealdsburg

facebook.com/Healdsburg-Homes-for-Locals

Clearly both sides care passionately about the future of Healdsburg and both clearly lament the loss of so many of the old homes in Healdsburg. Both sides bring strong arguments and strident positions to their campaigns. No wonder this will be a very close vote.

Seeking a Moral Compass

I would summit to you that not one voter in a thousand, and I include myself in this number, have the expertise to be fully informed about the complex issues of housing and community development. While we must do our best to become as knowledgeable as possible, when we place our check mark on the ballot, we will, as often as not, be voting as much with our gut as our head.

In my case, I’ve known about the couple who work in town and yet have to live along Foss Creek and keep their stuff in the mini storage yard because they can’t find housing. I’ve talked with local workers living three families to a two-bedroom house. I followed the online despair of an elderly third generation Healdsburg woman forced out of her home. I’ve watched both the Citizen Housing Committee and the City Council in action. What I see is just regular folks trying to solve a complex issue, working as hard as possible on a thankless task. These and many other heart-rending encounters mean more to me that all the back-and-forth claims and counter-claims.

When I look at the choice of doing nothing, or following the path carved out by hundreds of my fellow Healdsburg residents, the choice is pretty clear. I will choose to give, rather than withhold. I will choose to have hope rather than surrender to fear. I will trust our community and the democratic process and hold the expectation that if Measure R doesn’t accomplish what we need that our community will try other ideas until we find those that work.