Suppose you’re one of those “single-issue” voters who will cast her ballot for only those candidates who take the “right” side on a specific issue. This being Alameda, suppose that issue is Measure Z, the ballot measure to repeal Article XXVI of the City Charter.
So which Council candidates – there are two seats up for election – do you vote for this November?
The answer isn’t as straightforward as one might suspect.
Of the five candidates running, four have made their position on both Article XXVI and Measure Z pretty clear:
- Former Mayor Trish Spencer wants to keep all of Article XXVI – its ban on multi-family housing as well as its limitations on residential density – in the Charter, and she opposes Measure Z.
- Challenger Gig Codiga endorses the position taken by some members of the Alameda Citizens Task Force and the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society: repealing the multi-family prohibition would be okay, but the density limitation should be retained until the General Plan is revised. Since Measure Z mandates full repeal now, he opposes it.
- Together with Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Councilman Jim Oddie originally proposed a ballot measure to repeal only the multi-family prohibition but not the density limitation. But then Mr. Oddie underwent an epiphany – similar to the one he experienced on the issue of “just cause evictions” – and decided he wanted to get rid of Article XXVI in its entirety. He supports Measure Z with the zeal of a convert, proclaiming at the League of Women Voters forum: “So let’s call this [i.e., Article XXVI] what it is – racist, exclusionary zoning – and get it out of our charter now.”
- Councilwoman Malia Vella was one of four Council members who voted in favor of the Oddie/Ashcraft proposal for only partial repeal of Article XXVI. But then, like Mr. Oddie, she decided full repeal was the way to go and joined another 4-1 majority in favor of that motion. Since then, Ms. Vella has become an ardent supporter of Measure Z.
That leaves the third challenger, Amos White, and here is where things get a little murky.
So far, Mr. White has had the chance to state his position at three public forums of which we’re aware.
At the first, sponsored by the City of Alameda Democratic Club, the candidates were asked during what the moderator called a “lightning round” to state simply whether they “support or do not support” Measure Z. Mr. White responded, “I do not support
The candidates then were given the opportunity to elaborate on the responses they had given during the lightning round. Mr. White chose not to say anything further about Measure Z.
Predictably, our local insult comedians immediately derided him, and one characterized his “do not support” statement as a pitch to “get the retro Alameda vote.” Sure enough, Mr. White turned out to be one of three candidates whom the A Better Alameda PAC – a “retro” group if ever there was one (and we mean that as a compliment) – endorsed a few days after the Democratic Club forum.
A month later, BikeWalk Alameda and CASA (Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda) held a joint candidates’ forum. Before the meeting, both groups asked the candidates to fill out questionnaires. One question specifically addressed Article XXVI: “[D]o you support the measure proposing to repeal Article 26 and amend the General Plan to repeal the prohibition against building multi-family housing in Alameda and the Citywide density limitation of one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land?”
Mr. White responded:
I support the eventual repeal of Article 26. However, I do not support this measure. The key here is public input and in supporting the General Plan.
I was in favor of City Council’s June 2 decision to repeal Article 26-1. The section that banned multi-family housing. If that’s all that was to be on the ballot, I would support repeal. However, on July 7, Council at last minute, in the middle of a pandemic, with not much public notice, input nor discussion, voted to repeal all of Article 26. This is not fair nor open process that we expect from Council. The process was rushed, was not fair nor open, and comes too soon without full consideration of follow on or impact as per the General Plan. The entire General Plan comes up for review next year. The relevance and need for Article 26 should be part of that larger discussion and review along with comprehensive environmental impact reports and traffic studies.
If it passes, I am not opposed to repealing Article 26. Though I would support the measure only after a fair, open, public process that includes detailed, informed, data-driven, comprehensive study and replacement policy that protects neighborhood integrity and historic preservation.
This response left us – and others – shaking our heads. Mr. White says he does “not support” Measure Z – that’s what he said before – but he also says he is “not opposed” to repealing Article XXVI – which he hadn’t said previously. What’s more, he appears to endorse the “the eventual repeal” of the Charter provision in toto.
If we were inclined to be cynical, we’d think Mr. White was trying to have it both ways: Tell the ACT and AARP folks that he opposes Measure Z – for now; but tell the “build, baby, build” crowd that he supports repealing all of Article XXVI – eventually.
But we decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’d clear things up at the forum itself.
Well, not for us he didn’t.
At the Zoom event, the CASA moderator noted Mr. White’s response to the questionnaire and then asked, how did his “go slow” approach to repeal of Article XXVI “square with the urgency of the climate crisis”? And if Measure Z didn’t pass, would he vote to place the repeal of Article XXVI on the November 2022 ballot?
Mr. White began his answer this way:
Yes. Next question, please. No. Yes. Unequivocally. You stated at the front, and I’ll answer it on the backside, I support the repeal of this and think it needs to go forward. I don’t support the process through which this has not yet gone through. It does not and has not had, within the shelter in place, the extensive public input, process that our user utility tax did.
Then, after a digression into the “Climate Emergency Declaration,” he continued:
So, second, in terms of Article XXVI, and for repealing that, yes, I do believe that it needs to be repealed for many reasons. However, from a process standpoint I don’t agree with that, it’s done more just to throw this on the ballot, not to move this around the city, as we did, to get our input if you will, to get homeowners’ input on this, and to get many other people’s input on this. It’s really created a great deal of animosity, and for some people a lot of questions, because they don’t know what the impacts are, there is no follow-on plan, and people are very uncomfortable with that and moving forward with that. So would I put it on the ballot for 2024, yes, I would, but regardless, pass or fail, as Council member I would support what the people wish.
All clear now? We thought not.
The day after the BikeWalkAlameda/CASA forum, Mr. White got his third chance, at the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Here, the moderator formulated the question in negative terms: What would the candidate do if Measure Z didn’t pass?
Mr. White responded:
If it does not pass, I would first say, we need to have a direct public conversation. This was put on the ballot in a rush fashion without moving it throughout the city. It was first supposed to be put on the ballot on June 9th just to repeal one of the three articles. That came back a month later and all three were there put on it.
I have a problem with that from a public-policy standpoint, particularly because this is such a divisive issue. It’s not because of the fact that I don’t believe that the policy may or may not be racist, that’s not the point.
The point is, right now we’re at a very, as a city even, delicate time. And when this was done in June we were in the middle of a racial, if you will, conflict. And unarguably we were not exactly a city united.
I’m into more so having a conversation about the city on the issue so that homeowners and other people who really don’t understand the impact that has not been presented if repealed with this measure what will be the impacts, what is the follow-on plan, how will this square with the housing element and our general plan. There are questions out here that have done more to divide our city than to bring it together. And I say that because in working with, if you will, the whole issue around race and police here this past summer, the one thing we really tried to do, and the dialogue, is to make sure that people were informed of what the impacts were for the demands that were being made, and we do need to do more education on that and I’d seek to do that afterward.
Okay, we give up.
Maybe we’re just simpletons, but we think the issue boils down to just three alternatives:
For four of the candidates, we know which box they’d check. For Mr. White, based on his answers, we just can’t say. If he wouldn’t mind printing out this ballot, checking one – and only one – of the boxes, and sending it back, we promise to publish his choice.
Now, we don’t mean to pick on Mr. White. (Those who want to keep him off the Council because he threatens John Knox White’s aim to be regarded as the local voice of Black Lives Matter have trashed him enough already.) And we share his distrust of a “process” by which, within the span of a few weeks, a Council with two members recommending, and two others agreeing to, only partial repeal of Article XXVI morphed into a Council with four votes for asking the voters to repeal the entire article.
With all due respect to Andrew Thomas, the City’s Planning, Building and Transportation director, we don’t think that what led to a 4-1 vote in favor of full repeal was his argument that getting rid of the density limitation as well as the multi-family prohibition would make it easier for the City to meet its RHNA quota – he’d been making that same argument for months. Political calculations – specifically, the desire to be seen as taking at least as “progressive” a stance as Mr. Knox White (who had decreed that Article XXVI should be consigned to the dung heap of history) – had more to do with it.
But we wonder whether Mr. White’s focus on the “process” has led him astray. Sure, if the members of the Council he is seeking to join had acted more candidly and less cravenly, their decision to put Measure Z on the ballot would have deserved more respect. But, regardless of how or why that decision was made, the ballot measure ought to be judged in terms of the result it ordains: repealing all of Article XXVI immediately. Whatever he thinks of the “process,” Mr. White ought to say forthrightly whether he wants the article taken out of the Charter now or not.
We also have some sympathy for the dilemma facing the hypothetical single-issue voters we talked about at the beginning.
Take someone who believes Article XXVI should be repealed in its entirety and thus supports Measure Z. But suppose that person is a little uncomfortable voting for the two Council members whom the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury found violated the City Charter by trying to bully the City Manager into giving the fire chief’s job to the guy hand-picked by their firefighters’ union cronies.
If Mr. White truly supports repealing Article XXVI in its entirety, maybe such a voter would be inclined to vote for him rather than Mr. Oddie or Ms. Vella.
Now turn it around and take a voter who believes that at least the density limitation set by Article XXVI should remain in the Charter and thus opposes Measure Z. But suppose that person wasn’t particularly enamored of Ms. Spencer’s performance during her four years as mayor or especially impressed by Mr. Codiga’s command of the issues during the candidate debates.
If Mr. White truly would support retaining just that much of Article XXVI for the time being, maybe such a voter would be inclined to vote for him rather than Ms. Spencer or Mr. Codiga.
But what’s a voter in either category to do if Mr. White fails to make his position clear?
His equivocation may cost him votes. If so, it also may redound to the benefit of Mr. Oddie and Ms. Vella from Article XXVI detractors/Measure Z advocates, or, conversely, to the benefit of Ms. Spencer and Mr. Codiga from those on the other side of the issue. We can’t imagine that is a result Mr. White planned – or welcomes.
The video of the City of Alameda Democratic Club candidate forum is posted on the Club’s Facebook page.
The video of the BikeWalkAlameda/CASA candidate form may be found at http://casa-alameda.org/event/bike-walk-alameda-casa-city-council-candidate-forum.
The video of the League of Women Voters candidate forum may be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–hq7rwSFVA.