The scorecard on Trish Spencer

Here’s your Alameda mayoral campaign quiz for the day:

During the last two years, which candidate has voted in favor of the following “progressive,” pro‑bicycle, and pro‑development proposals brought before City Council:

  • Renaming Jackson Park to Chochenyo Park;
  • Authorizing planning and design work on a bike‑pedestrian bridge over the Oakland estuary;
  • Approving a deal for 509 new units of market‑rate housing at the Encinal Terminals site.

If your answer was “Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft,” you got it right.

But if your answer was “Trish Spencer,” well, you got it right, too.

Surprised?  Well, you might be if you’re one of those who believe that Ms. Spencer dislikes Ms. Ashcraft so much that she’d never see eye‑to‑eye with the mayor on any issue.  (And vice versa.)  In fact, the two politicians aren’t exactly buddies – but that hasn’t stopped them from voting the same way on a not insignificant number of occasions.

To the Merry‑Go‑Round, analyzing Ms. Spencer’s voting record as a Council member is far more useful to the electorate who will pick a mayor this November than dredging up a vote she made 13 years ago when she was on the school board.

So we looked at the votes on contested, substantive matters from the time Ms. Spencer joined Council in December 2020 through the second meeting in July 2022, the last month for which the City website contains approved minutes.  (“Contested” means that there was at least one dissenting vote.  “Substantive” is meant to exclude votes on purely procedural motions like extending the meeting beyond the usual 11 p.m. deadline.)

Our objective was two‑fold:  We wanted to determine how often Ms. Spencer voted with or against the woman often portrayed as her bitter enemy (Mayor Ashcraft), and how often she voted with or against the man frequently depicted as her BFF (Councilman Tony Daysog).  We also wanted to see the extent to which Ms. Spencer deserves the reputation of being a voice crying in the wilderness.

Today, we’ll summarize the results.

Let’s start with Ms. Spencer and Ms. Ashcraft.

During her term on Council through July, Ms. Spencer has voted the same way as Mayor Ashcraft on 30 of 144 contested, substantive matters – i.e., 21 percent of the time.

To be sure, the majority of votes on which Ms. Spencer and Ms. Ashcraft concurred involved non‑controversial issues.  For example, Ms. Spencer and Ms. Ashcraft both voted to modify the distance separation required between bars; turn enforcement of the City’s parking ordinances over to the public‑works department, and direct staff to develop a program for reducing catalytic‑converter thefts.  In all three of these examples (as well as the three cited upfront), Mr. Daysog was the sole dissenter.

But Ms. Spencer and Ms. Ashcraft haven’t avoided taking joint stands on controversial issues, either.  The prime examples are their votes – over the strident objections of Councilman John Knox White and his devoted camp follower, Vice Mayor Malia Vella – to retain the police department’s emergency response vehicle and to authorize APD’s purchase of automated license plate readers.  And the latest example, which falls outside our time frame, is their vote – over equally strident objections from the same two – to alter the design of the proposed Grand Street “improvement plan.”  (Thanks to the Alameda Post for its objective reporting about Tuesday’s Council meeting, upon which we relied as we haven’t yet watched the video ourselves.)

This 21 percent concurrence rate, and these examples, give the lie to any contention that Ms. Spencer blindly opposes any position taken by Ms. Ashcraft, regardless of its merits.  Mitch McConnell she’s not.

At the same time, the analysis does not imply that Ms. Spencer and Ms. Ashcraft are political allies, either.  After all, they found themselves on the opposite side of the votes on 114 contested, substantive matters – i.e., 79 percent of the time.  In particular, they’ve disagreed about hot‑button issues such as homelessness, rent control, and police reform.  They even preferred different local newspapers for the City’s legal advertising business.  And we’re sure Ms. Ashcraft wasn’t happy about Ms. Spencer’s opposition to the mayor’s pet project:  a Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program.

Now for Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog.

Having – we hope – disposed of one myth, let’s turn to another:  Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog are joined together at the hip, and they always can be found on the same side of every issue.

There is a duo on Council who agreed with each other on virtually every contested, substantive matter.  But it’s not Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog.  It’s Mr. Knox White and Ms. Vella.

The two progressive Council members voted the same way on 133 matters for a concurrence rate of 91 percent.  By contrast, Ms. Spencer voted the same way as Mr. Daysog on 72 matters for a concurrence rate of 52 percent.  The first two Council members truly appear to be peas in a pod; the latter two are more like buds on the same branch.

The Knox/White team, of course, was far more successful than the Spencer/Daysog pair:  When the two progressive Council members voted the same way, they were joined by at least one other Council member (usually, Ms. Ashcraft) to make up a majority 95 percent of the time.  By contrast, when Mr. Spencer and Mr. Daysog voted the same way on a substantive matter, they found a third vote and prevailed only 19 percent of the time.  For the handful of procedural matters, their record was even worse:  the two didn’t win any of those motions.

Among these failures, two are particularly noteworthy.

First, Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog were unsuccessful in resisting efforts to restrict the scope of participation by the public – and elected officials – at Council meetings.

These efforts were the product of a subcommittee consisting of Ms. Ashcraft and Mr. Knox White.  Their first round of recommendations was to limit the speaking time to which members of the public were entitled during the “oral communications” and “consent calendar” segments of the meeting.  The second round sought to limit the time for presentation and comment by Council members on “Council referrals.”  Both motions passed by 3‑2 votes over the dissent of Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog.

The new rules, and Ms. Ashcraft’s rigid adherence to them, soon produced an embarrassing episode.  Enforcing the new “consent calendar” rule, the Mayor cut City Auditor Kevin Kearney off at the two‑minute mark as he was addressing Council about the recently completed audit.  Irate, Ms. Spencer moved to extend Mr. Kearney’s time.  Mr. Daysog voted for the motion, and so did Mr. Knox White, but since a supermajority was required, it failed.  So Ms. Spencer ended up having to submit a Council referral to place the audit on a regular agenda to allow Mr. Kearney to get his full say.

Second, neither Ms. Spencer nor Mr. Daysog has had much luck with the Council referrals they’ve made to bring matters of concern to themselves or their constituents before Council.

From December 2020 through July 2022, Ms. Spencer submitted 12 referrals, Mr. Daysog offered four, and the two made one joint referral.  Of these 17, only two attracted support from Ms. Ashcraft, Ms. Vella, or Mr. Knox White.  Mr. Knox White agreed to Ms. Spencer’s request for Council to support a specific Assembly bill, and Ms. Ashcraft went along with Mr. Daysog’s request to direct staff to review a volunteer street clean‑up program.  The ruling triumvirate rejected all the rest.

Unable to make policy themselves, Ms. Spencer and Mr. Daysog have been left to stand athwart the progressive machine and holler stop – to the deaf ears of the majority:

  • They opposed a citywide requirement for a pro‑labor Project Labor Agreement and a mandate for “hazard pay” for grocery workers.  Both ordinances were adopted, 3‑2.
  • They opposed a new General Plan that laid the groundwork for re‑zoning residential districts and shopping centers.  It was approved, 3‑2.  (Equally unsuccessful were their attempts, usually by way of referrals, to influence the preparation of the next Housing Element.  Mr. Knox White did, however, join their motion to appeal the City’s RHNA quota, knowing full well that the appeal was doomed to fail.)
  • They opposed rezoning the “bottle parcel” for residential use (it later became the site of an “interim supportive transitional” housing project) and converting four homes at Alameda Point into “emergency supportive housing.”  Both motions passed, 3‑2.

We could go on – but you get the point.

The surprising fact revealed by our analysis of the Spencer‑Daysog voting record is that the two of them voted on opposite sides almost as frequently as they voted on the same side, disagreeing on 67 contested, substantive matters.  What is especially interesting is the large number of these matters for which Ms. Spencer or Mr. Daysog was the sole vote on one side:  It happened 38 times for Ms. Spencer, and 23 times for Mr. Daysog.  Maybe both of them, and not just Ms. Spencer, deserve a reputation for crying in the wilderness.

Today, our attention remains directed at Ms. Spencer and her solo votes.  We’ll highlight two areas in which she regularly dissented from all of her colleagues (including Mr. Daysog).

One area involved financial matters.  Ms. Spencer alone voted against approving both the two‑year General Fund budget for fiscal year 2021‑22 and FY 2022‑23 and the subsequently revised budget for FY 2022‑23.  Likewise, she alone voted against hiring a pollster to survey voters about potential “revenue measures”; then against “exploring” a ballot measure increasing the transit occupancy tax; and, finally, against putting such a measure on the November ballot.  And she was the only objector to a number of individual spending items, such as increasing the salary of the base reuse manager and hiring a third‑party property management firm at Alameda Point.

It’s not necessarily that Ms. Spencer is cheap (or “fiscally conservative,” if you prefer), although that she may be.  Instead, the minutes show that, when a financial matter comes before Council, Ms. Spencer invariably delves deeply into the details and the data.  And if she isn’t satisfied with the answers, she usually ends up voting no.

(Ms. Spencer’s practice of asking a lot of questions routinely riles those who believe they already know all the answers.  Just last week, according to the report in the Alameda Post, Mr. Knox White left the Council meeting early, later explaining to his Twitter followers that, “as Councilmember Spencer began her second round of asking staff the same questions to maybe support a motion I didn’t support, it was time for me to get back and spend some time with people I won’t see for a long time.”)

Another area in which Ms. Spencer has gone it alone involves transportation issues.  Hers was the only vote against approving the Vision Zero Action Plan and accepting the annual reports on the Transportation Choices Plan (and the Climate Action Resilience Plan).  Likewise, she bucked all four of her colleagues in opposing specific measures such as the “commercial streets” program for the Park and Webster Street business districts and in objecting to discontinuing the free Alameda Loop Shuttle.

The best explanation for no votes like these may be philosophical.  “It’s important that we recognize,” Ms. Spencer said at one meeting, “that, as well‑intended as these ideas are, some of them are completely impractical, and some of them are misguided.”  Upholding that philosophy, Ms. Spencer tends to focus on the impact of a proposed plan or program, however innovative it may be, on real people and their daily lives.  Will reducing and narrowing traffic lanes lead to more accidents?  Will requiring all‑electric homes increase demand for electricity and lead to more blackouts?  The “experts,” she often is assured, have figured all of these concerns into their calculus.  But Ms. Spencer is notably reluctant to trust them.

We hope that the foregoing has enabled our readers to go beyond the campaign platitudes and promises and scrutinize the stances the two officeholders running for mayor have taken on the record.  (We don’t mean to slight the third mayoral candidate, Barack D. Obama Shaw, but he has no similar track record for us to evaluate.)  It would be far easier, of course, for Alamedans to mark their ballots based on what Yale Law School professor Amy Chua calls “political tribalism”:  if you consider yourself a “progressive,” you vote for the candidate whom you believe to be a member of your tribe – no further inquiry needed.  Indeed, that is the approach being urged these days by “activists” at both ends of the ideological spectrum.  We trust our readers will dare to be different.

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Alameda Point, Budget, City Hall, Development, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The scorecard on Trish Spencer

  1. Allan Mann says:

    Graphs and tables showing the sources of campaign contributions to candidates for Alameda Mayor, City Council and School Board are now available from the League of Women Voters at https://www.lwvalameda.org/alameda-campaign-finance-review.html.

  2. Mike McMahon says:

    Voting record is one barometer for selecting a Mayor. Another would the ability to conduct an effective meeting and represent the city on Bay Area inter-governmental bodies. Be curious to the records of Spencer and Ashcraft in those areas.

    • Good Swimmer says:

      Running a meeting? How about how they run the city? In the last four years, we have more crime, more homeless, more closed businesses, and more congestion. Oh yeah, and fewer police officers. The only thing rising is the number of firefighters. That’s a poor record for any mayor.

  3. Perhaps you can update Ms.Ashcraft’s stand on the Grand St. project. Right after the council meeting on Oct.4, in which she voted against the ‘improvement project’ as presented by staff (to the glee of all her Grand St. neighbors /supporters) the Mayor then appeared at the Bike Walk Alameda and CASA mayoral forum and said she was changing her vote (after a backlash from her social media supporters). She’s bringing the Grand St. project item back to the City Council in two weeks, and planning to vote again in early November, coincidently after the election.
    I’m fine with however Ms.Ashcraft votes, she’s entitled to that. What I find disturbing is how easily she flipped. Ahh, the joy of election times!
    Here is the meeting https://youtu.be/9YHYuZKuvHY.

    • carol says:

      It is very disturbing that Ashcraft announced her intention to flip her vote less than 2 days after the last council meeting. Especially since the rumor is she did so in response to threats of sign removal and bike advocates not voting for her. As JKW said at the end of the meeting: “It should have passed, since we got dozens of letters in support from BikeWalkAlamedans. The only people who oppose the project are the people who live there (!).”
      I wonder what would have happened if this was not so close to election time. Seems to me this is a great argument for Mayor Ashcraft to recuse herself from the votes on this project (in addition to the fact that she lives right in the middle of it).

    • Common Sense says:

      Ms. Ashcraft did not “so easily flip.” As early as June of this year she signaled her support for the Grand St project, but had a few safety questions for city staff and bike advocates. Those safety questions were not answered by the time the vote came up. (The “no” vote was the apparent flip, as it shocked everyone). When she received clarifying information after the vote, she then decided to bring the vote back to council.

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