By Terry Rowan, July 21, 2020.
Racism is a serious charge to make and I don’t make it casually. It is useful therefore to distinguish between the intent of an act and its effects, which can be quite different.
Like the tone-deaf statement uttered by the now resigned Director of the Business Alliance “All Lives Matter,” (his answer to “Black Lives Matter”) it’s obvious that white privilege shields incurious minds to blindness concerning our own implicit racism. It’s doubtful that any of the Sonoma Supervisors or Council members, or members of The Business Alliance, see themselves as racists.
The Business Alliance is a venerable institution made up of builders, labor unions, wealthy individuals, small and large business owners whose corporate goal is to lobby, share concerns and provide campaign financing to local elective races. All the present Supervisors in the recent March 2020 races received substantial cash contributions to their campaigns from the Business Alliance, and this is an old story. Several of these Supervisors are also members of The Business Alliance and apparently see no conflict in this. The question one might ask but is rarely raised in media is this: What does The Business Alliance want from the Supervisors? If there is no stated quid pro quo between the two, is there some kind of implicit understanding about how policy & practice should work? The answer: what the Business Alliance wants from the supervisors is access to, and careful consideration of, any and all county policies and practices that will directly benefit its members.
Two pointed objectives of The Business Alliance are: (1) To influence government decisions affecting the economy, and (2) initiating and supporting actions to reduce non-essential government spending. If we choose one issue, housing, we see where a combination of deliberate, and deliberately omitted, government decisions over a lengthy time, — in and of themselves rational policy choices, — conclude in an array of effects that are clearly racist.
One example: since the Tubbs fire in October, 2017, 93% of all the building permits allowed throughout Sonoma have been for houses that only 20% of the population can afford. Contrarily, there is virtually no substantial housing startups for the middle or working classes, and very little adequate, affordable rentals for low-income people at all (average rental cost for an 800 sq.ft., one bedroom apartment in Sonoma is $1900/mo). It is not a coincidence that such a de facto housing policy greatly benefits the members of the Business Alliance. Upscale home builders can make big profits on houses costing over a million dollars; realtors’ associations make substantially more commissions selling expensive houses than they would from rental commissions; craft union members make substantially more rebuilding Fountaingrove houses than building downtown apartments.
None of these members of the Business Alliance would think of themselves as racists, yet the effects of this understanding between the Business Alliance and their friendly Supervisors virtually shuts out a huge segment of Sonoma from adequate, affordable housing, disproportionately affecting the lives and hopes of the poor, especially people of color.
The song, “I only have eyes for you,” aptly describes the view of the Supervisors and members of the Business Alliance: they simply do not see or much care about the needs of half their constituents. As public policy, the supervisors’ treatment of the homeless is especially instructive: perceived as nothing more than a nuisance, objects of forced clearances by police, the homeless are a home-grown moral scandal that is apparently not part of any discussions between the Business Alliance and Supervisors concerning the future well-being of Sonoma and all its citizens.
If Congress does not adequately address the imminent termination of the eviction pause (end of July) we will see thousands of low-income people evicted from their apartments. By practice and inclination, the Supervisors and Business Alliance will have no ready response to this calamity. Is Sonoma County the redoubt of the privileged few, working away at exploiting their advantage, their clubby access to elected officials, while the county regresses to something like Caracas, the walled-off rich barely noticing the riff-raff struggling below to hang on?
Resigning over a block-headed statement is easy. Leading on housing and other issues of vital importance to the majority of our citizens requires clear-headed and brave leadership willing to enact policies that address the needs of all citizens. Where is it?