Northern News

APA CA logo

A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

There’s no end in sight to divisive public hearings

“Residents of wealthy neighborhoods are taking extreme measures to block much-needed housing and transportation projects.”

By Michael Hobbes. This is an excerpt from HuffPost, July 6, 2019.

“[L]ocals are losing their minds over issues related to housing, zoning, and transportation. Ugly public meetings are becoming increasingly common in cities across the country as residents frustrated by worsening traffic, dwindling parking, and rising homelessness take up fierce opposition.

“[Meetings] cut short after boos and jeering repeatedly interrupted speakers … are usually sparked by projects or policy changes intended to address America’s worsening housing crisis. … And yet, despite the urgency of the need and the expert consensus on solutions, individual efforts to increase density, improve transit, or alleviate homelessness can spend years bogged down by local opposition.

“Rowdy public hearings are nothing new in city politics. In the 1970s, white parents mobilized to prevent racial minorities from attending their children’s schools. In the 1990s, affluent voters organized in favor of tougher policing despite living in the neighborhoods with the lowest crime rates.

“Examples of this can be found in nearly every city experiencing job and population growth. In San Francisco, residents of a wealthy neighborhood opposed the construction of low-income senior housing, citing concerns that it was seismically unstable. Seattle homeowners sued a homeless housing project over a technicality related to its permitting. In Boise, by some measures the fastest-growing city in the country, one of the arguments employed by residents fighting the construction of new townhomes is that they will reduce pedestrian safety.

“And it’s not just ideology fueling the backlash; it’s also technology. Facebook groups and the hyper-local app Nextdoor have made it easier to get signatures on petitions and pack public meetings. GoFundMe allows neighborhood groups to raise six-figure trust funds for legal challenges. Video sharing encourages campaigners to turn public meeting testimony into deceptively edited viral clips.

“In the short term, anti-growth activism is likely to increase urban inequality. Nearly three-quarters of the jobs created since the Great Recession were added in cities with populations over 1 million. As cities continue to swell with new workers, their inability to build dense housing and high-quality bus and train service will push low-income residents even farther away from jobs and schools.

“Cities can redesign community outreach to encourage input from groups that have traditionally been excluded. According to a 2017 study, older male homeowners are more likely to participate in town hall meetings and other public participation processes than other demographic groups. Another, published in June, found that becoming a property owner motivated individuals to participate in politics and to express their views on housing, traffic, and development to elected leaders more often. [But] it’s not clear if longer or more inclusive citizen engagement will lower the temperature of local debates over density and growth.

“ ‘The only thing that gives me hope is that the most radical voices don’t represent the will of the majority,’ said Robert Getch, a Seattle housing activist. ‘Most people want more homes and more transit and have compassion for the homeless. We just need politicians to stop listening to the people who are shouting the loudest.’ ”

This excerpt is 538 words. Read the full article here (2476 words, or 4.6x).

Scroll to Top