Jovanka Beckles is the wrong candidate to represent AD15 in the California State Assembly. As the Bay Area suffers under a regional housing crisis, Beckles has consistently denied well-documented causes, and stood in the way of sensible solutions.
In a candidate statement, Beckles stated that there is not a housing shortage in California, but argued rather that “big institutions” keep homes vacant and “foreign investors…vastly over-bid housing prices.” Her claims are not supported by any available data or expert study—and more obviously, they contradict themselves. Why would housing in California be attractive for speculation if it weren’t artificially scarce, relative to demand?
“We don’t suffer from a housing shortage crisis. We’re suffering from a housing affordability crisis,” Beckles said. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office, and the UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project all disagree: we need much more housing at all levels of affordability to end the displacement crisis.
Her reckless ignorance on this issue is reinforced by her record, where she has exercised knee-jerk NIMBYism against both market-rate and subsidized affordable housing.
In April 2018, Beckles voted against the city’s settlement of a lawsuit with casino developers over the Point Molate peninsula. The settlement ended an eight-year legal battle and cleared the way for development, including 740 units of housing.
In 2016, Beckles abstained on a vote to approve 155 units of affordable housing for middle-income households at 5620 Central Avenue. Neighbors opposed the project for standard Not In My Back Yard excuses, alleging that the five-story building would block sunlight and increase traffic. Councilmember Gayle MacLaughlin, Beckles’ ally in the Richmond Progressive Alliance, led the charge to reduce the total number of homes and increase parking requirements, which put the whole project in jeopardy. (The project had already been scaled back from 300 units.) Construction still hasn’t started on the site, as the developer is now considering a total redesign to make the project economically feasible.
In 2014, Beckles voted against approving a coastal condominium project in Point Richmond. The vote gave the developer, Shea Homes, the green light to build a 60-unit residential development of five two-story buildings along the shoreline, with another four buildings four stories tall further inland. The project will be accommodating about 170 residents, in spite of Beckles’ vote.
Beckles seems to hold local suburban veto power over new housing to be an inviolable article of faith in public policy. This does not bode well for her leadership in a regional crisis. When Beckles opposed Senate Bill 827, state legislation aimed at alleviating the state’s housing shortage by requiring localities to build more densely near public transit, she made it clear that municipal control was her top priority: "I really think that cities need to be able to have more control in terms of building, because they know best," Beckles said.
Anyone stuck on the Richmond bridge during rush hour can easily see why Marin County doesn’t need more local control. In 2017, Marin’s representatives in the state legislature held critical transportation funding hostage to negotiate an exemption from affordable housing requirements, which Governor Brown was forced to grant. Meanwhile, the Bay Area now has some of the longest commutes in the country. Apparently, Beckles believes that the affluent, majority-white Marin County should have even more power to block affordable housing and keep the poorer workforce from the East Bay out of their neighborhoods.
California has a shortage of homes, not a shortage of gated communities.
“Beckles' large donors are mostly homeowners with a material interest in seeing their $300,000 investment turn into $3,000,000 by doing literally nothing to create more housing for working people,” said Victoria Fierce, the Co-Executive of the nonprofit East Bay For Everyone. “These homeowners don't want to have to engage with someone who might ‘force’ them to live next to renters.”
Jovanka Beckles is running for state office on a record of worsening the housing shortage. Her opponent, Buffy Wicks, supports creating more homes at all levels of affordability, and she has advocated for increasing density near transit. She is clearly the better choice to represent AD15.
We don’t need longer commutes, and we don’t need more obstruction—we don’t need Jovanka Beckles taking California in the wrong direction.
John Knox recently retired as a senior partner with a large law firm after a 30-year career in municipal finance, working on infrastructure, housing, non-profit and similar tax exempt transactions. He represented the City of Richmond as its bond counsel, appearing frequently before the City Council, and was the architect of Richmond’s critically acclaimed social impact bond program to rehabilitate dilapidated housing in the City for first time homebuyers. He is a native and current resident of Richmond.
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