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We Can Do Better

We Can Do Better

Originally posted on NewTimesSLO.com on 1/4/18

This year offers an opportunity to renew housing discussions

Bad decisions sometimes get made. Not because bad people make them, but mindsets of acceptance, press of time, and sometimes even political torpor can lend themselves to contentment with the status quo.

It's hard to tell which scenario caused the SLO County Board of Supervisors to sideline a forward-looking solution to the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance at their December board meeting, but whether passivity or languor was to blame, the resulting decision was bad.

At the beginning of 2017, when the ordinance first emerged for re-evaluation, each entity with skin in the game—from market rate developers to nonprofit housers—did indeed hard-bargain their corners. Egos jostled for primacy, lines in the sand were drawn, and elected officials anxious over re-election got skittish. In the sad process, the objective of how best to serve the county's poor through the preservation of affordable housing was lost.

Nonetheless, after necessarily spending hours debating the issue, after impassioned words were exchanged and meetings got heated, many of us discovered some shared values. We found that the challenge was nuanced and that the groups we belonged to didn't all speak with one voice. We saw entrenchment give way to vigorous discussion, and creative solutions were suggested. Who would have predicted that developers of market-rate housing might find faith with the nonprofit sector? Who could have expected those excoriating emails would yield better relations!

But that is exactly what happened, which is what makes this decision by the Board of Supervisors all the more disappointing. In rejecting the advice of county staff, the Central Coast Home Builders Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Vitality Corporation, and Peoples' Self-Help Housing (my organization), the board disregarded the healthy debate that emerged and needlessly put those most likely to benefit from a better decision, the poor of the county, at the bottom of the pile once again.

So even though the December board meeting minutes have been filed, and may in our minds have been consigned to "last year's business," I fervently believe we can do better. I'd be willing to bet that like me, there are many eager to give this thorny topic another try, many prepared to pause, sit down, and take another swing.

Each new year gives us that perennial opportunity to marshal our resources and resolve anew to try again. Great decisions very often come after a series of poor ones, and as Dean Acheson, former secretary of state and advisor to three presidents famously once said, "Negotiation in the classic diplomatic sense assumes that parties are more anxious to agree than to disagree."

I wholeheartedly know this to be the case in this instance. Every player in this complex issue is led by good people only wishing the best for our community.