Editorial: Left-Right Alliances: The Next New Thing? By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday July 05, 2005

Wow. How often do you see John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Richard Pombo, Richard Sensenbrenner, Molly Ivins and Debra Saunders playing on the same team? For those of you who have been on vacation the last five years, that’s two best-of-bunch Democratic congresspersons, two out-to-lunch Republican same, and two columnists, both good writers but one wrong on most things we care about. The issue that brought them all together, and fast? The recent Supreme Court decision that it’s fine for local government to take your house and give it to developers. Paul Glusman has already noted in these pages how judges can be all over the map these days, and that’s part of the explanation, but there’s more. 

The decision, which assembled its majority from four “liberals” and one “moderate,” illustrates vividly how the Democrats, who have traditionally been the party of the have-nots, have slipped over more often than not into being just another party for the haves. Molly Ivins, as always, nails it. She sees through the scam of the economic development lobby, which always gets more money for the rich, though sometimes also for organized construction workers and local government budgets. Of course, she puts it better than I can: “‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ is the eternal cry of the development lobby, which always stands to profit from whatever abomination is foisted on the public.” She has been known to winter in Berkeley on occasion, which is perhaps why she says “those who naively trust local governments to make wise decisions clearly haven’t been paying attention. The main difference between the feds and the locals is that it costs more to buy the feds.” 

John Conyers has been my main man in Congress ever since I lived in Michigan in the ‘60s. He was one of the very first Democrats to smell something fishy about the Vietnam war, bucking leaders of his own party by sponsoring a bill to impeach Lyndon Johnson, a copy of which I still have in a drawer somewhere. Detroit, where his district is located, has been repeatedly ravaged by misbegotten redevelopment schemes. He’s never trusted the powerful, even in his own party.  

Maxine Waters, who can best be described as “mouthy” (and from me that’s a compliment) similarly makes up her own mind, and she’s certainly aware that the modest homes of her L.A. constituents are now targets of opportunity in California’s real estate boom. To give their unlikely Republican bedfellows their due, even Republicans are sometimes concerned about little guys getting shafted, though they tend to suspect the feds more than the locals.  

Here in Berkeley, we’ve recently been treated to the unusual spectacle of a banner across the front steps of City Hall held at one end by a conservative ex-mayor and on the other end by a progressive ex-planning-commissioner. Both objected to the recent dumb deal by our own local government, sacrificing our city’s autonomy in planning for its own downtown for a very small mess of pottage promised by our resident megacorporation. The conservative end of the banner represented people who know that taxes will have to go up to pay for services used by mega-U’s expansion projects; the left-liberal end represented those who think that citizens should retain the right to control their own urban environment for the public good, and who understand that UC’s plans will end up being equivalent to the nastiest versions of urban redevelopment projects. Oh, and by the way, UC does have the power of eminent domain.  

Our readers in Oakland, in Rockridge, Temescal and North Oakland, face similar intrusions by greedy redevelopers. Another one of our sharp-eyed readers, Bob Brokl, recently contributed a fine explanation of how redevelopment works, and anyone who missed it should look it up on the Internet. Here again we have alert progressives who won’t take the fool’s gold offered to them by self-styled liberals in Oakland’s self-serving local government. Oakland has already been burned by classic redevelopment schemes, including the sports stadium trick and the convention hotel scam.  

What political observers more naïve than Conyers and Waters often miss is that the development lobby is not just “the developers,” though they get a good piece of the pie. Even more, it’s their financiers, who may be, for example, low-profile university business school professors. It’s also their contractors. The construction workers, the “jobs” behind which the lobby hides, usually turn out not to be the local unemployed, but poorly paid non-union outsiders who frequently work under substandard conditions with health hazards like asbestos exposure winked at by enforcers.  

It will be extremely interesting to see where these new progressive-conservative coalitions are going. Another sphere where both groups are beginning to catch on that government might be doing them in is the Iraq war. When you see rock-ribbed conservatives like Walter Jones beginning to ask why we’re there, you know something new has happened.