Why is a YIMBY like Sebastian Gorka?

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 14, 2017 - 02:02:00 PM
Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former  Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".
Founders of East Bay Forward,host of YIMBYtown 2017 and ally of San Francisco BARF. L to R : Ian Monroe, Libby Lee-Egan, Greg Magofña (former aide to former Berkeley mayor Tom Bates) Diego Aguilar-Canabal, (appointed to Berkeley commissions by Councilmember Lori Droste), and Victoria Fierce, described on EBF website as "hacker-at-large".

My girlhood hero Tom Lehrer is popularly believed to have given up satire when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize, but Wikipedia says that’s just an urban legend. But what does it matter, in this era of truthiness and faux facts? It might as well be true, so let’s just say it is.

It’s certainly true that satire is getting harder and harder to spot. This last week alone had events both local and national that gave new meaning to the now hackneyed observation that “you can’t make this stuff up.”

Before we tackle YIMBYtown 2017, let’s just open with the Spy vs. Spy get-together of the hapless Junior Trump and a Russian woman whose glamorous published pictures look like she could have been played by Hedy Lamarr in a thirties spy movie. And they were accompanied by, playing for the US, sleazy Paul Manafort and smoothy Jared Kushner, with a random ex-spy along with the Russian team.

Junior now claims that Paul was just fiddling with his smart phone the whole time, not participating—doesn’t anyone but me know that you can record whole meetings on those gadgets?

No doubt SNL is already working on the satiric version, but how can you beat this kind of self-satire?

Yes, I know it’s serious, but I can’t help seeing the whole Trump administration as a kind of Opera Buffo. My fave character: Sebastian Gorka. Hungarian accent, goatee, crazy politics—the whole nine yards: “Oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way across the floor:” 


Watch for him if you'd like a nervous giggle. It's been recently reported that he's the new top of the heap in the loony White House. 

But we have our own local comic opera right here in River City. That would be the variously denominated crowd fronting from time to time as YIMBY/San Francisco BARF/ East Bay Forward and many more. They seem to be about 40 ill-mannered individuals who show up at meetings, but they’re regarded as Very Serious People by lazy newsies, stringers for the New York and LA Times, the Atlantic and other prestigious publications, who are looking for a “dog bites man” story. 

The YIMBYs have also been known to impress impressionable local pols, notably District 8 Councilmember Lori Droste, who actually appoints them to commissions. Benny Bartlett in District 3 seems to be hearing their siren song too. 

This week they’re doing Oakland, wearing the hat of YIMBYtown2017. To my everlasting regret, I’m missing their conference today, Friday, but you can get the full flavor of the event on their website here. 

My top picks are the pages which recount the rules of engagement. These provide new and better glosses for the currently trendy derisive term “special snowflake”, used in a variety of contexts by left and right, young and old, to characterize entitled behavior, usually of the under-forties but not always. 

First, check out the YIMBYtown 2017 Code of Conduct, which starts out: 

“· YIMBYtown is a supportive, safe, welcoming environment for all, regardless of level of political involvement, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, personal appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, or other similar characteristic. 

“· Please be kind and courteous to each other. No personal attacks. There’s no need to be mean or rude. Don’t be ashamed to celebrate the work of others.” 

The Code of Conduct goes on to list every possible form of bad behavior which your mother should have warned you against, threatening that you’ll be asked to leave if you transgress, e.g. barring “Personal insults, particularly those related to gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability. “ 

This would not be so ironic if BARFers in the past on their list-serv had not repeatedly mocked speakers at Berkeley civic meetings in ageist terms (“grey ponytails”) and attacked individuals by name in comment sections of local blogs. (That would be me, for one.) Notice that this particular list of transgressions does not include age-related insults, though age is mentioned elsewhere. Perhaps they had to prescribe the Code of Conduct to control their own errant members? 

But fear not, even if rude people are asked to leave, the cops won’t be called to enforce this rule: Given the many marginalized people involved in our conference, we respectfully ask that you do not call the cops to the conference location.” It is Oakland, after all, so yes, cops might be a problem. 

The situation could get interesting nevertheless, if you believe this post on the Indybay website: 

SHUT DOWN YIMBY TOWN--3 days of autonomous action//creative intervention//sabotage .
On July 13-16 the pro-gentrification YIMBY Party will descend upon Oakland to plot our total destruction. ****lets show them how hard Oakland rides****”

Since I can’t make it, I’ll have to depend on other media to tell me what happens. But wait, check out the YIMBYtown Media Guidelines. I’ve been a journalist on and off since 1977, and I’ve never seen anything like this. Again, you can’t make this stuff up. 

One highlight (but do click through yourself to laugh at all of them!): 

“Everything *OUTSIDE OF PANEL CONTENT* is off-the-record by default, and explicit verbal or written consent is required for anything that can identify individuals or organization.” 

Be aware that the all-caps language about the panels was just added last night, probably because no self-respecting member of the press should sign off on reporting a totally “off-the-record by default” event. However you can be sure that the above mentioned newsies will be there regardless. I wonder if they’ll report the whole story, or just the permissible PANEL CONTENT? 

Why, why, are these YIMBYs so delicate? It’s hard to resist playground epithets to characterize their attitude ( “Just spoiled brats!”) They appear to be people from privileged middle-class backgrounds, mad at the world because they can’t manage to live in the style to which their parents accustomed them. Sad! 

An anonymous commenter on the IndyBay AntiFada notice provides: 

“Three recent quotes from Chief YIMBY Sonja Trauss:
1. ‘Gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price.’
2. ‘Gentrification is an unmitigated positive phenomenon for black homeowners. Full stop.’
3. ‘All anti-gentrification activism in some form is hostile to this recalculation’. 

I haven’t independently verified these quotes, but they seem plausible to me, given that I’ve seen Ms. Sonja in action and she talks like this. 

What I think is most ironic about this selfish gang is that they feel the need to erect a wall of protection around their own silly little conference, and yet they’re more than willing to enable market-rate developers to invade historic Black neighborhoods to build market-rate luxury apartments for YIMBY’s White peers. Their acronym should be YIYBY instead, by the way: Yes, in Your Backyard, or perhaps MIYBY, Me in Your Backyard. 

I find it odd to be sort of on the same side as AntiFada (previously noted for trying to shut down speeches by folks they don’t like,) though I too dislike the YIMBYs. But I’ll stick to my old-timey ACLU ethic: the best remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech—give them enough rope to hang themselves, and don’t forget to laugh when they make fools of themselves. It would be a shame to shut down YIMBYtown 2017 since it offers such a great stock of comic material, 

The Berkeley Daily Planet had hoped to get our revered satire correspondent, Grace Underpressure of the Pepper Spray Times, to attend on our behalf, but she said she was occupied making trouble elsewhere. I’m sure the recent threat of a libel lawsuit from a Berkeley commissioner she’d mocked in print had nothing to do with her decision. 

Even though they're silly, they should be taken seriously, however. 

On the serious side: how often do the Actually Serious have to explain to these dolts that warmed-over neo-liberal supply-side faith in the effectiveness of All Markets All the Time is so last year? It's just not as simple as the way your suburban high school econ teacher explained it to you. 

Tim Redmond, formerly of the Bay Guardian and now of 48hills.org, has tried repeatedly but in vain to explain the economics to the naive, as has former Planet columnist Zelda Bronstein, now contributing to the same publication. 

If you care about such debates and couldn’t make to YIMBYtown to hear their foolish rants in person, one of Tim’s recent pieces should tell you all you need to know about the flaws in their ideology : Listen, Yimby! What if your market-based model is destined to fail? An open letter from someone who is not a Nimby… 

And on an even more serious note, please be aware that right now in the state legislatures there are several developer-backed bills promoted by YIMBY/BARF which if passed would eliminate local control over most development. The worst one, SB35, just passed out of committee and is now on the floor of the Assembly. Urge our Berkeley City Council and our representatives in the state Assembly and Senate to oppose these bad bills before it’s too late.