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Sunday, June 28, 2015

'Regional Approach' for Public Policy

Never Mind What You've Heard: 
Here's the REAL 'Regional Approach'

News Analysis/Opinion
It all started in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled same sex couples the freedom to marry.  That action put pressure on Massachusetts progressives who fought to legalize same sex marriage there in 2003.  After that, the political pressure grew exponentially; Connecticut forced same sex marriage laws in 2008, followed by Iowa, Maine and New Hampshire in 2009.  Then it was just a matter of time until the pressure became too great on law makers in the remaining states and the US Supreme Court finally legalized marriage equity for all last week, properly reflecting the views of the majority of Americans.  It wouldn't have worked any other way.

...led us here in 2015.
Political pressure in 1993
from this...
That's how politics works: political pressure.  And that's what's at play with regard to the minimum wage in the Bay Area and beyond.  In our area, Berkeley pressures Oakland who pressures Emeryville who then pressures Berkeley to raise their wage again.  Eventually a stasis is reached after local values are reflected, the minimum wage having found its natural level between the competing forces of a business community that wants a lower wage and ordinary citizens who want a higher wage  The recent political pressure and subsequent responses by municipalities to raise their wages is reflecting political pressure to correct a previous era of artificially low wages.

Under pressure from the neighbors, Emeryville City Hall, representing the resident's interests, raises the minimum wage here on Thursday after coordinated business interests failed to stop it.  
Two opposing governing visions were brought to the fore; those who agree with the City Council to increase the minimum wage by democratic unilateral Emeryville action versus those who lost; they who argued democracy in this case is unjust and instead Emeryville should let our neighbors directly dictate how we fashion our town, what they called a 'regional approach'.
The idea that we should voluntarily foreclose on our right to make our town the way we see fit and instead defer totally to Oakland and Berkeley was always going to be a tough sell but Rob Arias, the editor of Emeryville's right wing opinion blog the E'Ville Eye positioned himself as the point man in the debate and to his credit, he was relentless and forceful in representing his side of the argument.

E'Ville Eye Editor Rob Arias
During the minimum wage fracas,

 he presented himself as the voice of the 
opposition but his 'regional approach' 
argument is backwards.  Besides being 
fundamentally undemocratic,
  it would unnecessarily lock us into 
region-wide inaction.  
Seized Up
This relinquishing of our own agency in our town's governance was encapsulated by Mr Arias in his 'regional approach' meme.  Emeryville should not act unilaterally he said, regardless of what the residents might want.  Rather we should wait until our neighbors are ready to move.  And then we should all move simultaneously in lockstep.  Mr Arias never addressed an obvious problem inherent in this argument; what about the boundary between Berkeley and say the city of Albany to its north?  Or Oakland and San Leandro to its south?  If Berkeley raises its minimum wage, so must Albany and then of course also the city of El Cerrito further north and so on and so on.  Berkeley would be locked out of raising its minimum wage if Albany didn't raise theirs.  It's a classic tautology: the entire region would be seized up, all waiting for everyone else to move, regional policy in the public interest held hostage to a single recalcitrant municipality.  This sophomoric view doesn't take this simple deconstruction into account; it's inherently contradictory. There's always going to be a boundary where one place has higher wages than its neighbor, rendering the whole argument specious.

Ignoring this existential boundary problem for Mr Arias' regional approach argument, Emeryville's businesses would flee the town for Oakland or Berkeley instead of paying their employees higher wages here we were told.  It's the same argument from 2005 when people taking Rob's position at the time told us the hotel industry was going to flee our town wholesale in the wake of the minimum wage increase for hotel workers brought by Emeryville's Measure C.  This time (like the last time), Mr Arias told us we should take this premise at face value and no evidence was given to support it.  Rob asked us to trust him.  Not mentioned during this was the fact that Mr Arias is running a business (as he himself refers to his blog) and many of the businesses who's interests he was championing in the debate are in fact his clients.

Nevertheless, Mr Arias thumbed his nose at numerous academic studies countering his simplistic regional approach claim and he instead postulated this simple idea that the fungibility of service sector businesses would drive consumers to other towns with lower business costs and therefore lower prices (later when his side appeared to be collapsing, he demanded City Hall conduct a new study, an unexplained refutation of his earlier professed prohibition against studies).
Mr Arias instead presented his regional approach idea as an axiom, something anyone with common sense could see.  It's a neat if not old trick: if you can't see it, there's something inherently wrong with you.  But a trick like this doesn't work in a substantive debate on real public policy, especially one where the agenda is not hidden.  Forceful as he was, Mr Arias did his clients a disservice by not presenting a cogent and rational argument and his argument was not taken up by the City Council who voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage.
The REAL Regional Approach
The City of Emeryville, with its unilateral adoption of the new higher minimum wage, IS engaging in a regional approach to raising wages, regardless of the countering hyperbole emanating from the E'Ville Eye.  It's the REAL regional approach.   Emeryville's raising of the minimum wage will pressure our neighbors to raise theirs.  That's how it works.  That's been shown in countless peer reviewed academic studies Mr Arias finds so distasteful.
Adeline Street Through Emeryville in 2005
Four car lanes, no bikes.
This is just how Oakland looked until last week.
In fact, it's already working, even if Mr Arias can't see it right under his nose.  Political pressure from neighboring municipalities; that's how Oakland raised their wages last year (and likely will again)... it's also how Emeryville's minimum wage was just raised.   None of these wage rises were at the same rates as the neighbors or the same time.  All pushed the boundaries...all were in response to internal political pressure reacting to the outside world.  All happened and continue to happen as a result of democratic action.

Adeline Street in Emeryville 2008 (same view)
We unilaterally added bike lanes without
waiting for Oakland. 
For those wanting to get a glimpse of how a local public policy regional approach actually works, we present the Adeline Street bike facilities.  This street on our eastern border with Oakland originally was a high speed four lane thoroughfare.  But eight years ago Emeryville City Councilman John Fricke, who ran on a campaign platform of more bike facilities, had a better idea for Adeline Street.  He envisioned taking away two car travel lanes, creating a two lane street with ample bike lanes on either side.  Anti-bike/pro-car voices rose up to challenge Councilman Fricke, some even from the City's own Bicycle Committee.  Ultimately these dissenting voices settled on an argument describing what they saw as an absurdity: the short length of Adeline Street through Emeryville would simply constrain the bike riders once they hit the Oakland border, moments after they began their wonderful ride with bike lanes through our town; a waste of public money.  Mr Fricke described how Emeryville's improvements to the street would force Oakland's hand; Oakland's city hall would feel pressure to likewise provide bike lanes on Adeline Street.  After Oakland did just that last week (wahoo!), the political pressure way of regional policy is revealed for all to see (and use).

Emeryville can feel proud of it's progressive minimum wage ordinance that takes effect on Thursday even in the knowledge it's status as the region's highest minimum wage will likely be short lived.  Because political pressure will force other city's hands to further raise their minimum wages....that's the way it works  after all.

Here's the Regional Approach in Action
Now Oakland Gets Bike Lanes Too
Had Emeryville not acted unilaterally, Adeline Street
would likely have no bike lanes in either town.
Political pressure drives politics and policy.
The two foot wide diagonally stripped safety buffer between 
bikes and moving cars actually makes Oakland's new 
Adeline Street bike lanes an improvement over Emeryville's.


  1. I agree with your analysis...and I was so happy to see Oakland finally add bike lanes to Adeline. Emeryville shamed them into it.

    1. who then will shame Emeryville into implementing rent control?

  2. This well thought, well written commentary places political thought at a level above the quotidian jargon so often encountered. May we all strive to maintain this civil and intelligent communication. If we do, we may raise our political stature along with our minimum wage.

  3. Rob's blog IS a business. It's all about his bottom line. He always does stories on his advertiser's businesses and the story is always glowing. His deceptive blog is one big advertisement except he's not transparent about it.

  4. It's bad enough that Rob is obsessed with you Brian, now you're obsessing about him. Both Emeryville blogs obsessing about each other. Keep Rob out of the Tattler. You shouldn't dip down to this level.

    1. I can't speak for Rob's proclivities or motives but I disagree with your charge of my obsessing about him. Like it or not Rob is a (minor) public figure in Emeryville and so when he does something in the public realm that's substantial, that's newsworthy. On the minimum wage debate, Rob fairly positioned himself as the voice of the opposition and so that's worth reporting on, regardless of his lack of cogency on the matter.
      But you've made a fair point; the Tattler should not engage in a childish tit for tat with the E'ville Eye. Expect to read about Rob in the Tattler only when it's necessary. Thanks for the criticism.

    2. Rob and his blog are fine. No need to go there. He has the opposite view as you on just about everything but what's wrong with that? That's the way it's supposed to be.
      BTW, I get my news about city hall from you and my news about Emeryville business from him. You don't seem to care about businesses news and he doesn't really care about city hall news (when he does, it's the business take on it, biased). So Emeryville readers should read both blogs. That's how to get all the news.

  5. Agreed about Rob's blog being OK. The Tattler is biased in favor of the residents and it is to be expected another blog would rise up to counter that. As the Chamber of Commerce has sank, Rob has risen. And so we have the pro-business E'Ville Eye. Left and right...this is all good.

    But just so you know, I do care about business news in Emeryville, I care how it impacts the residents.