And yet it seems, consarnit, at least in one respect, Wiener’s Yimby (more appropriately labeled Wimby) gang wants the Golden State to be more like the Lone Star State.
In its anti-choice zeal, the lawmakers of Texas looked to private citizens to enforce the state’s stringent anti-abortion statutes. Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote about the law that in effect, Texas lawmakers have “deputized the state's citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors' medical procedures.”
Instead of rejecting the principle of legal vigilantism outright, California quickly followed suit, adopting the Texas “bounty” strategy to enforce anti-gun laws within the state. In addition to letting a self-deputizing posse sue to enforce gun laws, the state also passed legislation that allows third-parties to sue cities to allow developers to build whatever the heck they want, which naturally would be based on what’s good for their own bottom-lines rather than for the communities in which they build (unsurprisingly, the groups attacking and suing cities are almost all AstroTurf groups funded by the Real Estate Industry). Evidently not wanting to leave all the old-Western and militaristic jargon to Texas, the state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, came up with a term more suited to Navy Seal commandos than the Old West, and has even created his own housing “strike force” to eliminate any local community decision-making of the kind that developers feel stands in the way of their own ability to make profits.
All this talk of bounties, and strike forces, and John Wayne seems to have inspired CAYimby, one of the state’s leading AstroTurf Wimby groups; it looks like they’re trying to keep up with their alt-right-adjacent collaborators from Montana’s Frontier Institute in pursuing the “spirit of the West” (after all, California is west of Montana). California is also west of Texas, and following the Texas model, CAYimby’s director of “research,” the Wimbys’ own good ole boy, M. Nolan Gray, announced his organization’s institution of a “bounty” program, with rewards of up to $5k to engage in “research” for CAYimby.
CAYimby, of course, is another AstroTurf group, shilling for the Urban Growth Machine with the single-minded goal of eliminating zoning, getting rid of single-family neighborhoods, and forcing density upon neighborhoods, all the better to allow the Urban Growth Machine to profiteer.
In so doing, CAYimby, and all those on Twitter retweeting about their bounty program with a “huzzah!” or a “based!” are intentionally stirring the pot with vivid and inflammatory language (just take a quick wade into the cesspool of housing Twitter to see for yourself). At a time when elected officials are more under the threat of physical violence than ever, the loaded language of “bounties” and “killing” and “graveyards” used by CAYimby seems inappropriate at best and dangerously incendiary form of incitement at worst. Attorney general Rob Bonta’s own wife, State Assemblymember Mia Bonta, has proposed her own law, AB37, to deal with the “rising tide of political violence in California and the United States.”
In her press release, which also describes threats to Scott Wiener, Bonta’s staff writes: “Across the state, candidates and elected officials faced frequent threats of violence during the 2022 election cycle.” Bonta herself is quoted as saying: “As public servants, there is a lot we sacrifice to serve, this includes spending time with family and our privacy. However, the one thing we should never be willing or expected to give up is our sense of safety. Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in threats against public officials, especially women, and harassment against legislative staff who are serving the constituents who elected us to office.”
On Feb. 1, Sayreville, NJ city councilperson Eunice Dwumfour was murdered in her car in a targeted attack. The police haven’t uncovered the motive yet, but whether her murder was an act of political violence or not, it certainly shows just how vulnerable elected officials are.
From Mia Bonta’s office: “The political rhetoric across the country is becoming increasingly alarming, with lawmakers across the country from local school boards to congressional leaders constantly receiving threats.”
And yet with his commando “strike force,” her husband, along with the anti-community zealots from CAYimby, is himself contributing to the very kind of political rhetoric she wants to protect elected officials against.
Strike forces? Bounties on the heads of elected officials? Offering thousands of dollars to online randos to “calculate a housing graveyard” and answer the question “How much housing has your local NIMBY elected official killed?”
After the ongoing threats to public officers and now the murder of a locally elected official?
Are you fucking serious?
It’s one thing to try to gaslight the country with false housing narratives of equity, the environment, and affordability, all of which aim to further commodify housing and to allow developers and speculators to increase profits through market deregulation. Awash in dark money, untraceable cash from oligarchs, Big Tech, other profiteers, and goodness knows who else (that’s the thing about “dark money”; it’s dark), CAYimby is adept in the employment of Trojan horses, but really only cares about one thing and one thing only: it’s all ‘bout the money.
And it seems they are now willing to share some of that dark money with any Ayn Randos willing to take up the cause of ill-treated corporations and billionaires who don’t like anything that could limit their ability to profiteer off housing.
But it’s an entirely different thing, like the deputized Texas bounty hunters who seek cash rewards based on snitching on people who have abortions and on care providers, for CAYimby to incite Californian “bounty hunters” by offering hard cash to “get the goods” on local elected officials, many of whom are themselves working for peanuts. (Though maybe some good can actually come of this: perhaps CAYimby’s discussion of “housing graveyards” will encourage the Wimbys to finally pursue the untapped potential of “densiteries” in the service of more housing).
Beyond the offensive, violence-laden choice of language, beyond the Wimby goal of out Texasing Texas, their cash bounty rewards are not aimed at getting any kind of credible information that would do anything except crowd-source and reinforce their pre-existing agenda and core dogma of the “magic” of the Market and trickle-down economics.
Their “bounty” specs pointedly do not ask: “How much affordable housing has your local NIMBY elected official killed?” The omission of the word “affordable” is not unintentional, because despite all the lip service, the Wimbys don’t care at all about affordable housing, except to help build up their Trojan horse.
But they also – surprisingly – open the door to suggestions: They write: “We don’t have a monopoly on the knowledge of what research/data can or should be conducted/collected” with the invitation to submit “bounty ideas.”
No, I’m not going to submit “bounty ideas.” Not interested in money that might be from the likes of Farris Wilks.
But if CAYimby truly wants to be “pro-housing” and not just “pro-density” (or, more to the point, pro-forced-density and pro-forced-growth), then it should look to engage in discussions and “research” that aren’t single-mindedly aimed at corporate real estate speculators’ bottom lines.
If one of their goals is to look at why the rent is too damn high and why it has become more difficult for ordinary Americans to become homeowners, then rather than just co-opt progressive-sounding rhetoric, CAYimby should ask people to study the impacts of the financialization of housing, including corporate homeownership on rental levels and home prices.
CAYimby should ask people to uncover vacant units or housing being used for Airbnb. CAYimby should motivate its network of snitches to document habitability standards. Feigning to care about tenants’ rights, as it does, CAYimby should also support creating a statewide rental registry, which would give us much needed data on rental housing and perhaps even obviate the need in some cases for “bounties.” For one thing, it would give us a better handle on vacancies and help uncover abuses.
California has over 1.2 million vacant units, but Wimbys constantly downplay the number of and impact of vacancies because they fear it could impede their forced densification efforts and distract from their shibboleth “Build, Baby, Build!” (Or in another version, “Build, Build, Build!”). In one of many instances of Wimby vacancy-denial, Gray’s predecessor as director of CAYimby “research,” Stan Oklobdzija attempts to trivialize the impact of vacancies on the housing market.
Instead, Oklobdzija mocks the notion of “unscrupulous investors or rapacious landlords” and suggests that the “myth” of vacant units (in the face of the data from the US Census Bureau) is the work of “NIMBY constituents who believe rapidly rising home values are their birthright.” Never mind that Oklobdzija’s, along with radical libertarians like M. Nolan Gray’s preferred solution of upzoning everything would increase those home values far beyond the status quo or policies aimed at retaining stable neighborhoods, allowing sensible zoning, and encouraging actual urban planning. (Logic has never exactly been one of the Wimbys’ strong suits).
Never mind that Wimbys view everything through the prism of money and that they can’t comprehend why people would ever feel connected to their communities or actually care about them -- or how people could actually embrace values that might contradict their own financial interests.
CAYimby should work to develop a “rental housing ownership map,” where people would be encouraged to unravel the web of corporate ownership of housing, to peel away the onion-layers of the shell companies, LLC’s, hedge funds, REIT’s and other methods designed to obscure ownership.
Unfortunately, Wimbys like to trivialize the impact and abuses of corporate landlords (though at the same time they love trolling anti-Wimby San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston because his grandmother-in-law happens to own rental properties). They would rather post bounties against elected officials who prioritize affordable housing over (the admittedly more profitable for developers) market-rate and luxury housing than go after cartels of corporate owners of rental housing who collude to jack up rents.
Here’s another suggestion: Instead of targeting local elected officials with “bounties,” look to support the work of local and state politicians who create and implement anti-speculation housing policies and who work to reverse and end the financialization of housing. Look to Canada, which actually is taking action against the takeover of housing by global capital, rather than to Texas as a model.
I’m not naively blue-eyed. CAYimby is an organization that exists to serve the hopes and dreams of the Real Estate Industry and the Urban Growth Machine, and probably never will acknowledge that housing is a human right (and not primarily an investment vehicle for corporate overlords). Leopards don’t change their spots, or if they do, it’s a process of evolution that could take more time than we collectively have.
But at the very least, CAYimby and Californian Wimby politicians need to ratchet down the irresponsible, violence-laced rhetoric against their political opponents at the same time they are decrying it in their political opponents. Yes, they continue to give hypocrisy a bad name; but, worse than that, they are engaging in the kind of reckless, threatening language that Mia Bonta decries and, in the process, making our elected officials less safe. Time to stop talking about “bounties” on elected officials and “graveyards,” and “strike forces.” Just stop already.
(Councilmember John A. Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009 and served as Mayor in 2013, 2016, and 2019. During his first term as mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force, aimed at making Beverly Hills a model for local governmental transparence and public participation. Prior to his years in public service, John worked as an executive at IMAX and Paramount Pictures. He is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com.)