The right-left YIMBY alliance

And lessons to recall from the Austin bombings.

Lessons from the Austin bombings:

The Statesman/KVUE's Tony Plohetski highlighted a sad anniversary yesterday:

In addition to mourning the tragedy of the Austin bombings, it's worth reflecting on a few of the psychological traps that we fell into at the time.

First, in progressive circles it was an article of faith that the bombings were racially motivated. In a city with a relatively small Black population, the fact that the first two victims were Black certainly offered a reason to suspect a racist motive, but there really wasn't any further evidence to support that hypothesis and there was evidence to cast doubt on it (he deployed his fourth bomb in a largely white neighborhood in Southwest Austin). There was nevertheless a stubborn commitment among some to cling to the original theory, and to challenge it was to somehow

And in another instance of getting mad about the wrong things, it became fashionable in progressive circles to ridicule then-Interim Police Chief Brian Manley for seeming to express some sadness and sympathy for the killer, Mark Anthony Conditt, whose confession tape he described as "the outcry of a very challenged young man." Some suggested that Manley wouldn't have been as philosophical in describing a non-white terrorist. That may very well be true, but the solution to inequities in our criminal justice system is not to start treating white people as poorly as others –– it's to start treating others better! We should seek to understand the root causes of crimes, even heinous ones, and we should resist explanations that simply dismiss criminals as bad apples.

But even worse than some of the wrong-headed criticism of Manley was Council using the bombings as an excuse to call off a search for a permanent police chief and hire Manley. Well, technically City Manager Spencer Cronk made the call, but only after a number of Council members –– most vociferously Delia Garza –– called on Manley to be hired, arguing that his leadership during the crisis showed he was the right man for the job.

It was a mini version of the post-9/11 environment, when George W. Bush's approval ratings soared for no other reason than his ability to stand on top of a pile of rubble with a bullhorn.

It's funny how it works in city government. Sometimes executives get fired for having the misfortune of presiding over a crisis that they likely had no role in creating or couldn't have handled better, and other times they get promoted for having the fortune of presiding over a crisis, even in the absence of evidence that they managed it particularly well.

The Left-Right YIMBY alliance

In the days following the YIMBYtown conference in Austin, a number of national outlets have commented on the growing strength of the pro-housing movement and the strange bedfellows it has attracted.

The NYT:

For years, the Yimbytown conference was an ideologically safe space where liberal young professionals could talk to other liberal young professionals about the particular problems of cities with a lot of liberal young professionals: not enough bike lanes and transit, too many restrictive zoning laws.

...But the vibes and crowd were surprisingly different at this year’s meeting, which was held at the University of Texas at Austin in February. In addition to vegan lunches and name tags with preferred pronouns, the conference included — even celebrated — a group that had until recently been unwelcome: red-state Republicans.

...“Some issues become a horseshoe,” said Cody Vasut, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives’ Freedom Caucus, using a very Texas analogy. “We have different views of government but sometimes we arrive at the same conclusion.”

Bloomberg CityLab also cited Vasut, and highlighted a bipartisan panel he was on:

Vasut spoke on a panel split along ideological lines. Brennan Griffin of Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit focused on social and racial justice, shared a stage with Judge Glock, director of research at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, and Chance Weldon, the director of litigation for the Texas Public Policy Foundation (another conservative think tank). The panel was organized by Texans for Reasonable Solutions, a nonpartisan group that fought last session — mostly unsuccessfully — for bills that would reduce minimum lot sizes, allow for more accessory dwelling units and accelerate the permitting process. 

Wow, TPPF –– your local lobby for the fossil fuel industry. That's a whole different ballgame than the libertarian nerds at Mercatus, Reason, or AEI.

It's worth noting that many of these groups have deep disagreements about city-building. Even if we set aside TPPF as a particularly oily outlier, the center-right types are often less concerned about sprawl and less attached to promoting public transit.

That being said, it was just the other day that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (an also-ran for the GOP presidential nomination) delivered remarks on the state of American cities that could have been written for a Rethink35 protest.

In a brief history of zoning at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, he said that it began as a means to separate industry from homes but eventually morphed into a complex web of rules separating different types of homes and businesses.

"And guess who that was great for? That was great for people who build roads and for the car companies. And then we built cities all over America that are designed for automobiles and not designed for people. People will go on vacation and they'll say, 'wow that was the most amazing vacation I ever had,' Why? Well because we went to someplace where we could walk everywhere. Well you can actually have that in our own states, you just have to design it."

And yet, you go to his Twitter and you see this:

That's politics for ya.

In city politics in Austin, the right hasn't been particularly helpful on land use. Council's lone Republican, Mackenzie Kelly, initially showed some signs of being a YIMBY sympathizer but has since reverted into reflexive opposition to land use reforms. Conservative mayoral candidate Jennifer Virden was also a staunch opponent of zoning reform, as was conservative District 8 Council candidate Richard Smith, who unsuccessfully challenged Paige Ellis in 2022.

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