DISSONANT VISIONS:
Economic Development and the Future of Vallejo

 

In pursuit of a realistic economic development plan, local business leaders in Vallejo were asked to identify the most difficult challenges, problems or threats holding back the city’s economic growth.  Among the issues frequently cited was an investment environment constrained by a high level of uncertainty as to what types of projects and businesses are desired in Vallejo.  Several mentioned missed growth opportunities and conflicting visions of Vallejo.  

Our professional planners offer this visionary path for revitalizing our downtown:

Downtown/Waterfront.

"Vallejo’s Downtown/Waterfront offers numerous opportunities for enhanced economic development.  Specifically, as mentioned by the educational institutions interviewed, the Downtown could be more strongly positioned and marketed as a 21st century “college town,” including innovative housing products such as lofts and “shop houses” (ground floor small business space with upstairs living spaces).

There are numerous similar projects throughout the Bay Area that have led downtown revitalization, including the Uptown area of Oakland, and downtown San Jose.  In addition, it is recommended that Vallejo explore increased attraction of entertainment/arts/cultural venues and related retail, serving young adults.  With rising graduate-level university enrollment, this age cohort is growing in Vallejo.  There are a host of strategies that could be implemented to boost retail and entertainment attraction including food truck events, music festivals, Friday Art Walks, and incentives for “pop up” retail."

So who are these younger, educated people the planners hope to attract?  Is Vallejo city government sending the right signals to Millennials who might consider making an investment in our city?  Pew Research recently conducted a major study that looks at the opinions of the 18 - 33 year old age cohort.  In their overview of the data, Pew concludes:  “Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization.”

How do the messages coming out of city hall sound to the ears of these young people that planners hope will feel right at home in Vallejo?  Oh, about as discordant as slamming two fists down on a keyboard.  Mayor Davis and his theocratic religious supporters have treated us over the years to a whole series of statements and positions publicly linking Vallejo city government with religiously inspired bigotry and intolerance.  

In 2009 our Mayor famously gave an interview to the New York Times in which he stated that gays are committing sin that will keep them out of heaven.  He then proceeded to lump them in with drug addicts, child molesters, and murderers as sinners who he hoped would see the error of their ways.  Most recently in March at the mayor’s annual prayer breakfast, praise for the religious community’s resistance to gay marriage coming from the podium prompted the local NAACP board representative to walk out. Earlier this year the Mayor and his supporters picked a pointless and costly fight with medical marijuana patients, trying to shut down their dispensaries after voters overwhelmingly voted to tax them years ago.

Why does it keep happening?  The mayor’s core constituency identifies with a network of local church pastors who have allied with the global Transformation movement.  The stated goal of the network of Transformation franchise churches is to take control or ‘dominion’ over the seven spheres of society: the arts, business, education, family, government, media and religion.  Dominionists blame resistance to their takeover bid on literal demons who control most communities or “people groups,” including adherents to all other religions and non-evangelical Christian faiths.

How do those Millennials feel about the theocratic ambitions and magical thinking promoted by our mayor and his supporters?  The Barna Group is a research firm frequently used by media, churches and educational institutions to gauge public opinion on matters of faith and society.  When asked by Barna in a recent survey what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “anti-homosexual.” This was the first word that springs to mind for 91 percent of non-Christians, and the same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. That impression was followed closely by: “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”

Does it sound like Millennials would consider banners and speeches declaring Vallejo the City of God as a sign that they are going to feel right at home in our city?

 

No, of course not.  These are fundamentally conflicting visions for Vallejo’s future that can’t just be papered over.  We need to choose as a community which way we want to go.  We believe that a majority of us do not want to live in someone else’s vision of an all encompassing religiously-inspired theocracy.  Religious dogma should play no role in our public institutions: city government, the schools, or the press.  The problem is a majority of us haven’t been voting, and that has allowed a minority of organized true believers and political allies to have their way at the polls.

 

Members of our city council with the aid of regional political operatives and city staff have been pursuing yet another vision that involves bringing in a new round of heavy industry to the waterfront.  Operating in secret, their efforts conflict directly with the three million dollar tax funded Propel Vallejo General Plan update.  The preferred Bay and River City scenario that was developed with broad and extensive resident input contemplates entirely different uses for our waterfront than polluting cement plants and port operations requiring heavy truck traffic and trains blocking intersections all across town.

 We can’t expect to treat these fundamental differences in world view like a public relations problem and hope that potential investors won’t notice.  This is a clash of cultures, or more specifically a clash between a diversity of cultures and a single minority subculture seeking to control local government and our school system.  These conflicting visions for the future of our city can’t possibly coexist within our public institutions and still have them function effectively, as recent history confirms.  

The best way to signal that we as a community are eager to welcome new investment will be to speak up as a majority at the ballot box.  The election of an entire city council free of special interest ties and able to act effectively as a unit will send an unmistakable message to investors that Vallejo is ready to turn the page and look to the future.