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Political Climate with Mark Simon: These local ‘YIMBYs’ want constructive online debate

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

The hesitancy felt by some candidates for office this election year is a reflection of how our local dialogue has been infected by a national discourse that is distasteful, uncivil, personal and harsh.

Certainly, negative and outlandish accusations frequently trump the more positive attempt to focus on facts and positive discussion, but there are local efforts underway to influence this election cycle to be fact-based and to have disagreements that are policy-driven.

Redwood City Forward was launched in 2015 as a Facebook page and has evolved into a small group of people best described as YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), who seek ways to advocate and influence policies. It is part of a loose network of such groups – there’s a Bay Area Forward and a Palo Alto Forward, to name a couple. You can find their web page here.

But in their advocacy and on their Facebook page, they are focused on the specifics of policies and are absent ad hominem attacks that descend into the personal or suspicious.

Started and led by Isabella Chu, an associate manager for the data center at the Stanford Center for Population Health Science, she described RWC Forward as an “organization that wants to advocate for evidence-based policies in Redwood City with an eye toward health, prosperity and reducing inequality.”

RWC Forward will not endorse candidates in the upcoming election, although its members are free to do so as individuals.

“We endorse policy, not politics. Good policy really bridges the political divide,” she said.

Good policy is defined by RWC Forward as building more and more dense housing that translates into a wider range of opportunities for a wider swath of the community and a healthier lifestyle centered around transit, biking and walking.

Chu, who relies on a bicycle for her commute, said she has been concerned for some time that Redwood City’s land use policies and, therefore, health and inequality, have been driven only by those who make the most noise.

“The only high-level engagement was a group of people very upset about the changes and seemed to want Redwood City to go back to 1978,” Chu said. “Restricting housing only helps the financial well-being for anyone over 50.”

On transportation, RWC Forward advocates for a city that is easier to use for pedestrians and cyclists, which means a city where high-density housing is close to a center city that is served by a vibrant, high-frequency system of transit options, and not dependent on the automobile or weighted down by parking.

On housing, RWC Forward advocates policies that encourage small developers, who are capable of building an 8- or 10-unit apartment complex.

“NIMBYs have made sure the only people who can develop are the big-time developers,” Chu said.

WE VOTE RWC: Chu was among those on hand at the kickoff last Thursday at the Club Fox of a nonpartisan, independent and grassroots voter registration drive named We Vote Redwood City and aimed at dramatically increasing voter participation in the November city election.

Mayor Ian Bain opened the event and serves as honorary co-chair.

“The City Council makes decisions every day that touch the lives of our residents. We want to hear from the public and the best way to hear from the public is at the ballot box,” Bain said.”

The event and the drive have been organized by civic activist Jason Galisatus, who said the voter registration effort is the starting point for the goal of voter turnout in the November election, where local races are likely to be overwhelmed by statewide campaigns and ballot measures, and citizen engagement beyond the election. The coalition in support includes Bay Area Forward, RWC Forward, Casa Circulo Cultural, the Redwood City Downtown Association, neighborhood associations from Woodside Plaza and Mt. Carmel.

“We couldn’t care less who people vote for,” Galisatus said, “but it’s important that they vote.”

An extensive outreach is planned, including setting up registration tables at public events and contacting people directly through social media.

Kickoff attendees represented a cross-section of the community, including Council members, John Seybert, Shelly Masur, Janet Borgens and competing Council candidates incumbent Councilman Jeff Gee, Diana Reddy, Giselle Hale and Christina Umhofer.

POSITIVE VOICE: When a discussion on a local Facebook page devolved into angry exchanges and unsupported accusations, Umhofer posted this message: “As a candidate for Redwood City City Council, I am asking that we, as residents of Redwood City, focus on the positives of the candidate/s that you support and not the negatives of the ones you do not support. Regardless of who wins, we are all still residents of Redwood City. We are in this together. Use this page for good.”

Well done.

Contact Mark Simon at

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Photo credit: City of Redwood City