Online News Editor Shrida Pandey conducted this Blueprint interview with Inclusive Lafayette cofounders Benjamin and Jeremy Levine.
Pandey: Why did you start Inclusive Lafayette?
Benjamin: We went to the Geroge Floyd protest, and people were chanting, but what they were doing is what we asked ourselves and thought about how Lafayette is really part of the problem. It was founded in the era of redlining.
Jeremy: Redlining, a set of policies that basically mean very easy for white people to move to the suburbs and made sure everyone else couldn’t.
Benjamin: Since then, it has only become more segregated, and it has gotten to the point where we are at today, where Lafayette, these numbers aren’t exact – I’ll have to check them – but Lafayette has something like less than one percent Black people in a county that has nine percent, and I can get exact figures later, but it is pretty egregious. So we started Inclusive Lafayette in my brother’s bedroom back in Santa Barbara because we thought we could actually do something about it and make change in Lafayette’s housing policy which was the main method of this continued segregation after redlining was outlawed.
Pandey: Could you talk through your process of how you started and how you got word around that you did this?
Jeremy: It all started with me starting to write an op-ed. I got angry about the fact that Lafayette did not have affordable housing, and there were so many people who demonstrated that they cared about social justice and didn’t make the connection the fact that we did not have space for people to live. I started writing an op-ed and then I thought, ‘I finish this op-ed and I send it in and then what happens?’ So I stopped writing the op-ed and went and made a Facebook group, and Benjamin and I spent a day talking about what we should call the group and our strategies for growth, and then we started writing stuff and invited friends who we had on Facebook and encouraged them to post about the group and invite people and it spread from there. It was community activism from a number of varying community members, who we were often not at all familiar with, who ended up inviting other members and posting in other groups. We kept posting that they should invite other members and post in other groups, but it was really other people who invited their friends and promoted the group that allowed it to grow so much so quickly.
Pandey: What activities has Inclusive Lafayette done to promote the terraces in the community?
Jeremy: Essentially, the Facebook group is the main thing. We have done a lot of research, and we have tried to build up a team that is more than just Benji and I by posting a Google Form asking people to sign up for our leadership group, and we now have a small but gradually expanding eight-member leadership team. We will be publicizing more about that soon, and I would be happy to talk about each of the members right now when it is all public, but we just have not talked about it that much because there have been other things to focus on. The leadership team has been really key to helping it out. I have one of my friends from high school researching, a few of our friends doing advocacy and outreach and also research. We also have a few adults in the community who we were totally unfamiliar with before the campaign, who are on board providing also outreach, support, and helping us keep track of meetings.
Benjamin: Talk about the three steps to join our community.
Jeremy: Do you want to talk about the three steps?
Benjamin: First when you join our community, we have three steps. The first step is to grow the group, grow the movement, reach out to people, send invites, and call up your friends. The second step is to get informed and read some of the articles we’ve posted and different posts like the history of Lafayette, or myths and facts of high-density housing. We have a wide variety of different articles. The third step is to advocate. Advocating means sending letters to city council people, showing up to meetings, etc. We didn’t get the exact count of the number of letters, but we have had over 20 people who have said they have sent letters. Jeremy, how many people showed up to the meeting that was from Inclusive Lafayette?
Jeremy: Seven who explicitly said Inclusive Lafayette that we counted; there were a few more who I knew were in the group but did not specifically state that connection.
Benjamin: Exactly, mobilizing people to show up to the planning commission meetings because at the last planning commission meeting, almost no pro-housing advocate showed up and it was really a landslide of the anti-development people. So we tried to make sure that there was a more even public forum.
Pandey: What do you think about the opposition being called “save Lafayette”? Any thoughts about the organization in general?
Jeremy: Save Lafayette from who? We both agree that we love our community, we really do, but we disagree on how to make it the best community possible. We, Inclusive Lafayette, accept that making Lafayette the best community possible involves sharing Lafayette and making it accessible to everyone.
Pandey:What do you hope will happen in Lafayette if the terraces will be built?
Benjamin: 63 units of affordable housing will greatly increase the socioeconomic diversity of Lafayette undoubtedly because…
Jeremy: We just do not have a lot of affordable housing in this town.
Benjamin: We have such a lack of affordable housing in this town, so even though 63 units isn’t a ton, we aren’t a huge town and 63 units will make a real dent.
Jeremy: It’s not like Lafayette is suddenly some diverse utopia, but it is an important step towards the right direction.
Pandey: Now that the terraces have been passed by the Planning Commission, how are you planning to advocate to people who do not support the terraces?
Benjamin: A little bit of background about what is going on, after the Planning Commission voted yes, we are in a period of appeals, and I am almost sure that Save Lafayette is going to appeal it to the City Council, so the battle will continue in the City Council. Our plan is to continue promoting evidence-based discussion, and we hope that the facts will speak for themselves. If you listen to the Planning Commission and the city staffers and the research they have done, it speaks for themselves.
Pandey: What do you have to say about the concerns that Save Lafayette have about traffic congestion, alongside other things?
Jeremy: People are understandably concerned about traffic, especially after the fire that everyone was evacuating for when there was a traffic jam. It makes sense people are worried about endangered air quality. However, the reality is, a lot of evidence supports the claim that those concerns are not justified. The city has commissioned a number of traffic reports that show that the traffic impact from the terraces will simply be not that high. If you look at the reports, they speak for themselves. The other such concern is the exact same thing. Look at the information from the city, look at the information that exists about high-density housing and the negative impacts on our community simply do not have evidence sustainable. People have their concerns and that’s understandable, but they should change their concerns when the evidence suggests otherwise.
Blueprint lightly edited some quotes for clarity.