Political Notebook: Bay Area region's 1st gay Black mayors prioritize housing

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 14, 2022
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Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson took his oath of office December 6. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson took his oath of office December 6. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

For the first two gay Black mayors in the greater Bay Area region, the need for more housing in their cities is a main issue they intend to tackle during their mayoralties.

Elected directly to the mayoral seat on his city's governing body in last month's election, Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson took his oath of office December 6. The former city councilmember, elected in 2018, will serve a two-year term leading the coastal tourist mecca.

"It's official, I've been sworn in as the Mayor of the @cityofmonterey. Now the works begins. Make sure your voice is heard ... we want to hear from you!" Williamson, 35, who once lived in San Francisco, wrote on his mayoral Facebook page.

Pinole Mayor Devin Murphy, left, was sworn in by state Controller-elect Malia Cohen December 6. Photo: Courtesy Devin Murphy  

On the same Tuesday in the East Bay city of Pinole, gay City Councilmember Devin Murphy took his oath of office to become his city's ceremonial mayor. Each December the five members of the City Council elect one of their colleagues to a 12-month term as mayor.

Murphy had been serving the past year as vice mayor. At 29, he is Pinole's youngest mayor to serve in the city, which will mark its 120th anniversary in 2023. It was incorporated as a city on June 25, 1903.

As it prepares to mark that milestone, Murphy plans to ask his council colleagues to establish a Pinole Pride Day that will not only celebrate the city but also its LGBTQ community. As for holding it on June 25, which happens to be the last Sunday of June next year when San Francisco and other cities hold their LGBTQ Pride parades, Murphy told the Bay Area Reporter he is open to suggestions on when Pinole should host its celebration.

"It would be a Pride celebration but also be celebrating the incorporation of Pinole. We can work the date out together," said Murphy.

In speaking to the B.A.R. about what they hope to accomplish as mayor of their cities, both Murphy and Williamson said they are focused on meeting the housing needs of their constituents. Both municipalities have seen home prices skyrocket and are in need of affordable housing options.

"Housing affordability," responded Williamson when asked what his top mayoral priority will be.

For people who work in the Monterey Peninsula's tourism industry, finding affordable places to live near their jobs can be a challenge. The city of Monterey has seen its new housing requirement from the state increase from its previous mandate of 650 units to needing to construct nearly 3,700 units over the next eight years.

It is a target that Williamson, who works in human resources at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, is committed to meeting as mayor. But he acknowledged to the B.A.R. that his city needs to ramp up its planning process for how it will reach that total.

"The state is requiring every jurisdiction to produce a valid housing element by December of 2023. We haven't even begun engaging with our larger community around what that looks like," Williamson said during an interview in mid-November. "I want to really make sure we have a public and transparent process for creating our housing element and working with our community on that."

Due to its being one of the East Bay's smaller cities, Pinole received a Regional Housing Needs Allocation of 500 new units. It is an achievable target, according to Murphy.

"Our council and staff are working diligently to meet our 500-unit RHNA requirement," he told the B.A.R. "Housing is a huge, important issue here in Pinole."

Murphy pointed out that his city recently approved a new five-story residential building with 223 units on a 5.93-acre site that will see the demolition of the existing vacant K-Mart building. Construction is set to begin in mid-2023, he said.

He also noted that his city was able to secure state funding for the Pinole Satellite Affordable Housing Associates development. Ground should also be broken for that project sometime next summer.

"We are very happy about this! This is a 100% affordable housing project, where 33 new low-income housing units will be built," said Murphy.

Just as climate change and sea level rise are other areas of focus for Williamson in Monterey, the environmental challenges are also top of mind for Murphy, who wants Pinole to foster a green economy within its city limits. Other targets for Murphy are enhancements for Pinole's city parks and outdoor trails.

The city, which fronts San Pablo Bay, is at work on adopting its first-ever Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

"On January 26, we are hosting a workshop focused on our first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in the council chambers and online," noted Murphy. "We also received a $40,000 grant from the California Energy Commission to establish an online, automated permitting platform that verifies code compliance and issues permits in real time for a solar energy system."

Murphy told the B.A.R. such initiatives will be the focus of his mayoral video updates he will be taping over the course of the next year. He just finished his first one, which he said will be posted to his social media accounts as well as the ones for the city of Pinole, such as its Facebook page.

"I want to demonstrate that a small, suburban town like Pinole can be a regional leader in environmental and climate action," said Murphy.

He will be one of two gay mayors in the nine-county Bay Area in 2023, as Emeryville City Councilmember John A. Bauters was elected December 12 to another one-year term in the ceremonial role for his East Bay city. He has been serving as mayor since last December and also has made building more housing, especially affordable units, one of his top goals.

Two other out Bay Area city councilmembers are poised to become their cities' ceremonial mayors next December. Bisexual Corte Madera City Councilmember Eli Beckman is once again serving as vice mayor of his North Bay town, while Redwood City Councilmember Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, who is a queer, nonbinary Chicanx, was elected Monday night as vice mayor of the San Mateo County city.

As for Williamson's more immediate plans, he will be visiting the family of his domestic partner, high school history teacher Ivan Quiroz Bautista, in Mexico for the holidays. But the couple will be back home in time for New Year's and for Monterey's monthly First Friday event January 6, which will be his first to attend as mayor.

"It is a pretty big event," said Williamson.

Gay Louisiana candidate makes history
Across the country, another Black LGBTQ community leader has made political history. Davante Lewis won his December 10 runoff race to become the first openly gay candidate elected to a statewide commission in Louisiana.

He defeated Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere, an 18-year incumbent. As the B.A.R.'s online Political Notes column reported December 5, Lewis was confident of his winning the race due to Boissiere failing to receive more than 50% of the vote on the November 8 ballot in order to secure his reelection.

"We rose up and said Louisiana is ready for a new energy future. One in which every Louisianian can count on clean air and water, a warm house in the winter, a cool house in the summer and utility bills that don't break the bank," Lewis told his supporters during his victory party last Saturday night.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Bay Area cities welcoming newly elected LGBTQ city leaders following the outcomes of the November 8 races.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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