Before John Bauters was an elected official in Emeryville, California, he was an advocate. His work in social justice issues impacts how he approaches his role as a city councilmember and helps him identify tactical ways to achieve change in your community.
Read our blog to learn how one midwestern county improved their transit system with microtransit.
Cohen: Josh Cohen
Bauters: John Bauters
Cohen: My guest today, Emeryville, California Councilmember John Bauters is a living embodiment of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s quote of, “Change takes courage,” whether that’s confronting colleagues on unfair policies, making sure the homeless man gets the help he needs, or holding office hours every single week. You’ll get your dose of courage starting now. Let’s go.
F: Mobility is an essential component to the cities of our future. To build this future, we need to do more than invest in technology; we need to invest in the people who will make the hard decisions necessary to create vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Welcome to The Movement where we talk to the brave leaders who are effecting change in an effort to build a coalition of leaders who will make tomorrow real. Here is your host, TransLoc’s National Director of Policy, Josh Cohen.
Cohen: My guest today is John Bauters who is a councilmember and former mayor of Emeryville, California. If you aren’t familiar with Emeryville, it is right across the San Francisco Bay Bridge from San Francisco, adjacent to Oakland and Berkeley. It’s also home to Pixar; so if you enjoyed Toy Story or Inside Out, that also came out of Emeryville. So welcome to The Movement, John.
Bauters: Hey, thanks for having me today.
Cohen: All right. So before we get started I actually wanted to borrow this question from one of my friends who has a podcast called the LAUNCHcast: Podcast of Champions. And she asks her guests this at the beginning of every episode. “People who know me well know this about me;” so what is this?
Bauters: I suck at technology.
Cohen: You suck at technology; really?
Bauters: Yeah. I might as well be your grandfather. Like, you need to operate my phone; you need to turn on my TV; I don’t watch movies; I am, like, caught and trapped in the 1950s. Yeah.
Cohen: That’s great. So this world is moving fast around you, and you are just stuck in the 1950s. I love that.
Bauters: Yeah. Well, in the technological sense; in all other aspects maybe not. But, yes, I—
Cohen: That’s true. Okay.
Bauters: —am technologically impaired, yes.
Cohen: That’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, that’s a good jumping-off point too. So you’ve been an elected official for the last—what—three years I believe it is?
Bauters: Yep, three years.
Cohen: Okay, three years. So tell me a little bit about your journey to get involved in local politics there.
Bauters: Well, I would say before I was in politics itself I’ve always been civically engaged. I’ve worked in nonprofit for over 20 years and done a variety of things. I was a former disaster relief director. I worked overseas as an English teacher and subsistence-farming instructor in Africa. I’ve been a street-outreach worker for the homeless, an attorney, so I’ve always kind of been a little more on the gregarious side of life. And, yeah, I’m very interested in housing and transportation policy is kind of my nerd space. And we had an opening on the Housing Committee when I moved to Emeryville, and there was a discussion about an affordable housing project going on. And I really wasn’t enamored by what a lot of people were saying about affordable housing, having worked in that space for a while.
And so I came; I had some things to say at a committee meeting, and a councilmember asked me if I’d be interested in serving on the committee, and I said, “Sure.” And I was the lone tenant on the committee for a long time and a minority voice, and I didn’t agree with the committee many times, and so I would come to the council meetings and tell the council what I thought. And that matured into being asked if I wanted to be on the Planning Commission, so then I was on the Planning Commission. And I was pretty outspoken on transportation and environmental issues at the Planning Commission. And people started saying, “Well, you should run for city council,” so then I found myself running for city council.
Bauters: And I got elected, and the council made me the mayor, and so now it’s kind of, like, snowballed a little bit. And I’m not really sure I’m your traditional politician in those respects, but I’ve enjoyed public service. It’s been a lot of fun.
Cohen: Yeah. And so I’m curious about—I mean, that journey is actually really interesting, but what I’m hearing there is that you were not afraid to share your voice there. You were, you know—
Cohen: You were making that clear. And, in fact, that recalls a tweet that I saw from you a month or so ago where you’re currently on the—you’ll have to give me the exact title, but the Air District—
Bauters: Yeah, The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the nine county—
Cohen: There you go.
Cohen: And so you were going to a meeting, a regularly scheduled meeting, and it was not accessible by transit. And I think you ended up running there from the nearest transit center or maybe biking there. I forget the story there, but give us a little bit of that context there, because I think that kind of—you know, you’re on this commission, and they hold this meeting in this location that is not conducive to people getting there in a environmentally sensitive way. And you were not afraid to let people know about this. So maybe give that story there.
Bauters: Yeah, I’m a love-me-or-hate-me person sometimes because I don’t really understand how government agencies can purport to be working on solving a problem and then essentially ignore how they contribute to the problem. And I am one of Alameda County’s city representatives to the nine-county Bay Area Air Quality Management District. I love the Air District.
Cohen: And that’s an important thing in that area. I mean, that’s hugely, hugely important.
Bauters: Oh, super important agency, very instrumental actually in improving the air quality over the last 20 years or so here in the Bay Area, has oversight of five refineries, the Port of Oakland, a lot of cement and organic waste facilities, a bunch of other things that we have. And we have the wildfire issue out here, so there’s a lot of work on that.
Bauters: But we’re always talking about spare the air and clean the air and use alternatives to carbon transit. And the Stationary Source Committee, which regulates stationary sources like an organic waste disposal facility that was creating impacts on the town of Milpitas, odor impacts actually—it’s not a unique issue we were dealing with—the chair decided to—a wonderful man—decided to have a meeting in Milpitas. Well, lots of people have been complaining about this issue for a long time, but we held it in a place that was miles from the last BART station.
And I don’t drive, and so I was trying to figure out how to get to this meeting, and I would have had to take an express bus past Milpitas to San Jose and change in Downtown San Jose and then go back north on a local bus to get to Milpitas. It was obnoxious. And for me if you’re going to be an agency as important and as high profile as the Air District, you have to kind of live by what it is that you say you’re creed is, which is we’re trying to exemplify how to make clean air. Right?
Bauters: And so I really didn’t feel like people of all ages, all abilities, and all incomes would be able to make this meeting because it wasn’t transit accessible, so kind of my way of raising attention on that issue was I did a series of tweets documenting my trip to the meeting. And I took BART to the last station at Warm Springs in Fremont, and then I ran a 10K in my little, tiny running shorts and my little singlet with my camelback and my phone. And I ran just over six miles from the Warm Springs BART to the meeting in Milpitas. It had started probably three minutes before I got there. I was a little behind pace due to some traffic lights, and I showed up soaking wet.
Security almost didn’t let me in the building. They thought I was some crazy, freaky guy because I showed up. And it was the Air District staff; they were like, “No, no, no. He’s one of the directors.” [LAUGHTER] And the security looked at me like I was insane, and I walked right up there, and I stood behind my chair at the dais. There was about 250 people in the room. And I pulled my towel out, and I just stood there drying myself off and downing water. And the chair said, “It’s so nice of you to be here,” and I said, “Well, I would have been here on time, had we had a transit option.”
Bauters: But the nice thing about it was we have a reimbursement form, and it always offers reimbursement to directors if they drive. And it’s like, “Oh, if you drove, put your mileage down,” and there’s nothing for somebody who bikes or walks, and I think that’s ridiculous. And so I wrote a whole note on the reimbursement form saying, you know, “It’s kind of a crime that I’m the one person who is carbon neutral here, and I don’t get any compensation for my time or effort to keep the air clean, and this is my job.” And so actually the next meeting the following month the reimbursement form now includes walking and biking, so sometimes you just got to make a stink and people pay attention.
Cohen: Wow. That’s actually a great story in how you’ve been able to kind of leverage your role to bring about some small change but obviously some change. And I think even by documenting that journey and sharing that with others, I think, you’re sharing that. And I think that’s an important part of that. I want to kind of build on that a little bit. So you mentioned you spent 20 years in the nonprofit space, did stuff with housing and so forth, these obviously really important issues. And you spent a lot of time interfacing with local and state officials as you did that.
What I’m curious about is that kind of now you’re quote-unquote “on the other side of the podium” and you have the public interfacing with you. What are some of the things that you understand now that perhaps you maybe didn’t understand then back in some of your prior work that you could share with those who are now trying to bring about change in their community around really important issues like transit and housing and so forth?
Bauters: You know, I think it’s a really excellent question. I’ve learned several things. One, there are some really unfortunate and disgusting players and stakeholders who work very hard to maintain the status quo on things that need to change. And if you’re not anchored to a set of principles and values as an elected person when you go into office about what matters most to you and why you’re doing the job, I can see why many people go adrift on things that should be easier to change than they are.
Bauters: If you’re on the advocate side, I think the thing to do is not take people who you support or who you feel are your champions—don’t take them for granted; you have to help them because the amount of adverse influence that exists is significant. And I know we all lead busy lives, and, you know, as a former nonprofit advocate I—it’s like, “Oh, my gosh. Can I possibly go to another public meeting this evening to support this issue, to have my two minutes of public comment?” And it often feels like people have the perception the decision has been made, “this thing has already happened;” but I really want to make it really clear that it is possible to have a positive impact on things you care about in your community. You have to build relationships with people, and they have to know you will support them.
Bauters: We had some folks—so I have a couple ways I do that. I do a town hall every week. I rotate where in my city I do it. I had a mayor from another city say to me at one point, “Don’t you ever get tired of people yelling at you?” And I said, “Nobody yells at me at my town halls because they know I come back every week.”
Bauters: So I have an ongoing discourse with my community. I get 10-to-one love letters over hate letters from people in my community about just how accessible I am, how supportive they are of the things I’m trying to do, how they appreciate somebody has a commitment to the things that they promised to campaign on to do in office. And it is not easy, especially when you’re only one vote on a board or a body.
Bauters: Right? Because I don’t get to persuade the other people behind the scenes; I have to go to the public meeting and do it. And so it really takes that kind of collaboration. And I will say I got one email recently from a woman. There’s been a building that’s been constructed a couple times. It’s been burned down a couple times by an arsonist. It’s an unfortunate thing on our city border. And they wanted to basically start doing construction seven days a week as opposed to five days a week. And, you know, she had never come to a public meeting before, and she came out, and she talked about how it impacted her life.
And myself and a couple of my other colleagues on the council really stood up for her in the discussion about whether to grant this basically exception to the rules on construction, and we voted it down on a three-to-two basis. And she wrote an email about how she had never felt empowered to do anything in the city before, and this was the first time she had come to a city meeting, and she had watched the whole meeting unfold before her agenda item came up. And it is really interesting to me that a lot of people don’t feel like government is accessible to them.
And obviously I’m from a smaller city, and it may be a little different in a bigger city, but I really want to encourage people; don’t become jaded too quickly. Like, really invest the time. It takes time and effort to get people to understand what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and you have to work with them and support them through that process.
Cohen: Wow. That’s powerful on a lot of levels. I love the idea of you inspiring that woman and having her think about that and think about, you know, “All right. What if I don’t accept that all elected officials are necessarily going to be in it for their own benefit, but that, yeah, they’re actually trying to do this good work?” And obviously you and I both know that the vast majority of folks who are in public service are trying to do the right thing. But, as you mentioned, there’s some adverse influence, and I think that definitely has an impact.
I want to build on something you said there, that you said you need to help them, you know, how can you help these elected officials. So, you know, you mentioned the public meetings and so forth. Could you maybe give some real tactical advice as it relates to, like, how can you help these elected officials kind of be as effective as possible in their work, especially if you’re coming from the advocacy side and so forth? Is it just showing up to that umpteenth public meeting, or is there something more there?
Bauters: Yeah, there’s several things I think you can do. I think one of them you just touched on, which is it is hard to, as a citizen of the public, to imagine, “I’m going to come to all the meetings about this.” There are so many meetings, but that actually communicates commitment and seriousness about an issue to other people who are in elected capacity who may not understand why it’s so important to you.
Bauters: Like, you come out to one meeting, and we meet so many people it’s sometimes easy to forget who you were, but if you’re at every meeting, we’re like, “Oh, there’s the guy who is always here talking about the bike lane needing to be separated and protected.” Right? And so after I’ve met you four or five times coming to the public comment and then you email me and say, “I’d like to sit down with you personally,” then we have a different type of exchange, and I know about you; I’ve heard about you; I’ve heard what you have to say. So I do feel like investing the time and sharing that.
Like, people don’t have to do it all individually. I think organizing is actually a really important thing, and tenants have been doing more of that. I think that’s important. I think people in the transportation and active transportation space are doing more of that. And I think letting people know it’s not just like I’m the one person who is always here and, “Oh, there’s crazy Bob over there who wants the bike lane;” it’s actually like they’re somebody representing a group of people, and the rotation of faces and names and stories, it becomes this, like, bigger issue. Right? So I think that’s one thing.
I think the other thing is it doesn’t—every elected official is motivated differently. Some people are motivated by the cause and want to change things. You know, I, in my full-time job I do advocacy around public safety reform and mental health work. And I tell people who come to me and say, “You know, you’re very successful at your work. How do you get the reforms you want achieved?” I’m like, “A lot of these people, it’s about their ego.” And I hate to just kind of be crass like that, but truthfully some of these elected folks just want to see their name on the paper.
They want to be thanked publicly, whatever. And I think praising people at a public comment—because we often think, “Oh, politicians, bad. Politicians are doing something wrong.” We talk about all the things that are bad in the world or wrong today, but I think praising people and reaffirming, like, good things they’re doing, like, “Your vote on that was excellent Councilmember so-and-so,” or supervisor so-and-so. I think that’s what makes people feel like, “Oh, I am appreciated for this,” and people want that. As opposed to, “You’re bad; you’ve never done these things.” Then people just get a—they’re human beings. They’re get a negative—you know, they tune out.
And so I think finding affirming ways of supporting people. And if people aren’t supporting you or your issue, then you don’t obviously need to go praise someone who is not doing what your goal is. But putting within their vision, their eyesight, like, somebody who is and lifting that person up in their space to be like, “Oh, wow. Well, they’re appreciative of people who do stuff like this,” I think that that actually goes a long way because everybody is motivated by something else, so.
Cohen: Yeah, well, it sounds like what you’ve built there is almost like a positive flywheel. Right? So you’ve kind of—you know, you do the town halls, and you get the feedback, and you’re there every week, so it’s consistent, so people know that you’re not running from anything. And so then that gives you good intelligence about what the people are thinking and what they care about, which allows you to govern more effectively, which allows you to be more in touch with some of these issues and so forth. And then I think that just kind of reinforces itself. So I think there’s something to that. And I think you maybe—you know, the opposite could also be true too, which is that you don’t do that and then you kind of get a little gun-shy and not want to go to those meetings and so forth. So I think there’s something to that approach there.
And certainly the consistency from the advocacy side, I think a former guest had mentioned that, you know, you’re always going to have the pressure from, say, the NIMBYs for a housing thing; you’re always going to have that pressure. You always know they’re there, and so even having just one supporter come out to say, “Yeah, this is important,” it allows the council or the elected official to be able to, like, not have to hold that in their mind, but to know that they’re actually there in person, and that just has a really powerful—even just one person has a really powerful impact there.
Bauters: I’ll just share one other example with you. I think on the housing side homelessness is a super important issue to me. It’s one of the primary reasons I ran for office, a long personal and professional history with the issue. And I went to a town hall, and a lady stood up in the Q&A, and she said, “There’s a homeless man under the Powell Street Bridge, and he’s got 40 bags of trash, and he’s been there for a week. What are you doing about it?” And she sat down, and I said, “Does anybody here know what his name is?” And there was about 110 people. Nobody raised their hand. And I said, “Okay, so his name is Jim, and let’s start from there.” And then we had a whole conversation about how he lost his housing in West Oakland.
We talked about how those 40 bags of trash were actually recyclables that he was using to supplement his rent until the recycling center closed, which is how he fell behind on his rent. We talked about how the city provides social outreach services and we meet with him four days a week and we’ve offered him housing and shelter and he was trying to solve his own problem; he was too proud to take it.
And I talked about my philosophy as mayor, which was people need to trust government, and a lot of people don’t or they’re too proud to or they’re afraid to for different reasons. And if he sees me and he sees our social worker and our—we have two homeless liaison officers. If he sees us and we are consistently offering something to him but not threatening him, taking things from him, doing things, I said, “I understand from years of working in this space that at some point he will either solve his problem or he will say yes.” And I said, “Does anybody here have a problem with what I’m doing?” And not one person raised their hand, and I said, “Thank you.”
And I came back about two months later to that same HOA where I had had that meeting, and four or five people ran up to me before the meetings started and said, “Jim is gone. Jim is gone. What happened to Jim?” because they all now were saying hi to him as they were walking to the bridge because I said, “He’s not a scary person; he’s a nice man.” And so I opened the meeting, and I told everybody that Jim had accepted shelter services, and the whole place broke into applause. And a few months later I ran an affordable housing bond, and it passed with a 73% vote because people were like, “He knows what he’s doing.”
Bauters: So I think you’ve got to be able to—it’s easy to talk, but you have to do the hard work if you’re the elected official; you have to be responsive to people. I respond to every phone call and every email I get from a constituent. You have to know what’s going on in your time. And it’s easier in smaller cities, truthfully, than it is in some larger ones. And then you have to be willing to have a real conversation with the public. And it’s easier to do if you’re having it on a regular basis.
If you show up every four years to ask for votes and people are pent up with frustration because they’ve had something brewing for a long time, they don’t want to hear about something you did two years ago that they’ve never heard of. Right? Whereas if they know I’m doing something day-to-day and this is where I’m going to go and I’m checking in with them about how that’s going and they see that change happen, they are more willing to give me patience and trust in the future when I ask for it. And that’s what’s happened.
Cohen: I wish that more folks would do that. I think that’s part of what I hope to inspire more folks to do, is—
Bauters: It’s really hard. I will be honest. It needs to happen. I agree with you 100%. It’s really hard to do because we don’t make public service easy, especially at the local level. I mean, I get a few hundred dollars a month as a stipend. I have to do a full-time job to afford my lifestyle and my home and feed myself, and so there is kind of a catch-22 because we don’t really—people expect public service to be this completely altruistic thing that people do, that you signed up to do it so you shouldn’t get paid for it. But the truth is to do it well it takes a lot of your time to do it well, and so there’s kind of a tradeoff there.
Cohen: Yeah, totally. No, I think about that with all of our elected officials. And they’re all on various assignments to other, you know, the local transit authority board and so forth.
Cohen: And, you know, wow. Like, how do you—and MPO. And, yeah, how do you maintain that, plus your council work, plus, you know, having any intelligence on any of the issues, plus, you know, just being in touch with the community? So I do think it’s hard. And I think it’s especially hard if our community doesn’t value that enough to put a support in there to help pay for people to do that, especially those who don’t have means already. So you mentioned running earlier, and I know you’re a cyclist as well. So I know certainly some Complete Streets policies there in Emeryville are something that’s kind of near and dear to your heart and as well as a bus-only lane on the Bay Bridge.
Cohen: The Bay Bridge connects kind of Oakland and Emeryville to San Francisco, so it’s quite congested on a regular basis. So I’m curious to see what your barriers are to achieving your vision on that. Like, what’s getting in the way of that?
Bauters: Hmm. Very bluntly, other agencies. I’m in a persistent state of love and hate with some of our large, state department of transportation officials. [LAUGHTER] I have heard that my name has been used as several state meetings as somebody to avoid.
Bauters: Which is fine. That’s the reputation I have. I don’t mind. You know, I think that the problem is bureaucracy is so entrenched; it’s just terrible. And transportation is one of the worst, to be honest with you.
Bauters: Like, we’ve built for 70 years; we’ve prioritized a freeway system. And so we get millions and billions of dollars from gas taxes and this and that, and people are like, “Well, if I’m going to pay to use my car, I want to pay to have my road with a perfect little sheer and a pretty yellow line,” and whatever. And the truth is, like, we’re killing our self; we’re killing the planet; we’re killing ourselves; we’re killing communities.
We talk about livability out here; it’s a joke. You’re not going to have a livable community, if everybody is sitting in their car for 45 minutes to two hours a day each direction in traffic. And people are like, “Oh, I hate the traffic. Do something about the traffic.” And I say, “Do you drive?” and they said, “Yes.” I go, “Congratulations. You’re the traffic.”
Bauters: It’s ludicrous. People have no introspection on this issue. And I think it’s the one thing that I affront people about sometimes that people don’t like to have to think about, but that’s why I’m here. It’s like, “You have to think about this.” Like, if you care about climate change, if you care about community livability, if you actually care about economic development and family social welfare and health, like, a dad or a mom who has to spend four hours a day in a car because they can’t afford to live near—that’s a separate issues—but they can’t even afford to live near their job and then they’re commuting all the way there and back, their kids are deprived of, you know, family time and things like that. I mean, that’s social welfare.
Bauters: So we’re really not doing the deep thinking about how our addiction to the car is playing a role in this. And so on the local thing—I’m a councilmember in a 1.2-square-mile city. Right?
Bauters: And so I don’t have—I get people all the time, like, “Can you annex my town and this town and that town.”
Bauters: It’s hilarious. I get these requests all the time, “Annex my city.” And I’m like, “Sure. Yeah, I’m going to just become a colonist out here.” But honestly, like, you do what you can with what you’ve got. And my point of view is, like, if you think globally and act locally and people love what you’re doing, it puts pressure on other electeds. So I indirectly try to pressure other cities by just doing it.
Cohen: Oh, I like that. Yeah.
Bauters: And so I’m really, really lucky because you can’t do anything in a city council by yourself. I have four fabulous colleagues, who all contribute to the city’s discourse on this and other issues, and I learn a lot from them on the things that are not my bailiwick perhaps, community services, public art; there’s a lot of really talented people on the council. And I think mine is land use, is kind of, like, the thing I’m given credit for. And so, yeah, when I’m like, “Let’s just eliminate all the parking on 40th Street and put in a two-way cycle track, and let’s get rid of one travel lane in each direction and put in a bus-only lane,” I mean, yeah, some people set their hair on fire. “You’re going to get rid of parking.” I was like, “You can live without it,” because the same number of people who complain about parking are the same number of people who tell me, “I would ride the Emery Go-Round or the AC Transit bus if it wasn’t stuck in traffic for 20 minutes on 40th Street.”
So I’m like, “You know what? Let’s have people in cars watch the bus fly by and then start to evaluate what their choice is.” And I think the same is true for the Bay Bridge. And the Bay Bridge is a meta-regional issue that absolutely is going to be my crusade over the next few years, assuming I’m reelected next year. That is my cause du jour, is, like, we need to deprioritize cars, and we need to put a bus lane on the Bay Bridge for double-decker busses to express from Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville across to San Francisco and back and show people that we can actually mass move people in a way that’s cost effective and time efficient. And we just need to do it.
Cohen: And it seems like the time is right for that.
Bauters: Yes, absolutely.
Cohen: New York is obviously. Fourteenth Street and Market Street just in San Francisco just got approval to make that transit and bike-focused—
Bauters: Car free.
Bauters: Market is going to be car free, and I think that’s great. And we’re going to bring some of that to Emeryville. I can’t get out ahead of—my fellow councilmember and I are working on a plan to make a couple parts of Emeryville car free, but, yeah. I mean, I think that’s the kind of stuff. We put bollards up. I had people go crazy when we put bollards up along the bike lanes because trucks were parking in the bike lanes. And at an HOA meeting a guy was like, “I’m going to buzz saw and chainsaw all the bollards down. It looks like a canyon of white sticks. And what’s wrong with green paint? Why do bikers not like the green paint?” I was like, “Because the green paint doesn’t evaporate the trucks that park over it, so it’s still a problem. Right? We need a physical barrier.”
And now I have zero bike complaints and zero bike incidents on that street, so it’s like the interventions work. And we have to take space back from cars unfortunately, and I realize there are people who are probably listening who will say, “Well, not everybody can bike,” and that’s true. As a plane statement that is true, but there are a lot of people who don’t know they can bike who could bike and who would bike if they realized how easy and safe it was if we made that space safe for them. And so I think transit and bikes get second fiddle, and that’s because the people in charge of some of the largest agencies that administer our infrastructure funding are addicted to cars, and that’s the way they want to do it, and we need to change that.
Cohen: Yeah. Well, I think that’s a good cause to make your cause du jour. So maybe let’s wrap up with this, which is, you know, when you think about the thing that either you think about how you lead or even how you look at leaders across the U.S. that you respect, what’s something that our audience can take from that, either from those other leaders or from yourself that they can use in their own communities to help build this equitable and accessible and verdant mobility future that we all want?
Bauters: I think the thing that I would point out—so I like people like AOC. I think she is doing a fabulous job. Scott Wiener here in California, I’m a fan of his. And lots of people don’t like them, and the best part is they don’t give a shit that people don’t like them.
Bauters: And that’s my thing too, is, like, there are people who don’t like me or don’t like the things I do. And, like, I’m not here for that. That’s a distraction to accomplishing things. And I think that communities need to vote for people who are not in it for power, who are in it to make change, and who are serious about making change. Like, I don’t care if I get reelected. I don’t. And a lot of people say, “Oh, well, you might not get reelected if you say it that way or if you do too much of this or that,” and I’m like, “Great. But I have four years,” and so I have four years that voters gave me based on a platform I was very transparent about, that I have been delivering on every day, and I am going to do everything I can to fulfill that promise for four years.
And if it gets me voted out of office then the truth is the voters really didn’t want the things they thought they wanted when they voted for me. And if it gets me reelected it’s a validation that maybe I am doing exactly what I was supposed to do. So I don’t worry about whether people agree with me or disagree with me or like me or don’t like me, and I think that communities need to find those people and not wait for party apparatus or existing people in leadership to tell them—I mean, I was not like—the party did not come tap me and say, “You should run for office.” It wasn’t like that at all. Nobody came down from the heavens and was like, “You’re the chosen one.” Right? Like, I actually pissed a bunch of people off when I ran at first because I had not gone through that kind of pre-vetting or whatever. And I think that communities need to just authentically pick people who are, like, committed to them first.
Bauters: That’s the thing that you have to have. You have to have people who are committed to you, and that’s something everybody can do. You can find people in your community who—like kamikaze style, “I got four years, and this is what I’m going to do for those four years.” I retain all the power that way. Because I have people who say, “Well, we may fund an opponent for you if you do this or you vote that. Or we may, you know, not support you.” And I was like, “Well, that’s a really shitty way of doing transactional business with people, but if that’s your preference, that’s fine because I’m not beholden to anybody, and I don’t care if today you agree with me and tomorrow you don’t and you don’t seem to think I’m on the same page as you.”
Like, I’m not here to be on any one person’s page. I’m here to look out for the best interest of the community. I had these five things I said I would do when I ran, and those are the five things I’m working on. And I accept and appreciate all input, and I work with all stakeholders who are willing to do so in an above-the-board, transparent manner; and if you’re going to, like, devolve to threats or intimidation or, you know, trying to, like, scare me out of my position, like, it doesn’t work because at the end of the day if I didn’t win reelection, I’ve accomplished the things I wanted, I said I was going to accomplish; I feel I sleep well at night; I don’t have any regrets about what I did, and I have a job and a life, and I’ll go back to biking even longer in the morning, so, you know, it’ll work out.
Cohen: Yeah. Well, and I think the connection there is what you really started out with this conversation, is having some real clear principles and vision on things that you wanted to accomplish, and it sounds like—and also putting in the hard work. So even before you got to council you were doing the hard work on the committees, you know, prior to that to really develop and refine some of those thoughts that you may have had and even validate some other ones, so I think that—
Bauters: And I would make a plug at the end, which is there are a lot of people who care about their local community and don’t see themselves as somebody who would be on a city council or whatever. Like, people who come to me who are like, “I’ve thought about public service,” I immediately look for a committee to put them on. I’m like, “You should be on a committee.” Because then it gives them a chance to see what the work is like, what we talk about, is this boring or interesting or do I love it or hate it. And it also gives me as a—you know, I don’t want to do this forever. I want someone else to do this. That’s what democracy is supposed to be.
So, like, it also gives me an opportunity to see who is really cut out to do the work, who is committed to the community, who is committed to the issues, who is willing to do the homework and learn and roll up their sleeves, because it is a lot. To your point, it’s a lot of work; it’s a lot of time, and you can’t do it yourself. Like, I have so many awesome people who I’m not the smartest person in the room on the subject, and I call them, and I’m like, “Help me with this,” and they send stuff over because they’re the experts, and I just give them credit for it, and I walk up there, and I’m like, “This is what I want to do.”
Bauters: And, you know, that’s how—community does it together. And so I think people, you can get the leadership you want, and you should look in the mirror and see if it’s you. I think that people need to do that more often.
Cohen: Well, I think that’s a great way to wrap up. John, thank you so much for joining me today. I think this is a really inspiring and great trip through Emeryville and some of the things that you’re working on there both with city council and also the Air District, and I think you shared a lot of great things, so thank you so much.
Bauters: Thanks, Josh, for having me. It was great.
F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.
Read our blog to learn how one midwestern county improved their transit system with microtransit.