Profiles in city courage

Why the City Commission majority stood up against the tyranny of single family zoning.

I must rise to the defense of our much-maligned Gainesville City Commission majority.

Oh, I see all those eyebrows arching. I hear that collective gasp of incredulity.

I know that the majority’s decision to relax the very zoning restrictions that have for generations separated us by race and by income has sparked angry opposition.

Cunningham! Don’t you realize that this is just a blatant ploy to appease out of town developers and destroy our neighborhoods?

No I do not.

Rather, I argue that Mayor Lauren Poe and commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos, David Arreola and Reina Saco voted for inclusionary zoning simply because it was the right thing to do.

Because by and large the American neighborhood remains the last bastion of segregation in our society. And we can thank deliberate government policies for helping us to divide ourselves one from another.

“Single-family zoning ordinances are a form of exclusionary housing policy. They are laws that don’t allow multi-family housing — like duplexes, apartment complexes, or townhomes — to be built upon residential land. Unfortunately, around 75% of residential land in the United States is zoned to be this way.” This from the Harvard Political Review.

“Only a certain amount of land is available for residential use, and only a limited number of homes can be built on such land. This inflates the price of housing by creating artificial scarcity.”

So I come here today to praise, not bury, the commission majority.

David Arreola likely sacrificed his mayoral hopes to stand by his convictions.

Beginning with David Arreola.

When he ran for mayor, it would have been easy – dare I say politically expedient? – for Arreola to come out firmly against inclusionary zoning.

Virtually everybody else running for mayor did.

Instead, Arreola maintained the courage of his convictions. And it is not idle speculation to suggest that courage may have cost him the mayor’s race.

Saco ignored the taunts of city employees.

Which brings me to Reina Saco. She who fled to America from Cuba in a leaky boat. Our human rights attorney/commissioner. She who would not be cowed when city employees hurled insults and jeers because she wanted them to be immunized against Covid.

Saco is the least politically motivated commissioner I know. If her vote on any issue ends up costing Saco a second term her response will be “Oh well.”

Mayor Poe and Commissioner Hayes-Santos never pretended to be anything but urbanists.

Poe and Hayes-Santos are term limited out of office, so I suppose you might argue that they had nothing to lose in the zoning tussle. But both of them ran on and won city office on urbanist principles. They have throughout their terms championed policies intended to increase density, make housing more affordable, and counter the relentless march of suburban sprawl. Gainesville has grown into a more mature and forward-thinking university city because of their commitment to good urbanism.

Yes, I know. Candidates for city office are promising to restore single-family zoning as soon as they take their oaths of office. Such is the will of the people, they say.

As though, in a city of 140,000 souls, the “will of the people” can be accurately gauged by the anger of single-family homeowners.

What about the will of Gainesville’s thousands of renters? Or the will of countless lower income residents who are priced out of Gainesville’s “nicer” neighborhoods?

I hope that our next mayor and new commissioners will listen to their better angels and reconsider. Exclusionary zoning diminishes us as a city that otherwise professes to be committed to principles of equity and inclusion.

That Gainesville is the first Florida city to embrace inclusionary neighborhoods should be a point of civic pride. At the very least it is a fitting legacy for our much-maligned commission majority.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at Email him at


  1. Thanks Ron! I completely agree with you on this!! The NIMBY mentality is based on the belief that “special interest big developers” will not be regulated sufficiently by the City. I think that when we all have to face the prospect of greater density we will care to enforce that it’s done right

    .Diversity is a good thing, Divisions, racial or economic, result in a less fulfilling social experience for all of us. I live in the NE Historic District and here is the reality of what can be.

  2. Two things:
    First, I’ve lived here for 35 years now, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the City Commission commended for doing the right thing. It’s not something that august body has ever been accused of being interested in accomplishing. 😀

    Second, exclusionary zoning has always been one of the most oppressive state interventions in private economic activity and property ownership, and no principled conservative should ever have been in favor of it.

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