Monday Morning Thoughts: One Year into Robb Davis’ Mayorship

Mayor Davis’ emotional comments in Central Park in January following Islamic Center vandalism

Tuesday’s council meeting will be the final council meeting before about a six-week break for the summer.  We are also now about a year into Robb Davis’ term as mayor of Davis.  In less than two weeks, the Vanguard will turn 11 years old which gives us some insight into how this council compares to its predecessors.

My view is so far this is one of the better councils we have had over the last decade-plus.  The most enduring legacy, I think, is the true commitment to conflict resolution.

That tone has clearly been set by Mayor Robb Davis.  I remember when I first really met Robb Davis – I had known him a bit before, but it was late November 2011, the pepper spray incident had just occurred, and he, David Breaux and Kristin Stoneking came to the Human Relations Commission (HRC) with an idea of a restorative justice process for the university and the pepper spray victims.

While I was skeptical at first, his passion and conviction won me over and made me a quick convert to restorative justice as a means of conflict resolution and ultimately criminal justice reform.

Ultimately, that venture failed due to legal concerns by the university, but it set the stage for the ongoing work that has been done by Mayor Robb Davis on behalf of conflict resolution.

It hasn’t always been a smooth process.  The first chance we had to see this at work resulted in the Gandhi debate, about which a lot of people were critical.  But slowly but surely, I have observed that not only have we had success in conflict resolution in areas we would not have expected, but the leadership of Robb Davis has carried over to his colleagues and been successful.

A good example is the Hyatt House.  The council seemed to have the votes to approve the Hyatt House project as proposed last fall.  However, it was Councilmember Will Arnold who suggested that the neighbors and applicants do one more round of facilitated discussions to see if there could be common ground.

As it turned out, the process pushed the approval of the project out several months, but ultimately resulted in an agreement between the neighbors and developers that cleared the way for approval of the project without further opposition from the neighborhood.

It was a remarkable accomplishment, given how much angst had occurred in the community over this issue previously.

But it demonstrated two things – one, the commitment of the council to conflict resolution.  And second, it showed a marked change from the tactics of the council that was in power when I first began the Vanguard.  From July 2006 until July 2010, the Davis City Council was divided into two blocks – the council majority of Ruth Asmundson, Don Saylor and Stephen Souza, and the council minority of Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek.

On most major policy issues the vote was 3-2 along those lines of demarcation.  The council majority had the votes and would often ram things through over the objections of neighbors and community members with little regard for the polarization that they were creating.

This council is different.  There have been multiple occasions when it has gone out of its way to make sure that, even when they have voted against a given interest, those viewpoints are heard and valued.

For example, while the council approved a Sterling Project – again modified by the conflict resolution process – they went out of their way to address some concerns of the Rancho Yolo Community, a community feeling vulnerable due to quirks in mobile home park ownership patterns.

Then there is the handling of the police issue.  Last week following the decision by the council to create a public outreach process, I noted the difference between 2017 and how such an issue was handled in 2006.

At that time, the HRC, in February 2006, turned in their document, “Civilian Oversight To Strengthen and Improve the Davis Police Department.” It was co-written by a commission subcommittee (Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, Bill Calhoun, Hamza El-Nakhal, Chithra Lakshmanan, and Diane Carlson) with Jann Murray-Garcia.

For whatever you think of this document, members of the public read from it finding much of it still relevant today, and Mayor Davis also acknowledged it in his comments.

But what happened at the time is almost unimaginable. The council disparaged the report, with Councilmember Ted Puntillo saying it was “not worth the paper it was written” on as he dismissively waved it in the air.

I have talked to some current councilmembers about the treatment of a volunteer commission that had turned in a 60-page document, and they have found it mindboggling.

But it gets worse – before the proposal could be considered by council at the time, the city put forward a surprise recommendation for a different model (the ombudsman) and, when the HRC protested, they disbanded the commission.

The difference could not be more stark from what happened last week – and here the council looked to the leadership of Robb Davis.  He noted that he had sketched out a plan, but wanted to hear from his colleagues first.  However, his colleagues asked to hear his plan – in fact, Lucas Frerichs deferred his comments until after the mayor presented the plan.

They immediately then jumped on board with a quick “so moved” and “second” – and easily approved the plan.

The contrast between last Tuesday and 2006 is rather stark.  Even when the public got contentious and pointed in their criticism, council pushed for more community involvement rather than less.  There was no suggestion in 2006 of a public process, as the council at the time rammed through their proposal, completely blindsiding the commission the day they were asked to present their recommendations – and when the commission protested, the council eventually disbanded it.

It has taken a year, but you clearly see the council following the lead of its mayor on conflict resolution and public processes that have led to better and more inclusive decisions in the community.

In a way you can argue that the times were right for Mayor Davis’ approach, as we saw in November that the community was reeling from the election of a new president that only 11 percent of the voters voted for.

Robb Davis has provided the moral guidance to help vulnerable communities through these challenging times.

There are of course other factors as well, but the one that stands out most is the city’s commitment to conflict resolution – and not as lip service, but as a genuine part of the public process.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: One Year into Robb Davis’ Mayorship”

  1. Ron

    From article:  “There are of course other factors as well, but the one that stands out most is the city’s commitment to conflict resolution and not as lip service, but as a genuine part of the public process.”

    The problem is that the city has directed the parties to “conflict resolution” AFTER a decision has essentially already been made to approve a given development.

    Also, while the council might be more “united” than past councils, I’m not sure that some actually consider views which conflict with their own (especially regarding development issues). To me, it’s less important that the council itself be united.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s actually untrue. The council did push for a late conflict resolution process in the Hyatt House, but they did it much earlier before the plan ever got to the council in Trackside.

      My comments had nothing to do with the council being united, my comment was directed toward the fact that the council values and respects community input and went out of their way to not simply impose their will on the community.

      1. Ron

        From article:  “For example, while the council approved a Sterling Project – again modified by the conflict resolution process – they went out of their way to address some concerns of the Rancho Yolo Community, a community feeling vulnerable due to quirks in mobile home park ownership patterns.”

        Are you suggesting that this development WASN’T essentially already decided, by the time that the council directed the parties toward “conflict resolution”? (And, same thing with Hyatt?)

        If that’s what you’re suggesting, I’ll “generously” label your article as “disingenuous”.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The Hyatt House had a clear expressed three votes when they went to conflict resolution. The Sterling Apartments had not come before council yet. If you wish to call my point disingenuous, it’s no skin off my back.

        2. Ron

          David:  “If you wish to call my point disingenuous, it’s no skin off my back.”

          I kind of figured that.

          Yes – in addition to Hyatt, I think we (including you) understood that the city would approve Sterling, as well. (Prior to sending the parties to “conflict resolution”.)

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            That’s kind of like me proposing a project anticipating that council would support it and calling it a foregone conclusion.

            Also it’s worth noting, The Hyatt House team proposed conflict resolution even before the project went to the planning commission, i.e. way before any decisions were made. The neighborhood originally rejected the offer only to take them up later when it was clear the project had the votes in council.

            So I’m not convinced that you have a valid point here.

      2. Ron

        David: “. . .  my comment was directed toward the fact that the council values and respects community input and went out of their way to not simply impose their will on the community.”

        I’m not sure what to say about that, so I’ll just put a smiley face here.  🙂

        (Some on the council are more willing to listen, at times. However, we might not agree regarding the identities of those individuals.)

      3. Mark West

        Actually, the City and the Mayor asked the neighbors to meet with the Hyatt developers earlier in the process (before the decision) but the neighbors steadfastly refused to do so. Robb made that point during his comments. There should have been consequences for their refusal but Will let them off the hook by demanding one more round of negotiations.

        1. Ron

          Mark:  Assuming that this is true, is a view that zoning shouldn’t be changed to accommodate a development necessarily “unreasonable”?  Why would neighbors feel compelled to participate in such a process, in the first place? (That is, until they realize that the city is going to approve it, anyway.)

          As far as letting the neighborhood “off the hook” – that reinforces the point. The council had already decided, before sending the parties to “conflict resolution”.

          Thank goodness for Will, though.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            It’s worth noting, The Hyatt House team proposed conflict resolution even before the project went to the planning commission, i.e. way before any decisions were made. The neighborhood originally rejected the offer only to take them up later when it was clear the project had the votes in council.

        2. Keith O

          As we saw with the last round of negotiations (restorative justice) every community should hold out and get as many goodies (payouts) as they can before they let the city rubber stamp any new development in their neighborhood.

          I think it’s going to be the new normal.

  2. Greg Rowe

    It’s also important to recognize the leadership role Mayor Davis has taken as one of 2 members of the City Council UCD LRDP Subcommittee, along with Councilmember Rochelle Swanson. Starting with meetings I began attending with the subcommittee last August, the Mayor and Rochelle have patiently, thoughtfully and objectively received and analyzed a great deal of information related to the lack of adequate student housing provisions in the draft 2017 LRDP.  They likewise both went into their meetings with UCD administration with an open mind to the university’s thoughts and precepts, but ultimately became frustrated with the apparently unmovable positions taken by the Interim Chancellor and other UCD administrators.

    As much as the Mayor is truly committed to open dialogue, negotiation and conflict resolution, by last December he and the other councilmembers recognized the need to take the unusual step of adopting a resolution calling upon UCD to substantially revise the draft LRDP to provide on-campus housing for at least 50% of the anticipated student enrollment in 2027-28.    This was a precedent setting and controversial step for elected leadership in a city where the university has historically played a large, influential and at times dominating role.  It was an action the mayor and council did not take lightly and without thoughtful consideration.  Since then the mayor has continually sought information from UCD to better understand the university’s rationale for wanting only to provide housing for 90% of anticipated enrollment growth in the coming decade (which of course does nothing to address the current on-campus deficit that during the LRDP’s 2015-16 base year required 63% of the students to live off-campus in Davis and another 8% to live in other towns throughout the region). Unfortunately, based on what I’ve observed, it has not always been easy for the Mayor and city staff to obtain meaningful responses to their inquiries.

    The Mayor has also demonstrated leadership on this issue in his “2×2” meetings with members of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.  It is gratifying that the Council and Board have now unanimously adopted similar resolutions calling upon UCD to make a better commitment to addressing the housing needs of its students.

    In addition to the accomplishments cited by David, in my view the Mayor deserves credit and recognition for the leadership role he has taken in trying to objectively negotiate a “better deal” for the city and its residents as it pertains to the LRDP.  I look forward to the Mayor’s continued leadership and assertiveness on this issue as the draft LRDP moves toward environmental review.

  3. Roberta Millstein

    “Robb Davis has provided the moral guidance to help vulnerable communities through these challenging times.”

    This hints at what to me has been most significant about Robb’s leadership — he is always coming from a place of moral principles, whether you agree with his decisions or not.  That’s not to say that previous mayors failed to do this, but rather to say that I appreciate how explicit Robb has been about his moral principles.  I can always understand and respect his reasoning.

    On another note entirely: with the CC not meeting for six weeks after Tuesday, what happens with the decisions that the Planning Commission makes on Wednesday?

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