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