CHA Fishes for Support For Covell Village II at Candidates Forum

Group Gets Harsh Reality Check as Jon Li Steals the Show –


Wednesday night’s CHA (Choices for Healthy Aging) Candidate’s Forum started out with a bang as Jon Li lit into the sponsor, John Whitcombe, and by implication Councilmember Sue Greenwald.  It seemed like it would be a night of fireworks, however, the end result was a rather dull and uninspired event as the sponsor CHA asked seven questions trying to gather support for their senior housing project and found no takers even from Sydney Vergis.

Jon Li was at least willing to tell the truth when he said, “The problem I have with the series of questions which I think is apparent to all of you is you started with an answer and then you ask us a bunch of questions where the answer that you want to hear is given.”  None of the other council candidates took the bait in support of such a project, although there were some interesting gymnastics involved in dodging the core points at times.

It was Jon Li who stole the show at least at the beginning.  In his opening statement as everyone was reading off their well-rehearsed and scripted niceties, he stunned the audience.  He said, “Every single thing on your wish list is already available in Davis somewhere now.  Olympic Circle and University Retirement Community have everything your heart desires, and more, and real medical support up to and including proximity to Sutter Davis Hospital.”

He then laid out the naked truth about this evening and Davis politics for everyone to see as a stunned audience and panel watched on.  “Tonight is about building political pressure to force the next Davis City Council to waste another few years and a Measure J vote on Covell Village.  Covell Village is SPONSORING this event.”

He continued, “No matter what, any proposal in our lifetimes will be rejected by the Davis voters, 40-60, because of John Whitcombe.  Since 2003, Whitcombe has owned a majority of the Davis City Council, and they have done his beck and call at the expense of the rest of the citizens of Davis.  Whitcombe decides something, the council majority announces it, and the city staff suffers whiplash.  For seven years, the Davis City Council has only done what Whitcombe wants.  So the council has accomplished nothing.”

While he may have scored points with his attack on Whitcombe and calling CHA for what it was, he diminished any gains with a needless and meanspirited attack on Councilmember Sue Greenwald.  “Only one person has benefited in the past seven years, and that is the crazy woman on the council.  Every time Whitcombe forces a council decision, she rants about it and is half right.  The crazy woman should be recalled.”

He continued, “The council should implement policy governance to clarify the council’s limits with each other, with staff and with the public. The worst thing that can happen to a city staff person now is a phone call from the crazy woman on the city council.  Especially the City Manager.  All city staff except the City Manger should be ordered to hang up when the crazy woman on the city council calls.  That is current state law. No more staff harassment by developers or council members.”

The rest of the evening was not nearly as eventful.  As I said, much of it was a case of cat and mouse.  CHA exposed themselves for what they really were, an interest group and an ASTROTURF group trying to push for Covell Village.  If last night was any indication, they have no allies in this venture among the five candidates. 

If their goal was to try to show that they were a Senior group rather than a Covell Village front, they failed miserably.  The only saving grace was after flying through the scripted portion of the questions, the audience itself asked more general questions related to seniors in general.

But this night was clearly about CHA and we focus our attention on the official part of the program as it says more about them than about the candidates.

The first question which was posed to all five candidates was, “because Seniors are defined in many different ways, age 65 for medicare and as young as fifty for many of the services offered by the American Association for Retired Persons, how would you as a city councilmember define seniors in planning for future housing needs?”

Daniel Watts made the point that the concerns of seniors are also the concerns of other people in the community.  “I don’t think defining seniors is necessary to serve them well.”  He said that issues like transportation and having town homes and other affordable housing are more important, but all of these issues are pertinent to younger people as well.

Sydney Vergis instead of answering this question, dodged it.  “The number I’ve been thinking about lately is not how to define seniors, but rather the trends in our community.  Certainly over the next 20 years the folks in the 55 and over age range will grow by 4000 people and that’s assuming no growth.”  However instead of calling for additional senior housing, she talked about the need for the city to provide more and better services.

Rochelle Swanson agreed that it is not definable by age but rather by need.  “The breakdown that’s been done in a couple of studies… is that 15% of seniors want to be in age restricted [housing] but 85% does not.”  She then talked about the need to plan for different sizes of houses to accommodate different needs.

Jon Li pointed out that we are getting older in a healthy manner and benefiting from that.  “In answering the question,” he said tearing away at the facade that no one else wanted to touch, “the implicit question is should we be providing housing separate for seniors, I don’t think so.”  He went on to argue that we already having housing options for seniors.

Joe Krovoza talked about the need for the type of services that are required.  Talked about the need to co-mingle services so that it is not just a senior service.  He cited transportation as an example.  “I think about the services more than the number and think about co-mingling those services with other elements of our population.”

The next five questions were asked to just two people each and they rotated.

The first question, “Do you think it important that the city of Davis add new senior housing projects in which qualified occupants would own their home and land?”

Rochelle Swanson responded, “Rather than focus on it being an age and ownership, I would focus on it being a new development that blends into our existing community and has a cross-age element on it.  It’s more about the delivery of services.”

Sydney Vergis argued given the fact that we’re in an economic slowdown, she would like to see us, “really take a deep breath and think about the demographics that we’re not providing for.  I don’t think the number of housing units is something I’m interested in pushing, but what I’m interested in talking about is what kind of range of housing are we providing.”  She cited the B St visioning as the type of project she likes, going up in the downtown core and being creative.  She said, seeming to forget her audience, that she wants to look down the road 50 years to see what kind of community we want to look like.

The next question was, “The US census shows that Davis senior households have twice the income of seniors nationwide and many also own a home with a large equity.  In light of these facts, how do you think, Senior Housing options in Davis should differ from those in typical US cities?”

Joe Krovoza went first.  He said, “I think that what that tells us is that we may have a little bit more flexibility in Davis to be a little bit more creative in what we do and maybe provide a broader set of options.”  He talked about the tremendous pressure with regards to the environment, and so we need to think about densification which matches greatly with our need for senior housing and going up more with greater density.

Daniel Watts quipped, “First of all let me congratulate you on your phenomenal wealth.”   He continued, “I don’t think that this should make a big difference in the way that we plan when we plan out senior housing.”   He again pointed out that the interests of the senior and college age population as coinciding with the need for affordable housing and townhomes.  “I think it’s important to keep housing affordable and not look at the incomes of the different sectors of the population who already live here when planning for future housing.”

The third question was, “Do you think that it is important that the city of Davis to allow new qualified senior housing projects that are large enough to offer comprehensive services for maintaining health and healthy social lifestyles [couldn’t hear end of question over baby noises…]”

Jon Li responded that he’s only running for one term, he is not running for reelection.  “Given the nature of the housing market in the Sacramento region, Davis, and West Village, we don’t need to build another development in the next four years.”  He supports the idea of senior housing in proximity to health care.  He then talked about the fact that the Adult Day Health Center in Woodland is county wide and it is at risk.  “I think we ought to beef up the resources that we have as opposed to talking about some kind of fantasy land that would not translate in reality for at least ten years if the city council approved it.”

Rochelle Swanson said, “I think we need to look at the services that we are not providing right now and how can we address those.”  She wants to be sure that people have the resources here in town, she wants to look at existing services and beef those up rather than looking to expand services at this time.  She wants to insure that people not only have access to those services, but that they have affordability.

Fourth, “If Measure R passes, how will it affect the ability to initiate innovative housing projects in Davis?”

Sydney Vergis talked about some of the “visioning” that is taking place on existing infill possibilities.  She then talked about the Housing Element process that went through a comprehensive ranking of various infill sites in the city of Davis.  “So the visioning is in place,” she said, “I think it’s really thinking about where kind of our priorities as a community are and how do we provide incentives to follow through this vision that’s already been created through this community outreach process.  I think sometimes getting out of the way is a good method the council can take but I also think making sure that we have the right priorities in place to make sure our visions are realized is another way we can do this.”

Joe Krovoza, “If R passes, it means a couple of things.  It certainly means that we have to think harder and more diligently, which I think is the correct thing to do, about infill development.”  He also indicated that Measure R passing does not make new development impossible outside of the current city limits.  “I do think that the planning for such development is going to have to be done very carefully so that when it does come forward it really feels like and is a sincere community plan.”  He continued, “I think Measure R raises the bar on development that might happen that would require a Measure R vote.”  He added that Senior Housing should be included in any project that requires a Measure R vote, but it should fit within our planning priorities.

The final question in this group of questions was, “do you think that current housing options for Davis Seniors are adequate in light of the dramatic increases in the proportion of the population age 55 and older in Davis?  Please explain if you don’t think it’s adequate what is needed.”

Daniel Watts responded, “No, because I think in general that the housing options are inadequate.  There’s not enough housing downtown that’s affordable near the downtown core where people can easily walk to the different restaurants and locations down there.”  Believes that providing affordable housing is something that helps families and students, but also seniors.

Jon Li said plainly, “I don’t see growth happening in Davis in the next four years.  I don’t see the growth pressure there anywhere in the Sacramento region.”  Blames Proposition 13 for part of the problem in that a lot of people with large houses that are empty nesters are not downsizing because the tax hit they would take by moving.  “At this point in time, we’re locked up as a city.”  He said it is a time for us to study and discuss and plan, but “I don’t think it’s going to be approved any time soon.”

The final question overall from CHA was, “Would you be an advocate for senior ownership housing projects within your term if you were elected?”

Joe Krovoza went first.  “I would absolutely look forward to being an advocate for senior housing,” he said.  “I see the senior housing question as tied to infill in an indirect way.  Seniors who would be interested in moving to senior housing and freeing up their homes that are closer to schools and with more of a young family lifestyle in mind.  That opens up new possibilities, we need to get more kids into our schools.”  Thinks that senior housing needs to be tense.  He concluded, “In terms of an advocate for senior housing, absolutely.  In terms of the type of senior housing, I just need to understand that a bit better before I take a position in front of such an austere group.”

Jon Li said, “The problem I have with the series of questions which I think is apparent to all of you is you started with an answer and then you ask us a bunch of questions where the answer that you want to hear is given.”  He said he’s more than happy to advocate for senior housing, he thinks that, “Senior Housing is partly about downscaling” and then referenced the distance from the bed to the bathroom as the critical distance that needs shortening over time.

Rochelle Swanson called herself an advocate for quality housing.  She also agrees that it is time to study rather than necessarily act.  She suggested that not everyone needs to or wants to move and she is interested in universal design standards that would enable seniors to age in place.

Sydney Vergis also considers herself an advocate, but for senior needs across the board rather than simply housing.  For her it is a matter of services and how to adequately fund these services particularly given the economic and budgetary realities.

Finally Daniel Watts suggested that in a Measure J vote that given the level of participation of seniors, that a senior housing project has a better chance of passing than some of the others.

Concluding Thoughts

While I am not going to offer extended commentary at this time, I may do so in the future depending on a variety of factors.  What I will say is that Jon Li is right (although he undermined his position withthe needless and meanspirited attack on Sue Greenwald) at least in terms of the fact that the CHA group had an extremely narrow focus in their questions.  They did have an answer in mind, it was very apparent that each question hit on a very specific aspect of the unasked question.

That question was, do you support an 800 unit senior housing project at Covell Village.  The question was so obviously and yet they never asked it flat out and they should have.  And then they should have asked other questions.  If this is really a group advocating for Healthy Aging, why was there not a transportation question?  Why was there not a universal design question other than from a senior in the audience?  Why was there not an affordability question?  Why was there not an accessibility/ visitibility question?

We know the answer to that.  Jon Li said it at the outset.  Covell Village sponsored this event and they were beating around the bush to see if they could get the council candidates to support them.  To their credit, not one of them did.  Even Sydney Vergis who jumped through hoops not to say anything, said we need to take a deep breath and think.

But the agenda that is CHA was exposed.  They are not a senior advocate group.  They are a Covell Village supporter group trying to drum up enough support in the senior community to push through their plan.  If this forum is any indication, the next Council might not be as willing to play ball with them as the past group of Souza-Saylor-Asumundson was.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. davisite2

    Well, last evening demonstrated why Jon Li has come out of “retirement” ,as a self-appointed local political pundit, to run for Council council. He clearly was very unhappy that Davis local politics has ignored him as irrelevant for many years now and was determined last evening to make a comeback “splash” by shocking the audience. He hopes to snatch as much time in the political limelight as he can before he is again consigned to the local political dustbin in June. As a near 30 year Davis resident, my recollection of Jon Li’s past political persona was quite vague but his performance last evening brought it all back quite sharply, Sadly,IMO, the passing years have not been kind to Jon Li but rather have only sharpened his persona as an angry disgruntled curmudgeon.

  2. nprice

    The problem with all the discussion and citations of numbers this and numbers that is – build it and they will come. There may be and is internal need, but anything built in Davis is and will be marketed far and wide and as an attractive university community, many “outsiders” will move in and fill the homes and units that are being cited as needed by the “insiders.” Of course, there is the need for Davisites to be able to bring their older parents here to live out their lives, but imo and that can be done with a variety of well-designed and small-scale projects.

  3. biddlin

    Sydney’s political savvy could serve her well on the council. She also brings both innovation and realistic assessment skills regarding resource allocation. Daniel Watts also impresses with his quick wit and accurate view of the commonality of concerns among Davisites. Unfortunately he lacks the gravitas to appeal to an aging constituency. Jon Li is the mirror image of”the crazy woman…”, but it sounds like the evening needed some comic relief.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    I’m glad to see all the candidates seemed pretty clear on what the agenda for this forum was, and were not willing to concede any points to accommodate that agenda. However, saying and doing are two different things. A person can say one thing during a campaign, and do something quite different once in office. I feel as if too many of the candidates are unwilling to step up to the plate and really stake a clear position. It will be interesting to see how things progress over the next several weeks…

  5. roger bockrath

    So, Wikipedia defineds ASTROTURF groups as synthetic grass roots groups. I would like to learn a bit more about the group Choices for Healthy Living, their inception, and their sponsorship of last night’s candidate forum. Is there actual proof of their manipulation by Whitcombe?

    When Jon Li stated that “Covell Village is sponsoring this event”, does he literally mean that they have invested dollars to have seniors ask the candidates all of the loaded questions that dance around the real issue of weather candidates support the building an 800 unit senior development on the old Covell Village property?

    Sounds like Mr. Li told the seniors group to their faces that they were being manipulated by Whitcombe. He may have to kiss of getting votes from that small group, but has certainly sparked some interest from the broader populace. Sue Greenwald may bring discord to the council as, no doubt, Jon Li would as well. But discord is healthy, much better than a bunch of bought and paid for politicians sitting on the dais and automatically doing the bidding of profit motivated developers.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could get some honest dialog going on the next council. !

  6. David Suder

    [quote] However, saying and doing are two different things. A person can say one thing during a campaign, and do something quite different once in office. I feel as if too many of the candidates are unwilling to step up to the plate and really stake a clear position.[/quote]
    History proves you are right on both points, Elaine. If I recall correctly, Don Saylor and Stephen Souza both promised to fix the City’s “structural deficit” (Saylor’s words, not mine.) Given their inability to bring employee compensation/benefit costs under control, I’d have to say they have actually made things worse for many years to come.

    [quote]…discord is healthy, much better than a bunch of bought and paid for politicians sitting on the dais and automatically doing the bidding of profit motivated developers.
    Exactly, Roger. As I’ve said before, I care much more about our councilmembers doing what’s right for Davis residents than whether they state their positions politely.

    All of the evidence I have seen suggests that Jon Li is correct in his assertions about CHA. I was personally solicited to join what has recently become CHA by Lydia Delis-Schlosser, one of Whitcomb’s managers of the last Covell Village (Measure X)campaign. This occurred within months of the 60/40 vote against Measure X. How transparent can you get?

    Jon Li’s attack on Sue Greenwald as a “crazy lady” was completely inaccurate and uncalled for. Sue is many things, but she is NOT crazy. It seems very odd that Jon would launch such an attack in the same breath as his outing of CHA – which I am sure Sue would completely agree with.

    I am also quite concerned about Mr. Li’s suggestion that the City Manager and staff should “hang up” on ANY sitting councilmember. The Council is the ultimate “boss” of every City employee, and hanging up on any councilmember would be an act of extreme insubordination. Every one of the councilmembers represents a significant chunk of the Davis electorate. Hanging up on a councilmember is like hanging up on several thousand Davis taxpayers.

  7. Crilly

    Jon Li, once again, demonstrates a keen mind and a deplorable personality. Ironic that he calls Sue “the crazy lady” while doing exactly what he is blaming her for.

    So I’m grateful to Jon for saying out loud that the emperor has no clothes. Now if only he’d put some on himself!

  8. davisite2

    “Jon Li responded that he’s only running for one term, he is not running for reelection.”

    Do we really want to elect a Councilperson who announces that he will not be seeking reelection and will therefore be a “lame-duck” from the get-go.
    We all know that lame-duck status tempts the official to ignore the desires of their constituents. We had to deal with this when “lame-duck” Supervisor Yamada and Thomson attempted to force peripheral development on Davis’ borders, knowing full well that it was anathema to their Davis constituents.

  9. David M. Greenwald

    There’s plenty in there to criticize, I don’t think that’s one. It’s a legislative position, he can vote and impact policy that way. It’s the same as the Presidency which relies on power and influence.

  10. David Suder

    To clarify my earlier comment, I don’t believe that individual councilmembers should be giving direction directly to staff (although it appears that goes on). That is inappropriate and a management nightmare. However, councilmembers certainly should be allowed to get information directly from staff. If councilmembers must ask all their questions of staff either through the City Manager or at a council meeting, they are likely to get “filtered” information from the City Manager, and/or those Council meetings will be very long. (Imagine that.) Councilmembers should do their homework to the extent possible before their meetings, and thus must be free to get information (within reason) from staff.

  11. Sue Greenwald

    Jon Li has always obsessively hated me. I remember a piece he once wrote for the Enterprise in which he suddenly waxed philosophical, and said that perhaps the reason he hated me so much is that we had such similar ideas. It was a strange article. Maybe I can find it.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    Good question jrberg, I thought I saw Crystal there last night, I know she was there tonight. I remember two years ago, the Enterprise said it wasn’t going to cover forums, but I think they ended up covering forums.

  13. hpierce

    Mr. Suder does not apparently understand (like many, I suspect) understand our form of local government, including the Municipal Code. There are only two employees, currently, that the Council can hire/fire. They are the City Manager and the City Attorney. Council members are SO not the boss of city employees… there are provisions in the Municipal Code that provide that except for the purposes of asking questions, the council MUST work thru the City Manager. If the council members are the “boss”, then Council person “A” could direct staff to install a stop sign at a given location, and then after installation, Councilperson “B” could direct the same employee to take it down. This is currently not possible, nor should it be.

  14. David Suder

    No problem, hpierce.

    I agree that failure to respect proper lines of authority is a problem in any organization. We don’t want individual councilmembers giving direction to anyone, including the City Manager. Direction to staff should only be given by the full Council, in open session (except on those few topics that truly require executive session, e.g. pending litigation).

    It would be nice if this blog would allow posters to go back and edit a posting when s/he notices an error or the need for clarification. (I would want this to be done in [u]underline[/u] and [s]strikeout[/s] style, though, so the changes are visible.)

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