City Council Candidates on the Top Ten Issues Facing Davis

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The Vanguard has covered nine candidates forums in addition to interviewing four of the five candidates.  Now we have compiled what we believe are the answers to the top five questions facing the city of Davis and summarized and quoted the candidate’s position based on their answers.  (Just to clarify there are other issues that are important as well, these lent themselves most readily to this form of side-by-side analysis.  I did my best to include from multiple forums as needed.)

1.  City budget crisis

Joe Krovoza: I think the primary problem is that we are not adequately respecting the probabilities of increased costs down the road.  And it’s very true that you never know until you get there how much things are going to cost.  But, I think that we can look at health care expenditures that we’re contributing toward our employees’ and we can look at the pension situation and we can even look at the state’s interest in taking back from the city, whether that’s redevelopment funds or in other ways, and know that we’ve got an increasingly high probability of being in much tougher straits down the road than we are now.  I do think that we can’t go back to where we were ten years ago or five years ago, where we were projecting that revenues are going to go up.  I think we’re living in a very very different economic time and so that forces us to be more conservative or prudent or efficient or whatever word you want to use to make sure we’re getting on stable long-term footing.

Jon Li: I think we need to renegotiate our contracts.  Basically Lehman Brothers went down three months after the last city council was elected.  We have a whole new reality that the city council politically has not acknowledged.  The closest they’ve come is they’ve talked about the PERS contribution is going to be substantially increased because the Stock Market’s no longer a good deal.  In the most recent issue of the Economist, what they called the latest version of the Stock Market as the hokey pokey – you put your right foot in, you put your right foot out.  It goes up, it goes down.  Nobody knows what’s happening anymore.  I think we’re over-obligated to our city employees.  I think we need to go back to the 1950s when you’re lucky you have a job.  People in the public sector take for granted that it’s not a gravy-train.  The good times are behind us.  Just expected a salary increase doesn’t mean you’re going to get one.  I don’t think we can afford it.

Rochelle Swanson: made it a point to say that while 70% of our budget goes to employee compensation, we should not attempt to balance the budget on the back of the employees.  She argued that we need t expect our city to live within its means, that our old growth model is no longer in line with current economic reality.  She said, “A careful and considered examination of our city budget, line by line, assessing essential city services and infrastructure funding is imperative. This requires prioritization and needed funding assessments of programs and services that enhance our quality of life. We must prioritize spending, pursue the development of multi-year budgets, streamline the process for business to come to Davis, and maximize the opportunities presented by our proximity of the University.”  She continued, “To be fiscally healthy moving forward, we must also examine the impact on the budget of current pay structures coupled with benefit packages as they stand and future unfunded benefits.”  She said that we need to start funding the unfunded liabilities even though they are thirty years out.  “I think moving forward we have to go to a flat-line budget assumption.  Most economists agree that best case scenario, we have a flat budget.  I think we need to pull out any percentage increases that we show both in property revenue and sales tax revenue.  I think that by having as you say, a rosy outcome, it also leads us to make expenditures currently in the future based upon those.  When we don’t have those increases, we still have those anticipated costs.  That’s the first thing we need to look at.  Going along with the flat-line budget, I think we need to look at doing multi-year budgets.  I think that when the new council sits down, we also need to have a conversation about reaching out to the community, looking at what are the services that people feel are mandatory on the three tiered basis of what do we need to provide, what should we provide, and what would we like to provide.  And do so accordingly, so that when we’re looking at the basic things that the local government’s supposed to provide first and perhaps consider that some projects that we’re looking at may need to wait until we get to where we’re no longer operating in a potential deficit.”

Sydney Vergis: “If elected, one of my priorities will be to develop innovative and collaborative fiscal solutions that ensure efficient provision of services; and pro-actively working to bolster our existing local businesses (and sales tax base) including examining our redevelopment program and economic development activities.”  Her big idea has been, “I see great value in adopting more intensive budget hearings to facilitate Council and community understanding of City operations and processes. This knowledge will be imperative in developing a workable budget, establishing City Council and community driven funding priorities, identifying opportunities for more efficient operations, continued conversation regarding the most effective options for funding retiree health benefits.”   Toward that end she has recommended multi-day budget hearings citing the county as the way to go, with each department addressing and justifying their budget.  “Taking the time to fully understand each City program and funding area, may shine light on programs that my not be in alignment with existing needs and could provide resources for current Council and community priorities- whether it be for environmental initiatives, or social services for underserved demographics within the Davis community.”

Daniel Watts: The public employee unions have sort of extorted the city council out of a lot of money.  It’s kind of unfathomable over the last few years that they’ve been getting raises still when a lot of people elsewhere are getting laid off.   So that needs to stop.  We need to negotiate harder with them next time the contracts are up and even before that I think it might be prudent to ask them to renegotiate early.  Especially if the sales tax measure doesn’t pass then we really need to go back to them and say look, we need cuts otherwise there’s going to be big problems.  I don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility, renegotiating the contract structure early if it becomes necessary because of the budget. I had talked about contract employees who are hiring people on an ad hoc or temporary basis.  If we can’t get enough concessions out of the unions we may need to lay off full time employees or stop hiring full time employees and instead hire employees on a temporary basis.  Like consultants that come in, do their job, and then leave.  That’s a way to get around future pension problems.

2.  Employee compensation

Jon Li: “We’re not living within our budget now, I don’t care about the 15 percent.  We’re so overcommitted in terms of our longterm obligations to our employees that we’re going to have to cutback.  Part of that is going to face the lawsuits that have to do with cutting things that we won’t be able to pay for anymore.  The revenue is not going to increase as Rochelle just laid out for you.”   He continued, “We do not have the money to afford what we’re doing now.  We need to find ways to do a better job of what we’re doing and lowering our expectations and dealing with the reality of new problems that we haven’t anticipated yet.  Labor is going to have to face some cuts.  That’s a fact.”

Rochelle Swanson: “I think that some of the biggest problems are that we’re living with policies that were created years ago.  We’ve had a lot of changes.  I think that if we’re going to be looking at compensation we have to look at the why the current is and the when.  One thing that I think that stands out is the age of retirement.  These were age brackets that were put in decades ago and we have a different reality now.  People live much longer.  People are much healthier as they age.  I think that is one part to look at.  Because what people need to remember is that when one person retires, we hire somebody in their spot and so you end up with a system where you’ll potentially be paying for the same employee slot.  Because there is a position for a number of people depending on how we’ve stacked our retirement.  I think we need to look back at what are the benefits that we’re offering and is that still in line and in standard with us trying to maintain our financial ability to move forward.  I think we have to get really serious about looking at things like maybe we need to start capping things, moving our retirement age, look at our compensation program we’re providing.  Look at not just salary, salary is something that is often looked at, while the benefits stay on the side.  I think we need to have a really good conversation about what is each individual’s full blown compensation and see if that’s truly in line and putting a dollar figure to that.  For the unfunded liability piece, we’re going to have to bring those into line; we need to take steps to get to a place where we pay within the budget cycle they are owed instead of moving things out to the future. This not only would this method work to decrease long-term debt, but also give the City a more realistic view of the financial impacts of compensation packages today and in the future.  I think that what we risk doing and have done in some of the past negotiations is that we’re trading today for tomorrow down the road and I don’t think that’s responsible for us to do that for the future of the city or future generations.”

Daniel Watts: “The main problem with the city is the salaries.  Salaries account for I think over 70 percent of the city budget.  So any cuts that are made to the city budget need to come primarily from the salaries of the city employees.”  He argued that there are a number of superfluous or redundant city jobs that could be outsourced.  He further argued that “the city attorney shouldn’t sit through city council meetings for six hours and get paid an attorney’s hourly salary to sit there and watch Sue and Ruth have heart attacks.  It’s a complete waste of money but the city is still spending money on things like this.”  Bill (Emlen) should not get paid over $160,000 each year even though it is less than what other city managers make.  “When 70% of your budget goes to salaries, the cuts primarily have to be to salaries.”

Joe Krovoza: First of all, I’ve taken the stand that in my campaign that I was not going to seek funds from any groups that does business directly with the city council.  I have great respect for public employees; my uncle was a fire chief.  My best friend growing up is a police officer; he’s been helping me out with the campaign a great deal.  We’re in tough times, everybody in Davis who works for the state is on a 15 percent furlough at least.  Everybody who works for the university has done an eight percent pay cut.  We have to make sure that we’re spreading the difficulty of the economy across all sectors.  I think that the buyout for employee health if your spouse is covered is unprecedented for a city, especially one in our fiscal consideration.  If we have public employee jobs open and we have hundreds of applicants for them, whether it’s the safety area or not, that tells you that this is a bit of a buyers market and we need to make sure we’re very careful there.

3.  Unfunded Liabilities

Daniel Watts: “Part of the reason why we have gigantic unfunded liabilities is because half of the city council is bought by the firefighters union.”  He said he is not taking any money so he will not be bought by anyone.  He cited the Vanguard, that the firefighters donate an enormous amount of money to city council campaigns.  That’s why they get twice the salary increase each year as compared to other employees.  “It boggles my mind that people don’t see this, there’s a 3-2 vote on these kinds of issue with Lamar Heystek and Sue Greenwald in the minority.”  He continued, “We need to renegotiate these contracts.  The next time these come up, you need to negotiate hard with the public employee unions and explain to them that we’re not going to take this anymore.  We’re not going to be bought by you anymore.”  He argued that many city employees get paid a lot more than they need to.  We live in a great community and that can be an enticement for people to come work here.  “They shouldn’t be here for the money and we shouldn’t pay them that money.”

Jon Li: The only thing that the Democrats are willing to consider now is a two-tiered process.  I think we have to go back and reassess those contracts and plan on fighting a lawsuit that some people are going to want.  In Vallejo we see people saying we don’t care if the city exists, we just want to get paid.  There may be some court cases where the unions win on that one and some court cases where the unions lose.  It’s where we are in the budget process.  We can’t live with the obligations that we have.  We’re going to have to cut back and I think we’re better off cutting back a little with each individual rather than hacking away wholesale.   I don’t believe in 10 percent across-the-board cuts, but I do think we need to go back and do a zero-based budget.

Joe Krovoza: First of all we have to take a very realistic look at both how much the city is putting away to contribute to our employees and we have to evaluate whether the level of benefit is what we can truly sustain long term.  When we hire a city employee depending on how old they are, we may be taking on a forty, fifty, or a sixty year obligation to that employee and hopefully one that we would be able to keep.  Bringing the benefit down to an adequate level and making sure it’s not overly generous is the right thing to do.  But also if employees choose, and they want a benefit that’s better, that’s something that they can opt into.  But I don’t think you immediately go to a default situation where you’re providing benefits that maybe not everybody is supportive of.  So some level of employee contributions should not be off the table and making sure that the overall benefits are not overly generous is appropriate given this economy.

Rochelle Swanson: With new employees typically we’re able to change what we do.  I think we need to look at what the contributions are.  We typically in our city, we cover some of the percentages that our people pay in and I think we’re going to have to look at shifting some of those onto employees or we need to look at what the outline are and how we’re going to change that.  One of the things that concerns me is that we’re still moving forward on the assumption of higher or decent rates when it comes to compensations on their investments, and I think it’s going to be much lower.  The last number that I read was about seven percent, and some go as low as four percent.  I think if we really want to be prudent in our planning, we need to think that those are not going to grow by those margins.  I think we need to look at also are just caps on some of the spending.  My understanding is that we don’t have it (the money to pay for) now on some of our health compensations down the road.  I think we need to build in some flexibility that allows for market changes down the road.  While it’s important that people can plan for their future and I certainly support that, I think though that everything being guaranteed across the board, it’s perhaps an unrealistic promise that we made to people, that people don’t see in the private sector.  We just need to make sure that what we’re providing for compensation allows them to have a good wage and to be able to live well today.

4.  Measure J/ Measure R Renewal

Jon Li: “Basically the consequence is that we discontinue growing in Davis in terms of our land inside the city limits.  The consequence of that is (A) our population expansion and our school age population is disappearing.”  So he said, “the demographic that we’re seeing is an increase in population of people over fifty and people over 75.  Those have direct consequences in the kinds of services we provide in the city and consequences on the school district.”  He continued that we have fewer students in school and this has led to problems with ADA and funding.  He added, “Given the results of the Measure J votes we’ve had so far, I don’t think a Measure J type vote in the future will be successful and so the challenge now is to actually either (A) either live with the consequences of that reality… or (B) try to figure out the kind of project that could actually pass.”  His answer is infill, densification, and going to more stories on existing buildings to increase the population without requiring Measure J votes.

Daniel Watts: “I support Measure J not because I’m anti-growth but because I think the people of Davis should have maximum possible impact in the way that their city grows and the way that it develops.  Not that I’m against it being developed but I think that you should have input in the way it develops.  I think that the city of Davis is rational enough so that if a developer comes with a project that you approve of – that’s green enough, has the kind of housing that you want, that’s affordable, that’s connected to public transportation, that’s dense, that’s near downtown, that’s walkable to supermarkets and other entertainment areas – that you will approve of it.”  Then he discussed the issue of young people 18-22 who come here while in college but they do not stay here.  He argues that one reason is their treatment and the lack of friendliness they encounter while they are here leads them to leave Davis.

Joe Krovoza: “The positives of Measure J are very real for this community.  We have been able to preserve large swaths of open space and that’s a value that we hold dear in this community.”  He said that Measure J “forces us to think about developing closer, using the land that we have.  There’s a whole new paradigm to development that will happen now in the face of climate change.  The closer we put people to where they work, to school, where they shop, it’s going to shorten trips, that’s also good for biking and pedestrians in this town.  So it has a lot of positives to offer.”  He continued, “Sometimes on the dais you have to lead and sometimes you have to kind of respect where the populace is.  It’s been very clear from the P and X folks that the people of this town want slower growth…  It’s been a little bit out of sync with city council.”  He said, he wants to the development in the community to be as driven by staff and community needs as possible.  He wants to focus on workforce housing and keeping the people who work in Davis, living in Davis.  He also talked about the need for greater density.

Rochelle Swanson: “I did support Measure J because I believe in the prioritization of ag land.  I don’t think that that results in there being a ban of projects, but I think it makes us think about smart and good projects.  And I do support Measure R.”  She continued, “I think the consequences are positive in that it gives our community time to really think about how we want to have projects.  I think that we need to think about quality growth, if we’re having to grow that it’s based on guidelines and design review that reflects our values.  I think it’s unfortunate all the efforts that have been put forth on the last two projects…  I think that’s an indication that we are not ready to have an open ended process.”  She said she believes that a very good, quality project could pass a Measure R vote.  “But I think it’s important that we have it there so that we have time as a community working with council and working with staff to really have those guidelines.”

Sydney Vergis: “Well I came out in support of Measure J in 2008, not much has changed.  I’m supporting Measure R because I see it as an opportunity to get involved in something that affects all of us.”  She continued, “I would like to point out that we are in a recession.  A couple of hundred housing units have been approved, but are not yet built.  West Village is coming in, that’s certainly going to have an impact on our housing market.”  She continued, “Right now we should take a deep breath and start talking about how do we preserve our values in Davis.  Certainly we do live in wonderful bubble, but we’re not really exempt from what’s going on in the rest of the country.”  She said, “During this recession, we should take a deep breath and talk about whether we are providing a range of housing that our young families need in Davis.”  She concluded, “I think now in the slowdown is a good opportunity for those conversations.”

5.  Senior Housing Project

There was not one single question in the CHA forum that captured this answer, but if you read the entire article on the CHA forum, it will give you a sense of where the candidates stood.  This is the question that all five answered that best captured the views on CHA senior housing: “Would you be an advocate for senior ownership housing projects within your term if you were elected?”

Joe Krovoza: “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: “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.

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.

6.  Water

Sydney Vergis: this is a complicated issue, we have been on the list to try to get water rights from the Sacramento River for quite some time.  Currently we have a Joint Powers Agreement with Woodland to do a regional water distribution system.  She suggested that looking for these partnership opportunities was a way to reduce costs.  In terms of mitigating costs on individuals and business, “it is conservation first.  Right now as we look to sizing this potential water treatment plant… these treatment plants have a life span generally of 30-40 years, so the less we conserve today the less we’ll have to project for tomorrow.  We can do this by incentivizing xeriscaping, the use of native plants.”  At another forum she said, said that we need to manage our costs and conserve.  She noted that our average watter use is about 125 gallons per person per day and “through extensive conservation, that homes could reduce this value to 50 gallons per person per day.”  She argued we need to look at the implications of our policies 30 to 40 years down the line.  And we need to look toward regional solutions.

Jon Li: was on the conservation bandwagon arguing that we could reduce our usage through water awareness.  He also pressed that lawns are a huge use of water, particularly in the dry months.  He said that anyone who has a lawn is wasting water.  He advocated for xeriscaping. 

Daniel Watts: “Conservation definitely.  The city when it maintains large swaths of grass.  Grass really eats up a large amount of water for really no good reason.  I think we should minimize the amount of grass that the city maintains water for.”  He added, “I don’t have a problem charging people different rates if they make more money.”  He pointed out people willing to pay for water bottled which more expensive than gasoline.  Wants to lower rates for people either on a fixed income or who are lower income.  Later in the Vanguard interview he added, “To mitigate the impact on low-income residents, we can vary rates depending on residents’ income levels. If you’re rich, you pay more. If you’re poor, you pay less. It’s a simple fix for people who really need the help. And here’s an idea for everyone else, regardless of income: stop buying bottled water.  Bottled water costs more than gasoline. I’ve seen people pay $2 at a vending machine for 16 ounces of water when there’s a perfectly good water fountain 5 feet away.  Davis’s water is safe — that’s a fact.  The Environmental Protection Agency imposes more rigorous standards on municipal drinking water — tested several times a day, low toxins — than the FDA imposes on bottled water. Some bottled waters have high mineral content that’s too dangerous for kids, but tap water doesn’t have that problem.   It doesn’t taste bad, either, especially if you install a cheap filter. I have a fairly discerning palette, and Davis tap water tastes fine to me.  It’s safe, and it passes all federal standards.”

Joe Krovoza: It’s not clear to me that we have looked as aggressively as we can and should for funding from outside sources to help undergird the cost of the project for one.  I still am not convinced that the city has looked strong enough at conservation to make sure that there aren’t some ways that conservative can reduce the supply need whether it be the water supply or wastewater treatment or even groundwater quality for that matter.  And then I think that the best way to encourage conservation and such is to make sure we have pricing structures, both on the water supply/ wastewater treatment side that are not regressive, that truly are progressive, and that provide incentives.  So I think that people who are fixed income or lower income are exactly the people that may not be large water users.  A graduated structure that realizes a basic needs for water and spreads that across everybody.  But increased needs for lawns or higher use activities, I’d like to see a pretty progressive tax structure that discourages certain types of behavior that would be higher water use.

Rochelle Swanson: “I’m very concerned about that.  That’s why I’ve slowed down and support things like the last charrette with Tchobanoglous and Schroeder.  I think we need to look at what’s the most cost-effective way that we can protect our water supply.  I don’t think it means that we can abandon the idea of getting surface water rights because our wells are not going to last us and it’s not about building to a larger capacity, it’s about maintaining the current capacity and having high quality water. So we’re going to have to look at and there does come a point of where you have to choose either way – you’re going to have to pay at some point whether it’s now or later.  Typically if you’re preventative you pay less in the beginning rather than waiting until later if we have later failures of some of our wells.  That would be a very large expense if we don’t have anything built in.  I think it’s prudent to have savings to be able to accommodate looking at how we’re going to have improve our water supply. But there’s other things going on.  There’s the Senate Bill currently that is to look at the minimum-maximum penalties that need to be paid – it was five years and now they’re looking at trying to extend it to ten years.  I think that’s something the city should keep an eye on and be willing to support as they can, that would give us more time to look at what do we do for our sewer treatment.  I think some of it is consistently left out of the equation is that people think of water quality and think our water is fine to drink now.  The reality is that we don’t meet our effluent standards and we can’t afford $10,000 a day and the state’s aren’t given a pass anymore.  They are going to start requiring those penalties and so I think just like with anything else, we have to be responsible. It’s my understanding that we can’t just make changes for people who are on fixed incomes or for seniors.  I know it’s been looked at before.  I think conservation is a big part of it and looking at how are those communities impacted.  Is there something that we can help impact their usage to help keep their rates low because something that we can do is do tiered water usage.  If take an example of say a small senior community, what is that cost there, is there something that we can help by doing conservation or looking at where they sit in the tier of their water rates?  But I think that concern alone can’t stop us from being forward thinking and being responsible for the water that we’re going to need for our community in the future.”

7.  West Village Annexation

Jon Li: “It’s the Chancellor’s and Regents prerogative as to who on campus gets to vote and at this point everything that’s on the campus is not part of the city.  I say that there’s an electronic fence that’s freer on that side of Russell and it’s safer on this side.  Law enforcement walks in here, they own the place.  Fire department walks in here, they own the place.  It’s different on the other side of the street.  That’s the reality that we have to live with and that’s the context in which you need to look at every student that lives on campus and their right to vote, including the adults and the faculty and their families, they’re going to live in the county, they’re not going to live in the city.”  He went on to say, “Having the fight about whether or not the city should integrate them into city services is a battle that the people that were in the neighborhood demanded that they not have the right to drive across the street.  So there’s a barrier that prevents them from driving onto Russell Blvd.  That’s bizarre.  They have to go to elementary school, they have to go to Junior High, and they have to go to the grocery store…”  He concluded, “What I advocate is that once the people move in they should advocate for their own self determination.  At that point they can do it, but I don’t think we should impose it on them.”

Joe Krovoza: Said he has been very involved in the West Village project through his work at the transportation center.   He said, “I am very worried that West Village is going to feel like, for lack of a better term, a gated community.  There are incredible poor connections between the current design and the rest of the community.  I think it should be annexed and if I’m on the city council, I will hard to get it annexed.  I think the northern border with Russell should be much more permeable.  I think there should be a fantastic bike path over to Trader Joe’s so people feel safe riding back and forth.”  Moreover, he advocated for a bike underpass under Russell at Arthur.

Rochelle Swanson: “I agree working on annexation is something that we want to look at going forward.  But I also think we have to look at how do we get more student interaction at our presentation of the city council.  What I would like to pursue is while we have elections and often have students who run, I would like to see a student rep if possible on the city council somewhat of what we do at the school board.”  They would have an advisory role which would enable them to comment and interact but not have a vote.  She said, “It’s twofold so that students are heard as part of the comment process on policy.  But it also gives the city the opportunity to see that a student councilmember can be more dynamic than just about student issues, but can truly represent across the board.”

Daniel Watts: agreed on the student representative idea.  “I also support the eventual annexation not just of the West Village, but of the entire UC Davis campus and adjacent housing… into the municipal boundaries of Davis.  Because if you live on campus technically you’re in Yolo County, you’re not in Davis although you’re affected by Davis…”  He went on to say that there are 20,000 students and 37,000 registered voters, therefore if students would register and vote they would control or at least have a huge influence on city policies that affect them.

Sydney Vergis: Said that annexation was her area of professional expertise.  She went on to say, “In an ideal world West Village would be annexed, folks who live there would be able to vote in the city elections.  But the technical realities on the ground are that the University and County would have to sign off and say yes that they agreed to this annexation.  In the fall the County sent the city a memo saying that they weren’t interested in annexation.  They’re cash strapped.  They’re having a hard time with a lot of unfunded mandates.”   She concluded, “certainly as much as we’d like to control our own destiny and the destiny of those areas around us, we can’t get sign off from the county.”  In another forum she said, “I wish there was an easy answer for this one.  Certainly in terms of voter empowerment, voter enfranchisement, I’m on board.”  She continued, “But as it turns out, my area of expertise is actually annexations which is what would be required in order to get folks into the city for purposes of voting.    There are a couple of legally binding aspects of annexation that would potentially make this very difficult.  The first being that the county would have to be okay with it.”  She went on to talk about their opposition to annexation and the fact that the $200,000 that West Village would generate is too valuable for the county to pass up.  She also said there would have to be an agreement on property tax sharing and a provision of services.  Right now, she said folks who live in West Village trade off their right to vote for living in permanently affordable housing near the city and campus.

8.  Campaign Donations from Public Employees

Rochelle Swanson: “I have great respect for city employees who provide services for us.  I will not be accepting endorsements or bundling of donations from any employee groups.  There’s a couple of reasons why.  I think one is the perception.  While I don’t think that any particular candidate is for sale, or has the anticipation that they’re going to be influenced, perception matters.  I think it is important that that perception be one of trust for the candidates that are up there negotiating contracts.  On the other is the potential, the potential for the entities to expect to have special considerations down the road.  I think that it’s important because we make tough decisions up there that people know that it’s based on what’s fair and what’s best for the city of Davis.  Not whether or not someone had contributions.  It’s tough, it’s expensive to have a campaign.  I’ve actually had to turn down money from a bargaining unit, they completely respected and understood why because they wanted to know that when I was making decisions for them, should I be elected, it would be what’s fair.”

Sydney Vergis: “Well I currently have the endorsement of the Sacramento Central Labor Council and I have received $100 from them and $100 from a local Operating Engineers group.  No bundled contributions.  It’s my understanding that the city limits one person or one business can only give $100.  And certainly that anyone who might be for sale for $100 should not run for office.  I think that in the coming years, we’re going need really good and trusting working relationships with our unions as we’re looking to negotiate employee contracts that fit the current economic climate.  I believe that any kind of negotiations should be done for not only what’s fair for the employee but what is sustainable for the city of Davis.”

Jon Li: “Daniel and I are not accepting contributions so it will be interesting to see how we fill this minute.   As I’ve just expressed, I’m appalled by what public salaries have become.  I think the Public Employee Collective Bargaining act of 1975 was an incredibly bad mistake.  Jerry Brown couldn’t wait to sign it.  Every year Ronald Reagan vetoed it.  So I understand the history and the politics of why it happened.  But it lead to continuous escalating salaries and it’s out of control.  So I think we’ve got to stop it.  I think Vallejo was the future for too many cities.”

Daniel Watts: “There might be a $100 limit on the amount that every individual can contribute but when you have 45 firefighters that each donates $100 on the exact same day to the exact same candidate, that’s $4500 suddenly.  Then when the firefighters union spends an additional $5000 in independent expenditures, that now adds up to $9500.  So suddenly $100 from one individual has become $9500 and that is a significant amount of money in a city this size.  That’s enough to pay for fliers and then if the firefighters go out and they knock door to door, how much is that worth to a candidate who’s running for city council?     Public employees unions, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is a problem because it reduces the amount of trust that you the Davis citizen have in your city government.  I’m not accepting any money from firefighters; most of whom don’t even live in Davis.  And when they buy and pay for 3 out of the 5 members of the Davis City Council, and they’re not even Davis residents themselves that’s a big problem.”

Joe Krovoza: “I’m not accepting any bundled funds.  I’m not soliciting bundled funds.  The intent of the voters in Davis is to have a $100 limit from people from a broad part of the community who decide that they like the candidate and they want to give to the candidate.  I think the test is to look at whose doing business directly with the city council.  So if I’m sitting on the dais I don’t want to have people coming in front of the council who are doing direct private business with the city council.  I certainly don’t want a group coming that has bundled their contributions to council.  I have designed our finances for my campaign to some extent taking advantage of the fact that I’m a fundraiser, to very broadly seek support.  We have 250 or so individual donors to the campaign and I’m very very proud of that.  That’s how it’s going to be.  When I was in law school I wrote papers on election law, I became acutely aware of soft money in politics and if I’m going to run, I’m going to serve, I want to do so with a great amount of independence.  That’s where I am on this issue.

9. Residential Growth

Daniel Watts: I’d prefer to see Davis get denser before it gets wider.  I’d remove barriers to building higher-density, multi-story housing near the downtown core. I’d remove barriers barring business owners in “historic” properties from retrofitting their establishments for more efficient purposes, which would help develop Davis as a walkable, livable city.  Basically, I’d remove barriers to development within city limits and focus on infill.  As for expanding boundaries, I wouldn’t necessarily want to build on or annex agricultural land. But I would like to annex the campus and adjacent, existing housing into the City of Davis. That would require approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), after negotiations between the city and county on the reallocation of property tax revenue.  Assuming we can come to some understanding with the county, that would work fine.  The cost savings from combining redundant services may offset the property tax revenue that we’d have to give to the county, so it’s feasible in theory.  Will this happen in the next four years?  Probably not, but it’s something to work towards. The city exists because of the university, so the university should be part of the city.  In every candidates’ debate, I mention annexing the campus and adjacent land.  And in every debate, Sydney Vergis — the “expert in land-use planning” — insists that this will never happen because Yolo County doesn’t want it.  And yet, Yolo County LAFCO’s latest projections show the city’s sphere of influence expanding to encompass UC Davis’s land within 20 years. The “sphere of influence” indicates “the probable physical boundaries and service area of the City over the next 20 years.” The SOI map defines “the areas likely to annex into the City’s boundaries.” LAFCO adopted this report and Yolo County posted it on its website.  LAFCO’s board includes two county supervisors. The county knows this is coming, eventually. Annexing the campus isn’t a pipe dream — it’s an inevitability.  I’d work to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Joe Krovoza: I would say I want to preserve a strong ag buffer around Davis as wide as possible.  I think that’s what creates a great uniqueness to our community.  I think that Measure J/ Measure R is a strong mechanism to be able to provide that.  It forces us to think more creatively and clearly about higher densities in one fashion or another within our current urban limit.  I think we need to make the most of the land we have so that we can leave as much of it in a natural state as possible.  I think as we think about land use planning, I think we want our planning to be as community based as possible.  In fact all of the planning for our land should come from the community based upon community needs, not a party on the outside telling us what their study say might be best for the land.

Rochelle Swanson: My general philosophy on land use is that our policies need to reflect where it’s at, politics of place basically.  Which means those policies need to reflect the topography in the community and what the general use of the city is.  For instance if you go into the East Bay, you’re going to see homes that are reflective and business of the hilly community it is and being on the water.  As you come in inland you’ll see the same thing, the better built communities will actually have development that’s reflective of the land that is there.  I think that’s the first place you have to look at, is what kind of community is it and what kind of values.  Are there a lot of big houses and development outside the communities, let’s say outside of Sacramento or is it supposed to be more of an older, small town community like I believe we have here in Davis, where you have a mix of different kinds of homes.  In some ways there are very reflective of the time period in which they were built.  So in old town, you’re going to find smaller homes, especially on E, F, G Streets, and as you move away from there you are going to see places that are more reflective of a more rural environment.  It shouldn’t be a mish-mash.  Good land use policies are forward thinking and also have the design review element at the beginning so that there is clearly a vision that has gone into play.  So even if something is coming into an infill site, it should reflect the community that it’s in.  That may be a different reflection depending on what part of the community it’s located.  “And when should we develop on Davis’ periphery?”  I don’t think there is any magic time for that.  I don’t think we’re going to be in a place anytime soon to start looking at peripheral growth.  We do have a couple hundred houses for sale on the market.  We have entitled land throughout the city.  It’s one of the things that we need to see a demand for before we start to build more supply.  I think until we know what our future is going to look like right now, we need to not look at peripheral building.  I say that in a general build out, just houses for the sake of having houses.  I think that there can be exceptions if there are some special needs that we have in our community, that we can build to that and look to that if we need to.  That is something that we don’t have a crystal ball to see but I think we always have to build an exception.  I know we have in our housing element, that if there’s something that’s extraordinary that we’re able to make some exceptions.  I think that’s something that we would have to look at but it would have to be something extremely extraordinary and even then I don’t think it’s necessarily something that happens on the periphery.  That could be built in any part of town that could accommodate that kind of special use.

Jon Li: “I want to talk about density.  When London was our size they had 850,000 people, now they didn’t have automobiles, they had carriages.  That was about a 150 years ago.”  He used this as a backdrop to argue that “we have really beautiful places, but we have really low density.”  We have a huge amount of residential development that is low density housing.  “We would be much better off if we would encourage people to densify.  Granny flats.  Actually going to two or three stories.  The worst mistake that the no-growthers made in ’72 was they should have bought a hook and ladder fire truck and then we wouldn’t have a three story building height limit.”  We can grow higher than three stories and have high density housing in Davis.  He cited the fact that the city has let out less than ten building permits the last few years.  The supplyside pressure is currently neutral he said because there is no current demand.  “I think we’re going to meet whatever housing demand we have.  But I don’t think there’s going to be pressure for another big development in the next five years.”  At the CHA forum, he said, “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.”

Sydney Vergis: She first mentioned the RHNA requirements from SACOG.  “From the years 2006 to 2013, we’re required to provide certain land dedicated to particular housing units set at the state level.”  By 2007, we had already met that requirement, she said.  The other aspect of the question she said, is what do we want to look like as a city.  “Are we providing an adequate range of housing to meet the internally generate needs of folks who live here in Davis.  Certainly if you look at a 2009 report put out by the city, over the next twenty years, we’re going to see folks in the 55 and over age range increase by 4000 people and that’s if you assume no growth in the city.  So my question is, are we providing senior housing allocations?  Are we providing enough policy incentives through city government to allow aging in place?”  At another forum she 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 that she wants to look down the road 50 years to see what kind of community we want to look like.  Later she 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.”

10.  Renters Rights

Jon Li: “I think we’re going to see for the first time in a while something more than a one percent vacancy rate and I think we’re going to see going to see more hardship cases among undergraduates in terms of their discretionary income, their ability to hold a part-time job, their ability to pay tuition… which is going to affect the vacancy.”  He said that will impact the debate over what should be done over the model lease.  He reminded the students that when the model lease came out, it was a huge victory for ASUCD and the students.  “If it’s not adequate now,” he said, “then it needs to be updated.  That gives you the opportunity to sit around the table and dicker with it.”

Rochelle Swanson: We need to update the model and include “some recourse if students are having problems.”  She also talked about problems getting the security deposit back.  “That’s a provision that needs to change that there’s an objective standard for reasonable use and wear and tear that becomes a checklist.”  She hopes this is something both the city and university can work together on.

Joe Krovoza: Believes that the rental market is getting softer and added, “I’m just going to say, flat out, you guys need to get more organized.  With the rental market getting soft, that’s absolutely the opportunity for you guys to fight back.”  He added, “There’s market forces at play here and you can wait for the city council to do something…  The Davis Model Lease is absolutely broken, you need organize yourselves and fix.  You need to simplify it, it is so complex, it is so long.”  At another forum he said, “You guys have got to get your security deposits back.  It’s absolutely ridiculous.”   He went on to talk about a Davis Media Access video which showed the difficulty of getting security deposits back.  He said that as long as it is normal wear and tear, people should get their security deposits back.  He pointed out that it just does not happen.  “Davis Model lease is very very complicated and there’s nothing about it that strikes me as slanted in the students favor.”  He continued, “If you look at the Davis Model lease in Davis and think that that must be kind of geared towards students, since it’s a university town.  It’s not slanted towards students and its overly complex for any of you to get your arms around.”

Daniel Watts: “The Davis Model lease is a huge problem.”  Furthermore, “Attorney around the area know that it’s a problem.  They know that the landlords in Davis violate the leases here.  You are protected under California State law, but you just don’t know about it.”   Students he said have a lot more recourse, but do not know they have it.  He said that he would establish, and it would be really simple, have a city set up an automated complaint system on the city’s webpage, work with the university to integrate it with university web systems, that would provide information on rental rights and link in with attorneys who could assist the students when situations arise.

Sydney Vergis: Said one of her top priorities would be to update the Davis Model Lease.  “That thing hasn’t been updated in ten years.  Certainly even the landlords know that it’s outdated.”  She said the UC Davis- City Liaison committee is compiling a list of renter’s rights.  “The City of Davis also has additional services, like mediation services, that are very difficult to find out about.  So putting it all in one location would be very beneficial.”

—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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2 Comments

  1. Mr.Toad

    When I read your headline I asked myself, what is the biggest issue in Davis? Now I know I am an outlier but the thought that came to my mind is the high cost of housing. While your answers danced all around housing only Watts made any mention of affordable housing, an answer that is not quite the same as affordability. When it still costs more than 20 times the rent to buy and so many are stretched to make their payments, something that effects the quality of life for so many, you would think it would be at the top of everyone’s list. It seems that there has been no discussion of the economic distortions caused by measure J or how measure R will effect the price of housing going forward. It is sad that the community has been unable to have an honest discussion about the price of housing during this election.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    I agree with you, affordable housing and cost of housing is an important issue, I just do not see that it came up and enough candidates addressed it to put it out here. Any candidate reading this who wants to respond may get some bonus points though.

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