Commentary: The Council Gets Down to Business?

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This morning I read from the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, “We are off to a great start and are getting down to the business at hand.”  I wish I could believe them, but unfortunately I happen to believe otherwise.

As I read it, “For the first time in history, the farewell to outgoing council members and the welcoming of the newly-elected council were accompanied by readings by Davis’ poet laureate.”

Let me be clear, I think it is great that we have a Poet Laureate in this town.  It adds culture and spice to the city.  And if this were during the height of a great boom, I might be applauding along with the Mayor, but unfortunately, I am reading the news, and the news is not particularly good right now.

As was reported, home sales in California showed their largest drop last month in more than two years.  In Yolo County, the number of homes reported sold totaled 14.  That is right, people: in Davis, West Sacramento, Woodland, Winters, and the rest of the county just 14 homes sold in the entire month of July.  26 sold in June, 32 sold in July of 2009.  I do not have Davis-specific figures, but needless to say, they cannot be any better than the county.

Meanwhile, the jobless rate continues to rise in Yolo County.  Remember, I reported that a large number of people showed up at MacDonald’s in Woodland for a few positions. Well, overall the picture does not look good.  Yolo County’s unemployment rate rose to 12 percent in July, up from 11.9 percent in June which is not much, but it is significantly higher than the 11.2 percent in July of 2009.

Worse yet, these figures are not seasonally-adjusted, so they will go up this fall when temporary employment for farm work diminishes.

We have no budget at the state level, the leaders are still bickering over the same petty partisanship that has gridlocked the system for years.

At the city level, we know what we are facing.  So the long list of accomplishments in the Davis Enterprise editorial mean little.  Some of these are important steps, solar power generation, guidelines for planning housing for senior citizens (although the council had little to do with these other than approving them), the consolidation of fire response services, this is all important.

However, as we see with the employee bargaining contract with the Davis Police Officers Association, we realize what has not been done are the big things.  The Davis City Council has been handed a task, they have an imperative to get our fiscal house in order.  The electorate screamed for it at the polls.

Instead, what we saw was at best a piecemail approach.  This year the council has approved MOUs with all its bargaining units except CEA, the largest of the bargaining units.  Instead of making huge strides toward putting this city on the path of fiscal solvency, at best, the council and city nudged us from the wrong direction in the direction of the right one.

The problem, as I have pointed out at the beginning of each week this month, is that it pushed the clock back three years, in most cases. That is a long time when we have impending fiscal problems that look like they will only get worse as the economy continues to sputter.

Without home sales, we are not going to gain anything in the way of revenue from property taxes.  We have pretty much held onto our property tax revenue without experiencing huge losses, it appears, because property is not changing hands and therefore the rates are not changing.  The problem in that game is that we have locked in small, but existent, increases in the employee compensation, 2 to 3 percent per year after this one.

The economy does not appear likely to rebound any time soon.  In fact, locally it may get worse.  That is because Davis is heavily reliant on the University and the State as its main employers and those people are really taking a hit and figure to continue to take a hit.  Students are strapped as well, getting hit with huge rate hikes and that will put a strain on their ability to pump money into our local economy.

2014-15 is the critical time when we have to have made huge changes to our retirement formulas or face calamity.  We have gone over the numbers before, they have not changed.  The city faces huge unfunded liabilities in retirement health, increases in pensions, and will have to pay these increased prices in what increasingly looks like a zero-growth budget for the next several years.

Something is going to have to give. Either we are going to have serious cutbacks in city services, or we are going to have to change the way we do business.  We have done very little since the new council has come together in July to start addressing these issues.

Again, there were some much-needed things passed, but now is not the time for celebration.  The council is not off to a great start, the real work has yet to begin.  We need a council that is willing not just to work together, but to change the way this city is run, and that we have not seen yet.  I remain more hopeful than some, but time is of the essence.

—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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11 thoughts on “Commentary: The Council Gets Down to Business?”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Something is going to have to give. Either we are going to have serious cutbacks in city services, or we are going to have to change the way we do business. We have done very little since the new council has come together in July to start addressing these issues.”

    Amen…

    Either the current City Council (except Sue Greenwald) is in serious denial, or they are trying to make the public think all is hunky dory when in fact all is NOT OK.

  2. Dr. Wu

    “We are off to a great start and are getting down to the business at hand.”

    Translation:

    Krovoza and Saylor are now swimming in the same political waters. (Krovoza sought Saylor’s endorsement very early on so we should not be shocked.) Sue has been isolated and JoRo are part of the status quo.

  3. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”The problem, as I have pointed out at the beginning of each week this month, is that it pushed the clock back three years, in most cases. That is a long time when we have impending fiscal problems that look like they will only get worse as the economy continues to sputter.”[/i]

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here, David, but the sad fact is that the labor contracts [b]have locked us in[/b] for the next 2 years (to June 30, 2012). Our last best hope was in the police contract and this council passed the buck.

    It is sad that the members of council would falsely claim in their op/ed that they have bettered our fiscal health: [quote]Fiscal stability: Ensure short- and long-term expenditures and revenues are equivalent, matching community resources to needs, without reliance on growth.[/quote] They had one chance (this term) to do the right thing and they failed. I thought the worst thing in the meeting in which they passed the DPOA contract was that they never explained themselves: RoJo was completely silent on that vote. Yet lying, saying here they have done good for Davis in this regard, is worse than silence.

  4. hpierce

    Rich’s comments are mostly accurate… the exception(s) is/are that the contract for DCEA, imposed by the Council a couple/3 months ago was for the 2009-10 FY. They do not have a contract for any period beyond July 1 2010, but they are taking furlough days (10% reduction in income… hourly wage is the same) through October as part of the 2009-10 imposed contract. Not aware of the status of negotiations for this or subsequent fiscal years. Also, there are at least two Department Head positions where the individuals are “interim” and those employees may or may not have modified contract terms (but no contracts have gone to CC). Not sure why Rich didn’t note the exception(s).

  5. Barbara King

    Rich, you certainly got it right when you wrote, “It is sad that the members of council would falsely claim in their op/ed that they have bettered our fiscal health:”

  6. Sue Greenwald

    I have been concerned that Don Saylor has been jamming too much on each agenda and cutting short council comments, which has resulted in a lack of due diligence.

    Take for example the July 27th meeting:

    1) The wastewater treatment plant is the most expensive project that the city has undertaken to date (assuming it is approved before the surface water project). Yet the wastewater treatment plant alternatives workshop was held at 5 in the afternoon when citizens were still at work. Worse yet, councilmembers were limited to one question apiece and to one comment. There is little real workshop “discussion”, and the preeminent wastewater treatment plant experts from UC Davis, who I finally managed (after over a year of failed attempts), to have the council consult with were told that the agenda didn’t allow them the time to weigh in! Yet this was the big workshop designed to enable us to decide between two entirely different approaches, fraught with many pitfalls. It was the first time we had even looked at one of the alternatives.

    2. The zipcar contract was placed on the same incredibly full agenda, and it was the first time that we had seen anything about it. Thinking about the item afterwards, I became concerned about Zipcar’s the low liability coverage (I think $1 million, but staff can’t give me a firm answer) and any resultant potential exposure and possible increases to our own rates.

    After all, it could be argued that we are in business with this company since we had agreed to the following: To subsidize it unless usage was very high, to have our staff take on the responsibility of bringing the cars in for maintenance, to engage in active advertising of the company, and to provide free parking places. The company rents to 18 year olds, whereas most rental companies won’t rent to those under 25, presumably for liability reasons. And here we are, not just in business with this company, but providing parking places near bars downtown for easy-access rentals to the youngest, highest risk age group of drivers. Yet staff had not looked into the risk issues, nor could they answer any questions about it.

    By way of comparison, two weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Yolo County Transportation where a non-profit van rental program which is working the SACOG discussed their own proposal. The company representative said that they said they had a $10 million liability policy. When I asked the presenter to expound, he immediately responded that they were thinking about raising the liability insurance to $15 million, muttered something about perhaps adding a $30 million umbrella policy as well, and that they had carefully organized the program to create legal distance between the jurisdictions that they were cooperating with and the company. They didn’t say anything about renting to 18 year olds.

    Yet when I made a motion at the next meeting to reconsider the contract in order to obtain some answers to the liability questions, Don Saylor voted against it. We needed a 4/5 vote at that point, so the contract is a done deal, with outstanding questions unanswered.

    3) At the same meeting, we first saw and approved the Hanlee’s Auto subsidy. The staff report was poorly written and misleading, implying greater benefit than that which would actually accrue to the city. The structure of the deal was also peculiar in that, after a certain point every year, the city would likely make more money if Davis residents buy their Volkswagon the Elk Grove than in Davis, due to the rebate of Measure P tax to the dealer. (Rich Rifkin did a good job in explaining this in his recent Enterprise column).

    I supported the deal, but thought it was important that we explain it correctly to the public, and that the council let staff know that we wanted clearer staff reports and more logically constructed subsidies.

    Don Saylor cut my questioning of staff short. Personally, I don’t believe that some on the council, most of staff, or any of the public clearly understood this $1 million loan/subsidy deal, and I think this is a poor way to run the people’s business.

    Don Saylor strictly limited discussion time. The meeting was over by 8:30. The “trains ran on time”. In my opinion, the result was an inadequate decision-making process.

  7. rusty49

    Why would the city want to be involved zipcars? What possible upside could their be with all the possible liability issues? Renting to 18 year olds? What am I missing here?

  8. SODA

    Think only good about zips is that they will be available around town and not at outskirts as with Enterprise or Avis and that you can rent by the hr. Think Enterprise will pick you up so that’s not an issue.
    I only see fiscal irresponsibility here especially now. Sweet deal for zip; questionable for us.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    rusty49: “Why would the city want to be involved zipcars? What possible upside could their be with all the possible liability issues? Renting to 18 year olds? What am I missing here?”

    That was exactly my reaction when I heard it discussed in City Council. My guess is this is going to be a fiasco, but I hope I prove to be wrong…

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