I consider the unofficial ending time of the council year to be the August 1 meeting, prior to vacation. So it is time to assess where this new council is. Frankly, with the addition of Dan Wolk and subtraction of Don Saylor, the new council really did not take form until February, almost March.
When Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson were elected, Mr. Krovoza told me on election night that we would see a changing coalition and there would not be set majorities.
For six months, we did not see that. But as soon as Don Saylor left the council, things began to change.
In this new council, we see three main patterns emerge. First, this is a much greater level of consensus. Second, even within the contested votes, there is much less hostility and dissension and more honest disagreement. Third and foremost, there are three clear patterns of votes.
Most of this column will focus on the third part. I would argue that on the critical issue of the budget, this council has taken a huge step forward. In eliminating petty bickering, for the most part the council has taken a huge step forward. But there are still some blind spots, particularly on water and development.
What we have seen to be emerging is a clear pattern of voting, different ways on different issues.
First, we have development. In a lot of ways, development is a secondary issue right now. However, on both Cannery Park and the parking garage, we see a 3-2 council majority emerging where Rochelle Swanson, Stephen Souza and Dan Wolk have supported the notion of at least moving forward with projects, while Joe Krovoza and Sue Greenwald have opposed them.
Dan Wolk, on both of these votes, appears to be the swing vote, indicating that while he is uncomfortable and not fully sold on the projects, he is also not ready to kill them.
Joe Krovoza was particularly outspoken against Cannery, arguing that we need to move away from developer-driven projects and arguing that this project as designed lacks the transportation access to make it anything other than another commuter site.
There are similar concerns that drove his opposition to the parking lot at E and F, 3rd and 4th.
As I have written a number of times, the council is in a particular bind on Cannery, as it is not a particularly good site for housing while at the same time, not the best site for high-tech business park either. Re-zoning it to housing, though, leaves the council searching for business park locations and moving into peripheral sites that are likely to produce huge oppositions in a Measure J/R process.
More subtly, a different 3-2 coalition is forming on water, with Joe Krovoza this time joining Stephen Souza and Rochelle Swanson to move the water project forward. Dan Wolk has joined Sue Greenwald in opposition to some of these components, working hard to make the Prop 218 process more transparent and concerned about the overall impact of water rates.
It is unclear where this issue eventually goes, but there appears to be a solid block of three to keep moving it forward, at least at this point.
Finally, the budget is difficult to figure out. What is clear is that there is a solid block of three – Rochelle Swanson, Joe Krovoza, and Dan Wolk, making a strong statement and holding the line on the current budget. What is unclear or at least less clear is where Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza, both of whom are up for reelection, will eventually stand.
Sue Greenwald has long been the champion of fiscal responsibility on the council. Her dissent on the budget vote was somewhat stunning to many observers, and we expect her to continue to be a strong voice for budget reform.
Stephen Souza, on the other hand, has made overtures toward fiscal stability, including through a number of public statements. He made the statement that he ultimately favors the council’s approach but that this process did not feel right. However, we feel at this point he is more likely to hitch his re-election prospects back to the firefighters and other city employees. How that ultimately plays out is anyone’s guess.
An interesting dynamic is that while Rochelle Swanson is not a swing voter on either of these three coalitions, she is also in the majority coalition each time. In that sense, one could argue that she has emerged as the most formidable player on the council.
On the other hand, Dan Wolk, at least on development and the budget, would appear the swing voter, giving him greater leverage.
Joe Krovoza, as Mayor, has been critical to re-shaping council on a number of issues. He really took leadership on the railroad issue. It was his motion on that issue that ultimately re-shaped the city council.
The more veteran members on council have taken more of a back seat. Sue Greenwald challenged subcommittees and liaisons to multijurisdictional bodies and was defeated. Stephen Souza attempted to become major and was summarily shot down.
One thing that remains clear is that Stephen Souza still yearns to be Mayor – in the worst way. The Vanguard has learned that he continues to go around town and talk about it, even though the reality is that he is highly unlikely to ever become major.
There is a new alignment, and people like Joe Krovoza were able to become mayor because they appealed on new issue fronts such as the budget, across traditional dividing lines. Mr. Souza has already alienated one key constituency with his persistent votes for large developments, and at the same time he has angered the constituency emerging on budget reform.
He is now likely forced to hitch his wagon to the city employees as we mentioned earlier, which puts him off the consensus block and onto a narrow special interest block supported by opponents of budget reform, and only the strongest supporters of development. That takes him out of the center stage where Joe Krovoza lived and onto the wing where Sydney Vergis was consigned.
In the end, Dan Wolk stands to gain from this decision and he appears to be the person that can best appeal across most lines and forge the consensus needed to become mayor.
The question now is who will emerge as challengers to the incumbents that are likely to seek re-election. That will determine the direction of the city.
—David M. Greenwald reporting