Most important issues facing Davis? See what the Council Candidates Think

Council-Race-2012

The Sacramento Bee yesterday did their brief Q&A on the Davis City Council race.  In general, the answers were short and the questions were generic.

Nevertheless, I found the answer to one question particularly interesting.  The question was: “What is the most crucial issue facing Davis?”

One might think that was a give-away question, but the answer can be revealing about not only priorities, but perceptions.

Sue Greenwald answered, “Keeping our costs under control needs immediate attention. The two key areas where costs have spiraled are employee total compensation and water/wastewater infrastructure. Both need corrective action.”

Lucas Frerichs answered, “My top priority for the city is to get its fiscal house in order. I have direct experience with negotiation of employee contracts, stemming from my time as president of the Davis Food Co-op, and I would step into city negotiations with a real understanding of the process and issues at hand.

“We need a comprehensive line-by-line look at the budget, and to find ways in which to make the city more efficient and effective when delivering services.”

Brett Lee answered: “The budget. However, it is worth talking about Davis’ proposed water project. We must find a less expensive way to access surface water. Partnering with the existing water treatment facility in West Sacramento is likely to provide us with a secure, lower cost supply of water.”

Stephen Souza answered: “The most pressing issues are unfunded liabilities, and the need to grow revenues. The other issue is the quality of our wastewater discharge.

“Access to surface water from the Sacramento River is another step in the responsible stewardship of our natural resources. It represents the lowest cost and most environmentally sensitive solution to our water supply and waste discharge needs.”

Finally, for Dan Walk it appears they cut off his answer for the most crucial issue.  We do get his budget answer, which at other times he has suggested was the most crucial issue.

He wrote there: “We need to address personnel expenses, particularly pension and other post-employment benefits costs, share services with other agencies, expand public-private partnerships, and explore creating a budget task force to find savings, as was done during the last major recession.

“We need to diversify and expand our economic base, cut red tape, and look at whether our current taxes and fees are the right ones and at the right amounts.

“This is a time of shared sacrifice. Each one of us – employees, management, the City Council, and the wider community – must pitch in.”

Does any of this surprise us?  No.  Everyone, it appears, sees the budget as the top issue.

Water is clearly a key issue as well.

Both Sue Greenwald and Brett Lee link the water issue back in the budget – the issue is about keeping costs under control, whether it is spiraling employee compensation or wastewater.

On the other hand, Lucas Frerichs cites keeping the fiscal house in order, and he usually talks about efficiency and prioritization.  His tag line is “a comprehensive line-by-line” look at the budget. Rarely will he voluntarily bring up unfunded liabilities, and when he does, it’s in the context of pension reform at the state level.

Stephen Souza does acknowledge that “we must get some concessions on costs for pensions, medical and other post-employment benefits,” but he is the only one who consistently mixes in the budget with finding and growing new revenues.

Unlike Sue Greenwald and Brett Lee, Mr. Souza’s discussion of surface water is in the context of providing water supply and discharge needs and stewardship of the environment rather than primarily cost control, although he does add that it “represents the lowest cost” solution.  Cost has generally not been the key component for him.

Dan Wolk has been talking the shared sacrifice mantra and he can get away with it because, unlike the others, he is actually a government employee.  Also unlike the others, he actually did vote for the rather painful 2011-12 budget, that cut $2.5 million from personnel costs, but was never fully implemented – something we talk about in our interview.

It is interesting that within this otherwise diverse group of candidates three issues emerge at the top – the budget, water, and economic development, usually discussed within the framework of the budget.

Within that similarity, however, is a good deal of diversity in terms of emphasis and priority.

–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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25 Comments

  1. Adam Smith

    David – In an earlier post, you posited that not all candidates “got it” with respect to the budget. In this column, you seem to acknowledge that all of them put it the top? Are you satisfied that all of them “get it”. Souza seems to go one step further and acknowledge that economic development will be important to getting ourselves out of this fiscal death spiral. Do you think that is an important differentiation point for voters?

  2. Frankly

    [i]”What he says is less important than what he’s done over the course of his incumbency”[/i]

    Absolutely, unless he acknowleages his prior performance in this area and explains what will be different and why it will be different.

    A lot of voters have been slow to accept the need to trim, cut and renegotiate contracts. I think they have been slow because their ideological bent required they support public-sector employees and unions. I might blame incumbents for lacking a backbone to stand-up for what is right despite the popular opinion of the most liberal little city in the nation, but then that politician would probably have not been elected doing so.

    Times have changed. There is more understanding of the consequences for solving all of our government fiscal problems with tax increases. There is also a growing realization that public-sector wages and benefits for many employees is way out of synch with the private sector… expecially defined benefit pensions and retiree healthcare.

    I don’t have time to research it – but I bet a historical review of the Vanguard would reveal my regular leftie blogging friends have also shifted their views on this. For example, we no longer hear much talk of a state consitution amendment for a 50% majority, and an overturn of Prop-13. That was the standard leftie argument a few years back.

  3. Frankly

    [i]”What he says is less important than what he’s done over the course of his incumbency”[/i]

    Absolutely, unless he acknowleages his prior performance in this area and explains what will be different and why it will be different.

    A lot of voters have been slow to accept the need to trim, cut and renegotiate contracts. I think they have been slow because their ideological bent required they support public-sector employees and unions. I might blame incumbents for lacking a backbone to stand-up for what is right despite the popular opinion of the most liberal little city in the nation, but then that politician would probably have not been elected doing so.

    Times have changed. There is more understanding of the consequences for solving all of our government fiscal problems with tax increases. There is also a growing realization that public-sector wages and benefits for many employees is way out of synch with the private sector… expecially defined benefit pensions and retiree healthcare.

    I don’t have time to research it – but I bet a historical review of the Vanguard would reveal my regular leftie blogging friends have also shifted their views on this. For example, we no longer hear much talk of a state consitution amendment for a 50% majority, and an overturn of Prop-13. That was the standard leftie argument a few years back.

  4. Don Shor

    [i]Absolutely, unless he acknowleages his prior performance in this area and explains what will be different and why it will be different.
    [/i]

    Does he?

  5. Frankly

    Not that I have heard or read, but the campaign is still early enough that somebody might ask him the right questions.

    My point was – on this issue – that I would give an incumbent candidate a little break previoulsy failing to make city finances their top issue for two reasons:

    1. Davis voters have been slow to come around making this a top priority.

    2. The recession has dragged on longer than many expected.

    However, it would only be a little break since I am not a fan of pandering politicians… I want leaders with backbone and principles and the ability to do real math despite how the final answer might upset some of our more emotive voters.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    “In an earlier post, you posited that not all candidates “got it” with respect to the budget. In this column, you seem to acknowledge that all of them put it the top? “

    This is just my opinion, but putting it at the top is not the same “getting it” in terms of what needs to be done. I grudgingly got Lucas to acknowledge that we need to do more than go line by line and look for inefficiencies. Stephen Souza thinks we have more than one round of negotiations to get this right, I don’t think he’s right about that. I question whether we can really cut the budget as Brett Lee suggests without layoffs. I think it was a mistake for Sue not to vote for last year’s budget. Dan says he wants to cut the budget, he voted that way, but he’s voted for other things that push us in the wrong direction. So I still question things.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]So I still question things.[/quote]

    And wisely so. You make fair points in regard to observations about all the candidates on the budget issue…

  8. Michael Harrington

    The CC majority long ago told staff to come up with a specific plan to find $2.5 million in cuts, and staff failed to meet the deadline that was part of that motion. So far, there is no accountability, and no real cuts to balance the city budget.

    Then last week, not one of the CC members would pull the Steiner city attorney contract from consent, in spite of the issues and concerns about her services that have been raised by numerous people across a wide variety of issues.

    Frankly, I dont see any real change in this CC and I do not believe the evidence supports the CC’s assertions that they are working to solve the budget issues.

  9. Problem Is

    [quote][i]”I have direct experience with negotiation of employee contracts, stemming from my time as president of the Davis Food Co-op….”
    [b]Lucas Frerichs[/b][/i] [/quote]

    [b]Davis Food Coop Employees Are NOT Unionized[/b]
    Mr. Frerichs seems to be implying his experience on the Board of Davis Food Coop and [i]”negotiation of employee contracts”[/i] is commensurate with negotiating City of Davis union contracts if he were to be elected…

    Other than this is the pay for your position, you work at the manager’s pleasures, and if you don’t like it you can work elsewhere… there is no contract for regular Coop employees that I am aware of.

    Furthermore, if Mr. Frerichs’ claim stems from negotiating manager compensation, I would point our that the Davis Food Coop has the highest administrative over head of any grocery store in Davis.

    Because of these and other “stretches”… I will not now nor ever support Mr. Frerichs’ candidacy….

    I am listening for your explanation Mr. Frerichs…

  10. Mr.Toad

    “I would point our that the Davis Food Coop has the highest administrative over head of any grocery store in Davis.”

    I haven’t seen your numbers but if its true it could be because the Co-Op is a stand alone operation. I believe all the other markets in Davis are parts of chains so they can spread their administrative costs over more locations.

  11. medwoman

    “Because of these and other “stretches”… I will not now nor ever support Mr. Frerichs’ candidacy….
    I am listening for your explanation Mr. Frerichs”.

    I am just wondering, since you have already stated that you would never support Mr. Frerichs, why would he consider offering you any explanation ?

  12. Jim Frame

    [quote]an overturn of Prop-13. That was the standard leftie argument a few years back. [/quote]

    I don’t know of anyone who has seriously proposed trying to overturn Prop 13 in the last 20 years. I’d like to see California go to a split roll, though, and I think it’s a feasible approach.

    .

  13. hpierce

    Jim… I met and spoke at length to Mr Jarvis [b]during[/b] the campaign for Prop 13…. the point of Mr Jarvis (as explained by him) & Mr Gann WAS to protect non-residential properties… the ‘homeowners’ protection was the smokescreen. To get folks to vote for it. They succeeded.

  14. Frankly

    hpierce: [i]”Mr Jarvis (as explained by him) & Mr Gann WAS to protect non-residential properties… the ‘homeowners’ protection was the smokescreen. To get folks to vote for it. They succeeded.”[/i]

    I’m sure Jarvis and Gann only cared about those already wealthy businesses, and didn’t care a lick for all ther retired folk getting priced out of their own home.

    Regardless of your recollection of your conversation with Mr. Jarvis, the fact is that Prop-13 saved a LOT of fixed-income people from being priced out of their homes. There was tremendous voter support for it precicely because real estate appreciation was uncontrollable for property owners and pre-Pro-13 property tax increases were causing serious financial problems for many California residents. I would not look at the glass half empty here.

    From The Tax Foundation’s website, the real state plus local tax rate in 1977 was 11.8% (ranked 5th highest in the country). It dropped to 10% in 1979 (and number twelve in rank) as the result of pro-13. However in 2008 it was 11% and California was ranked #4 in the most tax revenue collected per capita.

    So, we made up the gap in prop-13 tax revenue from other sources.

    Just more proof that we have a spending problem not a taxation problem.

  15. medwoman

    Jeff

    “Just more proof that we have a spending problem not a taxation problem.”

    Given your philosophy, don’t you think that you would be making that last statement regardless of which state you lived in ?

  16. Jim Frame

    [quote]the point of Mr Jarvis (as explained by him) & Mr Gann WAS to protect non-residential properties… the ‘homeowners’ protection was the smokescreen.[/quote]

    No doubt. That’s why I think a split roll change could succeed if the electorate were made aware of the huge disparity of treatment between commercial and residential properties that results from the fact that many business entities — particularly large ones with correspondingly large real estate holdings — essentially never die, thus retaining a very low assessment rate compared to residential properties, which get reassessed when they transfer with the passing of every generation.

    .

  17. hpierce

    Mr Boone: my [i]only[/i] point was to point out that the protection of non-SF residential property, beyond that afforded to SF property, was [u][b]not[/b][/u] an “unintended” consequence of the way prop 13 was crafted. It was the purpose.
    Until “clean-up” amendments were approved by voters, reassessment of SF property occurred with ANY change of ownership – including property left to heirs after the passing of the property owner. There have evolved many clever mechanisms to assure that, for assessment purposes, commercial property never gets reassessed.

  18. Lucas Frerichs

    Dear “Problem Is”-

    I do have direct experience in negotiating contracts at the DFC. I led/participated in both the national search for a new General Manager, and the negotiation of manager contracts (who are employees) on multiple occasions over the nine years I served on the DFC Board of Directors.

    I never indicated that Co-op employees are unionized, or even implied as much.

    I have also led/participated in contract negotiations on several of the other non-profit Boards of Directors I have served on over the past 10 years.

    I’d love to hear about the other “stretches” you’re referring to…

    Now, I’m listening for your response, “Problem Is”…

  19. Frankly

    [url][/url][i]”Given your philosophy, don’t you think that you would be making that last statement regardless of which state you lived in ?”[/i]

    Ms. MD, that is a great question. Unfortunately the problem is widespread and few states have figured it out.

    [img]http://www.cscdc.org/miscjeff/StateBudgets.jpg[/img]

    The states in the Mid West are in better shape with blanced budgets. Not surpisingly, these are also states that tend to be more politically right… and the blue states are ironically have more red ink in their state finances.

    [img]http://www.cscdc.org/miscjeff/RedBlue.jpg[/img]

    Although not perfect, there is a strong correlation with budget deficits and right-to-work laws. Especially through the heartland.

    [img]http://www.cscdc.org/miscjeff/RTWStates.jpg[/img]

    The key question is what states see the problems for what they really are and are making real progress to fix them. Wisconsin thanks to Governor Walker and New Jersey thanks to Governor Christie are examples of real fiscal leadership. Mitch Daniels has done great things for Indiana.

    Here is the bottom line for me. It is the unemployment rates per state.

    [img]http://www.cscdc.org/miscjeff/Unemployed.jpg[/img]

    There is a strong correlation with the political orientation of the state, unionism, budget deficits and unemployment. Basically it shows that being blue is dangerous for our health.

  20. jaustin44

    Dear “Problem Is”,
    Mr. Frerichs provided you the response you requested and we’ve been waiting all day to see what you have to say. Are you out there, “Problem Is.”

  21. Frankly

    [i]”Until “clean-up” amendments were approved by voters, reassessment of SF property occurred with ANY change of ownership – including property left to heirs after the passing of the property owner. There have evolved many clever mechanisms to assure that, for assessment purposes, commercial property never gets reassessed.”[/i]

    hpierce, I get that. The problem at the time was the complete lack of control over significant assessment increases for people doing no worse than trying to live in their home or stay in their business location. It was harmful to these people. It was harmful to business the same way. It is not cool to have significant tax increases hit individuals and businesses without any transactional connection. It was consideration for everyone harmed by these tax increases that caused Prop-13 to be put on the ballot and passed.

    Since business tax was invented, business invented tax avoidance strategies. Everyone uses tax avoidance strategies. The reason business and wealthy people can avoid taxes, is that the collective brain power going into a design of a new tax or tax increase, is always going to be less than the collective brain power of enterprising people that design ways to avoid it. If you don’t like that cause and effect, then I suggest you start supporting a much more transparent and simplified flat tax.

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