Commentary: Davis Remains Perilously Close to the Edge


city-hallThe recent votes on the shared fire management and imposing the last, best and final offer will wrap up a year unlike any other in recent Davis history. Over the last 13 months from December 2012 to December 2013, the city of Davis will have taken tremendous steps forward to shore up its fiscal house.

By December 1, 2012, Davis had five of its seven bargaining units taking important concessions on pay, pensions, retiree medical, and cafeteria cash outs – concessions that will prevent future losses in jobs and cuts to services.

However, two groups held out. In November of 2013, the Davis City Council imposed the last, best and final offer on DCEA (Davis City Employees Association). A few weeks later, a unanimous imposition of contract occurred with the professional firefighters’ union, as well.

It has been a tumultuous year with regard to fire. The city manager commissioned former interim fire chief Scott Kenley to conduct an audit and to look into making critical changes including boundary drop, fire staffing cuts, and shared management with UC Davis.

For much of the last 15 years, the firefighters’ union has been problematic for a sustainable city budget. They used their political power from 2002 until 2010 to garner council majorities that preserved 3% at 50 pensions, four on a fire engine, and secured them a 36 percent pay increase in 2004.

But tough economic times meant that the city would have to make cuts, and, unlike other bargaining units, fire has refused to cooperate.

Despite the success in 2013 in getting the city’s fiscal house in order, the city remains vulnerable. Budget projections show that long-postponed improvements in roads and water infrastructure, combined with increased pension costs, will once again push the city deeply into the red within the next five budgets.

Moreover, the council majority that has pushed through these reforms, often in the face of serious push back from the unions, citizens and other elected officials, is fragile at best.

In June 2011, newly-appointed Councilmember Dan Wolk joined with Mayor Joe Krovoza and then-Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson to push for $2 million of compensation cuts to be transferred into roads and retiree benefits.

However, Dan Wolk, who is now running for State Assembly, has proven to be an unreliable partner on fiscal reforms. He voted against fire staffing cuts, and then, after supporting the shared management back in October, under pressure from the union and perhaps even his mother, Senator Lois Wolk, Dan Wolk reversed course last week.

If reports are to be believed, Mr. Wolk, along with Councilmember Lucas Frerichs, pushed for the ouster of City Manager Steve Pinkerton, but did not have a third vote to succeed.

The election scenario leaves considerable doubt about the future. Dan Wolk and Joe Krovoza are running for State Assembly. In order to do so, Joe Krovoza, a reliable supporter of reform, will have to leave the council.

Right now Rochelle Swanson, who has also been a reliable supporter of reform, will run for re-election. Robb Davis has announced he will run for council, and he too appears to be a supporter of reform, but another potential opponent, Sheila Allen, who has spent nearly a decade on the school board, is backed heavily by individuals opposing reform.

A one-vote swing could mean the end of reform, a reversal of key planks of reform, and the possible ouster of City Manager Pinkerton, despite his nine-month severance clause which is now in effect.

While the battle has been won, the next battle might be most crucial – the decision by the voters whether to stay the course on reform or whether to go in a new direction.

—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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60 thoughts on “Commentary: Davis Remains Perilously Close to the Edge”

  1. B. Nice

    If Wolk wins the assembly race then there will be a vacant spot on council. As I understand it in this situation council selects an interim member, who serves for the remainder of the term. I have a couple question about this process, what criteria does council needs to follow when picking an appointee, would the outgoing member, in this scenario Wolk, get to vote on his replacement.

  2. Davis Progressive

    the bigger problem is not the process but the numbers. right now my guess is sheila allen will run and win. rochelle will run for reelection and win. so you have a council made up of sheila allen, rochelle swanson, lucas frerichs, and brett lee needing to fill a void. that scares the crap out of me in terms of both budget and land use.

    1. Matt Williams

      DP, that is an interesting guess. It appears that you believe that naame recognition is what will determines the outcome of Davis elections, and that Sheila and Rochelle have the best name recognition. Is that what you are saying?

      Its an intriguing thought.

      How does it square with past elections?

      Just fine up until 2012, when the two candidates who had the greatest name recognition came in 4th out of 5 and 5th out of 5. Thoughts?

      1. Davis Progressive

        i just fear that sheila allen is a nice person, a good person in fact, and people won’t look past that when they vote. the fourth and fifth place finishers in 2012 were well-known and mostly disliked individuals.

        1. Matt Williams

          Interesting response. What I hear you saying, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that being a nice person and a good person trumps positions on policy matters.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I didn’t read his response that way. It sounded like despite the fact that she’s a nice person, the policy matters trump.

          2. Matt Williams

            David, DP’s words are pretty clear, “sheila allen is a good/nice person and people won’t look past that [goodness/niceness] when they vote.” That appears to indicate that the “people” DP refers to will never get to a point where they consider policy.

          3. Matt Williams

            That is an interesting either/or proposition Hortense. Care to elaborate why you think such an exclusive course of action should be pursued?

  3. growth issue

    David, thanks for the info on Sheila Allen. She and all candidates need to be thoroughly vetted as to their stands on fiscal reform and their associations with the firefighter’s union. We don’t need anymore Wolk’s or Frerich’s.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it will be sad for some of us to have to oppose sheila allen. she was a good school board member, but right now in the city she is backed by pro-firefighters union people: saylor, provenza, daleiden, etc.

      1. B. Nice

        I don’t understand the concern over this issue. On the big ticket item, union contracts, even those accused of being in the pocket of the firefighter voted for reform. I don’t see any danger of these reforms being reversed, even if the entire council was made up of “pro-firefighter union people”.

        1. growth issue

          They didn’t vote for reform as far as the 3 man fire crews and joining depts’ with UCD. IMO they only voted for the contracts because they were backed into a corner . With the wrong council in place who is to say that things can’t be changed or future issues voted for in favor of the firefighters.

          1. Davis Progressive

            but why do so, when they can vote for it and look like they are pro-reform, after all you bought into it, so will others. it’s a perfect vote for wolk and frerichs.

          2. B. Nice

            This speaks to the point I’m trying to make. The culture has changed, the firefighter union has lost its power when it comes to issues of that have the greatest fiscal impact. So does it really matter if council members support them, if they are still forced to against them.

          3. David Greenwald Post author

            It’s only lost its power because it has two votes it can count on, not three. And that could change with the next election.

          4. growth issue

            Exactly David. Some people just don’t get it. Even though there was only 2 votes against much of the firefighter reform Pinkerton’s job was still was in jeapordy. If we don’t stay vigilant the cancer can reappear.

          5. B. Nice

            My argument, the firefighters don’t have the power to influence council votes on issues of finical significance, so a council members support or lack there of is irrelevant.

        2. Matt Williams

          B. Nice, I am very concerned that there is real danger that the reforms can and will be reversed.

          Lets hypothetically imagine that the members of the Council are Lois Wolk, Mariko Yamada, Don Saylor, Jim Provenza and Helen Thomson. Is there any doubt in your mind that the City/University joint management reform would be undone? Is there any doubt that fire engine staffing would go back to 4 on an engine?

          1. B. Nice

            While I support the reforms council has taken in regards to this issue, put into the perspective of all the issues, budget related or not, that council is making decisions on, these are significantly less significant and I don’t see the future fiscal health of the city hinging on them.

          2. Davis Progressive

            shared services are going to be critical to the city and university providing services in the future.

          3. B. Nice

            I really like the idea of shared services and hope that we are able to continue down this path. But I don’t see a significant fiscal impact occurring until a full merger can take place. I’m afraid the salary differential between UC Davis and city firefighter will be a huge obstacle on this path. So for now this not issue I’m willing to fall on my sword over.

          4. Davis Progressive

            think the firefighters understand why this is an issue to fall on their swords over – that’s why they called out the big guns to defeat it. shared management allows them to pave the way for a merger which is where we need to go to save real money.

          5. B. Nice

            I would hope momentum keeps this process moving forward, but again I don’t think the fiscal health of the city hinges on its success.

          6. Frankly

            I agree. Especially if we increase the sales tax and float a bond for road maintenance. Pressure off, so let’s go back to the old practice of giving away the city treasury to political friends.

          7. B. Nice

            ‘so let’s go back to the old practice of giving away the city treasury to political friends.’

            I’m definitely against giving away the city’s treasury to political friend.

          8. David Greenwald Post author

            How are you planning to fund the $5 to $7 million until you can build the economic development?

          9. hpierce

            easy to say when you are not a Davis taxpayer… you may be correct, but it is, IMHO, wrong for you to pontifficate.

          1. B. Nice

            This I do believe has a significant impact on the city budget. If I thought there was a chance that these reforms could be reversed I would share concern over a future council members “alliances” with firefighter union.

      2. Matt Williams

        I respect Sheila immensely for what she has done for the Schools. The challenge for her is going to be showing her knowledge and strength in the areas of City governance that the School District doesn’t touch. Looking at her background through the lens of aq slightly expanded version of the 2012-2014 Council Goal Areas

        — Fiscal Stability

        — Economic Development

        — Downtown Davis

        — Sustainability

        — Community Strength and Effectiveness

        — Infrastructure

        — Public Safety

        — Open Space Presevation

        — University/City Collaboration

    2. Matt Williams

      I agree GI. What are your thoughts on the following?

      Grow a diversified revenue base to face our fiscal challenges and to protect vital community amenities.

      We must produce balanced budgets that account for all future liabilities and infrastructure maintenance. We must squarely face our need for new revenue by re-examining our current tax structure and fee schedule. I believe that we must immediately deal with our fiscal imbalances.

      This means we must find a combination of short-term revenue enhancements and longer-term solutions that generate revenue from new business development. City staff should provide several revenue enhancement scenarios that mix short-, medium and long-term options using fiscal models available for community examination that allow for assumptions to be tested. This will permit the City Council to engage the community in fully transparent discussions about options and tradeoffs related to any revenue enhancements.

      We must also keep City expenditures in check by negotiating fair but realistic agreements with all employee groups. Agreements must assure the City’s ability to pay for growing retiree health benefit costs and pensions in a sustainable way.

  4. Mr.Toad

    I guess by your standards not voting 100% the way you want makes someone unreliable. Your sort of like the Davis version of the tea party where anything less than 100% makes someone susceptible to a challenge at the ballot box. Of course this demonstrates a level of political maturity near the level of Ted Cruz.

    Calling Dan Wolk unreliable is the most absurd description. He has consistently taken hard votes to get the fiscal house in order. Votes to re-prioritize the budget and impose contracts are not easy votes. Bashing him for two more minor votes that he lost on is ridiculous.

    1. Davis Progressive

      you clearly have a bias towards dan wolk. but i find his votes rather troubling. first of all, you say votes to re-prioritize the budget “are not easy votes.” they were 5-0 votes. those are very easy because his vote isn’t pivotal in the outcome. moreover, you ignore as greenwald pointed out last week that the votes on impasse were not where the line in the sand was drawn – each of those he voted against fiscal sustainability.

      there’s also the weird votes he caste. he caved on 391. he voted to put davis diamonds into the automall which could have cost the city millions except that the idea was so bad, it fell apart. he voted against the city attorney’s advice on crown castle. he made a whole series of weird votes that seemed to be more aimed at appeasing a certain constituent than fiscal prudence for the city.

      1. Mr.Toad

        Wow you sure seem able to keep track. I’d actually forgotten about most of those votes. Is there anyone you agree with on every vote? I try to look at the big picture and the big votes leaving the day to day governance to the elected representatives. Of course the two biggest votes we know about are the votes to impose the contracts. On that basis you have nothing to criticize, both were unanimous. If you think there is some vote bigger or harder than those two make the case.

          1. Mr.Toad

            On a dollar for dollar basis not as big as contract imposition. By the way both Lucas and Dan didn’t say they were against going to three on an engine. Dan said he wasn’t there yet and Lucas said that decision should be made in the negotiation over the contract. Of course those issues became moot when the council voted 3-2 to reduce the numbers on an engine. I know that nuance doesn’t matter to the dogmatic but for the rest of society it might be important.

        1. Davis Progressive

          “I’d actually forgotten about most of those votes. ”

          maybe you should keep better track of votes.

          “Is there anyone you agree with on every vote?”

          brett lee. krovoza and swanson on economic matters. dan wolk and lucas frerichs less than half the time on issues i care about most.

      2. hpierce

        So, what revenue will accrue to to the City, except the direct costs of the City permits for actual paln review and inspetion? Will they pay for the costs of pavement that may sho up 10-15 years from now? Google “crown Castle”

  5. Matt Williams

    In yesterday’s article David Greenwald said, “Had the city council instead given the firefighters the same raise as police officers, they could have used that money to shore up the roads funding that is now a huge part of the culprit in the emerging $5 million deficit. While the deficit might be out of the current city council’s hands, steps taken ten years ago could have blunted most of its force. Right now, the City of Davis firefighters make at least 25% more than their UC Davis counterparts. Saving that cost would allow the city to cut the current deficit by one-third.”

    There is a huge fundamental flaw with that quote and the logic behind it. The reality of the $5 million deficit is that there are no monies for street repairs do nothing to address the increasing deferred maintenance backlog. The presentation graphic below from the 12/10 Council meeting shows that if we only spend the $2 million per year that is in the $5 million deficit budget (as depicted in the second to the left column), the streets backlog will grow from the $129 million in the far right red column to the $362 million in the second from the left red column. The greenbelts/bike paths backlog will grow from $3 million in the far right blue column to the $38 million in the second to the left blue column. In addition to the backlog growing by a combined $268 million, the streets quality index will plummet from its current 60 level (which is less than ideal in its own right) down to 31, and the bike paths will plummet from the mid 70’s down to 42.

    there is no way that the firefighter money alone would have or could have fully offset the negative roads issues.

     photo 05-Transportation-Infrastructure-Rehabilitation-Presentations-Combined_zps5f03f9ad.jpg

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Matt: You need to trace the exponential growth of the road maintenance fund. In 2009, when Bob Clarke first presented the figures, he felt that the city could maintain the current level at about $1.6 million, that number increased in the next few years to $3 million and now $8 million. At this point, city is putting in $3 million and prioritizing thoroughfares.

      But if you go back to 2009, you see that the increased growth quickly moved the costs to the point where firefighter money would not suffice, but in 2005, that was certainly not the case.

      1. Matt Williams

        Actually David it was for a number of different reasons.

        First, the $1.6 million was incremental over and above the budgeted amounts, so the differntial between the firefighters raises and the police raises would have needed to be $1.6 million in Year 1, which it wasn’t. it started relatively low and then grew as the years compounded the differential.

        Second, the streets analysis done this year acknowledged that the prior analyses had been much less in depth, so the $1.6 million was probably low by as much as 100%, so $3 million was probably the right number, and due to inflation and the higher costs of repairing more degraded streets that number is up to the $213 million over 20 years shown in the far right column of the graphic.

        There is no doubt that having the firefighters play by the same rules as the police would have reduced the negative impact on our roads (if the savings had actually been spent on the roads), but it wouldn’t have eliminated it.

      2. Mr.Toad

        So if we had spent the road money on roads instead of open space we could have saved a lot more by not deferring road maintenance than we got back from selling 391. So all of our problems don’t stem from the local firefighters despite the Vanguards obsession with pursuit of the great white whale.

        By the way who on the council voted to loan road funds for open space? The reason I ask is that somebody was talking about who they thought they agreed with 100% on fiscal matters. My guess is the interest on the loan is much less than the expense of the deferred maintenance spending the money on roads at the time would have saved. I’m not trying to call out members of the council but I’m simply pointing out that nobody in politics is going to do the right thing all the time, a level of expectation demanded only by the politically immature.

      3. hpierce

        You idiot/mis-informed person.. the lack of preventiiatve funding was noticed to the CC in the 90s, under the Pelz watch of PW, in the 90’s… the professionals were ignored.

        1. Matt Williams

          Hortense, one question that has been nagging me that you may have some thoughts on is as follows . . . other than Streets where we appear to have come to grips with the size of the fiscal problem, what other City infrastructure areas suffer from their own version of deferred maintenance?

          Said another way, what are some of the other areas where a lack of preventiiatve funding was noticed to the CC in the 90s and in the 00′s… and the professionals have been ignored?

          1. Matt Williams

            That was pretty tame Don. We are all idiots on a very regular basis. hpierce even qualified the name he called within the very post . . . downgrading idiot to misinformed person.

            David has been called a whole lot worse things by posters in the past.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          I’m a little baffled by your response. I agree the professionals were ignored, I don’t think my comment suggested otherwise other than I had a different time frame since I was not paying attention in the 1990s to this issue.

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