My View: Reframing the Progressive Movement in Davis

The toad tunnel should not be the only enduring legacy of progressive Davis.

I lived in Davis for nearly ten years before I really got involved in local issues.  For the most part, that was due to the fact I came here as a graduate student and was expecting to get my degree and leave.  It wasn’t really until 2005 and 2006 that this really started to change.

When I did get involved issues like Covell Village and police accountability, later fiscal sustainability pushed me onto the progressive side of the divide.  The ideals of environmental stewardship and sustainable growth kept me there.

However, for some time the progressive movement in Davis has been dying, both literally and figuratively.  Some of that is the victim of its own success, as Measure J and its successor Measure R provided a peripheral growth control mechanism that reduced the need to elect slow-growth officeholders.

As the city’s revenue crisis has worsened, I have begun to recognize the need to break two long-standing views.  First, as a short-term measure, I am willing to support a sales tax for a limited term with strict assurances of fiscal accountability from the council.  Since 2007, I have believed that any new revenue measures in the city should focus on the schools which had the more immediate crisis – facing the prospect of losing teachers and increasing class size.

What is more is that most of the district’s problems were not related to their own mismanagement of funds.  Make no mistake, as our 2008 exposé showed, the district mismanaged facility money, but for the most part, their deficits were due directly to state budget cuts, not local mismanagement.  The same was not true for the city which greatly expanded spending – salary and compensation – with monies it did not have.

So my willingness to support limited tax increases marks a shift for me but it is based on the work that the council has done thus far, the promise that it holds on fixing the structural deficit, and the stark realities it faces.

Second, for the first time I am also willing to entertain the notion of a business park on the periphery.  One of my concerns about moving forward in the past has been about incrementalism and opening the door to development on the periphery.  In this case, Mace 200 is buffered from those concerns most recently by Mace 391 and the fact that it has been put into a conservation easement.

The city of Davis not only needs new revenue, but sits on an opportunity with a world class university to become a real center for innovation.  I believe that we can achieve this without losing our essential character as a community that draws us all to Davis.  A lot of people seem to forget that, among other things, the Vanguard itself represents enterprise and innovation and I believe that carving a space out for the community to develop in this way will enhance what makes Davis great, not destroy it.

The progressive movement has been dying in two ways.  First, in that its population base has aged.  The core of the movement is people in their sixties and seventies, some of them even older.  They have done great things for our community and we must honor their legacy and their achievements.

But what I do not see are a large number of people my age, in their forties.  I don’t see a lot of people younger than me in the movement.  And so, while I agree with the core vision of keeping Davis small and a UC Davis focused town – in order to do that, I believe we need to allow for a bit more economic development and densification.

Brett Lee notably became elected to council as the youngest person on his team, with the elder statesmen helping to run his campaign.  But Brett Lee also broke the mold somewhat.  He has been willing to part ways on issues like water – even though he supported the referendum to put the issue on the ballot.  He has been willing to consider some development and foster growth in economic development.

What the progressive movement needs to recognize is that the visions of 30- and 40-year-olds are different from those of 60- and 70-year-olds.  We can talk about affordability of housing all we want, but there is also the lack of opportunity to find good and sustainable jobs in the community.

There are a whole host of people in this community that look back on the 2004 to 20010 council and shudder.  They do not agree with that council’s land use or fiscal policies.  They worry about the influence of fire and do not believe we should add peripheral retail or additional peripheral housing at this time.

They believe that Davis has lost its innovation in the environmental arena and has fallen behind in terms of alternative energy, alternative transportation, and global environmental sustainability.

At the same time, they do not necessarily oppose every peripheral project that comes forward, especially those that focus business and economic development.  They are concerned about the future of the city’s water supply and the reliance on an aging well system.

But most of all they do not want to see a return of the contentious politics of the past.  We can disagree on core policies issues – we can do it passionately – without devolving into petty bickering.

Those are the voters that a new progressive movement could reach out to, but it must be a more forward-thinking and responsive movement that addresses the issues that younger voters with families are likely to relate to.

As I listened to all of the four announced city council candidates, while there were some differences in scope and vision, one thing that I heard loud and clear from all four was the desire to pursue economic development as a means to raise revenue.  At the same time, I heard a reluctance by all four to add peripheral housing and peripheral retail.

A progressive movement should focus our energies on progressive industry – that means innovative agricultural technology where Davis can utilize its proximity to its rich agricultural lands and find better, more environmentally responsible and more productive ways to utilize our agricultural lands.  It means helping to develop safer ways to protect crops from pests while protecting the public from the indiscriminate use of chemicals or the use of untested technologies on our food supply.

It means leading the way in developing green technology that can not only help our economy grow but do so in a way that reduces our carbon footprint.

It is a travesty that green Davis makes much of its sales tax revenue on auto sales and it time for Davis to lead the way on alternative transportation.

These are many ways for Davis to push forward economically while still maintaining its progressive worldview.

Then there are also the issues that Davis never seems to address, whether it is finding affordable housing for lower income people or addressing the inequity within our own community.  We think of this as an upper middle affluent community and, in some ways it is, but there is a growing lower income pool.  22% of children in the school district are classified as low income.  Are we as a community addressing the needs of that growing subsection of the population during a time when county services have been cut to the bone?

We have spoken in terms of the other Davis, but the progressive community must reach out to those groups, to those people we do not see every week filling community chambers, and figure out better ways to address their needs.

There are some who will see this as a radical realignment.  I don’t see it that way.  I see this as a modest adjustment that will allow the progressive community to reach out to more people in the community who have concerns about the way we have been doing business for the last decade, and produce a community that preserves if not strengthens what we all love about it.

—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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  1. growth issue

    “I see this as a modest adjustment that will allow the progressive community to reach out to more people in the community who have concerns about the way we have been doing business for the last decade and producing a community that preserves if not strengthens what we all love about it.”

    Great, I’ll be looking forward to liberals reaching out to the conservatives of the community.

      1. growth issue

        Explain what? Just what you wrote: “to reach out to more people in the community who have concerns about the way we have been doing business for the last decade.” Us conservatives will be waiting for your reach out with open arms.

        1. Jim Frame

          I don’t see much use for labels like “conservative” and “progressive” when it comes to fixing the city budget. I see a need to identify common interests and find ways to develop and implement policies that advance those interests.

          One person’s vision for the city might be accelerated growth leading to a metropolis to rival Sacramento, while another’s vision might be to grow as little as necessary to keep us out of bankruptcy. If they can both agree that building an innovation park on Mace 200 advances their common interest — one enthusiastically, the other reluctantly — there’s no reason they shouldn’t work together to make it happen.

          1. Mr. Toad

            Perhaps because conservative and progressive are interchangeable in Davis. Even growth issue self identifies as conservative.

          2. Not a Davis Resident

            One person’s vision for the city might be accelerated growth leading to a metropolis to rival Sacramento

            Jim, do you really think you could find even one Davis resident who has that vision? I don’t. Even if there is one, hat one out of 65,000 is at best an outlier and at worst in need of some serious psychiatric care.

            Although it is little more than a guess, I suspect that a poll of all 65,000 Davis residents asking each of them for their sense of the maximum population for Davis in 2060, you wouldn’t get more than 65 total people who would provide a number in excess of 125,000. The 2010 Census The 2010 United States Census estimates for the Sacramento metropolis totaled a population of 2,461,780. Anyone who wants your statement to be true has a long, long way to go

          3. Jim Frame

            Jim, do you really think you could find even one Davis resident who has that vision?

            Frankly, yes.

          4. Not a Davis Resident

            Jim, do you really think that there are people who want Davis’ population to exceed 2 million in the near future? … or for that matter, ever in their lifetime?

        2. Not a Davis Resident

          Actually G.I. (at the risk of driving Mr. Toad up a wall) one can argue that all the conservatives in town have fiscally benefited from the ag land preservation (no growth) sensibilities of the progressives. So they already have been embracing conservatives with open arms for years.

  2. Michelle Millet

    What the progressive movement needs to recognize is that the visions of 30 and 40 year olds are different from those of 60 and 70 year olds.

    Start a new movement, you can call it, Progressives-The Next Generation.

    1. Mr. Toad

      i wonder what the average age of the people in the picture turning in the water petitions was. My guess about 80. I wonder how many of them have pensions that allow them to be able to afford the higher water rates?

  3. Nancy Price

    As I have said on other posts: economic development that is based on what foundational principles or values? Just embracing economic development at whatever scale to get us out of debt or put us on a surer economic footing doesn’t meet that test for me.

    As one of the aged local progressives that David refers to – I would hope that local Progressive of the Next Generation would be all the more committed to join their global cohort in calling for economic policies based on human rights and social, economic and environmental justice.

    1. Matt Williams

      … economic development that is based on what foundational principles or values? Just embracing economic development at whatever scale to get us out of debt or put us on a surer economic footing doesn’t meet that test for me.

      Very well said Nancy. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Economic development needs to (in my opinion) honor our existing community character.

      In his Thursday post Rob White included the following quote:

      Innovation comes not from the basic ingredients of economic production, but from the way that people interrelate to combine and share ideas, talent, and capital. The community that facilitates such relationships is a biological system we call a Rainforest. Its animating process is creative reassembly.

      Our community character is built (in my opinion) on the two most prominent core competencies of the community … education/academic research and agriculture. The University by definition is combining and sharing ideas and talent. With its commitment to its 2020 Initiative: A Path to Academic Excellence and Economic Opportunity UCD is building on its existing strengths and resources to partner with the communities outside its borders in technology transfer so that the private sector can add capital and resources to maximize the value of UCD’s research products to society.

      While the trajectory of that technology transfer from UCD is known (agricultural innovation, applied mechanical engineering and healthcare being most prominent), the velocity of the transfer is not as clear. Part of the velocity uncertainty can be illustrated by a microeconomic supply/demand curve. By that I mean there is a robust supply of pure research and applied research “product” available within UCD, but the demand for the transfer of those research products has not been organized. Therefore, the research product either stays on campus as a purely academic exercise, or it leapfrogs the Davis/Yolo/UCD community boundaries and goes to Texas or St. Louis or any one of a number of communities that are more committed than our community is to combining and sharing ideas, talent, and capital.

      If we are indeed a community whose core competencies are education/academic research and agriculture, then creating an organized infrastructure (an Innovation Park ecosystem) that articulates “demand” that matches UCD’s “supply” of technology transfer “products” is wholly consistent with, and honors our community character.

      On the other hand, if a business park is created that loses the Innovation focus and brings in businesses that do not synergize with and leverage the community’s core competencies, then the community character will not have been honored and the foundational principles you call for in your quote will have been lost along the way.

      With that said, I am firmly confident that with leadership like Rob White’s we can avoid the “other hand” and make our community both better and more fiscally sustainable.

    1. Ryan Kelly

      I’m referring to the new younger emerging leaders in the community. I would say that you, Mike, belong to the old guard that has slowly turned more and more conservative over time.

    2. Matt Williams

      Your not liking that label is very understandable Mike. I really don’t see you as a “power to the government” kind of guy, but rather a “power to the people” guy.

      1. David Greenwald

        I’m not sure I agree with you that Progressives were a power to the Government movement. The progressive era in California brought us initiatives, referendums, and recall to take away power from Government that had gotten too entangled with industry. Locally, that movement is to disentangle government from the influence of developers and more recently the firefighters.

        1. Matt Williams

          David, you have changed the expression “power of Government” to the expression “power to Government” and in the process changed the meaning substantially. Look at the methods that were used by progressives here in Davis to disentangle the influence of developers. Initiatives, referendums and recall all very explicitly use the power of government and in almost all cases do not give power to government.

          It is interesting that you see the firefighter issue as a Progressive one. Care to elaborate?

      1. David Greenwald

        That’s not really, the term long predated 1992. It was to distinguish the more liberal, activist base, from the party machinery. So you can see it going back to the 1960s in its modern usage.

        1. growth issue

          I’ve always tried to keep up with politics, read newspapers, TV news, magazines, Internet, I’m kind of a news junkie (what I’m saying is I don’t live in a cave) but I honestly had never heard the term Progressive until I moved to Davis in 2001 and saw several City Council campaign signs with candidates professing to be “Progressive”.

    1. Not a Davis Resident

      I’m not sure that any such change has happened. Although there are lots of variations of the use of the term “progressive” almost all of them try to escape the limitations of the left-right, liberal-conservative political spectrum. The most visible iteration of a “progressive” movement was led by Theodore Roosevelt in the late 19th century and early 20th century, which positioned itself as a practical counter-balance to the problems brought on by the excesses of the Industrial Revolution.

      Progressives, whether of the right-leaning or left-leaning variety, are willing to use the power of government to create a “play by the rules” environment. In Davis, the history of Measure O, Measure J, Measure X, 1% Growth Cap, Mace 391 are very classically progressive ,because first they created the rules (O and J) and then they enforced those rules (X, the Cap and Mace 391). In the larger realm of California Prop 13 and Prop 218 are also classically progressive.

      Liberals can clearly be progressive, but they can just as easily not be. When they are not being progressive, liberals tend to have a common focus on using taxpayer money to help better society.

      The problem that “Davis Progressives” currently have is that after the battles for Measure X and the 1% Growth Cap were won (and to a lesser extent Measure P), there really weren’t any significant opportunities to invoke government power.

      1. Michelle Millet

        The problem that “Davis Progressives” currently have is that after the battles for Measure X and the 1% Growth Cap were won (and to a lesser extent Measure P), there really weren’t any significant opportunities to invoke government power.

        POU, time for progressives to regroup.

        1. growth issue

          “POU, time for progressives to regroup.”

          Here I thought we were just looking into whether the POU was something that might be feasible to take on. That everyone was just exploring and would make a determination when all the facts were in. That minds weren’t made up yet. Now when I read quotes like that before all the data is in it sounds like it’s a cause and an agenda.

          1. Matt Williams

            Municipally owned utilities like SMUD and East Bay MUD are “doubly progressive” because they fit the definition of “power of government” in two ways. They use the power of government to deliver power to the people in a more cost effective manner than private companies do.

          2. Michelle Millet

            Don’t take anything I write after 11:00 too seriously, it might just be the Ambian talking.

            I am looking forward to continue learning about the POU option, if the report given at council pans out it seems like a great opportunity for our community.

          3. Michelle Millet

            Should be careful, wouldn’t want to reveal my secret plot to move to a bicycle powered electric system which would require everyone in Davis to ride a stationary bike for 6 hours a day to feed the grid.

          4. growth issue

            Right, but just think. All those people exerting that much energy would be forced to drive to the grocery store often spewing more carbon into the air not to mention the plastic meat and produce bags. And with all those extra meals comes all the extra garbage and waste. Then their clothes would be all sweaty so they’d have to use their electric washer and dryer more often greying more water. Oh my, what an environmentalist’s nightmare.

  4. growth issue

    The Enterprise’s Our View on the POU:

    “Put simply, now is not the time to take on another huge project. We have too much on our plate as it is. Perhaps if the long-hoped “innovation park” ever gets going and we start attracting high-tech businesses to town, the tax base will improve to the point where this is feasible. Or perhaps our economy will rebound enough to allow us the fiscal luxury of moving forward.

    But for now, public power seems like a step too far.”

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