Analysis: Meaningful Shift Away From Partisanship on Council or a Momentary Blip?

Council-2012-Davis-signYesterday’s story in which we posted recommendations for endorsement told an interesting but unstated tale: the change in the partisan make up of council.  In 2010, all five of the members of the Davis City Council, a non-partisan office, were Democrats.

This year the number is three: Joe Krovoza, Lucas Frerichs, and Dan Wolk.  Rochelle Swanson and Brett Lee are independents.

More interesting perhaps is that of the major candidates that are known at this time, there is only one Democrat – Sheila Allen.  Robb Davis is registered as a Green, Rochelle Swanson as an Independent, and John Munn who just recently entered is a Republican.

How meaningful is this shift?

The trend in California as a whole has been a shift away from party registration over the last decade or two.  While the gap between Democratic voters and Republican voters has widened, but the fastest growing group has been those voters with no party affiliation even as Democratic officeholders and candidates have come to dominate statewide politics.

In many ways, the trends in Davis mirror those statewide.

The movement – if you can call it a movement – away from the Democratic Party on the city council, which held a monopoly for much of the last decade until Rochelle Swanson’s 2010 election, does not appear to be a marked shift to the right.

For sure, the council has become more business oriented, pushing forward a more robust economic development strategy, but they have done so with clear support from liberal and even progressive elements on the council and in the community.

On the other hand, the council has moved forward with strong commitment on environmental issues with support for continued carbon neutrality goals, reduction in wood burning and plastic bag ordinances.

The council has remained supportive of marriage equality, human relations, and other such issues.

One debate emerging is that on the issue of affordable housing where affordable housing advocates have come out in opposition to the city policy – largely born of limitations due to the loss of RDA money – that is increasingly counting accessory dwelling units towards its affordable housing requirements under RHNA.

Of course I have left the 800 pound elephant in the room for the final portion of the discussion.  From 2000 to 2010, Democrats dominated the Davis City council at the same time employee benefits were increased from four on an engine, to 3 percent at 50, to employee compensation increases across the board, it might appear that there is a correlation between Democratic politics and city fiscal policies.

At the same time, in the last eight years, it has been Democrats on the Council – Sue Greenwald, Lamar Heystek and more recently Joe Krovoza who have led the way on fiscal stability.

In recent years they have been joined on key votes by Democrat Dan Wolk and independents Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson.

While we may disagree with Mayor Pro Tem Wolk and Councilmember Frerichs on the smaller issues involving the fire service, there is little doubt that the overall climate of the city has changed.  It was Dan Wolk who cast the deciding 3-2 vote in 2011 for a $2.5 million reduction in employee compensation.

It was both who joined with their colleagues to impose last, best, and final offer on the DCEA and Firefighters bargaining units this past fall.

And so while the recent decline in the influence of the Democratic Party on the council has coincided with fiscal policy changes, it is unclear that this is more causation than coincidence.

There seems to be emerging a clear consensus in the community of fiscal sustainability and that appears to cross party lines.

There is a of course a danger in the Yolo Democratic Party inserting itself into non-partisan races and part of that is that the issues raised in their endorsements recommendations are not always burning issues in the community or the respective offices.

It also excludes from consideration by party-identification only, otherwise good and qualified candidates that ironically would also be solid champions of the values and principles of the Democratic Party.

California – probably wisely – made the decision to move away from partisan local offices.  While that has often been blamed for the decline of the strength of party, it has allowed for more collaborative work at the local level.

There are those who argue that all political offices are partisan – to some extent of course that is true – but to an increasingly larger extent, at least in Davis, the ability to work together has transcended partisan ties… at least for the most part.

—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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14 Comments

  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > Meaningful Shift Away From Partisanship on Council or a Momentary Blip

    There is a trend where more and more Democrats AND Republicans are learning that “their” political parties don’t care at all about “regular voters” and only work for “big donors” so unless you plan to run for higher office (and need the cash from the “big two” parties) it is foolish to run as anything but an Independent.

  2. iPad Guy

    “One debate emerging is that on the issue of affordable housing where affordable housing advocates have come out in opposition to the city policy – largely born of limitations due to the loss of RDA money – that is increasingly counting accessory dwelling units towards its affordable housing requirements under RHNA.”

    I think it was very clear that this was a discussion and 3-2 decision about the city acknowledging and getting in line with new state definitions, not aimed at figuring some underhanded way to back away from the city’s longstanding affordable housing initiatives.

    Although this distinction was explained several times, two council members completely ignored the repeated explanations and provided incomprehensible explanations for their “no” votes. The discussion did give Councilman Wolk the opportunity to pronounce that “I stand with the affordable housing advocates!” three or four times in his two-minute comment.

    A staff member noted that the city has 1,000 affordable housing units. Where are these? I hope we’re not counting the small cottage (one of a half dozen that were built as part the city affordable program) I just drove by that’s up for sale at $425,000.

    1. DavisBurns

      Cesar Chavez, New Harmony, Owendale, Moore Village, Twin Pines, Tremont Green, Suntree, Shasta Point, Pinecrest, Davisville, Fox creek, Olive Court, Olympic Cottages, Rosa Parks, Rosewood Park, Sojourner Truth. And there are more. I think maybe this blog is thinking of home ownership. I just looked at Verona, a new development with two houses not yet built. 2031 sq for low $600.000 and 1751sq for mid $500,000. That seems really expensive to me but I don’t know how the program works. Maybe the fact that the low income apartments aren’t readily identifiable is the source of the problem. They are nice places and in this one instance we haven’t put a red letter on the developments so we can point at the complexes and complain about property values, crime, and how they are eyesores that should be torn down. We have hidden them in plain sight.

    2. SouthofDavis

      iPad Guy wrote:

      > A staff member noted that the city has 1,000 affordable
      > housing units. Where are these?

      You can see many of the Davis affordable housing units on the links below:

      http://www.mutualhousing.com/mutual-housing-communities/list-of-communities-with-rent-ranges/

      http://chochousing.org/our-communities/

      Don’t forget the GAMAT/DACHA homes (that have recently beel leased up by a Vanguard advertiser after many were sitting empty for YEARS before David Thompson got the city to give up and pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars to walk away from the mess he made).

      And last but not least the 112 bed Pacifico Student Housing Cooperative at 1752 Drew Circle that has been sitting OVER HALF VACANT for more than TEN (10) YEARS…

      > I hope we’re not counting the small cottage (one of a half dozen
      > that were built as part the city affordable program) I just drove
      > by that’s up for sale at $425,000.

      Where is there an “affordable” home in Davis on the market for $425K?

      1. iPad Guy

        On the east side of Tulip between 8th and Ponteverde. You’ll see a row of nice houses on small lots (for which the developer was excused from city setback limits as part the “affordability” scheme). I gather that these were affordable only for the first owners who reaped major windfall gains when they sold in a year or (supposedly) two and moved to even nicer digs in nearby towns.

        In our own neighborhood, a few affordable program homes somehow ended up in the hands of city employees and relatives of developers. Each of them has long since taken the profits and run. Some good intentions don’t work out as expected. The DACHA reflected poorly on the city council and administration at least as much as it did on Thompson.

          1. iPad Guy

            Good question that I can’t answer. Whether these few instances broke any laws, or whether it would have been worth pursuing if so, I don’t know.

            Maybe there’s just no way to run an effective affordable home ownership program at a small town level. The city has tried a number of methods for guaranteeing fairness and to help assure that ownership houses remain in the affordable inventory for long enough to justify even the public investment in a program. Some schemes worked better than others.

        1. SouthofDavis

          iPad Guy wrote:

          > In our own neighborhood, a few affordable program homes somehow
          > ended up in the hands of city employees and relatives of developers.

          If we (as a society) want to help the poor live somewhere we should help them rent affordable apartments (that often “rent” for LESS than the fancy new “below market rentals”). Every time we try and “sell” homes to the “poor” we get situations like iPad Guy mentions above or situations like on the links below:

          http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/city/city-neighborhood-partners-and-twin-pines-reach-settlement-forge-resolution-to-dacha-case/

          http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_22718296/menlo-park-may-have-pay-400k-house-it

          http://www.socketsite.com/archives/2011/02/a_bankowned_bmr_no_not_bmw_in_pacific_heights.html

    3. Davis Progressive

      “I think it was very clear that this was a discussion and 3-2 decision about the city acknowledging and getting in line with new state definitions, not aimed at figuring some underhanded way to back away from the city’s longstanding affordable housing initiatives.”

      actually it was a discussion aimed at two things: (1) rda is dead; (2) there is limited housing on the horizon; (3) we have rhna requirements. okay, so i can’t count, but regardless i find it difficult to buy the company line that these are going to produce affordable units, particularly with no enforceable actions or accountability built into the ordinance.

      1. iPad Guy

        You’re correct that the discussion included at least three of those two. Plus, the need for a city minimum wage of $15 and very convincing, though unnecessary, examples of how life is awful for the poor.

        The question of how these flats are used is interesting. Though there were lots of opinions about this the first time it was discussed–I haven’t yet seen last night’s meeting–they were far off the mark when weighed against the city’s formal survey results from the individual owners of the city’s housing of this type.

        The only purpose I can see in the effort to keep the city from using the new state definition is in order to set the stage for pressuring our city council in future years when there’s little money to spend on projects and to demand even more from developers than we’ve done to date.

  3. Day Man

    Local government is where the impacts of policy are most directly felt – most tangible. And it’s telling that ideology breaks down when you can actually see the result of your policy. It’s easy to have strongly-held, ideological beliefs when the impacts are diffused, or when they’re felt hundreds of miles away. But when you regularly walk by that homeless guy who no longer has a shelter where he can sleep? Or when you have coffee with that small business owner who has been driven out of business by Target? Or when the new housing development causes traffic that makes your bike commute harrowing? Then, then blind (party) ideology goes out the window. It makes sense, and it’s the way it should be.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think we have proven that there are strongly held beliefs about growth, the environment, etc. the difference is that while there are strongly held beliefs, many do not fall into a neat left-right continuum.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    Maybe citizens have learned that one-party rule wasn’t a good idea. Just as reasonable Republicans like Governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian helped keep Democrats from going to extremes, fiscal sanity may now be a premium.

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