Caution: City In Danger of Losing Message on Fiscal Crisis

Garbage-CanI could not disagree with much, if anything, that Robin Wiener wrote today in the Davis Enterprise.

She writes, “We’ve been told that the city is in such bad financial shape that we’ll be voting soon on whether to approve an increase and extension to Davis’ sales tax to raise many millions extra for the city’s general fund. We’ve been told that without the increased sales tax, the only way for the city to make ends meet will be through severe cuts to services and significant cuts of staff.”

“We’ve also been told that the sales tax increase won’t come close to covering our infrastructure needs and delayed maintenance,” Ms. Wiener writes. “Our streets are crumbling from years of being ignored (mostly not in the downtown business district), and the repair costs are skyrocketing with each day’s delay in getting the repairs done. For that, we will be seeing a new parcel tax on the November ballot (in addition to the pending sales tax measure).”

“Our city staff don’t seem concerned. Nor our city commissions,” she points out. “According to a front-page article in The Enterprise on Friday, city staff have proposed purchasing very attractive steel garbage cans for downtown Davis at a cost of more than $1,000 for each can. The city’s Natural Resources Commission is enthusiastic about these garbage cans, a number of which are already in place in Mace Ranch Park.”

She notes, “And it sounds like this is a done deal. The article indicates that, according to city conservation coordinator Jennifer Gilbert, the city will be installing more of these bins in the next fiscal year.”

She adds, “The public-private partnership including Davis Downtown, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, the city of Davis and the Yolo Visitors Bureau didn’t sound very concerned about the fiscal crisis on Saturday either, when, according to an article in Sunday’s Enterprise, they took a tour of the Richards underpass and talked about their grandiose dreams for revamping this entrance to Davis.”

“Really?” she concludes.  “What’s wrong with this picture?”

As I’m sure Ms. Wiener, who is a Vanguard reader, is aware of – we do have a fiscal crisis.  We can point to the rising costs of retirement benefits, we can point to the condition of roadways, water infrastructure, parks, and city buildings as clear examples.

The city lags in sales tax revenue and, as a result, needs to find creative ways to generate new tax revenue within a community that is reluctant to allow additional peripheral growth.

At the same time, the city believes that redeveloping the main entrance to town – the gateway project, the hotel-conference center, fixing Olive Drive, fixing the underpass at the same time it adheres to community preferences, and developing Nishi – is a way to improve the branding of Davis to surrounding areas.

We have not had enough discussion on these plans – and, unfortunately, I was out of town last week for the tour of the area – we need to engage the public in a full discussion on this.

I see that as separate and distinct from the garbage can issue.

At the same time, the city can be blind and dumb when it comes to optics.  I will leave it to my board members who are also commissioners on the NRC to explain their rationale behind the garbage can expenditure, but the optics are clearly problematic.

Therefore, I completely agree with the points that Ms. Wiener raises here, especially “what’s wrong with this picture?”  Because, I think, the problem is precisely that, the picture has not been developed by the city to explain the full picture of what this looks like

I can assure everybody that there is a fiscal crisis and that spending the small amount that they will on garbage cans has no measurable impact on the crisis either way.  Like many of these expenditures, it comes from a separate fund that cannot be used for general purposes.

In my experience, most of the public lacks the patience and the understanding of different funding mechanisms.  They see money coming from the public just with different labels on it.

I don’t agree necessarily with that narrow view, but I do agree that it looks bad.  I get that.  Why the city doesn’t get that, I cannot understand.

The city has put together a lot of good initiatives to improve things, but what it doesn’t do well is public opinion.  Even when it sets out to do public opinion, such as in the Nishi-Gateway project, it doesn’t do it very well.

At the same time, I think we need to develop an understanding of what the next six years are going to look like.  Some of the strongest proponents of fiscal austerity are also some of the strongest proponents of the Gateway Project.

They believe that the Gateway Project, much of which is being financed privately in the absence of RDA, will add to the revenue potential of the Downtown.  Now you would think that one of the first things the project proponents would do would be to put an op-ed in the Vanguard and the Enterprise and explain their project, their purpose, their funding mechanism.

But there is a bigger point to be made here, as well.  We are not climbing out of this crisis anytime soon.  So the community has to figure out what that means as well.  Does that mean we do nothing to improve the city?  Does it mean that we all just climb in a hole and wait it out?

Or can we try to manage our resources as well as possible and spend some money on things like the Gateway project or a POU when opportunities arise?

We need to have that discussion, as well, and it appears that our leaders have just decided how that will be.

So, in closing, I think Robin Wiener is exactly right to point things out, that the city has failed in messaging and optics, and it now must figure out how to proceed.

—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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30 Comments

  1. Michelle Millet

    I will leave it to my board members who are also commissioners on the NRC to explain their rationale behind the garbage can expenditure, but the optics are clearly problematic.

    Being a new member of the NRC I was not involved in any discussion/decisions regarding the selection of the garbage cans in question so I’m not in a position to comment on it. If people have specific questions/concerns I’m happy to help get answers to them, or I encourage people to attend Mondays’s monthly NRC meeting to express their concerns and questions directly, about this or any other issue the NRC is addressing. The meeting will be in the Community Chamber Conference Room, 23 Russell Blvd on Monday March 24 at 6:30. Like council meeting there is time set aside at the beginning of the meeting for public comment. If you cannot attend feel free to contact me and I will pass on your comments. My email is michellemillet@sbcglobal.net

  2. Michelle Millet

    Speaking as a private citizen I do think something needs to be done to address current waste collection methods currently in place downtown, in shopping centers, and in our other public spaces. Speaking from personal observation, I notice that garbage cans outside of certain business do overflow, often with items that could be recycled. (As an aside, I also know that the city has had problems with downtown residence and businesses using city trash cans instead of the their dumpsters.)

    I would like to work with the business who generate a lot of waste (coffee shops, frozen yogurt shops etc.) to see if they would be willing to help remove the waste that they generate. For instance I think it would be very useful for these types of business to provide garbage and recycling bins outside their stores that they are responsible for emptying, instead of this burden falling on the city. I realize the problem is bigger then this one issue, but I think by collaborating with our businesses we can find ways to help solve a large part of this problem.

  3. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > I think Robin Wiener is exactly right to point things out,
    > the city has failed in messaging and optics

    It is not just “optics” the real question is why the city decided to spend tens of thousands (even more than the School district spent to try and figure why a board members kid was cut from the volleyball team) to replace the current trash cans that still have a lot of life left in them (I parked a few blocks from Burgers & Brew yesterday and looked at all the cans I passed on my way to lunch)…

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s a legitimate question that the city needs to address. It may be that they have a good answer. It may be that they don’t. Either way, it looks bad – hence “optics”

      1. Michelle Millet

        IMO while optics should be taken into account, I don’t think it should be the driving force behind how or why decisions are made. It’s good to aware of them though so community concerns can be anticipated and addressed appropriately.

        1. Mr. Toad

          You may not think the optics are important enough to be the basis for the choice but you don’t answer to the voters. This is why the commissioners only advise the council and the council makes the final decisions.

          1. Michelle Millet

            I was not speaking as a commissioner. I was speaking as a citizen. I would prefer my elected officials not make decisions based on optics. I would prefer them to make decisions based on the best interest of the community. (I have no idea wether this was the case with the garbage cans, I was not part of NRC when this issue was discussed).

  4. Tia Will

    I think the asking of questions is good. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend Monday’s meeting, or any meeting ever on a Monday, so I would ask the following questions.

    1. What are the advantages of the proposed trash cans?
    2. Will they eventually be cost effective and over what period of time ?
    3. Will they hold a higher volume of trash within the confines of the can therefore reducing overflow and thus
    increased expenditures for clean up ?
    4 .Will they because of design, reduce material currently going into land fill.
    5. Are they being brought in gradually overtime as replacement for existing receptacles ?
    6. Has consideration been given to purchasing a limited number for use in the areas where the problems are the
    worst and using the current receptacles in areas where there is less or no overflow ?
    Perhaps Michelle or someone who will be attending the meeting could see if some of these questions could be addressed.

  5. Growth Issue

    Comeon, the cans are pretty but is this really where we want to be spending tens of thousands of dollars right now? If there’s an overflow problem in some areas just add another can like the one’s that are already there at I’ll bet a much lower cost than the $1000+ state of the art cans that we can’t really afford at this time. I agree with Michelle that some of the businesses can mitigate their refuse on site themselves. Take the little Village Bakery near the train station, they always have a well marked receptacles in the store that take recyclables. I for one always make a point of using their inside containers for this.

    1. Tia Will

      Again, I think this is a matter of considering all the information. If in addition to “looking pretty” these cans may or may not have other either short or long term advantages. If so, then they should be purchased. If not, then they should not be.

      But how can one decide whether or not the decision is good without even bothering to consider why it may have been made ?

      1. Growth Issue

        To me it just comes down to common sense. In my opinion $1000+ garbage cans is an exorbitant expense I don’t care how anyone tries to justify it.

        1. Tia Will

          Gi

          Do you know the cost of the cans that are currently being used in downtown ?

          Do you know the longevity of those cans as compared with the new ones ?

          Would you really not support the use of a $1000.00 garbage can if it turned out to be less expensive in the long run than a cheaper can ?

          Unless you know the answers to the above, how can you make that decision ? If you do know the answers, please share them with me. We might be on the same side of the issue if we had the same information.

          1. Growth Issue

            For over $1000 each they better empty themselves. I mean really, we’re talking trash cans here.

          2. Tia Will

            Gi

            Good idea for cans of the future. But I notice that you chose not to answer my question.

          3. Growth Issue

            “Do you know the cost of the cans that are currently being used in downtown ?”

            They’re free, they’re already paid for.

            “Do you know the longevity of those cans as compared with the new ones ?”

            That doesn’t matter right now, the old cans are still usable. When the time comes that they are not usable anymore we can look at a replacement.

          4. Matt Williams

            GI, when you say that “the old cans are still usable” what criteria are you using to make that assessment? Have you analyzed the number of employee hours that the emptying of the current cans requires each day? Have you walked by the can outside Peets on E Street lately to see what it looks like most of the time?

            Assuming an hourly wage of $30 per hour, if one hour is saved each day emptying cans because the new cans are more efficient and effective, then $10,950 will be saved in a year’s time. Said another way, if that assumption is correct, the new cans will pay for themselves in 33 days. In 66 days they will have put $1,000 into the General Fund. In 99 days they will have put $2,000 into the General Fund.

            Thoughts?

  6. Rob White

    David and I discussed this earlier today. I am getting some info on the receptacles.

    I would like to clarify that the Richards Boulevard/Olive Drive Gateway project is not a city-led initiative. There is some special funding that the city has that was earmarked awhile back for this effort (it has specific conditions that require its use on a very limited scope of items), but the effort is being led by the private sector, most specifically the Chamber of Commerce. But far from being a bridge to nowhere, those that went to the public meeting on Saturday (hosted by these business groups) saw concepts that were created by Cunningham Engineering (as a donation) and have the potential to improve traffic flow, increase bike and pedestrian safety, improve aesthetics, and create a welcoming entrance to downtown that is in line with the communities desire (by popular vote) to keep the Davis Subway small and restricted to auto traffic.

  7. Mr. Toad

    The NRC is Davis’ own version of the Pentagon and these $1000 trashcans are like the Air Forces $10,000 toilet seats. When your goal is 100% landfill diversion the cost of marginal increases in recycling can go to infinity.

    Still I’m voting yes on the sales tax because, while the alternative may mean the city has less discretionary funding to do stupid frivolous things, it also means it won’t be able to carry out the basic functions of government.

    Even though I favor more growth for many reason’s, and voting no will necessitate speedier economic development, the transition period with an underfunded city government will not be pretty.

    1. Michelle Millet

      As you mention above Mr. Toad, commissions don’t make purchasing decisions they make recommendations. (I will add this disclaimer again, I was not a member of the NRC when trash can recommendations were made, so I am not informed of how or why this recommendation was made.).

  8. Davis Chamber of Commerce

    We read Robin Weiner’s letter in the March 21 edition of the Davis Enterprise with interest. To begin with, the Davis Chamber of Commerce and Davis Downtown very much share Robin’s concerns regarding how the City of Davis goes about allocating its limited financial resources in the face of a fiscal emergency. Not only do we share the concern, we acted upon it by funding all work on the Davis Arch project from private sector contributions. The only city money invested in this project to date has been a minimal amount of one staff person’s time to monitor the process of the project.

    That said, a clear distinction needs to be made between “spending” and “investing”. Investing city resources to generate tax revenue or in public safety is clearly not the same as spending money that simply disappears forevermore. And investing in tax revenue generating projects or in public safety is also clearly not the same as investing in amenities. Would Davis residents rather pay higher taxes or support projects that reduce the tax burden because they generate tax revenue? We suspect the latter, but we shall see as the community discussion unfolds and the residents weigh in.

    Davis residents may also be interested in knowing that the funds that someday may be used to construct the Davis Arch project are likely to come from other economic development projects such as the Olive Drive hotel/conference project and the University Downtown Gateway project. Additional funding is likely to come from construction taxes, development impact fees, fuel taxes and grants that are collected for exactly this type of project and can only be used for this type of project. These funds have nothing at all to do with the city’s fiscal emergency. Quite the contrary, we can use these funds to invest in long term solutions to solve the city’s fiscal emergency.

    Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in drafting a pre-application for a federal grant funding opportunity that became available recently in a very time-constrained situation that left City staff unable to do that work… and the Chamber was happy to lend a helping hand. We are all in this together.

    We have invested a significant effort in community outreach as well as creating a space for meaningful community input. We are extremely pleased with the community input we received at last weekend’s community workshop and are excited by the ongoing community discussion over this community improvement project. Look for the project website soon!

    In closing, we thank Robin Weiner for providing another opportunity to explain that this is a privately funded public project and invite her or anyone else to meet with project team members and or send us comments, questions and thoughts about the project. We’ll let everyone know as soon as the project website is live.

    Davis Arch Project Team
    (led by Davis Chamber of Commerce & Davis Downtown)
    arch@davischamber.com

    1. Michelle Millet

      We have invested a significant effort in community outreach as well as creating a space for meaningful community input. We are extremely pleased with the community input we received at last weekend’s community workshop and are excited by the ongoing community discussion over this community improvement project.

      Thanks for hosting the workshop, and giving the public an opportunity to learn more about the project. I appreciate the obvious efforts that went into the planning and execution of the event. I learned some interesting information about the entrance area, especially on the docent tour. Community input was actively sought out and I appreciate that as well (and the pizza:-).

  9. DT Businessman

    “They believe that the Gateway Project, much of which is being financed privately in the absence of RDA, will add to We embrace a community dialogue regarding the merits of the Davis Arch project. A fact-based discussion would be our preference. There’s a déjà vu element to David’s statement:

    “Now you would think that one of the first things the project proponents would do would be to put an op-ed in the Vanguard and the Enterprise and explain their project, their purpose, their funding mechanism.”

    The project proponents did exactly that with a press release, an editorial and a much publicized and well attended community workshop. You might also note that Rob White, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, wrote about the project in his Vanguard article yesterday. That said, our community outreach/input effort is far from concluded and there’s more to come. So please, weigh in!

    Michael Bisch
    Davis Downtown Prez &
    Davis Arch Project Team

  10. DT Businessman

    Whoops! Something went haywire with my cut-and-paste. 2nd try.

    We embrace a community dialogue regarding the merits of the Davis Arch project. A fact-based discussion would be our preference. There’s a déjà vu element to David’s statement:

    “Now you would think that one of the first things the project proponents would do would be to put an op-ed in the Vanguard and the Enterprise and explain their project, their purpose, their funding mechanism.”

    The project proponents did exactly that with a press release, an editorial and a much publicized and well attended community workshop. You might also note that Rob White, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, wrote about the project in his Vanguard article yesterday. That said, our community outreach/input effort is far from concluded and there’s more to come. So please, weigh in!

    Michael Bisch
    Davis Downtown Prez &
    Davis Arch Project Team

    1. Tia Will

      DT or Rob or anyone at the presentation might offer an answer.
      Does the hotel project as planned include some kind of separated crossing providing safe passage across the the south bound exit from the west bound I-80 ?

  11. Nancy Price

    My first priority would be to be sure that the RR line and trestle over the tunnel and the entry-way is safe for the soon to be 100-tanker car crude oil train or trains per day and inspected on a regular basis. It would be really important for the Chamber and advocates for this project to support the City Council resolution on the trains and to ensure that state agencies and our state representatives take action on this matter of safety. It is regrettable that the city, county and state have to wait for and rely on the Federal Dept. of Transportation that has been dragging its feet, allowed loopholes, etc., that put every town through which these trains pass in very serious harms way from spills to fireballs.

    Furthermore, a recent article pointed out that Davis and Davis residents , let alone the state, would be more or less out of luck when it comes to recouping any damage to public or private property or personal injury because of such high and costly liability that insurance companies are not writing policies and as we know, any company can just declare bankruptcy to get out from under.

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