Analysis: How Will the Measure O Campaign Play Out?

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Measure-O-postcardGoing down to Farmer’s Market, I got handed a sneak peak of the just-run Measure O flyer, and I’m beginning to have some concerns about whether the campaign, just getting activated in the last month, is going to be able to do the heavy lifting needed to convince voters to increase the sales tax.

The bullet points are okay, but are a bit misleading.

They read: “Reinvesting in local jobs and infrastructure needs by funding long overdue water conservation projects and vital repairs to our roads, sidewalks and bike paths.” “Keeping our budget balanced by bringing in new revenues in conjunction with the budget cuts the city has already made.” “Maintaining funding for critical city services like police, fire protection, libraries, and parks.”

The second bullet point is probably most accurate. The council made the decision to segment off roads and parks and other infrastructure from Measure O.

Measure-O-postcard2

But then it talks about being endorsed by a coalition we trust, and that includes the Davis City Council, DJUSD Board of Education, the Davis Police Officers and the Davis Firefighters.

Leave aside the fact that they erroneously identify Sheila Allen as the board president. She was last year, but Gina Daleiden is the current president.

The bigger issue that emerges is whether this is really a coalition that we trust. While I think the city council and the police officers have worked in recent years to earn back public trust, there are clearly segments of the population that do not trust them.

But the bigger problem is that, in the wake of volleyball-gate, I have heard in large segments of the community a fundamental distrust for the school board. There have been questions raised about the handling of that scandal, as well as the money spent on external investigations.

Then we have the firefighters that many believe are at the heart of the current fiscal state of the city. With regard to the firefighters’ association, that is certainly going to be a red flag to a lot voters. Is that really the case you want, going forward?

We are concerned here in particular, because it is May, the absentee ballots arrive as soon as tomorrow, and we are making the introductory case to the public. Yes, we know that the former city manager made presentations to a lot of groups of people on the budget in his last two months here, and, yes, they sent the budget piece out in the utility bills, but how deep does that connection go?

To illustrate this point, we continue with our series on letters to the editor. Here we have a letter that illustrates just how much education the people of Davis do not have on the state of our finances.

She writes, “For the first time in my life, I’m considering voting against the proposed sales tax increase, Measure O. I know that the city desperately needs more funds; however, the past City Councils have had their priorities all wrong.”

Now she’s goes on to flag specifics here, but the fundamental point I think she has right – past city councils have had their priorities wrong. What that suggests, at least to me, is (A) we still need to educate the public on the budget, and (B) the city council needs to rebuild trust that they have really caused to be changed.

Just read the comments from earlier this week in our Measure O article and you will see the comments of highly-informed citizens who question this measure.

The examples they cite? “(T)he choice of $800,000 to make Fifth Street better for bikers, while basic street repairs are in great need, and the $400,000 already spent for a municipal electric utility and $600,000 more already authorized. These show the council members have their priorities all wrong.”

They continue, “They have given away the store on pensions for police, pay raises for firefighters (36 percent from 2005 to 2009) and retiree medical benefits for employees, when Davis did not have the money for them. Finally, the council decided that we need new yard waste containers and that will save money. These containers will have to be gigantic to serve that purpose, and guess who will pay for these containers? Yes, we will … as if our DWR bills aren’t already high enough.”

I give the writer credit for knowing about the previous tax increase where the revenues were given away to firefighters, where they got a 36 percent pay increase from 2005 to 2009 that subsumed the $3 million in new revenues from the 2004 tax measure. Although, even there, the facts are a bit confused.

But everyone complaining about city spending is missing most of the big picture. The Fifth Street project was largely funded by grant money. What people are missing is where the bulk of the money is going – employee compensation. We have unfunded liabilities for employee retiree health care that at one point exceeded $60 million.

A large amount of the current budget deficit is increased costs for pensions that the previous council in 2009 was warned about, but never made the effort to address before the costs finally hit us three or four years later.

Ironically, a chunk of the current deficit was racked up when the firefighters and DCEA refused to agree to contract concessions. That’s about $500,000 from the current budget balance that we are having to address.

Then we have the unfunded roads, parks (in part because the council in 2012 only asked for $49 a parcel in the parcel tax, when they needed perhaps twice that much), and other infrastructure needs – none of which are addressed in this current tax.

But when the letter writer writes, “It frightens me to hear the council thinking of redoing the entryway to the city. Just think what that would cost.” They don’t seem to understand that that’s privately funded.

Post cards are not going to educate the public. It is May. And if the public doesn’t trust the coalition that they are supposed to trust, we may well see this tax go down.

The public has deep issues, real concerns, and even people who are supporting the tax because they do not see any other way are going to be questioning this campaign.

Fortunately, there really is no organized opposition.  As we saw on Wednesday, Jose Granda, who opposes everything, has not done his homework on this, does not understand the issues and continues to beat the same drum as though the half-cent/ half-percent issue is going to be persuasive.

So the city may eek by here, despite itself.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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36 thoughts on “Analysis: How Will the Measure O Campaign Play Out?”

  1. Topcat

    David Greenwald wrote: “The public has deep issues, real concerns, and even people who are supporting the tax because they do not see any other way are going to be questioning this campaign.”

    Yes, we do have deep issues and real concerns. Passing a tax increase is like giving a credit card to a reckless teenager with the expectation that the teenager will act responsibly. It just does not square with reality. This council, just like previous ones will continue to spend recklessly unless we take away the credit card and tell then they have to spend our money prudently and responsibly.

  2. Frankly

    Post cards are not going to educate the public. It is May. And if the public doesn’t trust the coalition that they are supposed to trust, we may well see this tax go down.

    It is a matter of trust. The questions are:

    Do we trust our city government to:

    – Execute fiscal prudence and to be good stewards of our precious tax dollars?

    – Be adequately knowledgeable and skilled in best-practice methods of public finance?

    – Be completely honest and transparent about spending, revenue and shortfalls?

    – Have an interest and focus in the long-term financial health of the city versus self-interest?

    At this point in time, the clear answer to all of these questions is no. We citizens would be idiots to give these people having spending decision authority more of our hard earned money based on very clear indications that nothing significant has changed except some names and some rhetoric.

    What we need is a routine and focused indication that these elected and employed leaders are all on the same page related to the budget problems and our plan for long-term fiscal health, and all are engaged at this being the highest priority policy issue.

    Instead we see the council members chasing several expensive, feel-good policy issues using an over-burdened and overwhelmed staff… while their actions indicate a general dismissal of the need for a sense of urgency to cut expenses and grow the local economy so that Davis can pay all its bills and balance its budget.

    If we give more money to these people without them being required to clearly secure the public trust that they will do the right things with the money… we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

    We have no choice but to vote NO on Measure O.

    1. Michelle Millet

      We citizens would be idiots to give these people having spending decision authority more of our hard earned money based on very clear indications that nothing significant has changed except some names and some rhetoric.

      It’s hard to take any legitimate concern you have seriously when you make such blanketed and inaccurate assertions.

  3. Tia Will

    “the past City Councils have had their priorities all wrong.”
    “Passing a tax increase is like giving a credit card to a reckless teenager with the expectation that the teenager will act responsibly.”

    I would like to offer a different perspective on these two quotes leading to a different analogy.
    One should not judge the actions of the current council based on the actions and priorities of past councils.
    The second quote could be re envisioned as saying that one should not give a credit card to one’s very responsible teenager because their irresponsible sibling ran up charges in the past.

    I believe that on a number of levels, this council has demonstrated that they are acting like responsible adults.
    A few examples.
    1) The hiring of Mr. Pinkerton as City Manager leading to much needed increased fiscal responsibility
    2) The hiring of Rob White with an eye to future innovative development
    3) More prudent contract bargaining with an eye to financial sustainability
    4) Although I was not a fan of this particular development, some would site pushing ahead with the
    Cannery project
    5) Davis Roots
    6) Work on the innovation park concept
    7) Setting up the collaboration between the UCD and Davis Fire Departments

    “What we need is a routine and focused indication that these elected and employed leaders are all on the same page related to the budget problems and our plan for long-term fiscal health”

    I agree with this statement. And I feel that having them all on the same page is not synonymous with having them all on the same page that you, or any other private citizen, happens to be on. Unlike you or I,
    they represent the interests of all of the citizens of our city and we are far from unanimous in our vision for Davis.

    We certainly have a choice other than voting NO of Measure O.
    My choice will be to vote YES.

    1. Mark West

      Tia Will: “One should not judge the actions of the current council based on the actions and priorities of past councils.”

      I completely agree. My opposition is entirely based on the failure of the current City Council to implement a comprehensive solution to our fiscal problems. There has been a great deal of talk about economic development for instance, but when it comes to implementation this Council has failed miserably. Staff time and tax monies are limited resources, and how the Council chooses to spend those resources are an indication of their priorities. Actions are much more important that words, and right now the actions of this Council indicate that they do not believe that a comprehensive approach to our fiscal problems is important.

      1. Tia Will

        Mark West

        ” My opposition is entirely based on the failure of the current City Council to implement a comprehensive solution to our fiscal problems”

        Since there has been movement on a number of issues, that if taken in their totality would be considered by some movement on a comprehensive plan ( short term needs in terms of the sales tax increase, midterm needs in terms of the proposed parcel tax, and long term needs in term of the innovation park, Davis Roots ) to address the revenue side, and
        the collaborative approach with UCD fire department, decrease in city staff, and negotiation of more favorable contracts, my question to you would be :

        What exactly would you have needed to see done in order to consider them to have adopted a comprehensive approach ?

        1. Mark West

          They have acted to increase taxes. They have talked about economic development and they continue to spend money and waste staff time on ‘feel good’ projects that do nothing to solve our problems (instead of focusing on ways to reduce expenses).

          There is no comprehensive solution being implemented, just tax increases.

          Talk is cheap. We need action, and so far this Council has failed to implement any action to grow revenues or further reduce expenses. The last time they were asked to act, they tabled the decision for at least a month. Clearly they are not taking the situation as seriously as they need to.

        2. Mark West

          “1) The hiring of Mr. Pinkerton as City Manager leading to much needed increased fiscal responsibility.”

          That was a good decision, but where is he now? Members of this Council saw need to remove Mr. Pinkerton from office and he jumped at the opportunity for a better life. Who can blame him.

          “2) The hiring of Rob White with an eye to future innovative development”

          Rob White was hired, and his compensation initially paid for by private funds. The impetus for his hiring did not come from the City Council, but from outside interests.

          “3) More prudent contract bargaining with an eye to financial sustainability”

          The Contracts are still providing for unsustainable levels of compensation. They did not solve the problem, just slowed the rate of bleeding.

          “4) Although I was not a fan of this particular development, some would site pushing ahead with the Cannery project”

          The Canery project is not an example of economic development.

          5) Davis Roots

          Not a City project, though they are more than happy to take credit.

          6) Work on the innovation park concept

          Lots of talk. Their only action to date has been to give away a potential $100 Million asset, gaining nothing in return.

          7) Setting up the collaboration between the UCD and Davis Fire Departments

          Great idea, but far short of the full merger that is needed, and even what they have accomplished can and likely will be undone if a certain candidate is elected in June.

          1. Tia Will

            Mark West

            So you chose to pick apart my examples one by one, some accurately, some partially so, and some just plain dismissive. What you did not chose to do is to answer the question I asked. Your right of course, but in my opinion does not serve to further the conversation in a meaningful fashion.

          2. Mark West

            I have explained what I meant by a comprehensive solution repeatedly on this site.

          3. Michelle Millet

            Members of this Council saw need to remove Mr. Pinkerton from office and he jumped at the opportunity for a better life. Who can blame him.

            Why are you holding the entire council responsible of the actions of 2 of them?

            Great idea, but far short of the full merger that is needed, and even what they have accomplished can and likely will be undone if a certain candidate is elected in June.

            If a “certain candidate” is elected and it is undone, that will be because of how 3 members voted, not the entire council.

          4. Mark West

            “Why are you holding the entire council responsible of the actions of 2 of them?”

            Is Mr. Pinkerton still working for the City of Davis, or did the City Council give him reason to move on? Whether it was two or five members who are responsible doesn’t really make a difference now does it?

            “If a “certain candidate” is elected and it is undone, that will be because of how 3 members voted, not the entire council.”

            It doesn’t matter whether the vote is 3-2 or 5-0, the result is the same. There are clearly 2 votes already to undo the consolidation so this election will determine whether or not we continue down that path. Do you deny that?

          5. Tia Will

            However, in an effort to move the conversation forward, I will address your responses to my points.

            1)”That was a good decision”. We agree. And I believe that this speaks
            to the ability of this group to formulate and enact “good decisions”.
            2) Regardless of the initial impetus, the city saw the value and his
            approach is being adopted at the city level. Again, in my opinion, a
            “good decision”.
            3) Agreed. And I am also aware that sometimes small steps forward are
            achievable and better than no step.
            4) I will give you this one outright.
            5) Davis Roots. True as stated, but supported materially and verbally by
            City Leaders most notably Rochelle and Joe as far as lauding their
            efforts within the community. This seems to be necessary as many
            seem to feel that lack of advocacy and communication is a major
            problem.
            6) Innovation park. Talk will necessarily precede action on any such
            major project. I really cannot see how one could argue against
            the efforts that have been made to inform and engage the
            community on this concept.
            7) I also would have favored moving forward much more rapidly with
            this but am aware that for it to work, many members of the
            community needed to see the evidence of safety and efficacy in order
            to adopt this plan and a major cultural shift needed to occur. I
            believe that both are occurring and that this will move forward.

  4. Michelle Millet

    “Reinvesting in local jobs and infrastructure needs by funding long overdue water conservation projects and vital repairs to our roads, sidewalks and bike paths.”

    I would not have chosen to highlight road repair when discussing what this tax will pay for, given the fact that council, from what I understand from their discussion, is going to propose a parcel tax in the fall to help fund road repair. I’m not sure who made the decision to include this on the flyer. While it may help this tax measure pass I think it will ultimately make it harder to pass a parcel tax in the fall, which would provide critical funding to repair the roads.

    Again thus flyer did not come from the city, but IMO asking for money to fix the roads now, then asking again in the fall leads to kind of distrust David speaks of in this piece.

  5. SODA

    Who did the flyer come from?
    It is my understanding that much of the proposed revenue from the sales tax measure will go to pensions and benefits for employees and retirees; that is the argument that the CC should have stuck with the original higher sales tax……Please correct me if I am wrong but I think that the proposed Fall Parcel tax will be for roads and parks.

    1. Michelle Millet

      It is my understanding that much of the proposed revenue from the sales tax measure will go to pensions and benefits for employees and retirees

      This is my understanding as well.

      that is the argument that the CC should have stuck with the original higher sales tax

      I agree, but the flyer did not come from the City Council.

      Please correct me if I am wrong but I think that the proposed Fall Parcel tax will be for roads and parks.

      This is my understand as well.

      While I believe it is true that some of the money from Measure O may pay for some road maintenance it is my understanding that this will only be a very small fraction of what will ultimately be needed. I think mentioning it on the flyer for Measure O, without some clarification of this fact, will hurt the chances of the parcel tax passing in the fall.

  6. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    “Maintaining funding for critical city services like police, fire protection, libraries, and parks.”

    David points out in his introduction the lies within this sentence. I’m most aghast at the lie inclusion of “libraries” as a beneficiary of Measure O.

    I suppose it is true that a great number of voters are too busy with their own lives of work and family that they pay no attention to the details of municipal politics. But it seems like the author of this particular lie figures everyone else is stupid and has no idea how our local library is funded.

    I feel like the proponents in this contest are pushing me back and forth. Mr. Granda, the supposed leader of the opposition to Measure O comes up with a whole bunch of nonsense which never addresses any important issues, and I wind up feeling like I cannot possibly favor his side. Here the proponents of the higher tax push me back the other way, exposing the fact that they have no idea where all of this money will be going.

    I guess in the end this will all come down to trust. That is, do I trust that the City Council will spend more of my money and the money of people who have less than I do better than I would spend my own money and better than lower income residents of Davis would spend their own money? And do I trust that, with more of my money and with more money of poorer Davis residents, the amount going to much higher compensation costs for the city’s workers will not in the end necessitate yet another tax increase to pay even more for city employees than Measure O will cost?

    1. Topcat

      Why do we assume that more money will be coming in if measure “O” passes? Is it just possible that people will do more of their shopping out of town because of the higher taxes, thus resulting in less income than the proponents of “O” would have us believe?

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        Two things.

        First, raising taxes in Davis amounts to an additional 50 cents on the 100 dollars. It’s much more costly for people to drive out of town.

        Second, Davis would have roughly even taxes with other communities in the region other than Vacaville.

  7. Michelle Millet

    I’m most aghast at the lie inclusion of “libraries” as a beneficiary of Measure O.

    I have the flyer in front of me. It does NOT mention libraries.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      You then need to speak with David Greenwald. I was quoting his article, and in it he said the flyer says, “Maintaining funding for critical city services like police, fire protection, libraries, and parks.”

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        I pulled the text off a different version of the flyer and didn’t recognize immediately that the text had changed.

  8. Tia Will

    Rich

    “But it seems like the author of this particular lie figures everyone else is stupid and has no idea how our local library is funded.”

    I would like to offer a perhaps less caustic possibility. Perhaps the author of this flyer does not know how our local library is funded and thus while ignorant of this fact, may not be attempting to deceive. This may not have any relationship to what the members of the City Council perceive will be done with the money since I assume this piece was not written by a council member.

    “do I trust that the City Council will spend more of my money and the money of people who have less than I do better than I would spend my own money and better than lower income residents of Davis would spend their own money? ”

    I responded to this sentiment of your’s on a previous thread but will counter again since I see the issue so differently from you. The issue is not about the relevant wisdom of how we spend our money. Some money has to be spent to manage items that are essential for the common good of the city. I do not see private citizens stepping up to say, well I know that we have infrastructure that needs maintenance, and the city doesn’t seem to have been taking care of this up until now, so here is my donation to a private fund to repair and maintain infrastructure which I will help organize and maintain. If citizens were to act with this much “wisdom” we would not need local government. Unfortunately, our “wisdom” does not seem to extend to public works from which we all stand to benefit.

    As you know, I would tax upper income and lower income folks differently thus avoiding the problem that you had stated on the previous thread. Unfortunately that does not appear to be an option within our current system therefore necessitating a balancing of needs that would be unnecessary if our society were more egalitarian to begin with.

    1. Michelle Millet

      Perhaps the author of this flyer does not know how our local library is funded and thus while ignorant of this fact, may not be attempting to deceive.

      The flyer does NOT mention the library.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        My apologies I pulled the bullet points off a pdf I received. Obviously some changes occurred at the time of publication.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      I do not see private citizens stepping up to say, well I know that we have infrastructure that needs maintenance, and the city doesn’t seem to have been taking care of this up until now, so here is my donation to a private fund to repair and maintain infrastructure which I will help organize and maintain.”

      The Measure O money is going to substantially higher employee compensation, a result of the current and past labor contracts. Whether that is justified or not is a judgment call that the voters on Measure O will decide. No informed voter thinks that passing Measure O will result in better maintained City infrastructure. Our infrastructure is badly maintained in many respects largely (but not entirely*) as a result of the extremely rapid growth of the unit cost of labor over the last 15 years.

      *Not entirely? Local governments in California have historically relied on paying for road repairs with property tax money that they impose on their local residents. That was always the case in the City of Davis and in Yolo County. However, since the passage of ERAF by the state, local governments have been deprived of $120 billion of the property tax funds that they voted to take from their local residents. We still pay this money for our local roads. But the state has taken it away from our cities, counties and special agencies. including libraries. This year, the ERAF will take from cities and counties–none of which had a vote on ERAF–about $8 billion. I cannot find my source, but my recollection is that an engineering report published in January stated that local government’s investment in infrastructure maintenance in 2014 will be $8 billion short of what is necessary to stop the deterioration.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        “I cannot find my source, but my recollection is …”

        I found my source: California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment.

        http://www.savecaliforniastreets.org/reports/2012/2012-FinalReport.pdf

        It turns out that I remembered wrong. The number was not $8 billion per year. It was $7.244 billion/year.

        “One of the objectives of this study was to determine what funding level would be required to reach a pavement condition where best management practices can be applied. This occurs when the PCI reaches an optimal level in the low to mid 80’s, and the unfunded backlog has been eliminated.

        “For this scenario, $7.244 billion/year is required to achieve this level (see Figure 4.6). The PCI will reach 84 by 2022 and the unfunded backlog is eliminated. Once eliminated, the cost of maintenance thereafter is significantly lower, requiring approximately $2.4 billion a year.”

  9. hpierce

    In the interest of “facts”, retiree medical benefits were in the MOU’s by the late 70’s. 100%, without regard to age, length of service, etc. in the ’90’s, that was reduced to 50% until age 60, still no length of service requirement. In the last 5 years, the requirements for service time (for new and existing employees) has been increased, and it has been made clear that upon reaching Medicare age, the City only pays for ‘supplement to Medicare’. Some existing employees (few, at this point) will not be eligible for Medicare, unless they qualify under their spouse.

    I will leave to others the “right or wrong”, but the facts are many retirees are under the OLD rules, some are under the “middle rules”, many employees are under the “new” rules.

    Two observations:
    The City used to go with a ‘pay as you go’ mentality, as they did with “deferred maintenance”. It’s “catch-up time”.
    City employees hired more recently, in my opinion, are entitled to the conditions under which they were employed as far as benefits.

    Or, one could reasonably argue that no one should be able to rely on SS, SSI, savings accounts, government pensions, investments, or any other financial instruments/institutions (including charity?). And there should be no “safety net” for anyone, arguably.

  10. Tia Will

    hpierce

    “I will leave to others the “right or wrong”
    “And there should be no “safety net” for anyone, arguably.”

    Putting these two sentences together, I would say that you have chosen not to “leave the right or wrong” to others. That word “should” would seem to put you squarely in the “every one for himself” camp regardless of personal circumstance. To buy into this philosophy means that it is ok for those who have personal tragedies, such as spending all savings because of a medical or legal need have no recourse, no fall back position and could find themselves penniless on the street. Is this really what we want for our society ? Is this the best way to foster a strong, prosperous society ?

  11. Davis Progressive

    my biggest concern in the measure o discussion is that people like dunning, granda, and some of the other naysayers don’t really understand the fiscal issues surrounding the city. they’re focusing exclusively on small time, one time expenditures and the massive issues are getting ignored.

    there are strong arguments against the tax, but they lie with understanding the entirety of the problem: pensions, unfunded liabilities, explosive growth from 2000-2008 in salaries, and the failure to fund roads, parks, and other infrastructure.

    instead we focus on fifth street which was grant funded, pou’s which is largely funded out of the enterprise fund, and other easy targets but miss the millions.

    so if we vote no, are people going to be happy with the level of service cuts or do they just ignorantly choose to note believe there will be some?

  12. Topcat

    D.P. Wrote: “so if we vote no, are people going to be happy with the level of service cuts or do they just ignorantly choose to note believe there will be some?”

    Perhaps the council should be looking at ways to reduce some of those pensions, unfunded liabilities, and excessive salaries. I know it’s not easy to do so, but it might be preferable to layoffs and service cuts.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Perhaps the council should be looking at ways to reduce some of those pensions, unfunded liabilities, and excessive salaries. I know it’s not easy to do so, but it might be preferable to layoffs and service cuts.”

      That’s part of the problem. The Council has done some things to reduce their share of pension obligations and the unfunded liabilities through OPEB. But they are limited. They can’t reduce the pension formula for current employees, but they can create a second tier for new employees. Salaries have to be negotiated. In 2009, the council at the time made very limited cuts, this time around the council calculated that they needed to trade slight salary increases for employees picking up more of their pensions and retiree health. Now those contracts are locked in at least to 2015. So in the short term all the council can do at this point is either layoffs (which include service cuts) or raise taxes.

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