Editor’s Note: Every week on Friday the Vanguard will send all five of the candidates a question that they will be asked to respond to by the end of the day on Thursday for a Friday publication. The answers are posted in the order that they were received.
Answers are limited to 350 words.
Question: Davis is a city that stands out as very unique in many respects. However, our growth control policies that make for such a unique character have come with some challenges. When compared to other like-sized college towns, Davis has far fewer firms and a much smaller retail economy. The city faces significant budget challenges beginning next year. Without increased revenue that comes from growth and economic development, Davis will have to cut city services and raise taxes.
With respect to the city’s fiscal situation, the budget, economic and peripheral development, what is your desired vision for Davis over the coming 10 and 20 years?
My vision is that Davis be solvent and affordable. The City needs to get its financial house in order before taking on new projects and expenses. To do this, we need to solve problems rather than talk about them.
Vanguard commenters might favor quick answers instead of process, but quick fixes are not going to work on our big financial problems. It is going to take opening the budget to build public trust needed to implement solutions, whether they consist of cuts, new revenue, or some mix of the two.
Honestly, balancing the City budget requires identifying revenue and what it can be used for, matching spending to available revenue, and identifying holes between revenue and spending. Then we can have a conversation about how to fill the holes. Without this process, there will be no public trust in decisions about cuts or new revenue sources.
Balancing the budget also requires knowing currently unfunded needs for employee pension and health care costs, which must be followed by a discussion about where the money is going to come from.
Equally important, and similarly unfunded, are street repair needs that we must start taking care of to keep our local roads from crumbling. To do this, we need a plan for timely maintenance and necessary repairs along with the funds required to carry it out.
A hard look is also needed at the increasing costs of city services, which are rapidly rising to the point where single family residences could be faced with thousands of dollars in increased costs over the next five to ten years.
Each solution must consider the cost to residents. If middle class families and people on fixed incomes can no longer afford to call Davis home, this City will become a different place. So we must elect City Council Members who are serious about keeping Davis affordable.
The bottom line is that a city going broke is not going to be able to afford the services, activities, or amenities that make Davis a great place to live.
My vision is an economically healthy city. Economic health is a function of:
1) City budgets in which the annual growth rates of costs and revenues match one another. We must build budgets upon a full analysis of maintenance costs for existing infrastructure with the identified funds set aside to pay for those costs. We must also build them upon a clear understanding of what our core services are with performance plans in place to assure we are making progress towards achieving core service goals.
2) Strong businesses that are linked to the two critical resources in our bio-region: UC Davis and local farms. Thriving businesses provide meaningful jobs, have multiplier effects, and generate revenue from property and sales tax. University- and farm-linked businesses will pay a premium to be in Davis and we should work to find them homes—possibly in one or more of the three identified innovation park sites.
3) A thriving downtown that has transitioned from largely one-story, single use to three-story mixed-use retail, office and housing. Providing more and denser housing in our core will free up single-family homes in neighborhoods and attract more retail into our downtown. A redeveloped downtown provides more property and sales taxes, and housing options for people who desire to walk and bike to most destinations. It also enhances the vibrant nexus between the university and downtown.
4) Neighborhood shopping centers that provide a broad array of retail options. National retailers are moving to smaller stores and Davis will capture their interest because of the diverse needs of our unique population. By adopting policies that encourage reinvestment in the neighborhood shopping centers and flexible use of space we can maximize retail revenue in our present footprint.
5) A diversified transportation system that combines modes to move people easily into our city and provides multiple options for movement once they are here. Providing a variety of convenient transportation options allows us to maximize our space while reducing congestion. Excellent multi-modal connections also create an environmentally healthier city and encourage people to visit. Diverse transportation options provide their own economic multipliers.
My vision for Davis hasn’t changed since 2010 and I don’t think that the fiscal challenges that this community faces will prevent us from achieving our goals.
My vision for Davis is a city that continues to be among the best, most forward-thinking places to live in the world. Davisites expect, and deserve, only the best from their community and their community leaders. We need a City Council of well respected, innovative leaders who are in tune with the needs of our community. This respect is based upon providing the services needed by our citizenry. I believe this includes a balanced city budget, a fully leased downtown, and standing meetings with DJUSD, UC Davis and the County to ensure that we are working in concert to maximize the efforts of these entities. If I am fortunate enough to be starting a second term for myself as a council member, it will be based upon the success of finding common ground amongst the different groups in our community, and in the region, that resulted in safe stewardship of our City through a tough budget crisis at the state and local levels.
I believe that I have found that common ground on many levels as we have paved the way for an increasingly environmentally sustainable town that is home to tomorrow’s hi-tech businesses and continues to foster a healthy economic atmosphere for our small businesses.
I see our highly engaged public as a strength, not an obstacle, to the ongoing success of our community. As many of the businesses that we’ve worked with have said, the best projects they’ve ever worked on have been in our community and it’s entirely due to the input from our citizens. Davis is a special place, not because of any inherit qualities, but the people that live here and the work that we do together.
Though we have done some very good work, we aren’t all the way there yet. I wish to continue the work we started to get us beyond our budget challenges and continue along the road to prosperity.
“Growth control policies” for residential development are an asset because (1) housing usually doesn’t pay for the services they generate (2) urban sprawl generates infrastructure costs that saddle the public with debt service and maintenance costs, versus smart infill growth, which I support.
Not zoning land to allow big-box and large-scale retail likely have held down the city’s tax base but to the detriment of our special downtown. I would not change this direction.
We would also be better off fiscally with sizable tracts within the city available for manufacturing, which generates significant sales tax from purchase of equipment. Another part of the problem is that the city’s largest employer, UC Davis, a state entity, does not contribute to our property tax rolls.
Long term, there are sensible strategies to address these concerns.
Sales tax revenues for the city have been improving and will increase even more if Measure O passes (vote YES on O) the city could seek out retail opportunities that are consistent with the community’s values that would not undermine downtown. Other sectors with low sales-tax generation (business-to-business firms) that don’t compete with downtown Davis could be targeted. Infill development near and in downtown could be a mix of retail, commercial and housing, to bolster downtown. The hotel/conference center could boost hotel tax revenues and downtown spending. The innovation parks could improve the city’s fiscal situation if they pay off in sales tax revenues or possibly even some specific special assessments that benefit the city at large.
For the budget I would like to see some transparency. I think the school board has done far more than the city when it comes to bringing the budget to the people. www.DistrictDollars.org is a great example of a simplified explanation for school financing. Every year people who participate in the dollar-a-day program for our schools receive a line by line explanation for where their money went. Within 10 years I would like to see three things for the city budget.
1. A breakdown of where all parcel tax/sales tax money goes for each taxpayer in Davis.
2. A line by line budget that shows where every dollar is spent. Work is already being done on this by a group of citizens in Davis.
3. Implementing some form of new budgeting system whether its zero-based budgeting, participatory budgeting or program budgeting.
For economic development I want a city that is capable of supporting a business through all stages of its life cycle. As of right now businesses like FMC Schilling that are nearing 300 employees are unable to stay in Davis due to lack of room. I envision a city that is capable of supporting dorm-room startups all the way to the IPO stage of their lifestyle.
In 15 years this is what I would like to see for our fiscal situation.
1. Let at least one of the city’s taxes sunset without being renewed.
2. Have all of our unfunded liabilities mapped out in their entirety.
3. Successfully match costs with revenues through a combination of expanding the tax base and several rounds of labor negotiations.