Question 1: How can the city of Davis balance the following needs: address the fiscal crisis while continuing to provide core services, maintain the amenities that keep Davis Davis, while keeping the community affordable to all citizens?
John Munn: I would approach balancing needs through a process leading to particulars. In general, I favor providing value to promote affordability rather than using unfair rates and taxes to force behavior. I also view as not acceptable the practice of discovering needs in excess of revenue and then expecting the difference to be covered by additional taxes and fees.
A truly balanced budget requires revenue to at least match spending. This involves knowing both where revenue is coming from and what funds are being spent for. These are simple concepts, but it takes effort to apply them. The City’s Finance and Budget Commission could provide much assistance in simplifying and summarizing budget information.
Both revenue and spending need to be examined to learn where funds are coming from, restrictions on use, how much is available for different uses, and what types and amounts of revenue were originally allocated to particular projects and services.
Questions can then be asked about why on-going services from previous budgets now require either new revenue or service cutbacks. It is also possible to track funds moving from routine city responsibilities to other spending, followed by proposals for additional revenue when routine needs are not met. For example, what have city funds originally intended for street maintenance been used for?
Transparency is essential in this process so that all can know what is available. Then clear decisions can be made between competing responsibilities for core services and amenities, and about needs for additional revenue.
This all requires time, effort, and interest. I am now retired, which provides more time. I am willing to do the work. And my record of speaking out on financial issues and of taking action against excessive rate and fee increases shows that my concerns are real.
QUESTION 2: Davis boasts a world-class university, an excellent K-12 school system, and is centrally located in one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. How should those core components of Davis’ “character” inform any economic development efforts that the City undertakes?
John Munn: I am assuming that this question is about how attributes of the City and nearby areas affect or contribute to economic development opportunities. Starting with K-12 education, the good reputation of Davis schools is a magnet for families and contributes to economic development as selling point for recruiting businesses owners and employees with children. The quality of Davis schools, however, is something that the City benefits from but is not responsible for. As a former member of the Davis School board, I interacted primarily with parents and was elected to maintain and improve the quality of schools. There are however, benefits to schools from cooperation between DJUSD and the City, such as use of facilities, as at the Veterans Center, and cooperative use of open space.
UC Davis is the largest employer in our area and a place where new ideas and concepts for implementing technologies are born. This presents great opportunities for the city to provide sites for development and manufacture related to technologies emerging from UCD and from proximity to the originating faculty. The City also should recognize that the University has independent authorities to develop land to meet its needs, including housing and other infrastructure, and that this authority may extend to adjoining properties through joint agreements. Therefore, the City of Davis must cooperate with UC Davis to ensure that requirements of both the University and the City for business space, housing, transportation and the revenue to support these needs can be advanced.
It is true that Davis is situated in a very productive agricultural area and agriculture greatly benefits from University research. Management of private farming businesses is not controlled by the City. However, the City can contribute to ongoing success of nearby farms by not jumping out from its boundaries and occupying or cutting off adjacent farmlands, by following farming friendly policies at its boundaries, and by promoting agricultural uses of properties purchased with open space funds. In return, economic development in the City benefits from areas available for testing agricultural technologies and a nearby rural countryside that promotes living in Davis.
Question 3: Recently the Davis City Council voted on the Downtown Parking Task Force Recommendations. The goal of the recommendations was to “help to ensure convenient spaces are easily accessible for shoppers with short-term parking needs, in the area where the greatest concentration of retail and service businesses who depend on this type of parking access exists.”
John Munn: I will begin by pointing out the relationship between a City Council and any appointed body. First, the Council should give clear direction. Second, as the elected body, the Council is responsible to the voters and must exercise its best judgment on behalf of constituents. This means that an appointed body should not expect all of its recommendations to be adopted.
I am on record as opposing paid street parking in downtown Davis, so I think the Council made the right decision, so far, in this case. As I have previously stated, street parking in Davis is a service to customers provided by businesses that they support. In return, these businesses provide financial support to the City from tax revenues, rate payments, and fees. Having meters does not actually prevent employees and others from re-parking. And it is reasonable to expect that parking meters would discourage customers from coming downtown.
The Task Force Report recognizes that parking space is available, that the downtown problem is distribution rather than number of open spaces, and that employee parking and re-parking is a primary reason for the distribution problem. The recommendation for additional employee and employer parking options (recommendation #2) can make a difference, as can expanding employee parking locations (also recommendation #2) if promoted and used. It is clear that the existing employee parking program did not generate sufficient numbers of permits to make a substantial difference. However, increasing the cost of employee parking permits (recommendation #3) would further discourage use of these permits. As I stated above, just having parking meters does not prevent employee street parking and re-parking, as anyone who has worked in downtown Sacramento already knows. Other recommendations will help by freeing up a few spaces and opening up additional areas for employee parking.
This question is not about new ideas, and space prevents describing other approaches. So I will close by stating that human nature and habits can provide better solutions; while paid parking should be viewed as a last choice, rather than a management tool, for creating more convenient parking for customers in downtown Davis.
Question 4: The City of Davis faces massive, unfunded liabilities and structural, long-term budgetary challenges with respect to deferred maintenance of streets, buildings and structures, parks, storm sewers and fleet. What would you do to address these unfunded liability and deferred maintenance balances?
John Munn: To answer this question, I will repeat my approach to analyzing the budget. It is easy to look at final balances and report that City spending exceeds revenue. Knowing why takes more effort. Both revenue and spending must be examined to learn where funds are coming from, restrictions on use, how much is available for different uses, and what types and amounts of revenue are available for particular projects and services. Then we can start making choices about how, and at what rate, the City can pay for long term needs. Economic development projects may help in the future, but each needs to be evaluated individually to know that their revenue projections are real.
A budget review that brings clarity to the City’s finances is still needed, which is why the City’s Finance and Budget Commission wants to do it and why an outside effort is underway with a similar objective. One can guess at types and amounts of cuts or new revenue ahead of time, but specific answers can only be provided after knowing the facts. I prefer knowing these facts before jumping to conclusions, and have been through this before while on the School Board. It is not a quick or easy task.
It is easy to point at obvious big ticket items (such as health care, pensions, and street repair) that need attention, but solutions still need to come from the overall City budget. A more productive approach is for the City Council to work with its Finance and Budget Commission to review the City’s budget, including unfunded liabilities and deferred maintenance requirements, with results organized in a way that clearly shows available revenue and related past or proposed spending. This would promote agreement on problem areas and consensus about what’s to be done. As a Council Member, I would insist that this budget review be available before proposing any type of tax increase. Asking for more money from taxpayers without being able to explain specifically what it is needed for is not, in my opinion, an acceptable way to balance a budget.
Question 5: There are some in this community who believe that Measure J/ Measure R were really intended to give residents the ability to determine whether residential and housing developments could go forward. Should we exempt business and innovation parks from required Measure R votes? And would you support amendments to Measure R to exempt the peripheral development of business and innovation parks at Nishi, Northwest Quadrant and Mace 200 from required votes?
John Munn: I have thought about this question for a few days and am still having the same reaction – Where is this coming from? It has not been mentioned, even in passing, in any of my conversations with people interested in the City Council election.
And my answer also keeps coming back the same. No, this is just another bad idea. In June of 2010, Davis voters overwhelmingly approved Measure R, with nearly 77 percent of the total vote and a majority vote in every precinct in Davis, thereby renewing their authority to vote on proposals for changing agricultural and open space lands zoning to allow urban uses.
Measure R included specific mention of “economic development” on the “Nishi” property, so there can be no doubt about the Measure’s application or the voter’s intent in this case. Elsewhere, Measure R is clear about its requirements to preserve agricultural lands and agricultural land uses, which would certainly apply to the conversion of such lands to commercial uses.
Attempting to amend Measure R to exempt business park development would both fail in an election and distract the City from timely consideration of innovation park proposals. This is another instance where we should just say “no” and stay focused on solving the problems we already have before us.
Trying to make an end run around Measure R would end up covering a lot more time and distance than facing it directly with a well-designed development proposal.
Question 6: On Tuesday Beverly Hills became the first city to pass a fracking ban. In past years Davis was very often the environmental innovation thought leader amongst California cities; however, in recent years Davis has been less of a leader, trailing other towns on single-use bag ordinances, wood smoke, and other environmental innovations. Does this trouble you, and if so, how can Davis move to reclaim its reputation as a leader in environmental innovation?
John Munn: I would require answers to the following questions to determine if the Davis City Council should spend its limited time and resources on a new issue. First, is it a real problem or opportunity for the residents of Davis? Second, can we really do something with it to benefit people in Davis? Third, is it within the jurisdiction of the Davis City Council? And then, finally, is it affordable? I don’t like to waste time, and doing something just to be first is not a good enough reason by itself.
I am running for the Davis City Council to work for fiscal sustainability, so that we can all afford to live here. If elected, this will be the focus of my efforts on the City Council. If opportunities to improve the environment in ways that also improve the lives of people in Davis are brought to the City Council, then I would consider them based on my education, background and experience while applying the four questions described above.
To give specific answers to this week’s question, I am not troubled by other cities taking the lead on new environmental initiatives because it is okay for others to serve as testing grounds so that we can benefit from their experience, and stay solvent. A city going broke will not be able to be an environmental innovator in any event.
Question 7: 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?
John Munn: 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.
Question 8: Davis is a city that is often associated with a well-educated, upper middle class community that comes to city council meetings, works at UC Davis or in Sacramento, and is well represented at council meetings and other civic events. But there is increasingly another group of people that get hidden – renters, non-participants in civic activities, less affluent and less educated. Davis is no longer the monolithic community it may have been in the past: 42% percent of our school children are now non-white, more than one-fifth are Title I students.
In December 2012, the Vanguard called this “The Other Davis.” Explain your understanding of “The Other Davis” and what policies you would put forward as a councilmember to both engage this population and meet their needs?
John Munn: I don’t agree with some assumptions made in statements leading up to this week’s question. There has been a diversity of viewpoints in Davis that cannot be described as “monolithic” for quite a while. We have also had, for many years, a large percentage of “non-white” children in Davis public schools, because University students come here with their families from all over the world to study at UCD. There may be more Title I students now. Part of this might come from greater efforts at identifying Title I students, who bring additional money to their schools, or criteria changes leading to more students qualifying for the Title I program. And part may come from more rental housing. People who cannot afford a house in Davis can still value the safety and quality of life in Davis and of Davis schools and be willing to pay more to live here.
I am running for City Council to help make sensible decisions that bring fiscal sanity and sustainability to Davis, so that we can all continue to afford to live here. As part of this effort, I would promote, or at least not have the City getting in the way of, jobs for people at all income levels. Much is said about good paying jobs associated with innovation park developments. But these facilities would also require numerous support staff at lower wage levels. And existing businesses and the University also have lower wage employees. We should not, by misguided policies, drive out jobs that people need or increase local government and city services costs to the point where lower income residents can no longer afford to live here.