Robb Davis on the Issues

Davis-RobbEditor’s Note: We have compiled all eight of the questions by candidate and each day this week will publish that compilation in alphabetical order starting with Sheila Allen today.

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?

Robb Davis: Our city’s expenses are growing at a faster rate than our revenues, and we must bring the rates of growth of expenses into line with the rates of growth of revenues in order to achieve the goals laid out in the question. To bring alignment and achieve the goals we need a comprehensive approach.

First, we need to expand our revenue base using a three-pronged approach:

1. Densify our downtown via continued mixed-use redevelopment. More residents living in the downtown will attract more retail and visits to downtown. We must remove barriers to redevelopment and incentivize property owners to redevelop by making approval processes more predictable.

2. Keep neighborhood retail spaces full. Create maximum flexibility for the types of retail that can locate in them and provide incentives for shopping center owners to upgrade and maintain attractive retails sites.

3. Move quickly to assess the potential of three sites identified by the Innovation Task Force for innovation parks. A new fiscal model must be used to model the job creation and the revenue generation potential of each site. City Council must lay out clear parameters for the development of these sites to assure they contribute to City priorities.

Second, given that the expansion of our revenue base will take some time to implement, we must address the rates of growth of costs by dealing with rapidly growing employee compensation. Pensions, current employee health insurance, and retiree health care are the key cost drivers. The new City Council must begin immediate discussions to lay out for the community the reality of these cost drivers with a full consideration of all options available to reduce costs.

In addition, while we have cut over 100 FTE (22% of the workforce) in the past 5 years, we have done so in a non-strategic way, largely through attrition. We must analyze whether our current staffing matches our city service needs, and then make adjustments as the analysis dictates.

Davis is a “service provision” organization and employees are our most valuable resource. We must work with those employees to achieve sustainable compensation packages.

Finally, if there are citizens who are struggling to meet increasing City costs we need to be ready to assist them through an expanded, voluntary utility support program. The URAC can help analyze the need. If a need is demonstrated we must expand our current limited support program.


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?

Robb Davis: These community resources position Davis to attract and keep companies engaged in research and development as well as a diverse community of people. This creates an economically and socially healthy city.

However they must be developed sustainably if we are to create and maintain a resilient community.

So, while it is clear that businesses will pay a premium to locate near the University, we must more proactively engage UCD to define ways to achieve a mutually beneficial relationship. We must name both the benefits and negative externalities to our city from UCD and work together to maximize the benefits and minimize the negatives.

We must develop a “ladder” of partnership with the UCD—creating collaboration at many levels—providing a home for University start-ups; developing shared services (as appropriate); and using the vast human resources of faculty and students on critical city projects.

We are “twin cities” with separate organizational realities and needs. Davis is a representative democracy while the University is part of a broader confederation whose goals and needs extend beyond the community we share. This represents just one “cultural” difference that we must actively work through to maximize the unique resources we each possess.

It is no accident that one of the world’s leading agricultural universities is situated here. Our land is a planetary resource; the source of an amazing variety of food and, increasingly, the source of seeds used around the globe. Protecting this resource is the responsibility of our City and our entire region.

In LifePlace, Professor Emeritus Rob Thayer provides a model for thinking about these and other resources in our region. His writing reminds us “there is no community without economy.” Thus, nurturing our relationship with the University, and the innovative businesses that seek to locate near it, is critical to developing a thriving community. But there is also no community without “place”—the understanding that the land, water and air in this physical location must used in sustainable ways.

As a leader, I must analyze the tradeoffs involved in developing these resources to assure their sustainable use.


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.”

Robb Davis: Part of that plan involved creating paid parking to incentivize employees and other long-term users going to parking garages rather than street parking.  Moreover, the task force saw this as a package deal that would not work with parts segmented out.

Given that the council voted to exclude paid parking from the plan, at least for the time being, how will the parking task force plan that was passed work to free up street parking for short-term users in the near future without the paid parking component to act as the incentive stick?

Robb Davis: My starting point when considering city policies is the impact they will have on fostering a sustainable community. Our downtown is key to developing economic sustainability, and insufficient parking management is a constraint to increasing downtown economic activity and revenue. Council actions to date do not provide for the resources necessary to implement an effective downtown parking management plan.

Paid parking is first and foremost a management tool to provide downtown customers access to parking near their destinations. The Task Force concluded this based on empirical evidence from many cities including Davis. It also generates revenue streams[1] sufficient to implement critical parking management tools.

On March 25 the City Council approved implementation of (among others) the following “Phase 1” recommendations:

#2: Increase employee parking location options—in Old North and East neighborhoods and the Regal lot

#3: Increase employee permit fees

#11: Develop transportation and parking alternatives campaign

#12: Collect quarterly parking occupancy data

#13: Explore voluntary shared parking district

#15: Streetscape improvements

#18: Improve transit options into downtown

Phase 1 recommendations also included studying the expansion of the parking supply (#16) but the Council voted to remove this recommendation.

Recommendations 2, 3 and 13 would most directly free up street parking with recommendation 2 creating over 250 new permitted parking spots. However, given the lack of revenue generated from these recommendations it is unlikely they will be implemented. This is because implementation of the approved recommendations would cost over $300,000 but would generate annual net revenues of only $10,000.

Council has yet to approve Phase 2 recommendations that include paid parking (Recommendation #1) and important management tools such as upgraded enforcement technology. Using conservative occupancy assumptions, staff estimates a net annual revenue stream of over $250,000 from this component (after the equipment is paid off—4-5 years). This revenue is critical to implementing the comprehensive plan, which was supported by Davis Downtown, the Chamber and YCVB.

[1] Though not a recommendation of the Task Force, Council should impose the restriction that all revenue generated by paid parking (if implemented) be used for parking management and supply expansion efforts.


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?

Robb Davis: Properly managing the city’s budget is fundamental to fostering a sustainable community. The key to this is bringing the growth of all costs in line with the growth in all revenues. Without this alignment any solution will be temporary.

First, we need complete transparency about the fiscal challenges to inform Council decisions.

We must institute an immediate (routine) “reserve analysis” of city infrastructure to produce a complete accounting of all current and upcoming maintenance needs.

We must also conduct a staff alignment analysis. We have cut 22% of the workforce over the past 5 years in a non-strategic way, and it is uncertain whether we are properly staffed to provide “core services”.

We must engage in a broad community dialogue about what constitutes “core services” to consider service alterations in an informed way.

And, we must more fully utilize the Finance and Budget Commission to provide oversight to budgeting and reporting processes.

Second, we must continue to contain the costs of employee compensation, because it is a major driver of overall cost growth. Options include increased employee contributions to pensions; eliminating the cafeteria cash out; implementing graduated salary reductions for senior employees; and analyzing the potential for outsourcing while assuring quality control.

Third, we need a comprehensive plan to expand our revenue base.

We must use our current “footprint” more efficiently by removing barriers and creating more certain processes for property owners committed to quality mixed-use redevelopment in the downtown.

We need to acquire and use a new fiscal model to assess the potential of the three proposed innovation sites. If any site has real potential for increasing City revenue, the Council must lay out clear guidelines for its development. In this way the community will be fully prepared to cast an informed Measure R vote.

Concerning potential tax measures, while I support Measure O I acknowledge that it provides only a short-term fix. I will not hesitate to send a parcel tax measure to the voters to meet critical infrastructure needs, but only after a full accounting of need and a commitment to changing the way we do business.


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?

Robb Davis:While concerns about housing growth drove the development of Measure J, Davis citizens clearly desire an opportunity to engage directly in decisions about all peripheral development.

Business and innovation parks should not be exempted from Measure R votes, and I would not support amendments to Measure R to exempt the three innovation sites from such votes. A key pillar of my campaign is to assure that we carefully help steward the farmland on our periphery, because it represents a critical planetary resource for the growth of food and seeds.

I have also made it clear that I welcome the opportunity to examine all three innovation park sites and if any site has real potential for increasing City revenue, I will work with my Council colleagues to lay out clear guidelines for its development. This is why I have called for immediate implementation of the first recommendation of the Innovation Park Task Force:

Adopt a new fiscal model that accurately evaluates both the fiscal impacts and economic benefits of new innovation/research development for the community.

The use of this model will help the Council and the citizens analyze the potential of each site and transparently and clearly make the case about its value so that we can make a fully informed Measure R vote. If the Council can demonstrate the revenue and jobs potential of each site, I believe the voters will approve them.

I understand that some owners/developers of individual innovation park sites in question may want to use a citizens’ ballot initiative to more fully lay out their plans and reduce their own uncertainty. Because such initiatives would be fully within the spirit of Measure R and could even lay out a clearer picture of what is planned for each site, I would be open to supporting them (assuming, again, that the projected revenue stream is a benefit to the city).

I am committed to seeking a multi-pronged approach to expanding our revenue base. Examining the three sites is part of that approach, but citizens must be allowed to vote on each one.


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?

Robb Davis: This question implies that a focus on external recognition is more important than a focus on attainment of goals. I do not believe that our city’s aspiration should be the label “leader in environmental innovation.” Rather, we should focus on defining clear ends related to waste management and greenhouse gas emission reductions (to name two key areas) and then commit to a set of actions (means) to achieve those ends.

The ends defined should reflect our values as a city, and the means should lay out a path to achieve them.

It is much more important to focus on developing and committing to clear guiding documents (which we have done in the case of the Climate Action Plan and the Integrated Waste Management Plan), that lay out clear objectives and the steps to achieve them rather than trying to be a leader.

We should willingly borrow best practices and learn from other communities. This does not mean we eschew innovation but rather that we seek to implement best practices and adapt them to our needs. As we achieve defined ends other communities may follow our example, but that would be a byproduct of our efforts rather than our goal.

Let me provide two examples from my experience in child health:

  • When Jerry and Monique Sternin developed the Positive Deviance/Hearth model, they were focused on the end of reducing child malnutrition using locally available food. They borrowed concepts of positive deviance from social change theory and achieved amazing reductions in child malnutrition. This approach has revolutionized grassroots nutrition programming internationally.
  • When Joe Valadez developed lot quality assurance sampling approaches (LQAS) to monitor and evaluate health programs, he wanted to provide front line community health workers with tools to assess their efforts at low cost. He borrowed LQAS from industrial production and adapted it, and in the process has changed the way health programs are monitored across the globe.

In both cases the goal was not to “lead” but to solve real world problems. The outcomes were improved and innovative ways of doing things that have benefited people worldwide.


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?

Robb Davis: 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.


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?

Robb Davis: There is not an “other Davis” but rather “other Davises.” Within the “other” category there is great heterogeneity—and the needs of each are distinct. My focus begins with the following groups.

1. An aging population, most of which will “age in place.” While most are on fixed incomes, for some the level of income is very low. An aging population has mobility challenges—both within living situations but also in relation to transportation—and service access challenges. We should require that all new housing be developed with universal design guidelines and we must work to assure that our public transit systems are not so university-focused that they cannot provide for the mobility needs of this group. We must have policies that encourage a thriving “aging in place” non-profit sector. We also need a more robust voluntary utility support program to enable low-income seniors to pay their bills.

2. Low-income workers; some single and some in families with children. In both cases finding affordable housing is a major challenge (vacancy rates here are 1.9%; 5% is a healthy rate). Increasing the supply of dense rental housing close to parks and transit is the best way to meet the needs of this group. Children in such families may qualify for subsidized school meal programs and this is one useful way to deal with the food insecurity these households experience. Helping such families access county-administered food stamp programs is a priority.

3. Homeless individuals and others at risk of homelessness. This includes an unknown number of school students. The needs of these groups are varied but interrelated: some are victims of abuse, others face significant mental health challenges and others struggle with addictions. Better coordination among county and non-profit service providers is necessary. We must also focus on drug and alcohol treatment and develop county-wide “housing first” policies to meet this group’s needs.

These groups are the most vulnerable in our city. As a Council member I will commit to finding ways to bring their voices to the table to define their needs and seek ways to meet them.

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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  1. SODA

    Thank you David for reprinting the candidates’ responses all together. It gives us another opportunity to read each response, but perhaps more importantly, gives us a chance to see a concentrated view of each candidate.
    That said I continue to be very impressed with Robb’s thoughtfulness AND preparedness on a variety of topics. I believe these characteristics will serve him (and us) well on the council.

  2. GMan

    Robb Davis appears to have a vision of Davis which understands and appreciates its character and history while also recognizing the need for a broader tax base. This is the kind of elected official we need to find the path toward economic viability and cultural preservation.

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