Sunday Commentary: Cutting Off Our Noses to Spite Our Faces on Measure O

Davis-Mailer-2014b-1The Vanguard has been sounding the alarm when few in the city really understood we were in fiscal hot water. As recently as 2009, the city was planning budgets that assumed that the downturn in the economy would be short-term, that revenues would grow, that we could hold the line through a mix of employee attrition and withholding money from longer-term investments like roads to make it back to fiscal stability and sustainability.  History tells us that those budgets were painfully shortsighted.

The majority of the 2009 council, and the city staff in place at that time, would have been stunned if they had been told that for a fact that five years later we would be forecasting $7 million deficits into 2017-2018.

That sets the stage for a letter to the editor in the Enterprise from Jeff Boone, with whom Vanguard readers are well familiar, which expresses his overwhelming frustration with the current state of the city’s fiscal affairs. In a real way, I do not blame the frustration expressed by Mr. Boone.

He noted his participation in a focus group where “the information provided by the city was shocking.” He writes, “Previous City Councils had grossly over-compensated and over-expanded our city labor, and to hide the extent of our problems, moved money between accounts and deferred road and building maintenance.”

Bottom line: “With this knowledge, the group reluctantly and tentatively agreed to support a sales tax increase, and possibly a future parcel tax increase. But we were unanimous in demanding that new tax increases be temporary, to be replaced with permanent revenue increases and expense cuts, and we received this assurance.”

What changed? He writes, “Unfortunately, recently the mayor and a council majority failed to give adequate time for a critical presentation on proposed economic development. The agenda item was tabled for four weeks. This action, combined with the money and time council is dedicating to other nonessential topics, makes it clear that the majority of our current council is only paying lip service to the urgent need to develop our economy.”

“For that reason I have changed my mind and will vote no on any tax increase measure. I urge my fellow citizens to do the same. And I also encourage all citizens to ask current council candidates their position on city economic development and vote accordingly.”

Again, Mr. Boone’s frustration is understandable, but let’s look at what has happened here, and how we need to move forward.

What happened back in April was the confluence of several factors.

First, we have been complaining about this for a long time – the management of the agenda is abysmal. The city takes up prime on recognitions and other ceremonies that should be used on the consent agenda. Second, the city puts too many items on the agenda. On that particular night, the agenda was piled on so heavily, in part because it was City Manager Pinkerton’s last meeting, that they eventually had to push off items to later weeks.

The question is, why not do that in advance?

Making matters worse, the council spent an inordinate amount of time on one item. While that happens unavoidably, it is not good management.

The result is that the Innovation Center discussion was pushed back until midnight, and the council, recognizing a need for more discussion and explanation, decided to push the item off.

Now, Brett Lee tried to get the one needed action item on the Innovation Center and the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) to be passed by council so that Rob White, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer, could move forward with his RFEI.

It was here that the item got caught up in politics.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs then intervened: “My first comment is that I just don’t think we should be taking up this item in rapid fire pace and then approving it at midnight. I just think it deserves more actually thorough vetting and conversation.”

He also had an issue with the process, “in particular with regards to the county.” He noted that this was taking place “on a number of properties in the county. In terms of process, has this been… have we had these conversations with the county thus far? I’m not sure that has occurred and frankly I think it might need to occur as a local governmental partnership with our county partner in this case, before we… I’m all in favor of fast-tracking this and getting out to the public, we definitely need to get this moving.”

He said, “As far as I know there hasn’t been much in the way of precedent where any of the cities is having this kind of request for innovation proposals without discussions especially when it’s on county property.”

What happened next makes it clear what this is all about. The issue got placed on the city-county two-by-two where it became clear that Don Saylor wanted to play lord of the manor.

Supervisor Saylor, who chaired the meeting, noted, “I think over time I’ve heard people complain about a developer driven process, so the idea that an application would be a conversation starter seems to be concerning.”

More importantly, he said, the county and city already have structures in place and he think they could bring the proposals to “this table” and allow the city and county to establish a community engagement process. He said, “For either one to proceed down a track without that framework discussion, it sort of opens up conflict potential. We don’t have to do that.”

Supervisor Saylor noted that a few years ago the county proceeded with a general plan update, studying the same areas we are discussing now, “and the city was not interested in that, in fact I was one of the people on the city council at the time so I know some of the discussions that happened and the community response to that consideration.”

“So for the city to proceed brings up some sort of question about what we’re doing here,” he continued. “A developer making a plea in a private office is not a community based process.”

But just to sure as to what happened at the end of the two-by-two meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk at the end of the meeting stated out loud, so that many could hear, that we just all needed to follow Supervisor Saylor’s lead.

Could the council have pushed the Innovation Center through? Perhaps. At the two-by-two, Joe Krovoza aggressively pushed back against Don Saylor’s accusations that this was a developer-driven process and that the county had been cut out of discussions.

What becomes clear to the Vanguard here is that Don Saylor wants a piece of the action and his allies on council are attempting to give him that piece of the action.  There is no doubt in my mind that Don Saylor is going to do everything possible to slow down this process, but we have to push past that if we want to succeed here.

In the meantime, voting against the sales tax will make moving forward with economic development much less likely.

When we asked Rob White what the impact of the failure of Measure O would be on economic development efforts, he stated, “Since the majority of economic development at the City is being done by two people (the Chief and Deputy Innovation Officers), it would have a significant impact. It would translate into delays in meeting with new and growing businesses, less outreach to local businesses, slowed work on the innovation park, an inability to assist in expediting permits and planning, an inability to work on Yolo County-wide initiatives like broadband and rail relocation, and considerably scaled back interaction with the University on tech transfer and innovation.”

“More directly, it would mean that an already very under-staffed division would become mostly reactive and move away from proactive or planned actions and activities. I am not suggesting that more resources be directed at economic development, but cuts would hamper our current efforts. It would also mean that any regional interactions would need to be significantly scaled back, which would considerably hamper our local ability to facilitate new investment and attract new businesses,” he continued.

The reaction from some was, “Nice spin.” And, “Folks, we are in financial trouble because we didn’t do enough economic development and if you don’t vote to tax yourself we won’t have enough money to do any economic development.”

“I am willing to give some benefit of doubt in support of plans for progress. But despite the existence and good work of Rob White, it appears he is up against the standard political wall of denial and business as usual,” the poster added.

At the same time, what needs to become clear is that Rob White may actually be understating the impact of the failure of Measure O.

If Measure O fails, the city is looking most likely at the 25 percent cuts, because they are not going to want to pursue cuts of police and fire (and for good reason).

Given that, the conversation and energy in city hall is going to shift from economic development and expansion plans to contraction and minimizing the loss of city services.

Leaders will look at ways to preserve most of what we have until we can get to November and put a parcel tax measure on the ballot. Of course, there is no guarantee that it would pass, but the Vanguard believes any such effort would push off discussion and planning for Mace 200, take the steam out of economic development drives, and perhaps set back the entire effort by two years until the city shores up its fiscal position.

For those who believe it will spur economic development efforts – remember, economic development is probably a five to seven year process. The immediate focus will be on the immediate focus.

The process is going to be slow, it is going to be frustrating, but believe me, you want the city to be able to be fully engaged on the process of economic development and that is not going to happen if Measure O fails.

The best strategy to move forward is to put a council together that is going to prioritize economic development, push them to hire the right city manager, and give Rob White and other staffers the resources and the team necessary to get this done.

Patience, not panic, is going to win this day and push this process forward.

—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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55 Comments

  1. Don Shor

    an inability to work on Yolo County-wide initiatives like broadband and rail relocation

    This whole article illustrates clearly what the major problem has been: the inability of the council to set priorities. So if it means making a list of what matters most, I’d move broadband and rail relocation a lot further down that list. I hope it doesn’t take voter rejection of Measure O to get staff and council to start setting priorities and controlling the agenda of the council meetings. But at the rate things are going, it just might.

    1. David Greenwald

      It’s a fair point, but then again, where are those on the actual list? How much time are we taking on them? Broadband for instance might be a low priority but also low hanging fruit while rail relocation is a regional effort and therefore also not consuming a lot of bandwidth.

        1. David Greenwald

          I agree – thought we could probably create one with approximate rank-ordering of resources and priority. The council always creates a vague list of goals and priorities in the summer.

          1. Don Shor

            No offense to Rob White, but in the quote you provided he’s essentially described his job duties (along with one other staff person). I’d expect a staffer at his level of pay and responsibilities to be setting goals, establishing targets and action items, and effectively running his department based on the resources he has available to him. With less resources, I’m sorry to say (speaking from experience) that a salaried employee simply has to do more. That probably means less time spent on things like cap-to-cap and more on the actual drudgery of implementing economic development proposals. What I want to see from the next council is more effective agenda-setting, and a less scattered approach to how their meeting agendas are set and how staff is directed.
            I don’t see action items. I don’t see specific goals with timelines. I don’t see effective use of council time. I do see overloading of staff, and ineffective use of public time.

        2. Matt Williams

          Don, at a January meeting of the Council they very specifically dealt with an agenda item laying out the 2014 Council Goals. That may not be a granular enough list for you, but there definitely is an actual list that is publicly available … and part of the 2014 public record.

      1. Matt Williams

        Broadband is a County-wide (regional) effort as well … with the County leading the charge. I don’t think it is taking much of Rob White’s time up at all. Collaboration on broadband … yes. Time consuming heavy lifting on broadband … no

  2. Tia Will

    Don

    What I wonder is, if you think the council is so clueless about priorities, what makes you think that rejection of
    Measure O would “get staff and council to start setting priorities….” ?

    Not passing Measure O, in my opinion, will not provide the apparently desired epiphany for our leaders, but will have deleterious effects on our community overall. A high price to pay for a short sighted, if emotionally satisfying
    ” see what we told you ” moment.

      1. Tia Will

        Don

        I disagree that this is a “clear message”. Some people will vote against any new tax regardless of the performance of government officials and staff.

        Also, why would we want to financially tie the new council’s hands behind their backs because of errors of their predecessors ? Would you not entrust the keys to the car to your very responsible second child who needs to drive to their job because your totally irresponsible first child had incurred a speeding ticket ? This is the irrational and punitive response that is being promoted by those who would vote No on O.

        1. Don Shor

          I disagree that this is a “clear message”. Some people will vote against any new tax regardless of the performance of government officials and staff.

          Yes, some will. But not a majority. Davis has a long history of passing tax increases. There is no question in my mind that failure of the sales tax would give a VERY clear message to the incoming council. Perhaps at that point they could declare a fiscal emergency, review the employment compensation, review the staffing, and come back to the public with a smaller tax increase and/or a shorter duration.
          We have council and school board candidates that have signaled a willingness to increase employee pay. That could not be clearer.

        2. Mark West

          “This is the irrational and punitive response that is being promoted by those who would vote No on O.”

          What is irrational is repeating a past action and expecting a different result.

          The people making the decision have not changed. There is no reason to believe the City Council and Staff will change course, until they prove it through their actions. Just putting up more money and hoping that this time they will do the right thing when they have never done so before, is not only irrational, but stupid.

          To use your analogy, we are not denying the car to the responsible second child, we are refusing to buy a new car for the irresponsible older child to replace the one he wrecked.

          1. Mark West

            Different names, same results. Just because the individuals look different doesn’t mean that their collective decisions have changed.

            “Meet the new boss
            Same as the old boss”

            When their actions change we can hope for a new direction.

          2. Tia Will

            “What is irrational is repeating a past action and expecting a different result.”

            What is irrational is to pretend that a different group of people will behave as those who have come before them prior to them having any opportunity to prove themselves.

    1. Mark West

      The short-sighted response is to suggest that passing the tax increase will give the CC and Staff a reason to start prioritizing. All this new tax will buy us is more of the same dysfunction.

      What needs to change is we need to elect Council Members who put Davis first, and don’t kowtow to outside organizations. Any Council Member who puts the County’s needs first should be voted out of office at the earliest possible date. Their singular focus should be what is in the best interests of the residents of Davis, and if they are in any way conflicted from that focus they have no business representing us.

      Second, we need to elect a City Council that is capable of prioritizing and severely limiting the amount of staff time (as well as their own) that is spent on projects outside the core priorities and to instead increase the investment in time and resources towards those core goals. Currently the only core goal that I see from this Council is to do whatever they need to do in order to stay in office (or to be elected to some higher post).

      I support the new sales tax as long as it is part of a comprehensive solution. So far unfortunately, this Council and Staff have done nothing to indicate that they even understand what a comprehensive solution is, let alone show the ability to start implementing it. There still is time, but I am not optimistic.

      1. David Greenwald

        I’m largely in agreement. One of the big reasons I support Measure O is to not hamstring the new counccil with having to focus on massive cuts as soon as they take office. I too am not optimistic overall.

  3. Tia Will

    Mark West

    “What needs to change is we need to elect Council Members who put Davis first, and don’t kowtow to outside organizations”

    I agree with this sentient. And would include in any list of “outside organizations” developers, such as the Cannery
    and organizations defending outmoded business models such as PG&E.

  4. DT Businessman

    “Since the majority of economic development at the City is being done by two people (the Chief and Deputy Innovation Officers), it would have a significant impact.” –Rob White

    “For those who believe it will spur economic development efforts – remember, economic development is probably a five to seven year process.” –David Greenwald

    This article, as typified by these two quotes, gives the readers a false sense of the economic development activity ongoing in the community. The majority of this activity is happening daily. It’s being conducted by the DDBA, the YCVB, the Davis Chamber of Commerce, individual business owners, investors, property owners, brokers, etc. Community Development and Public Works are arguably the two biggest city departments impacting daily economic development activity (both positively and negatively). I would equate these activities with singles in baseball. Cumulatively, they have a profound impact on our local economy. NONE of this activity is waiting 5-7 years. It’s happening right now. There would be MANY more such activities occurring right now if a number of constraints to economic development were removed. And there would be MANY more such activities occurring right now if the city were to invest some upfront costs in certain key areas and then allow the private sector to do the remainder. Regrettably, insufficient action is happening on both these fronts (Note: I did not say no action). What I describe here is nothing new. This has been conveyed to CC members repeatedly over many years by many different individuals and entities. For various reasons, a succession of CCs and CMs have chosen to pursue other priorities. So here we are.

    PS: Attempting to hit some home runs (perhaps grand slams), such as a Nishi project, hotel/conference facility, or a Mace 200 project, for example, is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. But only swinging for the fences is sure to be a failed strategy.

    -Michael Bisch

    1. Tia Will

      Michael

      “And there would be MANY more such activities occurring right now if the city were to invest some upfront costs in certain key areas and then allow the private sector to do the remainder.”

      I would like to understand this from your point of view. If I understand you, with this statement you are advocating that the city use public funds ( namely those provided by taxpayers ) to essentially subsidize start ups of new business. For those who truly believe in a “free market” and see private enterprise as the solution, how does this not represent a very small and local form of “corporate welfare” ?

      1. DT Businessman

        I’m not suggesting anything of the sort, Tia. Government at federal, state and local levels frequently makes up front investments in economic development projects (infrastructure, education, marketing programs, etc.). The Nishi development project is a current example of the city fronting some of the up front costs.

        -Michael Bisch

        1. Tia Will

          DT

          I think that part of what I am not understanding here is how this kind of investment differs in people’s minds from the investigation of the pros and cons of a POU or other form of energy delivery rather than the current PG&E monopoly model.
          It seems to me that there is some selective thinking going on here about what represents an “investment” vs what represents a “waste of taxpayer money”.

          “Government at federal, state and local levels frequently makes up front investments in economic development projects (infrastructure, education, marketing programs, etc.)”

          Also, just because a government practice is common does not in my mind signify that it is necessarily the best practice. There are certain projects such as infrastructure and public education in which I think it is self evident that public funding is necessary.
          I am not so sure that I believe that it is necessary for the government to be involved in what essentially amounts to “picking winners and losers” as some posters here have alluded to with regard to favoring “green energy initiatives”. However, it does seem that some of these same posters clearly favor government involvement in helping businesses that they favor.

          I am not calling you out on this, just trying to understand your thoughts about the appropriate role of government vs private investment.

    2. David Greenwald

      Jeff writes, “Unfortunately, recently the mayor and a council majority failed to give adequate time for a critical presentation on proposed economic development. The agenda item was tabled for four weeks. This action, combined with the money and time council is dedicating to other nonessential topics, makes it clear that the majority of our current council is only paying lip service to the urgent need to develop our economy.”

      “For that reason I have changed my mind and will vote no on any tax increase measure. I urge my fellow citizens to do the same. And I also encourage all citizens to ask current council candidates their position on city economic development and vote accordingly.”

      You’re missing a point as well, this op-ed was in response to Jeff Boone’s letter that claims he changed his mind on the sales tax based on the council. So we are not talking about the DDBA, YCVB or the CHamber, we’re talking about Mace 200.

      1. Frankly

        I think David is correct here. Personally, I do not dispute what DT Businessman has written above. However, I think he too might be minimizing the problem of inadequate developable business property.

        I will add to this need for a sense of urgency that we have economic cycles. Today, throughout California, there is a shortage of certain types of commercial real estate. Prior to the Great Recession many developers could see the writing on the wall with respect to an overheated economy, and they pulled back on building. This slow-down in new development started in about 2006 and continued through today as so many businesses failed and the supply of existing business properties skyrocketed.

        But today that supply is about exhausted and a new under-supply problem is occurring as developers have been slow to recognize and time the need. But new development is being planned. New business park plans are on the table for many communities through-out California. Davis is in a unique position to attract the best types of companies if only we can do the same. But if we snooze, we will loose. We will be at the end of the cycle… or worse… we will miss the ride. And then we will sit with a higher vacancy rate, and too little economic benefit.

        There are simply not enough in-fill development options to sustain a city the population of Davis. We have to develop peripherally. What are we waiting for?

        1. Tia Will

          Jeff

          “What are we waiting for?”

          Perhaps the end to a cycle of “boom and bust” which you have frequently pointed out in your own posts. I personally believe that in the long run, it might be better to move forward slowly rather than to jump on what seems to be an endless cycle of the over exaggeration of the need to build and expand as rapidly as possible, only to have the inevitable rapid contraction or collapse. Perhaps, a more measured, deliberate, and less frenzied approach might be best.

          1. Frankly

            I’m a pragmatic solutions guy when it comes to finances. But bad habits are the root of most situations of financial difficulty. With minor exception of temporary circumstances, it is the resistance to making changes in behavior that are responsible for continued escalation of trouble.

            So, what behavior needs to change and how is it going to change?

            The council and city management have given us some indication that they are going to support the necessary change. But then they are falling back into their same bad habits.

            How long are you going to trust and give them the benefit of the doubt?

            At this point I have seen enough. I think allowing the same while hoping that the changes will just occur organically is foolish. If Munn and Allen win we are screwed. In fact, I think we are screwed no matter who wins at this point because after elected, most of our council seems to be assimilated into the collective of that same bad behavior that got us here.

            Time for the citizens to take a stand and force the correct behavior.

          2. Michelle Millet

            I think we are screwed no matter who wins at this point because after elected, most of our council seems to be assimilated into the collective of that same bad behavior that got us here.

            Most? Are there exceptions in your mind?

          3. Frankly

            Brett Lee appears to be an exception. I cannot forecast how others will perform. Frankly, not one of the candidates has come out in support of economic development with the level of urgency and focus needed, IMO. But I also realize that we still have a great number of Davis voters either ignorant of the need, or stubborn in their demands that we can survive well enough without any significant growth. Council candidates taking a strong stand as pro urgent economic growth may be seen as radical from those two groups.

            But good leadership requires doing the right things despite popularity.

          4. Michelle Millet

            Frankly, not one of the candidates has come out in support of economic development with the level of urgency and focus needed.

            I understand that this is your perspective, but the fact of the matter is two of the five candidates will be city council members come July 1.

    3. Rob White

      Many apologies for just now getting back to reading the blog regularly. It’s no surprise, but I have been in Washington DC on the Cap-to-Cap trip… the same trip attended by the Davis Chamber. Additionally, there were four council members from both West Sacramento and Woodland, two Yolo County supervisors, and several staff from each… so Davis had one of the smaller delegations from Yolo County, but the attendance by our neighbors should point out the significance that those around us place on the regional effort.

      A few thoughts… and some qualifiers to make sure we are all talking about the same thing when we use terms like economic development (because there are a lot of suppositions, and sadly accusations, out in the ether):

      1) It is pretty obvious from the comments above (and others I have been hearing over the last few days) that many have not actually read the documents put forth for the council meeting this Tuesday (May 13th). Amongst other docs, staff have created a four page Action Plan with specific tasks, timelines, desired outcomes, and measures. Please see the document starting at Page 8-31 of the city council item. Here is a link: http://city-council.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20140513/08-Innovation-and-Economic-Vitality-2014-2016-Work-Program.pdf

      2) You can see from this list of Actions that staff are working on MANY things – at the local, regional, national, and global levels. We do this with our existing resources (two staff) and are committed to working on ALL of the items, at all levels, throughout the 24-month period. We do this functionally because we are both management and work many extra hour. This includes weekends, late evenings and early mornings… and at no time did we ever indicate that we are unwilling to do this work, nor have we asked for more resources. I can state that we both love what we do, but I can also state that getting constantly questioned and second-guessed, (even though I have constantly put out our activities through the DV, other media, and council meetings), does get tiring. It is also frustrating that many of these detractors have no credible experience in economic development for a city or local jurisdiction but are not short on opinion or misdirection.

      3) At no time was there ANY indication that ONLY the city was involved in economic development. The discussion was about the city’s budget and what the impacts would be to the city efforts in economic development. Since the city’s job is to facilitate and foster a positive business climate, our job includes supporting the orgs and businesses called out above. Government shouldn’t be the job creator, but instead the one who helps to facilitate job and wealth creation (in addition to sustainability goals for our own community).

      4) Continually asking the question about why city staff are working regionally and locally demonstrates a lack of understanding of the overall objective of economic development. Anyone involved with sports would tell you that to be the best team playing only in Davis does not allow you to claim a national or world champion status. Our efforts outside of Davis bring attention and awareness to the community, which brings outside investment and new businesses… and results in new (outside) wealth infused into the community. Companies and investors want to be in a place that is excited to have them and is a destination. Communities across the globe spend a large amount of money trying to tell their story and create a brand that others will want to invest in. We do this locally with just the staff at the city and our own hard work. And it is paying off. Of course our partner orgs help in this effort, but aside from the YCVB, the city is the only org that works for a constituency that requires a regional level of cooperation (because our city includes residents that work other places, and workers that live other places, and we want investment in our infrastructure and economy). We have to work regional to get all of our efforts completed in each aspect of city government, so it seems odd to me that there is a continued questioning in Davis of why staff are working regionally in economic development. To be clear, the Downtown Business Association and Chamber focus primarily on their constituent local businesses in Davis, whereas the city is constantly working to bring new business and investment to the city.

      5) It is a very large misnomer to think that economic development staff are only working on regional efforts and don’t spend time locally. On average, we spend about 80% of our time in Davis and 20% of our time on regional efforts. It realistically should be closer to a 50-50 split, but this is what we can do with the resources we have. Every week, we meet with 10 to 15 businesses and orgs that are connected to Davis… like planning to open a business, or assessing an investment, or looking for a location for their company.

      6) Having started an economic development program in my last city (almost from scratch), and having worked with many other cities and counties on their programs as a part of my previous Board duties with the California Association of Local Economic Developers (CALED), I can assure you it takes MANY years to get an effective program started and moving forward. And this is in aggressively proactive communities. Staff are proposing what I believe will be an effective 24 month program for council and community review on May 13th, which includes 6 month check-ins for reassessment and redirection if we find something is not working. Ironically, this mirrors in many respects work previously done by the Business and Economic Development Commission (BEDC), Innovation Park Task Force, or other city focused efforts over the last decade.

      7) Rhetorical question – at what point can the city staff stop defending what we are doing (as well documented as it may be) and work in concert with our local partners on getting economic development done? I would put right back at our detractors… please answer publically and for the record, to the same degree that you would like information given by the city, how do your efforts (or org) help to create local wealth (which is the definition of economic development)? Since many of the orgs named above also benefit from either city funds (current or historical) and currently from city staff resources acting as liaisons, it is only a fair question to please also defend your actions as it relates to spending city money.

      Thanks for reading. I am hopeful that at some near future point we can spend less time critiquing our internal community efforts and instead work holistically on the larger opportunities. The world is watching, and we just keep proving over and over again (at least on this blog) that we are not turning our attention to the important matters. Not sure what we gain, but it can only result in yet another lost opportunity.

      1. Frankly

        I only started reading the documents and hit the following:


        Council Goals

        FISCAL STABILITY: Ensure short- and long-term expenditures and revenues are
        equivalent, matching community resources to needs without reliance on growth.

        Well, this is interesting… and unattainable by any stretch of the imagination.

        But, it might explain why there is so little energy and focus on economic development as a long-term revenue source.

        If I am wrong here, then maybe you can help me understand how we can correct for our general fund deficits and our deferred maintenance deficits without growth.

          1. Frankly

            Well then that needs to be clarified… and lacking a definitive connection to residential growth, I see it as another indication that economic growth is receiving just lip services while the discussions behind closed doors are more intent to stall or block it.

            That has been my growing problem… too many contradictions in words and actions by the majority of this council related to economic development.

          2. Don Shor

            Clearly, since the rest of the document involves any number of commercial growth decisions including detailed discussion of the ITF.

  5. Tia Will

    Mark

    “I support the new sales tax as long as it is part of a comprehensive solution”

    For me the question at this time is not whether or not the current council members have demonstrated the ability to prioritize, the point is whether or not the new council we are about to elect will do so. You have alluded to this but then seem to fall back on casting aspersions on past council members ?

    I am wondering about a couple of points with regard to your posts.
    1) Who of the current candidates do you feel is most likely to understand the importance of a
    “comprehensive solution ” ?
    2) Who do you think will be the most likely to prioritize ? ( I do not see these two as synonymous)
    3) What if, given the inevitable difference in values between members of the community, they clearly prioritize, but
    their prioritization and/or view of a comprehensive solution differs significantly from yours ?

  6. Frankly

    This whole article illustrates clearly what the major problem has been: the inability of the council to set priorities.

    I largely agree with this to a point.

    I think the Enterprise letter writer was taking this thinking to the next level.

    I participated in those focus group meetings. First, the city did a good job putting up the “shocking” city budget picture to set the tone and seek input on revenue options going forward. The members of that focus group clearly were uncomfortable with tax increases. But this was a group of pragmatic business people. They all understand the need to balance budgets. But they also understand the need to think strategically toward the future so that the same problems do not keep recurring.

    I agree that there is a lack of prioritization. But the problem is more profound than that… the problem is a lack of urgency. Because when you know a problem is urgent, you automatically prioritize it high on the list.

    It is my opinion that the majority of the council, excluding Brett Lee, don’t subscribe to the urgent need to grow our local economy as a way to shore up our budget deficits. Or, if they do at least understand that need, political careers are coming first before the long-term financial well-being of the city.

    I think they think that we, the majority of Davis voters, will always approve of them chasing things like bag bans, green energy and bicycle-friendly certifications… and that we will always vote to tax ourselves more so that they can keep doing those things instead of the more difficult heavy lifting of long-term balanced budgets.

    So, if we do continue to vote to tax ourselves more, they will be right and we will never give economic development adequate attention.

    One last point… note that there is always only one campaign platform in support of tax increases. That message is essentially the following:

    “If you don’t vote to tax yourself more, you will feel more pain.”

    That pain will be fewer and fewer services and lower service quality.

    It is a fear-based message.

    But the only thing we really have to fear is fear itself. Because politicians exploit our fears for votes… even if it results in our long-term detriment.

    But if something is not working, then something needs to change. If we vote to tax ourselves again we will change nothing.

    1. Michelle Millet

      Frankly, if this tax measure fails my guess is that it is not you who will be feeling the pain. It will be the people in this community who can not afford to personally compensate for the lack of services that will result. Why do you care if a pool closes? Or the Parks and Recreation department cuts back on services and camps?

      It’s really easy to take the self righteous stance that you are “willing to feel more pain” when you aren’t the one who will actually be feeling it.

      1. Frankly

        Michele – I understand. But you are incorrect that I will not feel the pain from those things. I have a lot of friends in Davis that don’t have resources to acquire private services to make up for these things.

        But I think you need to consider that we are talking about significant structural budget problems. This is not a situation where we have some minor temporary shortfall. The deficits are really quite massive. These services are at risk despite the temporary respite we would get from a sales tax increase.

        So I think your “bad guy” criticism is misplaced.

        The problem is that we have committed grossly too high pay and benefits (mostly benefits) to city workers including retirees. If we could re-set that pay and benefit compensation to a reasonable market-level, then our long-term fiscal health would be in good shape. But we cannot do that because the labor unions and the politicians they purchased ensured that the pay and benefits would be legally locked up.

        So here we are asking for all the rest of us to pony up more of our hard-earned dollars to pay for all these locked-up over commitments of compensation to past and present city workers. Correct me if I am wrong, but you supported the elections of the very politicians (national, state and local) that have track records for the policies leading us to this situation. And I think too that you might join the fight to prevent any roll-back of city worker pay and benefits to labor market levels. Again correct me if I am wrong.

        The bottom line here is that our city budget is not sustainable even with a $.50 sales tax increase. We either need to increase revenue from increased economic activity, or we need to cut the number of over-paid city employees. Ironically we cannot reduce the pay and benefits for most city workers, but we can reduce the number of them.

        But this creates a downer for council that needs these warm bodies to chase POUs, and green energy wins for their political careers. It creates a downer for the unions that would lose members, and the politicians those members would otherwise support. It would also be a downer for the employees that would remain because more work would fall on their shoulders.

        So here is what the council and these city employees are going to do… they are going to opt to cut services in excess of what is necessary as a way to make more of us open our wallets so they all don’t have to experience the downer. That is how the game is played. Obama did it during the federal government shutdown. He prioritized the closing of services that caused the most immediate pain to the public and the media of course jumped on the sensationalizing of this pain.

        When are we going to stop being duped by this tactic? When are we going to fight back demanding efficient and affordable government that is always focused on doing the critical and essential things before chasing all the feel-good things?

        The conflict is service-versus-city employee compensation. We either grow the size of our economy to pay for both, or one or the other has to face cuts.

        1. Michelle Millet

          The problem is that we have committed grossly too high pay and benefits (mostly benefits) to city workers including retirees.

          Measure O not passing is not the solution to this problem. Making sure we elect and support council members who have no allegiances to any particular interest group and are committed instead to the finical well being of city seems a more productive approach.

        2. Michelle Millet

          Correct me if I am wrong, but you supported the elections of the very politicians (national, state and local) that have track records for the policies leading us to this situation.

          With the exception of this local election, where I’m sure its not a surprise to anyone, including you, that I voted for Robb I doubt I voted the way you think I did.

        3. Michelle Millet

          But this creates a downer for council that needs these warm bodies to chase POUs, and green energy wins for their political careers. It creates a downer for the unions that would lose members, and the politicians those members would otherwise support. It would also be a downer for the employees that would remain because more work would fall on their shoulders.

          If these were the only consequences of Measure O not passing I wouldn’t vote for it either.

        4. Michelle Millet

          So here is what the council and these city employees are going to do… they are going to opt to cut services in excess of what is necessary as a way to make more of us open our wallets so they all don’t have to experience the downer.

          While I could understand the motive (and I’m not saying they are doing so) of city employees to employ such a tactic (I imagine people don’t want to lose their jobs), what benefits would city council members gain?

          1. Mark West

            Michelle:

            Politicians gain votes by pleasing their constituents, and the best way to do that is give away ‘candy’ in the form of public services. You can’t give away more candy if the flow of tax money coming in is curtailed, so the immediate action of the politician is to act to turn up the tax spigot as fast as possible. You do that by cutting the most popular services that impacts the most people. The more acute the pain, the more likely that the voters will vote to increase taxes. That is the easy road to having more candy to give away and ensure more votes in the next election. Unfortunately, none of this action takes care of the underlying problems, but rather exacerbates them.

            My expectation is that if Measure O fails, the City Council will start threatening to close a fire station. The uproar that causes will ensure that the next tax measure passes easily.

            No solutions, just more candy.

          2. Michelle Millet

            Politicians gain votes by pleasing their constituents

            Mark this statements implies that our city council members goal is to get elected just to get elected. I understand why someone would be motivated by this when we our taking about a political office that actually comes with some power and holding it results in some personal gain. I don’t think this is the case when we are talking about being a city council member in Davis.

            If someone is serving because they are truly interested in making decision that are in the best interest of the community, then I assume that is what they will base their decisions on.

            Implying that all are council members are motivated only by the desire to re-elected, and that they base their decisions solely on achieving this, is insulting to the people who are willing to make the personal sacrifices required to do this, what seems to me, thankless job.

          3. Mark West

            The majority of the current Council is looking to move on to higher office. The others are all likely to look forward to re-election. Do you dispute that simple fact? They are not acting in the best interests of the City, they are acting to please as many voters as possible.

            Yes, there have been those whose desires when running were to do what they thought was best for the City, but as we can see with Brett, there is a limit to what a lone voice can accomplish. The decisions are driven by the majority, not the individual, and the majority for the past 30+ years fits my description.

          4. Michelle Millet

            Besides Joe and Dan I can’t speak for what current council members intentions are in terms of running for higher office, I have no idea what their plans are, you may be privy to this information but I am not.

            I will say that making blanket statement regarding the actions of our entire council do not accurately represent the actions of individuals on council. If you desire change then why throw the ones who you think are acting in the best interest of the community under the bus with the ones who you think are acting in their own best interest.

            If we want a majority of the council to be made up of people who are focused on the community then we should elect those who are. Once they are elected we should be supporting them for doing so, not insulting them or questioning their motives.

          5. Michelle Millet

            That should be “not insulting them by questioning their motives.”

            (although insulting them, unless they really deserve it should also be discouraged).

          6. Matt Williams

            Michelle, besides Joe and Dan we have Lucas, and I will bet my next paycheck that at some time in the future Lucas runs for an office higher than the Davis City Council. Unless that run for higher office happens in 2016, he will almost certainly be running for reelection to the City Council. Rochelle is currently running for City Council, so she already fits Mark’s description. The only councilmember wh might not fir Mark’s description is Brett.

          7. Matt Williams

            What Mark says here rings true. I have heard some rumors that Brett may not stand for reelection. If those rumors prove to be true, then we will have lost one of the few exceptions to the rule. I sincerely hope the rumors are not true.

  7. Tia Will

    Jeff

    ““If you don’t vote to tax yourself more, you will feel more pain.”

    Just because something may be “fear based” does not mean that it is not also reality based.
    If while hiking, I see a bear approaching my companion, I will shout out to him. I am instilling fear, certainly,
    Is it reality based ? Certainly !

    Do you really believe that there will be “no pain” if we do not tax ourselves ?
    Or are you actually advocating the “John Galt” approach of destroying the system in order to be free to shape a system more to your liking regardless of the effects on those who do not adhere to your philosophy ?

  8. Michael Harrington

    Measure O money will mostly go to fund already approved staff raises and juicy comp packages.

    Oh wait …. Surprise! That funding plan is not in the city’s infomercial materials.

    Just like how the City lied to us on the Fall 2011 water rates that where repealed.

    Vote NO on O: we don’t trust the City to handle our tax dollars. Make them detail how it will be spent first.

    1. David Greenwald

      May not trust the city, but you do have to trust mathematics and the math says there is no way that Measuer O money will go to staff increases or comp packages because if you look at the the revenues from O over the next six years, and they are actually not enough to make things pencil out into 2020, which is why the city is cutting $1 million from the budget this June and will have to cut an additional $2 million by 2018 even with the tax increase, so where is the salary and comp increases going to come from?

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