It was a hot night on Wednesday evening, but neither the weather nor the late date dissuaded at least 40 people from attending the two-hour Vanguard Candidate Forum. The forum followed the Vanguard’s format from the 2012 School Board, 2013 Measure I, and 2014 Judicial Candidates forums – the candidates ask the questions.
This will be the first of several articles on the forum. This article will cover the five questions that the candidates asked of each other.
Question 1 from John Munn: “I think it would be helpful for voters to clearly understand where candidates stand on issues that are important to this election and that the next City Council will be dealing with. Where do you stand on Measure P? What is your position on spending money to study a City owned electric utility?”
Rochelle Swanson: On Measure P, I’m opposed to Measure P. I voted for the rates that we have now after a citizen’s advisory committee spent a lot of time going through the rates. But I really want to point out, it’s really important… I made the motion to support the water rates, while they are for five years, I put a compromise in there that every year they come back. They come back to council so that they can be adjusted. It’s not just a check-in = can we lower the rates? Are these rates reflective of what the goals were, what we were trying to achieve? Are we paying our fair share for the water project? Making sure that we are covered in the future and we are saving money with costs… I am opposed for a change in the way it is structured in a year from now if we can do better…
On the POU… I am supportive of the vote last night, 4-1, we put the study on hold… We need to do more before we go spending more money and we need to go get additional information. There is a lot of information that we have out there, I think the new council should have the opportunity to weigh in on moving forward.
Robb Davis: I also oppose Measure P. I’m very interested in discussing with John (Munn) or with anybody supporting it, what we mean by fair. If there is a way to find fairer rates, I am very amenable to that. I have been spending a lot of time over the last three month looking at the rates. Looking at projections. Looking at the comparison of the Bartle Wells approach, to CBFR, and I’ve been looking at it in terms of is there cross-subsidy. I can tell you that the CBFR compared to Bartle Wells, I’m concluding based on the data I’ve looked at, based on 2011 consumption, is there’s less cross-subsidy in CBFR than there is in Bartle Wells. Can we find another rate structure that will reduce that cross-subsidy – I’m talking about subsidy from low users to high, as well subsidies across user groups. If someone can point out to me a way to achieve less cross-subsidy, I’d be very open to that… The biggest concern I have about Measure P is this, the day after Measure P passes, if it does, there will be legal action taken against our city, there will be legal action to annul Measure I – we cannot kid ourselves about that. I know that’s not John’s (Munn) position and John doesn’t support that, but that’s what’s going to happen and the legal entanglements could scuttle the project and we could be left with no water and no project and costs…
(On the POU), I am willing to spend a small amount of money to facilitate a group of experienced and expert people within our community to explore the potential of all forms – not just publicly owned – but also CCA that allows us to have cheaper electricity.
Sheila Allen: I’m also against Measure P… that is because it is time for us to move forward with this water project. Water is a precious resource; I’m very pleased that the city is moving forward with securing water rights. It is very important to have a diversified water resource going forward. This is another attempt to stop the project. I’m very concerned about the possibility of legal action if Measure P passes and also of the loss of our ability to get financing. That being said, I absolutely agree that I have questions about the current water structure and after the one year and so I absolutely will be interested in looking at better ways, or perhaps fairer… water rates can be changed.
(On the POU), I was at the City Council meeting last night, it was decided to not move forward at this time and to rescind the $600,000 allotment that was going to be allowed. I was very happy that that was the decision because now the next council can look at it in the future, but now is not the time for us to be spending money on other things right now. We need to look at our current budget issues and in the future, I am very interested in public power and especially diverse power means. Right now we have other things we need to do.
Daniel Parrella: Measure P was a difficult decision for me to make. I sat down with a lot of other people, the proponents of Measure P, and what I asked them basically is that I would consider supporting it if they gave me a rate structure that they wanted. In other words, if they could point me to a similar example of a rate structure they thought was better than CBFR, something that we could manage. The reason that I think that I’m a No on P, I want to tweak CBFR, try to make it more fair – an annual consumption basis or what I heard today is there some talk about a pay as you go CBFR that is going to be proposed shortly. I’m really interested in looking into that. The reason why CBFR is something we should work with is because most traditional rates structure are based upon a percent of the cost of your water bill is based on how big the pipe is in your homes. In CBFR that only takes about 13 percent, I think that in and of itself is something we should work with. My concern is that if Measure P passed, Council will have very limited time to come up with a new rate structure, it will take a rate structure very similar to the Bartle Wells Inclined Rate structure that we have right now – and I’ll just say it’s a terrible rate structure…
(On the POU), I supported the council decision last night to refund the amount of money that was covered, the $600,000 loan. I will say, the number one green goal I have with the city is to bring community choice aggregation to the city of Davis. I think that’s what they did in both Marin County and Sonoma County and I love what they’re doing with their community choice aggregation… Renewable energy at the same pricing that PG&E charges for their electricity. I would be willing to spend some money looking into that. It is a far more politically realistic option right now.
John Munn: Well as usual I’m a little different. I’m for Measure P because our current system unfairly shifts the burden of paying for utilities to single family residents. In its place, we need a system that accounts for annual water use instead of focusing on the summer six-month water use. Arguments about the litigation if it passes are entirely speculative. My view is that the city should provide services at the cost of those services. If the costs go up, there will be an increase in cost. I oppose using higher rates to force behavior. This is not a reason for having a city government. If the rates stay in place it will have unintended consequences. They will force much larger decreases in water use by residential users, larger than the assumed 20 percent reduction, this will cause enormous increases in water costs. Large irrigators are leaving the system as the city is already planning to do – driving up costs to pay for fixed costs.
(On the POU), I do not support pursuing a city-run public utility at this time. We need to fix our problems first. This is once again something where I think there’s a game being played, where Measure O is perceived to be in trouble, the public utility has gotten unpopular. Believe me, it’s coming back after the election.
Question 2 asked by Rochelle Swanson, “What experience in negotiation can you bring to the table in the city’s negotiations with: Businesses looking to call Davis their home? Regional Partners with whom we have many projects or agreements? Bargaining Units and non-represented employees who have had to make concessions in these fiscally challenging times?”
Robb Davis: I have not done any of these things in this way. I’ve been negotiating in one form or another, most of the public health projects I have worked on in my life. I have negotiated with government officials to allow us to go into communities… I have negotiated with health officials to change the treatment regimen so that we could save more lives. I have negotiated with workers who were concerned about going into unsafe areas of the country so that we could determine strategies for keeping them safe.
These were all difficult negotiations. These were all difficult because we were dealing with cultural differences, we were dealing with misunderstandings, we were dealing with risk. My approach was always the same, understand what my priorities are, state them, be clear about what I want to achieve for our city, be honest and up front about that. Understand about the other person, not only their position that they’re stating, but what the needs underlying that position are. So we get to have a conversation not about positions but about the needs underlying them. That’s true negotiations. I look forward to bringing those skills to bear on each of these.
Sheila Allen: I would like to spend my time talking about my experience with bargaining units with representative groups. I think especially the Vanguard discussion area that there appears to be this myth that I am soft with unions or that I’m in different union’s pockets. And it’s just downright false. I have never been endorsed by the Davis Teacher Association. I was one time endorsed by the CSEA. I treated them fairly and I addressed a multi-million dollar deficit in the school district over the last four years. Let me tell you some numbers, March 2009, $3.3 million deficit. I voted in favor of laying off 37 teachers and 17 classified employees. February 2010, 80 teachers, 23 classified. February 2011, 60 teachers, 10 classified. Also that year, 2 percent decrease in classified and after a much more difficult negotiations, we did get the 2 percent decrease from DTA. February 2012, 53 teachers and 14 classified. We asked our administrators to be leaders first so whatever we asked our unions to take, we asked our administrators to take twice that. So they took a four percent decrease before we ever asked the DTA or CSEA to take a 2 percent decrease. So I of anybody up hear have had the most experience of negotiating with unions and balancing a budget.
Daniel Parrella: Stated that while he has dealt with some small contracts, nothing on the scale of what the city will have to go through. I will say that as the next months go by when I’m elected, it’s something that every city council has to go through. It’s an entirely new field. It’s one of those things we learn as a team. It’s something that with a new city manager, new city councilmembers here, it’s something that we all have to go through and we will get stronger as we go.
John Munn: I have a little bit of concern about the context of this question because the job of city council directs policy direction as opposed to direct negotiations, though I’m sure some of that goes on. What experience I have in negotiations? I was on the school board a number of years ago now, we did build some schools, there was involvement in negotiating if you will, or at least establishing contracts for those people who were involved in the discussion. As far as regional partners, the only thing I can come up with was I was president of the Yolo County School Boards Association and so I had to cooperate on inter-district kinds of activities… I have extensive school board experience where we negotiated contracts through our staff with teachers and other staff members of the school. And kept the budget balanced. That would be my reason for going through negotiations, simply to make sure that we end up with a balanced budget.
Rochelle Swanson: It’s 2014, it’s not 1984 or 1924. Councils today are very, very different. You look at all of the successful cities, and they do absolutely negotiate maybe its not formally at the table where you write a contracts where do walk-in agreement or a land use development. I can absolutely tell you that negotiations happens before that. Somebody comes to you and says hey can I sit and have coffee with you because I want to know it’s going to be like, am I going to have certainty if I invest $10, $15 million in your city… It is the council especially in a community that has lost 100 of its employees. So we all have to pick up slack, we can no longer just rely on staff… Regional partners are incredible important, we are all doing more with less, we know that in our personal lives, we know that in our business life, and we definitely know that in our public life. It is all about regional partnerships… The bargaining units and representatives, yes I’ve done the council already for four years, we actually took a bold move to move forward following other communities and hire an independent negotiator so we don’t have to have employees across the table from one another.
Question 3 from Robb Davis: “Realizing that you are only 1 of 5 City Council members, what would you propose to be the top 3 priorities that you believe the City Council must tackle between by the end of this calendar year.”
Sheila Allen: One of the first things that this council is going to tackle is the very important job of hiring a new city manager. That’s a very key task that will have to happen in conjunction with the community. The second thing of course is the budget. Because a budget is the statement of our priorities but if you don’t have sufficient funds to do your core functions, you have to do work in order to get that in line. I will commit to working with the community, working with the other people on the city council, and listening to our administration who are supposed to be our paid experts in the area, who bring all of the information together to try to help us move through this current budget issue. The third thing is to look at programs – this is of course directly connected to the budget but there are some core programs that need to happen in order for us to function as a city. Of course there’s fire and police, that’s very important… The roads have generated a lot of discussion, but there are other important programs that Davis feel that are important. One area that I would have us look at is this issue of homelessness and mental health issues. It won’t be something necessarily that the city itself will have to put forward funds, but I think we as a community need to bring forward all the different partners and start to look at what the actual problem and how we can tackle this gap in service.
Daniel Perrella: Number one is absolutely city manager. There’s not another more important task. We have an interim one right now, but the one that we hire right now is going to have to deal with massive unfunded liabilities that will likely shape the future of Davis. Number two has to deal with the water rates, if Measure P passes we’ll have to deal with an entirely new water rate structure in a short amount of time. Even if Measure P does not pass, I think there are tweaks we need to make. I strongly expect that by the end of the calendar year, CBFR will not look the same as it does right now. Number three, I think has to do with budget… I think the most important thing is to finally get a grasp on the funded liabilities that the city faces. We all know for the most part that the $5 million deficit faced by the city is a largely made up number, it doesn’t take into account all of the liabilities that the city owes. I think we need to get a grasp of the pools, storm water, buildings and structures, fleet replacement, all of that I think is very important.
John Munn: I think we all agree that one of the most important tasks the council will have is hiring a city manager… Three of the other most important things facing the city over the next few years are balancing the city budget, funding street maintenance and repair, and funding employee pensions and health care. I’m going to add a fourth, that is getting city services costs under control, which includes the water rates. These are all interrelated fiscal issues that must be dealt with together so that the city can continue to provide services and activities and amenities that we rely on us to call Davis a great place to call home. They are united by this common theme of affordability. It should be no surprise that I identify financial problems because my candidacy is focused on fiscal sustainability.
Rochelle Swanson: She noted that the question asked by the end of the calendar year and that the budget will be adopted by June 30. First priority, I agree with everyone up here, it’s the city manager it needs to be somebody who’s a leader, it needs to be somebody who actually understands – relations, as it relates to the community, as it relates to innovation, as it relates to an entrepreneurial spirit within the community and they really understand fiscal sustainability and all that that means within the Davis community. Which means fiscal sustainability so that we’re strong long term but also do so in a very responsible manner. Number two is revenue, so the next time we’re in a budget cycle, we’re not going to be cutting, by the end of this calendar year, we have to have some of these innovation proposals actually on the table, in a pipeline. We have people right now waiting to invest in our community. I would love to see us get to a fiscal level where all we can talk about is what we can cut and what we can do without ever get to the light, but to actually do the things we actually want to do. The last thing would be engagement, true engagement that in pushing forward can get the community engaged, to make the priorities to reflect what the community at this point in time wants to do.
Robb Davis: I concur also on the city manager, we’re a general law city. In many ways, we operate as a policy governance board. We set the ends and the rest is out there for our manager to make happen with staff. We need someone with strong financial skills. There’s no doubt about it, someone whose worked in a complex organization, there are a lot of moving parts. I think someone who has also been through a process that is reviewing and re-doing account system is really going to be important. I think the person is going to need to come in and say, city council, you’re not giving me clear enough directions… Goal setting is the second thing I would like to focus on. Many people think we’re moving off in many different directions. I think when we face fiscal challenges as we are now, one of the opportunities is to have us step back and redefine what the core is that we want to do. Core doesn’t just mean safety, police and fire, it means things that we value as a community… A third thing I would ad, is I think we need public workshops and closed sessions to really wrestle with total compensation issues. The issue of total compensation… has exploded. It’s not about salaries, it’s about other things.