On Tuesday night, Measure O passed and passed easily, with 58 percent of the vote. Measure O was never about fiscal sustainability, it was about fiscal survivability. Measure O is the bridge to allow the city the time it needs to put its books in order.
In this term, the passage of Measure O allows the city to do exactly that. Had Measure O failed, the city would have gone into, most likely, 25 percent cut mode for everything but police and fire.
That means city employees can breathe a sign of relief. As Rob White posted on Wednesday, “I can share that the mood in City Hall today is one of relief. There is a palatable positive attitude change. Why? Because many of the people I sit near and work with daily now have a little more certainty in their lives about the future (at least for now) due to the passage of Measure O.”
He would add, “Staff are noting that the majority of voters believed in them and are energized to prove that the money will be well spent. This is very different than a few days ago when it was a lot of breath-holding and stress. Many now admit that they were certain they were losing their jobs.”
That was not a healthy atmosphere for city employees and it would not have been a healthy atmosphere for our city, in terms of the amenities that make this community a unique community.
Had Measure O gone down, it is almost certain that we would not have seen the parcel tax to repair the roads, keep parks open and even do basic maintenance on city-owned buildings.
Going forward, it is critical to remember that Measure O is only a bridge. The city still is going to cut $1.2 million this budget cycle. The city still faces $5 to $8 million in funding for road repairs. The city faces untold amounts for parks and buildings.
As newly-elected Robb Davis put it, Measure O’s passing “gives us breathing room even though cuts are going to come into the budget. It gives us breathing room to start working and to keep working on the economic development piece. The bottom line is it doesn’t do anything to deal with the major backlogs that we face.”
He said as a result they will have to decide “if, and the amount that, they come back to the voters” in November. While he did not commit to a parcel tax, he did say that someone would have to show him a viable alternative to deal with the significant infrastructure backlogs in the short-term, without putting it off for five years.
“I think we have to make a case to the voters that this is critical to the situation of the city,” he added.
Measure O will keep the doors open, but the parcel tax is of necessity. The opponents of Measure O, such as they were, warned the electorate that if Measure O passed, there was more on the way. This was as though there was some secret conspiracy abound, whereas the council has been open and up front.
However, the parcel tax will not sail through with little to know in the campaign. Measure O was fortunate that there was no real opposition other than the opponents to every tax who really did not understand the fiscal situation or the precarious nature of the city’s position, even on Measure O.
While Measure O passed handily, it is important to note that it fell well shy of the two-thirds majority a parcel tax will need. The two previous taxes passed with 68 and 70 percent of the vote. So these should be causes for warning.
But despite claims from some in the community, I do not see an alternative to the parcel tax.
That means that the city needs to start today making the case for a parcel tax – not in July, not in August and certainly not in September.
They have to hire a campaign consultant, raise real money, and run a real campaign this time.
And they have to be prepared that someone with more know-how and resources than Jose Granda and Thomas Randall will step up as opposition.
Critical to this task is hiring a good city manager who can provide leadership and guidance. The city lost such a manager when Steve Pinkerton left at the end of April. That has left a leadership void.
Gene Rogers has so far not shown anything. Given what we have gotten to date, and the amount of money we are spending, it might have been better had the city chosen an internal option.
But, going forward, the city needs to figure out what the going rate is for a city manager for a community of this size with this amount of activity and be prepared to step up and pay more to get the right person for the job. We have seen first-hand how critical it is to get the right city manager. This is not an area where we should be cutting corners or symbolically cutting costs.
We have discussed this at length over the last year to eighteen months, but the plain fact of the matter is that the city does not have the tax base it needs to support the services it wants and the community demands.
We therefore have to make a critical choice. We either have to be willing to pay much more in taxes, get by with much fewer services, or be willing to develop our economy.
There are multiple areas where the city can expand its economic base. We are looking at a Hotel Conference Center on Richards where the University Park Inn and Caffe Italia reside, that could bring in half a million in revenue.
Last week, we saw preliminary designs for Nishi. The developers and consultants believe that the innovation park portion of the development can generate 1600 to 1700 jobs. However, in order for this to happen, voters would have to approve the development in a Measure R vote and there were many community concerns raised about circulation and traffic impacts.
The city announced yesterday (as we reported in another article) that SGC has approved grant of nearly $600,000 for the City of Davis Downtown University Gateway District Plan. This SGC grant will help fund analyses and environmental review for the Nishi Gateway project, along with transportation, water/wastewater, and open space plans for the Downtown University Gateway District.
The city has launched an RFEI (request for expressions of interest) for proposals for business parks. We are expecting an application from Mace 200 and perhaps one from the Northwest Quadrant. These are speculative at this point without an application.
There are other possibilities, as well. We have areas in the downtown that can be redeveloped, the city is eyeing, long term, the possibility of rail relocation, redevelopment of the PG&E and corp-yards along Fifth Street, and potentially Interland at some point down the line.
During the campaign there were repeated criticisms of the city for failing to maximize its collective bargaining position. Our belief is that, while it is possible that the city could have extracted more from city employees, getting a contract in place for five of the seven bargaining units by December of 2012 was to the advantage of the city.
Had the city attempted to extract more, we would have seen additional holdouts, impasse with more groups, and that would have had not only severe political costs, but fiscal costs. As it was, the hold out of fire and DCEA ended up adding a quarter to a half-million to the deficit. But moreover, it would have further poisoned relations between the city and its employees and made moving forward more difficult.
Measure O now gives us a bridge to June 30, 2015 when five of the contracts expire. And if the city wishes to be bold, it can remember that fire and DCEA are working without contracts now and nothing is there to stop the city from making further cuts in those areas.
But for any of this to really go forward, we need leadership. If Dan Wolk ends up not winning the Assembly seat he will be mayor for the next two years. How engaged will he be? And when and who will the city find to be the next city manager? The answers to those questions are critical for putting together these pieces of the puzzle.
—David M. Greenwald reporting