We have often argued that letters to the editor are windows into how citizens perceive public policy decisions.
Often, citizens know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to have real policy insight. Ironically, earlier this week a letter entitled “We live in the real world” shows us how much people actually don’t live in the real world. The letter says, “One primary responsibility of City Council members is to assure the fiscal stability of the city. The City Council of Davis lacks members with real-world business experience, which also involves good common sense.”
I’m sure at least one councilmember would take exception to that depiction, but it is important to also understand four of the five members of the city council were backed by the Davis Chamber of Commerce.
The writer begins, “There is a growing list of projects and plans that are being considered by the City Council, the latest of which is to consider making Davis a copy of the Netherlands.”
I have no idea what they are referring to. Nor do I know exactly what this statement means, “How about finishing and paying for the highest-priority items before venturing onto a ‘wish list,’ which, if not monitored carefully, will be funded for study and consideration of implementation, never mind the real costs. The City Council needs to remember there is a limited amount of money and loans are to be repaid with interest.”
Again, not exactly what the writer refers to here, but for the most part and with few exceptions, there have been very few projects, much less “wish list” projects, that have been implemented in Davis within the past few years. The few that have been implemented have carried with them self-funding mechanisms – many of which involve grants.
The writer continues, “Perhaps the council smells blood — Measure O was passed, so maybe that has spurred the council to consider another tax in the form of a parcel tax.”
This is part and parcel to the misinformation put out by the local paper a few weeks ago. The council has also been upfront about the fact that Measure O was only part of the revenue figures needed to pay for basic city services. But this is a reminder that the council should be very reluctant to go outside of core needs.
“Is anyone counting the costs? And who pays? Landowners and renters whose rents include prorated rental owner costs,” the letter writer goes on to write.
Is anyone counting the costs? Absolutely. At last count the city figures it owes over $100 million in deferred maintenance costs. They have also been very clear that if there are delays in addressing the deferred maintenance, the costs for the streets repair portion go up at least 8 percent each year, and probably faster than that. Delaying maintenance further will result in permanently poor roads.
“The water project is far from complete, with final costs unknown,” this is partly true. The city has estimates as to the costs, with interest costs included at an interest rate that probably is high … cautiously high so that the final numbers do not exceed the estimates. At the same time, the city is also working hard to get low interest state revolving loans to reduce those interest costs and, as a result, the water rates down the line.
“The council and the Water Advisory Committee tried to add fluoridation, at a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars,” she writes.
The council discussed the issue of fluoridation, and they ultimately voted against it. It is not correct to state that the council tried to add fluoridation. An outside group proposed fluoridation, the council considered it, and ultimately rejected it.
“With no rate structure in place, the costly study continues. How many cities in California similar to Davis have rate structures that could be reviewed for use in Davis?” she writes. I am not sure what she means by the costly study. The city implemented a rate structure that the voters overturned and have now voted to consider a new one that is similar to structures in several other cities.
“The wastewater treatment plant has been approved. It will only cost $89.5 million!” she writes. Here is an area she really could have criticized the city on, because the city went with its own wastewater treatment plant and its specific design that may have cost tax payers $25 million in additional costs over the life of the project, but the letter writer was unaware of that, in part because of lack of coverage.
She continues, “At the behest of Davis bicyclists, Fifth Street is being reconfigured for less auto space and more bicycle space. Final cost? Why not reroute bicycles away from Fifth Street?”
This a troublesome description of the Fifth Street redesign. Granted, there is much controversy, but the impetus for the changes came as much from the Old North Davis Neighborhood as it did from bike enthusiasts. The hope of the design is that it will slow down traffic but improve traffic flow.
The Fifth Street lane configuration, that we have all used for years, is as poorly designed for automobiles as it is for bikes and pedestrians. The cost has largely been mitigated from grants and non-general fund impact fees. Although the questions posed by the letter writer in the last of those sentences is clearly rhetorical, it is worth answering. Why not reroute bicycles away from Fifth Street? Because they cannot legally do so.
“The city, in its largesse, is considering raising the minimum wage. I hope that the City Council members remember any raise in wages raises employer costs,” they write.
That is completely inaccurate. The city council has made no effort to raise the minimum wage. A private group attempted to collect signatures to put a measure on the ballot. That group fell short. The city council has not heard the item nor proposed the item.
“With a full plate, the City Council wants to make Davis a mini-PG&E, already spending almost half million to study and willing to go to $1 million,” she writes.
This is about two months dated. The council did pursue a study of the merits and drawbacks of a Publicly Owned Utility District; however, two months ago they took the option off the table.
“Does anyone want Davis to be on the list of cities on the fiscal cliff or in bankruptcy? This is no Utopia,” she concludes.
Funny thing is that she never mentioned the city’s growing obligation for pensions and retiree health care, perhaps because much of what she got came from a certain newspaper columnist who has never covered the biggest hits to the city.
She has also failed to cover the efforts that the city has made to improve its finances through employee negotiations, cuts to huge payouts for cafeteria cash outs, shared costs for pensions and OPEB, reforms to the fire department, the city efforts at temporary taxation and now the city’s push for economic development.
The writer here has some facts, but knows just enough to be dangerous. Her letter is either the result of selective listening on her part … or a reflection of the failure of the city’s public relations and outreach ability … or selective coverage by the news media of the events of our town … or all three. I’ll leave it to you to be the judge.
—David M. Greenwald reporting