Commentary: Why the Status Quo Can No Longer Hold

New playground at Central Park is the type of amenity we risk if we do not plan economic development.
New playground at Central Park is the type of amenity we risk losing if we do not plan economic development.

I found this week interesting. I have long upheld and, in fact, fought for slow growth principles in this community. In fact, I continue to rent a home and live in this community because I like the small town, and the intellectually rigorous, progressive atmosphere of this community. I have fought to keep that.

I came to my current position on innovation parks slowly – very slowly – over a period of perhaps 18 months. This is not a position that I have taken lightly. I have weighed the pros and the cons. I have run numbers and done the math.

The bottom line – and Rob White yesterday did an excellent job of laying it out – is I do not believe that the status quo can hold. We are at a crossroads and something will change no matter what we decide to do.

For weeks I have been laying out the decision framework, giving us three basic options for process given the rate of growth in costs for both employee compensation and infrastructure versus the lack of growth in revenues.

We have three basic alternatives – cuts (reduction in employees, cutting back on compensation), taxes (increased taxes every five years or so to accommodate the cost increases and pay for infrastructure), or economic growth.

The way I see it is a few 200-acre innovation parks might be the best way to keep this city where it is now. Innovation Parks are the key. If we design them well, they could look and act as extensions of the UC Davis college campus.

One of our posters posted the idea of the Innovation Park from the Student 30 Report at UC Davis: “The first question facing Studio 30 was to define a 21st Century Innovation park. The business park concept has been rapidly changing as the market demands new places to do innovative work. ..

“Although Studio 30 focused on Innovation Parks, there are many similarities between the research park concept and an innovation park located in Davis. Studio 30 found ARUP’s definition of a university research park clear and comprehensive and adopted it.”

What I see here are possibilities to be able to generate revenue to pay for basic city services, while keeping this community largely as we see it today.

Is there risk? There is risk in the status quo.

Some have told me that we should have one more round of cuts – well I see that happening regardless of what we do. We simply don’t have much choice because, even in the most aggressive – and perhaps unrealistic scenario – Schilling Robotics might be ready to move to Mace Innovation Center by 2017, which I count as two and a half to three years from now.

Rob White had made the point that, without much effort, we can add a quarter to half a million square feet of space per year, but that is still going to be a slow ramp up of tax revenue. Bottom line is that nothing that we do in innovation will preclude us from another round of cuts when the contracts come up.

But I think Rob White also raises important points there, as well. The issue of employee compensation is tricky. On the one hand, the Vanguard had led the charge to ratchet down runaway employee compensation from the last decade, but it looks like the market is going to open back up.

So we have a dilemma. Davis’ spending problem has never been Davis’ alone. The Vanguard has agreed we need to raise the salary for city manager candidates to be more competitive – but it is clear there will be upward pressure across the board.

Some readers believe that we can find quality candidates for less money. Perhaps we need to take the approach of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, as captured in the book and movie “Moneyball,” where the Oakland GM recognized that the A’s would never be able to compete financially with the Yankees for the best ballplayers and so he developed innovative ways to remain competitive despite these handicaps.

We cannot simply write this off as one reader did – my neighbor has a BMW, I could not afford a BMW, so I didn’t get one. The problem with the analogy is that having a BMW rather than another vehicle is that is more luxury than necessary from a perspective of quality and output. Moreover, you are not directly competing with your neighbor in any way, shape or form, other than perhaps ego boost.

Here at the Vanguard we have often criticized the poor quality of city staff. I have grave concerns about this as we move forward and ask our staff to do more with less.

It may be, however, that we are never going to out-compete for money with even regional leaders, so perhaps we get smarter. Hiring good quality employees and asking them to do neat and innovation projects might be a way to attract people, to a great community like Davis, with things other than money.

There are, of course, other ways to skin a cat besides cuts. As Rob White points out, “For a city the size of Davis, we have a larger per capita amount of parks, recreation facilities, off-street bike lanes and open space than many comparable regional neighbors. These are exceptional ‘quality of life’ attributes, but they all cost money to maintain and operate.”

He adds, “Many of the City’s facilities (such as City Hall, pools and playgrounds) are of an advanced age and require significant funds to maintain (and replace) them.”

Finally, “The community has enjoyed many services in the past without paying the true costs. This can be done when there are other revenue sources. As an example of how other communities might accomplish this, if you have significant retail dollars from a shopping mall, you can subsidize after school and recreation programs. We have amazing quality of life programs and services, but the true costs of these has just now been realized and is a driver for the structural imbalance in the budget.”

We may not know the total cost, but we know enough to be concerned. We have an idea what roads alone will cost. Amenities like recreation programs, soccer fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, parks and greenbelts are all going to have huge increases in costs.

Do we want to do away with them? People lament the browning of lawns, but imagine the browning of greenbelts or the introduction of another development – development on additional greenbelts, as a multifaceted way to at once get rid of costs, satisfy our demand for new housing, and gain short-term construction fees for the city. Is that the approach we want to take?

We are having trouble putting a $100 parcel tax on the ballot when we will probably need a $500 one at some point if revenue comes in. 58% of the people were willing to support a sales tax increase in June, but what happens when it becomes a half-cent increase every six years just to keep what we have?

So, if you are concerned about parks and pools and the amenities that make this community great and unique, and you don’t want people taxed out of the city, what is the best solution?

I am sorry – that’s really where we are. Things are going to change. We will either get by with far fewer amenities, fewer city services and more cut backs to employees, or we will have to raise taxes every six years – or we can utilize our unique place and put in some relatively small (200 acres) but very cool and innovative business parks.

I’m not going to settle for just anything – we need something that the voters will support and will generate the revenue we need.

But the bottom line is this is not a sellout, this was a calculated decision arrived at over a long period of time and taking in a number of factors. The best way to keep Davis Davis is to support economic development as laid out by this process.

—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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  1. DT Businessman

    Why the Vanguard’s ongoing extremely narrow focus on innovation parks when it comes to economic development to grow revenue, create jobs and preserve our quality of life? It’s weird. The CC adopted an ED action plan that contains many action items. Why no drumbeat for the other elements, only the innovation parks? To use David’s baseball analogy, that’s like swinging for the fences exclusively, entirely disregarding bunts, singles, doubles, triples, etc. It’s hard to win a game let alone a title with such a strategy. Some would call it reckless.

    -Michael Bisch

    1. David Greenwald

      Hello Michael: I’m caught a little off guard by your comment and would like to understand it better? The push for innovation parks is primarily due to Measure R and its vote requirements. What do you think is lacking and would you be interested in laying out your preferred course of action via an op-ed/ guest commentary?

      1. Mark West

        Michael has been pretty consistent with this same message for more than a year. The Innovation Park idea is a ‘big ticket’ item when it comes to economic development, but there are many things that the City could be doing that do not require years of study or a measure R vote. The problem is that the CC and Staff were more interested in plastic bags, wood smoke, old bathrooms, the election, and many other so called priorities. In many cases, we have already done the visioning and the planning, and are only waiting on the implementation. In the end, it is simply a matter of priorities.

        1. David Greenwald

          “but there are many things that the City could be doing that do not require years of study or a measure R vote.”

          Push them forward and we can look at them.

          1. Don Shor

            More flexible zoning around the downtown, higher buildings, Gateway, identifying low-performing properties and incentivizing owners to improve them; I’m sure there are others from previous discussions.

          2. Davis Progressive

            none of that really seems that interesting and controversial. the big issue around town are the innovation parks.

        2. South of Davis

          Mark wrote:

          > and Staff were more interested in plastic bags, wood smoke, old bathrooms…

          I’m also wondering what the fancy NEW bathroom (100′ from the still working old bathroom that could have been renovated for a couple thousand) next to the brand new park north of the farmers market cost…

      2. Mr. Toad

        Oh, its that darned measure R again. I wish we would just get rid of that darned elephant…

        Anyway I agree with Michael there is so much more we could do. I’m not sure what other things Michael is talking about but some additional retail to provide competition, product availability and reduce tax leakage would help and of course we always need more housing which if structured correctly can get you a long way towards budget sustainability. Just look at the proposal to build on that little lifetime conservation easement at Wildhorse. Which proposal generates the most revenue for the city? I bet its the one with the most houses. And not to go from Wildhorse to deadhorse but 391 would have raised a lot of money for the city.

        I know people claim housing doesn’t pay but Cannery was structured to be budget positive for a long time. What was it 10,15,20 years. Long enough that its hard to do future budgeting out that far so it does actually pencil out for the foreseeable future.

        So Michael is right David, you have been wrong on this stuff for a long time you have been drinking the no growth Kool-aid for years even as it works against the interests of people of your age and class, young college educated families with kids, many of whom are not all that different from you, but whom have been priced out of this town by the policies of the generation that came before you. Its good that you are coming around, albeit at a glacial pace, but you start this by talking about how you figure to be a renter forever. Not everyone wants that or can land a place with a good landlord that doesn’t screw them every chance they get. I too was once a no growth advocate having inculcated my limits to growth based environmental education. Then I realized that Davis had gone too far and that its policies were holding me back. You are coming around David but stop pussy footing around and start standing up to those that have theirs and selfishly don’t care about anybody else.

        1. Davis Progressive

          you’re becoming a one-note wonder on measure r.

          “I know people claim housing doesn’t pay but Cannery was structured to be budget positive for a long time”

          housing doesn’t generate revenue. the assumptions for cannery to remain positive are linked to the city holding the line of employee compensation for a long time – you okay with that?

          “So Michael is right David, you have been wrong on this stuff for a long time”

          that sounds more like what you say rather than michael.

          ” You are coming around David but stop pussy footing around and start standing up to those that have theirs and selfishly don’t care about anybody else.”

          how is he pussy-footing around? what would you like to see him push?

        2. DavisBurns

          “I know people claim housing doesn’t pay but Cannery was structured to be budget positive for a long time.”

          It is a net revenue gain for TEN years, then it is a revenue loss: infrastructure costs and city services will cost the city more than the revenue from the cannery covers. This is why cites get poorer when they get bigger. It’s a game you can’t win–with subdivisions.

          And why are we talking Parks plural? Wouldn’t it make sense to settle on ONE project and try to get support for that one rather than 3 or is it 4 different projects?

          1. Anon

            Why limit ourselves, if two or three parks would be beneficial, i.e. bring in significant revenue to the city? For instance, Nishi is one type of innovation park. Supposed a medical research innovation park is proposed for the Northwest Quadrant, and an ag research park is proposed for the one by I-80/Mace. If they all bring in significant revenue to the city, are well planned, why not consider more than one?

          2. Tia Will


            Given the time lines involved before we start seeing revenue from the parks, I am in strong agreement with starting with one, presumably the best project and then moving forward. I do not like the idea of reacting to bad decisions made under pressure by previous councils pretending that such pressure from specific interests groups might not lead to undesired consequences. I would strongly urge a multifaceted approach with the best single project chosen, cutbacks as necessary, and tax increases as necessary.

            One other component of our community that we may be underutilizing is our volunteers. We have many, many people in our community volunteering through a number of different organizations in an uncoordinated fashion. Has making a thorough assessment of the capacity of this group to work collaboratively rather than in isolation to donate time as well as funds to projects the city determines to be critical ? I do not believe that I have heard this brought forth in this discussion.

          3. Mark West

            Tia: “Given the time lines involved before we start seeing revenue from the parks, I am in strong agreement with starting with one, presumably the best project and then moving forward.”

            So as not to assume what you mean here, are you proposing selecting one project, such as Nishi or Mace or NW Quadrant, building it to completion, and then assessing whether or not we need to consider a second project? Do I have that correct?

            Does the fact that it may take 10-20 years to completely build out one of the projects impact your recommendation at all or is that a time frame you are comfortable with?

        3. Tia Will

          Mr. Toad

          “Then I realized that Davis had gone too far and that its policies were holding me back. You are coming around David but stop pussy footing around and start standing up to those that have theirs and selfishly don’t care about anybody else.”

          Interesting juxtaposition of ideas in this one paragraph. So you realized that the policies were holding “you” back, and then make a statement about other people being “selfish”.

          I think this nicely illustrates the human tendency to see our own desires as natural, and those of others as selfish.

          1. Mr. Toad

            Yes of course but now that I have a home I would be arguing for restricted supply if I was only interested in my own well being. Instead I argue that we shouldn’t maintain policies that lock others out. I clearly learned from my experience.

    2. John

      Michael, where can someone get a copy of that Economic Development Plan adopted by the Council?

      David, it would be good to post that adopted Economic Development Plan here in the Vanguard as part of an article. Also, have you ever considered having a “Pertinent Documents” section here on the Vanguard that readers can use as a reference library?

  2. DT Businessman

    No need for a long-winded op ed. You shouldn’t be caught off guard; I’ve raised the issue plenty of times in the past. And it’s not clear to me why you’re evading the question. Why the extremely narrow Vanguard focus on only one element of a diverse set of identified ED action items? Why are you not daily beating the drum for all the other elements as you are for the innovation park item?

    The comment about Measure R does not seem germane to me. Community resource allocation, awareness, and action of one kind or the other is required on virtually all the identified ED action items, not just innovation parks.

    -Michael Bisch

  3. Frankly

    Some readers believe that we can find quality candidates for less money. Perhaps we need to take the approach of Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, as captured in the book and movie “Moneyball,” where the Oakland GM recognized that the A’s would never be able to compete financially with the Yankees for the best ballplayers and so he developed innovative ways to remain competitive despite these handicaps.

    There are four basic ingredients for this:

    1. Managers trained in the art of best-practices in leadership. Employees report high quality managers as one of the top reasons they are attracted to and stay on the job.

    2. High quality recruiting and hiring processes that value skills and aptitudes other than just experience… basically hiring smart and motivated people that can learn.

    3. High quality training programs to bring new hires up to speed.

    4. Acceptance of a higher turnover rates because of the previous.

      1. DavisBurns

        When we moved here, from Sacramento, less than 20 miles away, we heard the refrain, “I don’t know how you do it where you came from but in DAVIS we do it this way…” so often we kept a little notebook call “how we do it in Davis”. Today someone would use an app. In fact, an app would help newcomers figure out how special Davis is.

  4. South of Davis

    Does anyone know what it cost to tear down a perfectly good playground and build the new playground in the photo (I’m betting that is cost more to tear down today than it cost to build)? Not long ago SF spent over a MILLION to remodel a smaller playground.

    When I was a kid in the 70’s SF Peninsula parents remodeled playgrounds (that made kids happy and were safe) without costing the taxpayers a penny (they paid for everything and did all the work themselves).

    A while back on the way to Tahoe I stopped to use a nice roadside bathroom and did a Google search to see that I had just used a $3.5 MILLION (taxpayer paid to remodel) bathroom:

    When we were kids most of us heard about of the $100 hammers the Army bought. Today it seems like the “status quo” of ALL government (run by both parties) is to spend tons of money the only difference is that government is better at “hiding” what things cost (and what we actually pay people that work for and with government).

    I’m happy that the Vanguard (and posters to this site) is helping to shed light on the many ways that the government spends (and hides how they spend) taxpayer money.

    P.S. When the city said it would cost $25K to tear down the little Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer tank house I had to laugh since a relative recently had an old barn (about 10x bigger than the tank house) in Amador County torn down for $5K by a licensed demo firm with a big excavator. I was talking to a couple young guys with a pickup who said they would have cut up the tank house and taken it to the Yolo County landfill for $2K…

      1. South of Davis

        Anon wrote:

        > I don’t believe the tank house was torn down, but moved to a different location.

        The city did not tear it down but based on the (huge inflated) price to tear it down they paid a (huge inflated) price to move it and give big gift to a politically connected people that made a ton of money moving it and the politically connected family west of town…

    1. berryessawilcox

      California’s prevailing wage laws make public construction projects much more costly than private citizens & businesses, who can use non-unionized contractors, can get away with.

      For example a typical Yolo County laborer on a government project would be paid in the $26/hr range with mandatory benefits that bump their loaded rate up to $47/hr. Equipment operators earn from $29-$41/hr with loaded rates from $58-$68. The loaded rate is before payroll taxes, workmans comp, etc..

      Add this up, and crew with two laborers, and an operator on a backhoe would cost $1,300 for one eight hour shift. This is before equipment, materials, office overhead, and profit.

      Demolition projects are especially tricky for government agencies because they have to strictly follow hazardous materials abatement regulations. Old infrastructure is packed full of asbestos and lead paint. Removing these materials prior to demolition is costly, and often this material is not uncovered until construction begins which further drives up the cost.

      The barn-removers in a pickup truck can get away with hiring help for $10/hr under the table, crushing up and ignoring the hazardous materials, and dumping the debris on some rancher’s land in the middle of the night (“Yes sir, we dropped it off at the landfill”). Government agencies can’t operate that way.

        1. DavisBurns

          Amen. We need to stop thinking it’s okay to pay for a quick and dirty job without paying benefits or having insurance, etc. I keep hearing how cheap the private sector can get things done. Well they cut corners, hire sub sub sub contractors and the people doing the work are paid a pittance. It’s not the way honorable people do business.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Let’s not be naive. We just built half a bridge for $7.5 Billion, plus interest, and inspections were blown off and critical mistakes were swept under the rug. So we got the gold Range Rover that sounds like it was partly built by Yugo mechanics.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      SoD, playground cost: $585,000

      “The second phase of construction, with a new universal-access playground as the centerpiece, will cost about $585,000. The money to pay for the work will come from Community Development Block Grant funds, Quimby fees and park impact fees.

      “There has been no controversy surrounding the playground.

      “(The new playground is) designed to accommodate and encourage play for children with special needs,” the city says in its staff report to the council. “The play pieces are ADA-accessible, allowing children in wheelchairs to experience playground activities. The sensory playground pieces provide recreational opportunities for children stimulated by sensory touch and listening activities.””

      “There are only two such playgrounds in the Sacramento area.”

      1. South of Davis

        TBD wrote:

        > SoD, the city will pay $27,000 to move it, and $50,000 to add
        > landscaping and a patio: grand total $77,000.

        Then TBD posted a link that said:

        > Based on contractors’ estimates, the city believes it would cost $49,000
        > to turn the facility into storage. Hattie Weber representatives say, however,
        > that they’ve received an estimate of only $3,841 to re-work the building,
        > a substantial decrease in cost because much of the work could be done
        > by volunteers

        A few years back we paid $3.5K to add a patio a sod lawn, a sprinkler system (I bought the timer at Home Depot for $59 and hooked it up myself in an hour to cut $200 off the bid) and carpet roses (we were told that the roses came from the same place the city gets them from that they plant downtown).

        It is not “just” “prevailing wage laws” we are dealing with when we have a current government “status quo” that (on average) costs about TEN (10) times more than the same thing would cost a private citizen.

        I was able to put in a sprinkler timer for $59 + 1 Hour, a (licensed tax paying) Landscape firm wanted $200 and I bet it would cost the city over $2,000…

        1. berryessawilcox

          If a local city is trying to install a sprinkler timer under an existing construction contract, it will be much more costly than what you can do on your own time. The reason is deeply rooted in law and policy and is not something that the average government employee, or even a city council, has any control over. Prevailing wage is a big component of it.

          Most local government construction contracts use a methodology defined by Caltrans for compensating contractors for extra costs. It is supposed to model actual costs with reasonable profit for the contractor, and is likely to hold up in court if challenged.

          So assume two hours of labor to install the timer which includes the drive to & from Home Depot.

          Labor = ($47/hr * 2 hrs) * 1.12 (workers comp, social security, taxes, etc) * 1.35 (office overhead, bonding, insurance, profit) = $142

          Equipment = ($22/hr Caltrans Rate for F-150 truck * 2 hrs) * 1.15 (equipment markup) = $50.60

          Materials = $59 sprinkler * 1.15 (materials mark-up) = $67.85

          Construction Inspection = ($110/hr consultant rate * 1 hr (driving to/from site and time at site) = $110

          Total = $370

          Not cheap, but not $2,000.

          You saved a lot of money by performing your own labor and inspection. You’re not likely to find an employee willing to do that. However, you did miss including your vehicle costs ($0.56/mile is a good estimate)

          In the real world, a City might buy a commercial grade timer that is designed to last for 30 years, be remote controllable, and hold up better to vandalism.

          These numbers are the reality of what government employees look at every day and hopefully they describe why home projects and government construction are apples and oranges.

        2. Ann_O

          SoD, thank you for illustrating the simple thinking that the uninformed fall back on. This kind of math is why so many small businesses fail. $59 for parts and an hour of your time. That’s all and it saved you $200, right? That’s great for an individual who has the time available. If you had just asked for the timer to be installed the cost most likely would have been higher. The variable costs of your job went down slightly and the fixed costs down $59. Overall, however most of the variable costs are still in the $3,500 you paid for the job. There are costs that you don’t consider in your simple outline, some of which you actually incurred. Time to drive to HD, gas, depreciation on you vehicle, auto insurance, etc. You are not a business so rent, financing costs, payroll services, liability insurance, marketing costs, and more are things you can save on.

          Not all of these would apply to the city but I hope you get my point. I am also not sure how much your job would have cost if the city had done it. My overall point is it is easy to think about the world as this simple linear thing but, unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that. I don’t want to suggest that the city is the most efficient operation in the world but the public is not served by simple thinking.

          1. South of Davis

            Ann_O wrote:

            > SoD, thank you for illustrating the simple thinking that the
            > uninformed fall back on.

            FYI, I’m not what you would call “uninformed”, I’ve actually worked in politics for years and I’ve seen how public sector is getting even better at hiding the crazy spending from taxpayers and how the new “status quo” spending (by elected officials in BOTH parties) is out of control (and it not going to end well for ANYONE).

            If you see above the city got a bid of $49K to turn a bathroom in to storage and the Hattie Weber people said they can do it for less than 10% of that. I’m not saying we don’t need to follow the laws I’m saying that we should look how to spend as little money as we need to do to get a quality long lasting job done. Today more often than not the plan is to spend as much as we can today and not care how long it will last since it will just mean more money to (often) GOP firms and (often) Dem union workers to do the job again.

            I read a great article in Time of all places (a friend who works for an elected official in Sacramento sent me the link).

            To summarize a public official had a leaky pipe that would cost $300K to fix he applied for a grant but the amount was too small so “he expanded the project, proposing the government pay not just to fix the pipe but also to extend the sewers, expand the size of the pumps, and more, at a cost of $2.6 million. The grant agency gave the green light; the state and federal government put up all the money except for
            $130,000, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture financed at below-market rates over a forty-year time period”


            P.S. the article above is also interesting as it relates to suburban development like the Cannery…

          2. TrueBlueDevil

            I read comments in the SF Chronicle recently that Mayor Ed Lee is suggesting that some major projects not be put out to bid.

            San Francisco also had a case where a Planning Department Commissioner was running circles around the department when he wanted to expand his own home on a hillside. Due to city rules to maintain smaller, less expensive homes, he was denied permission for a complete rebuild and 300% expansion. He also gave a laughable estimate of construction costs being something like $30,000.

            How did this story evolve for this commissioner / developer / residential manager? His house “accidentally” slide down the hill!… meaning there was a much better chance he could build the large home he desired. Then the press got ahold of it. Construction estimates last I looked are well over $500,000. (The cost of the permit is based upon the cost of construction.)

    3. Ann_O

      So it looks like there was no local taxpayer money used on this project. Just developer money and Federal block grant money. Also, very interesting information on the prevailing wage issue. These are the kinds of things that most people have no understanding of. People might look at the $585,000 and think we didn’t need to do that we should have used the money for X. But that money wasn’t eligible for X. Or I could get that job done for 1/3 what the city paid. These arguments are over simplified and have little basis in reality. They become talking points though. Interesting.

      1. South of Davis

        Ann_O wrote:

        > So it looks like there was no local taxpayer money used on this project

        It is funny how Ann was just saying “the public is not served by simple thinking” and buys in to the “there was no local taxpayer money used on this project” line…

        I wonder if her husband drove home in a Corvette that his best friend bought him (after he bought a Corvette for his best friend) if she would be happy since “none of their family money was used to buy his Corvette”)….

        1. Ann_O

          Oh nice, if he does I hope it’s a black Corvette.

          Actually I don’t get your analogy at all. So the developer paying development impact fees and Quimby fees and the Federal Government who is promoting access for the disabled are my husband’s best friends and he somehow bought the developers park improvements and ADA access in some sort of quid pro quo?

          No local tax payer money still seems correct. This money that was used could only be used for specific things. No general fund money was used. Your local property tax and sales tax were not a part of this project nor do I believe they were used to buy anyone involved with the project a Corvette.

          1. South of Davis

            Ann_O wrote:

            > Actually I don’t get your analogy at all.

            Let’s say your husband sold some family farm land to a Developer but he had the developer put part of the money in an account called “Corvette Impact Fees” then “had his boss put 10% of his earnings into a special account and called them “Corvette-Quimby Fees” and when he got his tax return check from the Federal Government he called it “a check to protect access to the back roads of Yolo County by a guy in a Corvette” and said use of the money was “restricted” would you still say “no family money was used to buy the Corvette.” Zero based budgets scare the “status quo” so we keep moving even farther away from them and politically powerful groups work hard every day to put money into restricted buckets that can only be given to them (and to fool people in to thinking that we are getting things for “FREE”)…

          2. John

            South of Davis, you are looking at this situation from only one angle. One of the major reasons that “restricted” funds came into existence was that the spending of “unrestricted” funds often had no resemblance to what the community thought they were getting for those fund.

            Our water funds are “restricted” to ensure that they are spent on water. Our wastewater funds are “restricted” to ensure that they are spent on wastewater. I’m not sure who Mr. Quimby was, but I suspect that he saw developer payments being used in ways that were very different than the community intended, I suspect we have more than a few Quimby clones here in Davis. One that comes to mind is Holly Bishop who can tell you horror stories about what has happened with monies that were supposed to be spent on a South Davis Pool.

  5. Anon

    To DT Businessman: Please enumerate the other types of ED you are talking about. It would be very helpful for a more fruitful discussion.

    To David Greenwald: “we have often criticized the poor quality of staff” I have worked with many city staffers, and have found them to be quite competent, energetic, enthusiastic and hard working. Do they make mistakes? We all do. A sweeping indictment of “poor quality staff” seems very unfair.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think the point here is that often when things go wrong, staff gets blamed and we want to be able to blame staff and higher staff for less. that was my read anyway. i’m not sure he was actually stating that staff was poor quality. some staff is. less now, than a few years ago. for all the complaining about attrition, we got rid of a lot of deadweight that way. however, not sure why we have people like katherine hess still around.

    2. DavisBurns

      Based on what I have read here, David frequently complains about the city staff and puts the blame for our current financial situation squarely on the shoulders of previous city councils. I thought Rob White offered a more balanced explanation of how we got here.

  6. Bill

    DT Businessman, I’m interested in writing a joint article with you. I’m coming from a different sector (nonprofit), and thus a different stakeholder group perspective, and think a joint article might be an interesting undertaking. You up for it?

  7. DavisBurns

    Given the contentious nature of the citizens of Davis, I think hiring staff who came up with creative, innovative ways to get things done would just result in citizens really pissed off because things changed, there were unintended consequences of getting said ‘things’ done a new way, etc. Expecting new hires to behave that way is a sure disaster for the employees. Ask employees who have been around long enough to know “how we do it in Davis” how well that would work out.

    1. South of Davis

      DB wrote:

      > Ask employees who have been around long enough to know “how
      > we do it in Davis” how well that would work out.

      Great point, it is important to remember that every time a city “saves money” an employee or politically connected contractor/supplier “loses money”.

      The fastest way to have a short career in the public sector is to make unions, employees and politically connected contractors and suppliers mad at you…

  8. Rob White

    To address the points about the City’s other economic development priorities, the City has an Innovation and Economic Vitality Work Program for FY 14/15 and FY 15/16. There is also a companion Action Plan approved by City Council on May 13, 2014.

    Here is a link to the Work Program and Action Plan

    And here are shorter presentations of the Work Program and Action Plan that will help to summarize the info more readily:

    For those that want an even shorter synopsis, the City has five primary focus areas for the 24 months covered in the work program. Under each focus area are specific activities. These include:

    Focus Area 1 – Facilitate Technology and Business Development
    • Advance the Development of an Innovation Park
    • Enhance Downtown Reinvestment
    • Encourage Densification
    • Facilitate Development of a Hotel Conference Center
    • Support Entrepreneurs and Startups
    • Establish an Innovation Council
    • Foster the Creative Class
    • Encourage Buy Local

    Focus Area 2 – Increased University Engagement
    • Strengthen University/Community Partnerships (Joint sense of community)
    • Support Research and Development
    • Increase Access to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and agriculture, and
    • math) and Educational Opportunities
    • Support UC Davis Technology Transfer Objectives

    Focus Area 3 – Expand Support Network for Local Business
    • Business Visitations
    • Business Roundtables
    • Broker and Landowner Outreach Meetings
    • Support Business Service Organizations

    Focus Area 4 – Strategic Branding and Marketing
    • Targeted Media
    • Event Participation
    • Community and Regional Presentations
    • Thought Leadership and Industry Articles
    • Increased Social Media

    Focus Area 5 – Regional Leadership
    • Collaborate with Regional Organizations
    • Expand Innovation Network
    • Yolo Rail Realignment Partnership
    • Yolo Broadband Consortium
    • Policy Advocacy
    • Innovation Policy Development

    Many of these activities should register with some semblance of recognition, as all of them have been discussed over the last 16 months I have been writing for the Vanguard.

    For those that would like a more specific set of examples of some activities in just the month of July, economic development (with assistance from other City staff) have been working with several existing small companies to move in to new spaces (grow), including a long-time barber shop, a long-time nail salon, a medical software company, a biologics research company, an agricultural research company, several restaurants, an app company, a robotics company and several retailers.

    We have also been working with several developers to build commercial spaces on much of the last remaining larger commercial parcels, which could result in as much as about 350,000 square feet.

    We also continue to meet with faculty and representatives of the different schools and programs at UC Davis, especially centered on tech transfer and entrepreneurial growth. We also have been working with the local entrepreneur and makerspace programs, working to identify the needs of the next set of startups (including a wet lab incubator).

    And we have been meeting with numerous investors around the region and locally, including coordinating an investors’ forum at the Davis Roots facility.

    These are just a few things on the list off the top of my head. And though much of the conversations are proprietary due to sensitive land and or business transactions, there are constantly pieces of this work being announced or discussed in the community.

    Hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions that City staff are focused only on an innovation park. Though the potential positive financial impact from an innovation park is an important discussion, staff are executing on all aspects of the work program and will be reporting to Council in mid-January 2015 with our first report out of activities and metrics.

  9. Frankly

    It is not the staff, it is the system.

    The system breeds inefficiencies and bloat.

    First, public sector jobs attract people wired to value stability over dynamism. Surveying workers on the things that they value, public sector workers have always listed job security as being higher in their value assessment than have private sector workers. It has always been this way. But the public sector jobs used to pay less than the private sector. That was always the rub… people would give up the higher pay and the more dynamic risk-reward working situation (some would say the dog-eat-dog situation) in the private sector for the greater stasis comfort of a secure public sector job.

    What has changed is that those safe public sector comfort jobs now pay a great deal more than the more volatile private sector jobs.

    Now there are still some people that cannot stomach working in the public sector because they would pull their hair out at the roots due to the lack of dynamism, opportunity, creativity and progress. But a percentage of these types of people have been attracted to public sector jobs because they now pay significantly more.

    But instead of infusing the public sector work culture with dynamism and creativity, these newbies end up hitting the wall of less motivated senior staff, and becoming clones that switch to just getting by waiting for their retirement like the rest.

    The defined benefit pension becomes their job lock.

    From just about every measure, the average public sector employee produces less than his private sector peer. And he produces less at a much higher cost. We should at least level these costs to the overall job market, but ideally we should go back to the time where the job security benefit was assessed value and hence the other compensation ends up a bit lower than what the much less job-secure private sector pays.

    And since I am sure that my explanation here will piss off some people seeing this as some denigration of public sector workers. Let me point out that all business needs both types of workers. It is just that the public sector is over concentrated in people that pursue security, stability and defined responsibilities over a more dynamic and changing environment of progress and opportunity. If we had more creative, ambitious and go-get-it-done workers… they might very well be worth the premium we are paying. But we don’t and they are not.

      1. Frankly

        Anyone can change my mind with cogent, factual and persuasive arguments. And I accept “I told you so” with only a little bit of fussiness.

        My assessment of this situation is somewhat dated… I worked in the private sector for 22 years doing the corporate dog-eat-dog thing, and then owned my own business and tech consulting company. I had many private sector clients, and also had contracts with the state of California.

        My wife also worked for UCD and I have several friends that work for UCD.

        And I have several friends that are, or were, federal employees.

        My opinion on all of this is based on all that experience and those relationships.

        But I realize that Davis might be unique and there might be more modern approaches to employee performance and more exceptional people that are motivated to change the world no matter how difficult the effort required.

        I will say that you appear to be a great exception to what my experience has been. But then you are a half private half city employee… brought in specifically to do things that the staff were not capable or not willing to do.

        But, I think, if you secure a full-time job with the city, it would not take too long for you to practice staying out of the radar trying to slog it out until retirement… just because that will be the prevailing mindset of your peers.

        I think of retirement somewhat like I think of death… it is inevitable but I think it will be boring and will not come close to fulfilling my need for accomplishment.

        But I certainly might be wrong about that too.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      I spoke with a State of CA Manager who was instructed to lay off his two cohorts of workers who were less costly, and more efficient… and to protect the union workers. This, from a Liberal.

      1. Davis Progressive

        liberals are not of one mind on this issue. many with inclination towards local government have moved away from support of public employee unions and their policies.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      Last I read many civil service workers make the same pay, or moderately more, than the private sector.

      But the kicker are the very rich benefits packages which include pensions and health care which most private sector workers will never have.

      1. Tia Will


        If the goal is to equalize benefits between between private and public workers as you seem to be suggesting by saying that the differential is “the kicker”, I can see three ways to achieve this.
        1) decrease the benefits of public workers by breaking contractual agreements and essentially promoting a “race to the bottom” as private companies drop their benefits further to maximize their profits
        2) increase the benefits of private sector workers to be in closer alignment with those of the public

        One irony that I see in the argument that public workers get more than those in the private sector is that it seems to come mostly from those who cry “class warfare” when the inequities of income distribution are pointed out. Public employees, like those in the private sector, have accepted positions in good faith knowing the pros and cons of those jobs in advance. If those in the private sector want the benefits associated with public sector jobs, they could apply for them . Is this not exactly what Jeff Boone says frequently….. if you don’t like your job, find another ? If the expression “that’s not fair” comes to mind for you, all I could do is smile, and remind you of the many times posts here have included the phrase “life is not fair”.

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Your reply seems odd to me. The goal is to become fiscally sound, and provide for the long-term needs of the whole city, not a select few.

          1. The city budget is now precarious, and is disastrous if you look at all of the major, unfunded capital projects. One big one is the unmet, unfunded monies for roads, where costs skyrocket the longer we wait.

          2. Because of poor fiscal planning or incompetent leadership (or both), overpaying civil employees by fifty percent, or more, makes zero financial sense. There used to be a term called “fiduciary responsibility” which many took seriously. Overpaying 200 or 400 employees at the expense of this generation and the next, and the next, makes zero sense, but maybe that’s where progressives have driven the train in Davis and California (also deeply in debt).

          3. On top of the numerous items that are unfunded or unplanned, I’ve read nothing about an emergency fund or contingency account for any “surprise” need that pops up. This is also planning.

          4. If substantial cost reductions can’t be achieved where appropriate, contracts can be cancelled, and the jobs can be re-opened at the going rate in the marketplace. I am not suggesting a “race to the bottom” or Walmart wages, but reasonable market rates, or even a bit more. But not a fifty percent difference.

          5. Increasing the wages and benefits of 90% of workers to match the 10% who are overpaid is illogical and mathematically impossible. (Historically, we didn’t overpay civil workers; they made equal, or lower wages, but took the gov’t jobs for job stability and reasonable retirement benefits.)

        2. Frankly

          Public employees, like those in the private sector, have accepted positions in good faith knowing the pros and cons of those jobs in advance.

          The basic problem here is that while the rest of the working population has had their compensation realigned to economic realities of a global labor market, public sector worker compensation has not.

          And there lacks the mechanisms to effectively realign downward.

          It is just so absurd to read this defense of a system that pays lifetime inflation adjusted six figure pensions and full healthcare to workers that retire in their mid fifties. It is clearly unfair. It is clearly unsustainable. I really struggle trying to understand how anyone except those personally benefitting from the system, can come out to defend it.

    3. DavisBurns

      What I hear you saying is the bottom dropped out if private sector jobs (unless you are one of the few at
      The very top. ). The Reagan. Revolution taught the private sector to loot employee pension funds, go for hostile takeover, cut employee benefits etc etc Just because the private sector has gotten filthy rich off paying low wages does not mean public employees of the rank and file are OVER PAID. It means the private sector has been given the green light to underpay people desparate for work because globalization shipped decent paying jobs oversee.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Importing 30-40 million illegal immigrant workers also altered the Supply curve, harming many middle class jobs. Technology also plays a role, as do onerous government regulations which push jobs to other countries.

  10. Don Shor

    From an August 2013 meeting.

    4:25 Item 4
    Presentation and Discussion of Revised Joint 2012-2014 Objectives of the
    Chamber, DD & YCVB.

    4:25 Objective 1 Entitle the Nishi/Solano Park/Gateway/Downtown as a mixeduse,
    innovation district that would provide space for start-ups and tech businesses, as
    well as much-needed high-density housing in close proximity to UC Davis and downtown.

    4:35 Objective 2 Arts Alliance: Continue to support the creation and formation of a
    private/public partnership that supports and coordinates local artists and arts
    organizations, promotes and celebrates the uniqueness of Davis cultural resources and
    attracts regional, national and global recognition and visitors.

    4:45 Objective 3 Richards Tunnel Gateway/Welcome Arch: Meet critical deadlines
    as described by project MOUs. Phase 1 is now currently estimated to be completed by
    mid-October 2013.

    4:50 Objective 4 Innovation Park Task Force: Support the completion of the Task
    Force Recommendations as described in the Council Resolution’s Action Plan in order to
    provide opportunities for tech, advanced manufacturing and R&D company retention,
    attraction and growth.

    5:00 Objective 5 Buy Local Davis: Continue to develop and execute a program to
    shift 10% of community purchasing power to local businesses, with an emphasis on
    locally owned businesses.

    5:15 Objective 6 Downtown Parking: Better manage the supply of downtown parking
    by installing way-finding sings and accurately determining daily peak utilization of existing
    parking capacity. Support an action plan that will increase the supply of parking in
    Downtown Davis.

    5:20 Objective 7 Densification: Develop and adopt policies to encourage
    densification, especially in the Core Area, as foreseen in the General Plan, providing for
    additional mixed-use development and accessory dwelling units. This work should clarify
    any inconsistencies that exist between the various (and often conflicting) design
    guidelines and zoning.

    5:35 Objective 8 Hotel/Conference Center: Support the rapid entitlement and
    construction of a conference center with hotel and ample parking in Downtown.

    5:50 Objective 9 CalTrans Community Identity Signage Program: Investigate and
    identify opportunities with this program for signage along I-80 and Highway 113.

    5:55 Objective 10 RDA Successor Agency: Monitor and provide input.

    So, how many of these are still on track? Are they sufficiently staffed?

    1. Rob White

      Some of the priorities list above will change when the Davis Chamber releases its 2020 Plan in the coming months. This is the plan that Kemble Pope discussed at the State of the Chamber lunch earlier this year.

      Once the 2020 plan is available, the City staff will plan to work with the Davis Chamber and make sure that objectives are aligned across the Chamber’s and City’s plans. No group in Davis should be working in a vacuum. And the City and the Chamber agreed many months ago that their plans would align with the regional comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS), also known as the Next Economy Plan:

      Additionally, it is not just the City’s (governments) responsibility to do economic development. Many of the critiques and complaints I read on the Vanguard can be addressed by the individual or an organization other than the City. In these times of lean budget (and I would guess in to the foreseeable future), you want a small and nimble City staff on economic development while the private sector and business take on a significant share of the heavy lift since they can do it cheaper, faster and possibly better. To reiterate a post above, government is not good at “dynamism, opportunity, creativity and progress” (said with tongue in cheek).

      In Davis, we should be leaning on our Chamber, Downtown Association, Convention and Visitor Bureau and other similar orgs to get the community to a better place. As many that have studied public policy know, government should step in when their is a market failure or need for policy/regulation. We no longer have a major market failure for much of the economic development tasks and we can all work to achieve a better outcome on business retention/growth, attraction, and new investment.

      1. Don Shor

        Once the 2020 plan is available, the City staff will plan to work with the Davis Chamber and make sure that objectives are aligned across the Chamber’s and City’s plans.

        … and the university’s plans?

  11. Mr. Toad

    I’ve been thinking about Objective six, downtown parking. Since the beginning of summer I’ve had no problem finding a parking space downtown at any time. It seems parking congestion is an only when UC is in session problem. In my mind this reduces the benefit of building parking structures in a cost benefit equation. The university is only in session for 33 weeks of the year, a little more than half the year. i think this is an important point to consider especially now that a member of the parking task force is now on the council.

    1. Davis Progressive

      and the city has also put up a display as to remaining spaces in the parking garages which are helpful. but i want to understand how much parking will generate revenue?

  12. DT Businessman

    David, you say the community is at a major cross roads. You go on to say that you think ED is the path we should be taking, but then you focus very narrowly on only one of MANY already identified and CC-adopted ED priorities. Then you make it sound like you’re unaware that there are other CC-adopted ED priorities (all of which have been discussed on this site over many years by the way). It’s really bizarre! So again, if ED is critical to the welfare of our community, why are you beating the drum for only one of the ED priorities? Why not all of them?

    -Michael Bisch

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m trying to figure out what you think I haven’t covered, because for instance I have covered 7 of the ten items on Don Shor’s list quite extensively. But the big issue right now is the peripheral park and Measure R process. At times I have pointed out that the Hotel Conference Center could produce half a million in revenue. I have covered Nishi numerous times, parking quite a bit. So I guess I wanted to understand from you what wasn’t getting covered before responding.

      1. DT Businessman

        No, David, the BIG ISSUE is the CC/City devotes insufficient resources to ED period. That’s been the case for many years. That’s a significant reason why we’re still stuck at your crossroads. Many of the CC-approved ED action items are stuck in neutral or first gear because almost all of them require some kind of CC/City approval or action, which has either not been forthcoming or only very grudgingly.

        Covering and championing are two completely different things. Why are you not championing all of the ED actions, only the one? Why are you not insisting the CC/City use all of its ED tools to pull us out of our fiscal emergency?

        -Michael Bisch

        1. Davis Progressive

          the city devotes insufficient resources period to most things. however, other than the innovation parks, how much money do you think the other things on your list would generate and please itemize and explain. otherwise this looks an awful lot like beat up city staff and by extension the vanguard.

  13. Michael Harrington

    I agree with DT Businessman: the City should look to other economic development strategies besides just the so-called innovation park. I would put the park last, after city budget cuts and other strategies that do not involve activities outside our current borders.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      .P.S We never received the information on where the 20 hours went for the “Investigator” into the Davis High School volleyball fiasco #1, when the adult who filed the complaint was only interviewed for 1 hour, and none of the people she referred to the investigator as being witnesses were ever contacted.

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