One of the great things about Wednesday night was the sheer diversity of the group of people who attended the Vanguard’s 8th Birthday event. If there was a common thread it was about the group of people who read the Vanguard. In the early days, perhaps you could pigeonhole that group, but when you have 5000 regular readers and 70 of them show up on a given day, you see an interesting cross-section.
It was a group of people that you often don’t see coming together in the city of Davis. And frankly, it is a group of people that, if economic development is going to be approved in Davis, we need to get on board that process.
One of my highlights of the evening was that, following the speeches, I tagged along as Tim Ruff and his wife led a small group of six people over to the Nishi property just before dark. This was not a group of people inclined to either support or oppose the Nishi-Gateway project – in fact the remarkable thing is that they mostly knew nothing about it. They were learning about it for the very first time.
In Davis we tend to think of the extremes — those people who seem to oppose everything and those people who are willing to back just about anything — but the truth is that there is a much broader middle than anyone may think. And the key will be the ability of those proposing the projects to reach out to that middle.
A lot of people have come up to me who attended the event and said they enjoyed the speeches and the talks. Some believe that Livermore is not a good example for land use policies and that may well be. We brought in Betsy Cantwell largely because she could speak to the issue of, in her case, Laboratory-Community collaboration and, in our case, University-City collaboration and tech transfer.
Some people came to me and did not realize how little UC Davis has done over the years in terms of driving tech transfer compared to other similar entities like the Lawrence Livermore Lab. For those people, Betsy Cantwell’s talk was an educational experience.
The remarkable aspect of this Innovation Park consideration process, I think, is how many people in this community are willing to go into this with an open mind. It is not that there are not people who have concerns about developing on the periphery – that is clearly the case. But the fiscal conditions in the city are such that people for the first time are saying that they will be willing to listen to the possibilities rather than close their minds.
But this is a mutual process. There has been a small wave of discussion (which I don’t think is particularly helpful) that has derided people in the community who tend to be slow growthers. Labeling people in derogatory ways – whether it is the “no on everything” label, the Spiro Agnew rejoinder “nattering nabobs of negativism,” or simply “anti-growthers” is not very helpful.
It unnecessarily draws lines and creates polarity where such polarity might not otherwise exist.
I’ll use myself as an example: I voted no on Measure X because I thought the project was too large and that they had failed to control traffic impacts. I voted against Target because I’m generally against Big Box Retail. I voted for Measure P (Wildhorse Ranch) because I thought it was a small net zero project. I voted for Measure R because I support the rights of citizens to vote on major land use issues facing their community. Taking those votes as a whole, it would be easy to label me as a nattering nabob of slow-growth negativity.
However, based on my current view of Davis’ fiscal situation, I’m willing to vote for one or two of these economic development projects if they are well designed and appear to fit our community needs.
I’m not willing to end Measure R, but I think that with good projects that are well explained to the community we can retain our growth control policies and at the same time develop cool and sustainable innovation parks.
However, I have to tell you, whoever the project proponents end up being, whether they be official in the form of the developers or whether they are community supporters, you need to be careful whom you put forward as your spokespeople, and you need to watch your rhetoric.
There are people in this community – those who read this site on a regular basis know who they may be – who, if they emerge as the major advocates for this site, are going to make it very difficult for me to push for these projects – if they end up being projects that I support.
Every time I hear some of these people put down other people in this community it makes me want to throw up my hands and run. Some of these people are, quite frankly, responsible for the fiscal mess that we are in and have absolutely no business stepping forward to take the lead on this.
In the large scheme, you put down people at your own risk. If you want to create consensus, then you need to lose the negative labels. If you want to bring people together, then put forward people that are inclusive and consensus builders rather than polarizing forces.
The more these polarizing figures in the community lead, the more people you push to opposition. The more times you hear people putting down those who are concerned about the community impacts of growth, the more people you push into the opposing camp.
Finally, I hear people all the time talk about the need for people to get over their differences and come together to work for the best interests of the community. It sounds good. In concept, it is the way to go.
But I think we have to be realistic. Some of these differences are deep down and, frankly, if you want people to move to support your project or your vision, you have to be the one that makes the first move, you have to make people feel comfortable in a new world. That is not going to be an easy task.
So my best advice – pick people who can unify the electorate to lead. Leave people who are polarizing forces behind. And lose the rhetoric. Maybe, just maybe, we can come together long enough to ensure a better future for our community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting