My View: Time to Reengage the Public

Community_Pool
Community Pool

One of the interesting things about the MRAP controversy is that it reengaged the public as we were about to head into Labor Day weekend, which typically marks the transition from summer to fall. It helps that DJUSD began this week as well.

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of the councilmembers, where I said I could respect the position that Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson took on MRAP, wanting to have more discussion and weighing of options – however, allowing the issue to fester would have kept the public engaged on the divisive MRAP issue rather than more pressing issues for the city.   This clean vote allows MRAP to be taken off the table and us to focus on the most important issues: innovation parks, new city manager, and parcel tax.

The councilmember expressed a high degree of concern and skepticism that we can get a parcel tax passed. I don’t blame the concern – the polling did not look good – but, in this case, we have no other choice. The council has to launch a full blown campaign and educational effort and they have to do it starting now.

If the council runs a campaign like they did Measure O (bear with me on the imprecise language – the council cannot run a campaign), the measure will go down to defeat.

On Saturday of last week, the Mace Innovation Park group ran their first public outreach meeting at the Bicycle Museum. On Thursday, we got to see the Davis Innovation Park group run their first public outreach meeting at community chambers.

While we are getting close to official applications – Mace has promised theirs in early September while Davis is looking at mid-September – both proposals were in very early stages.

These are outreaches for something that may not be on the ballot for another year. The parcel tax could be on the ballot as soon as March, and yet, the city has done nothing to reach out to the public so far.

This is going to be a hard sell. The city won’t have the advantage of “do it for the children” that the school district had. So they will have to use facts, logic and reason to make their case.

There is a downside risk here in laying out their case. In some ways the public will perceive the city as the little boy that cried wolf. There were multiple times that the city warned of dire consequences if the water project was not implemented. This started during the referendum drive in the fall of 2011, when Councilmember Stephen Souza warned that the train was leaving and Davis would be left behind.

But that’s not what happened. Then we had the year of WAC, the March 2013 election of Measure I, the lawsuit, the June 2014 election of Measure P and finally the water settlement. Whether the dire situation would have happened this fall if the water rates were not in place we’ll never know, but that rhetoric will create skepticism for some in the public.

So we need to be honest but speak in terms that both are not hyperbolic and do not give the appearance of hyperbole.

What the city faces currently is more than a $100 million backlog in roads, sidewalks and bike paths deferred maintenance. If we do not create probably $5 to $6 million per year in a funding stream and an upfront amount of perhaps $25 million, that number will increase to more than a half a billion.

We can explain the mechanism for how that occurs. First, there is the traditional rate of increase for asphalt which increases in cost by 8% or nearly three times that of other inflation rates. Then there is the increase in per yardage cost of repair from the relatively low $9 per yard at the low levels of repair up to $82 per yard for reconstruction.

We can show people on a map the levels of repair needed by street and show the public what those levels are likely to be if we cannot fund the repairs in the next few years.

I would argue that the current council’s option – the so-called B-modified – is insufficient, as it would only increase road quality from 57 PCI up to 63 PCI. 63 PCI still sounds like a “D.”

That just deals with roads and bike paths and sidewalks. Then we have parks. We have deferred maintenance on parks, we need to know what that is and we need to understand what failure to fund parks will mean.

Then we have pools. We know that Civic Pool is leaking. We know that Community Pool is closed. We need to lay out the options there.

Then we have city buildings. We know that the city needs to pump tens of millions in there. One clear example is the central fire station that needs to be refurbished or moved.

Then I think we need to lay out a credible scenario that if we do not get funding, it may mean that roads will continue to deteriorate, bike paths will have huge grooves and become hazardous, and sidewalks will be dangerous for pedestrians. We may have to close our pools, close some parks, shut down greenbelts, and close city buildings.

This quickly moves into what I see as the main argument for the innovation parks. We need the ongoing tax revenue of the innovation parks as a long-term strategy to be able to maintain, if not expand, city services and amenities. That is what we present to the voters as the long-term fix for this.

But we are looking really at 5-10 years for the initial revenue to come in and probably 20 years for full build out of the parks. We can get by with the one-time construction fees that figure to generate 10s of millions in revenue for the city – one-time revenue, but substantial enough to actually make a difference.

In the short term, we need to increase taxes to prevent these costs, that are already bad, from getting worse. If we have to, we need to go door to door to make our case, but we need to start the same way that the developers are – small neighborhood meetings where we lay out to the residents what the situation is, why it is as bad as it is, and why we need the tax.

We need to be honest and forthright, but most of all we need to be proactive. We need to start this process immediately. The developers get it – of course they are wagering hundreds of millions in this process, so they can’t afford not to get it. But then again, so are we.

—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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29 Comments

  1. realchangz

    David,

    While I agree with your overall assessment, I might disagree with your conclusion that we cannot borrow from the school district campaign and their theme of “do it for the children” – in the sense that this debt is not of the children’s doing, and should not become a part of their burden.

    The debts to which you refer are, as you say, reflective of “deferred expenses”. In that context, it is we who have lived in the community, enjoyed and consumed its many amenities without having made any further contributions to their upkeep, who should now be wrestling for the bill.

    Or, we can ask the question a different way: “If not ours, whose bill should it be?”

    Our community is certainly not alone in this predicament. This conversation is happening in communities all across the state – with the consequence that every community is relooking at its model and re-evaluating its options for revenue enhancement (as well as cost containment).

    It’s time to stop the brow beating, finger pointing, self recriminations and attempts to place blame. There is plenty to go around.

    The conversation needs to switch more to a focus on determining what is an “affordable” parcel tax – one that allows us to begin to playing catch-up for all those years of neglect? Part of this conversation really gets back to the old adage: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

  2. Tia Will

    David and realchangz

    “The conversation needs to switch more to a focus on determining what is an “affordable” parcel tax – one that allows us to begin to playing catch-up for all those years of neglect? Part of this conversation really gets back to the old adage: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.””

    I am in complete agreement with the points both of you have expressed. I would reword the adage however to read
    ” You can pay me now, or your children can pay me later.” And I would expand upon the concept of payment. That payment may be in the form of increased fees and taxes, or it could be in the form of a decreased quality of life either through decreased amenities or through increased population and business growth with the community stressors they provide. Someone will have to pay for the mistakes and choices of the past. I happen to believe it should be us. As the beneficiaries of the amenities of Davis, we should be paying for them now, now deferring them for 5, 10 or 20 years so that our children can pay…..one way or the other.

    1. realchangz

      I like that twist of phrase. Sadly it has come home to roost on our watch.

      I also like to think that, done properly, the notion of visioning a Davis 2.0 is a necessary thing and can lead to an invigorating, positive approach to change – one which hopefully leaves our children with fewer bills and an even better place to live-work-shop-play and enjoy life.

      1. Frankly

        I think it is not so much Davis 2.0 as it is Davis trying to live on MS DOS.

        But I agree 100% that this is an opportunity for progress and improvement, and not a “crisis of change” that justifies opposition. This is a lead, follow or get out of the way moment.

  3. Chicolini

    Citizens of any community are always presented with choices and challenges as they face infrastructure issues and the need to develop a feasible plan to address the needs and expenses that go along with them. Roads, parks, schools, and growth are at the center of all civic concerns. Members of the communities want to know the costs and plans for the each of those items; they want the best results given the money they contribute in way of taxes and involvement in their community.

    Davis has been a place where I have lived and worked for the majority of my life. I have earned wages, paid taxes, and have grown to enjoy a safe and engaging community.

    For Davis is a community that considers a wide range beliefs and opinions to define its sense of what makes a community more than just a collection of houses, roads, schools, and parks. At times though the practical and utilitarian needs like roads must be addressed in a timely and effective manner. Now is that time.

    The City of Davis has enacted improvements on roads in connection with federal grants that have made commutes for students on bikes a priority in a safe and thoughtful manner. The City has also turned this same forward thinking approach to a major corridor in Davis, 5th Street. However, as one travels through other major corridors in Davis or even sections of the one that has received so much attention and needed repair, one can easily see the need for further plans and improvements to its roads, bike paths, and greenbelts. And given the numbers that have been presented by the staff of the City of Davis to its Council Members this is a costly need to fund.

    If the community needs reassurance of the wisdom of tackling this issue now, then it has to look no further than the individual cost on the wear and tear on one’s car or bike when negotiating these crumbling pavements. And this example is only scratching the surface on the upcoming infrastructural needs and expenses that Davis now faces.

    Some will point to funds enveloped in employee contracts that should be revisited and renegotiated for revenue before the City ask for more taxes from the community. Or, that clear and cost-effective plans for its operational cost and priorities need to be tackled before such repairs and projects are undertaken in the form a tax revenues. A number of factors present themselves as a challenge in those worthy considerations. To begin with the City needs to hire a permanent city manager. Secondly, each new city council configuration brings new agendas and personalities to the decision making process. Thirdly, each issue and perceived need has a number of focused and devout set of groups in the Davis community that want specific things accomplished and considered with each project and expenditure of public funds.

    Thankfully, we have a committed city council, an involved citizenry, and watchful news sources to keep us informed of the issues at hand.

  4. Anon

    On so many levels I have a problem with this article. First, the City Council has not even made up its mind what to include in any proposed parcel tax, or whether they want to ask for a sizable increase in the parks tax instead. How can the City start educational outreach, if the City Council is not even certain what it proposes to do? The City Council made it very clear they wanted time to really think through exactly how to proceed. Secondly, I fail to understand the criticism of the Measure O campaign. It succeeded, did it not? And did the author of this article participate in the campaign? The fact of the matter is that many of us who worked on Measure O were burned out from working on Measure I. If anyone doesn’t like the way the campaign was run, s/he were free to give of his/her time and do it whatever way it was thought best. But I don’t remember the Vanguard getting involved with the Measure O campaign, so why throw stones now? Thirdly, the entire analogy of the city “crying wolf” about the dire consequences of not building the surface water project, implying that the city could have gotten along without a new source of river water, flies in the face of reality, e.g. the current drought, the push for groundwater regulation, and what was stated clearly by the State Water Resources Control Board. Nor does the “crying wolf” argument make any sense when in fact this article is calling for the city to “get on the ball and do something” right now. And lastly, it is my recollection the Vanguard was against Brett Lee’s proposal to put a modest road maintenance parcel tax on the ballot for this November, and was happy to delay the talk of a parcel tax until sometime next spring. So instead of pointing fingers of blame at the city, perhaps the Vanguard needs to present a more cohesive position itself!

    1. David Greenwald

      So, first of all, not pointing fingers at the city.

      Second, regardless of what we include in the parcel tax, the education effort has to begin. At the start it will be more fiscal analysis than parcel tax, but so what?

      Third, wait until next winterl and it’s too late.

      Fourth, you’re conflating a talk about the fiscal’s position with a decision on the parcel tax. Two separate things.

      1. David Greenwald

        Add one other point, the time to have the discussion is better when it is outside of the context of a parcel tax. We really have to lay the groundwork – if that means we have to push off the parcel tax to November 2015, then so be it. We have to get this right. And yes, my thinking on this is evolving.

      2. Anon

        1) From the language used, it sounded as if you were pointing fingers at either the city or City Council for not acting immediately, not sure which. Reread your post.
        2) What fiscal analysis? Do you feel people do not understand the roads are in disrepair? Or that our pools are leaking? Or is it that people are of two different minds on whether to support a parcel tax? If the latter, how do you think the city can change the minds of those who are adamantly opposed to a parcel tax, when the city itself has been very much a part of the problem?
        3) Who said anything about waiting until next winter? But how about waiting until the City Council makes up its mind on exactly how it wishes to proceed?
        4) Huh? It is the city’s poor fiscal position that is the reason we need a parcel tax. How is that “conflating” the two issues?

        I think you need to be clearer on what you mean by “laying the groundwork” and “who” exactly is supposed to do be assigned the task of doing it. The city cannot actively campaign for anything; the city manager was out and about explaining the dire budget situation. We don’t have a city manager right now, but will hopefully have one on board by September according to Mayor Wolk. Why doesn’t the Vanguard hold some public forums and “lay the groundwork” that is being demanded of others? It is easy to criticize, harder to be constructive and lend a hand to get something accomplished.

        1. David Greenwald

          1. It was not my intention to point finger rather than lay out what needs to be done if the council wishes for a parcel tax to pass.

          2. “What fiscal analysis? Do you feel people do not understand the roads are in disrepair?” – I don’t think most people recognize the extent of the costs.

          “Or that our pools are leaking?” – Up until the Vanguard reported the extent of the leak and CBS 13’s follow up, I don’t think most of us realized the extent of the problem.

          “Or is it that people are of two different minds on whether to support a parcel tax?” – My view is lay out the facts and then people can make their best decision.

          ” If the latter, how do you think the city can change the minds of those who are adamantly opposed to a parcel tax, when the city itself has been very much a part of the problem?” – I don’t expect the city to change people’s minds if they are opposed to a parcel tax, my only goal is that people make up their mind based on facts.

          3. “But how about waiting until the City Council makes up its mind on exactly how it wishes to proceed?”

          Here’s perhaps a point of disagreement, whether it’s parcel tax, cuts, employee haircuts or innovation parks, the public needs to know the facts of the city’s fiscal situation. So start now with that aspect and you can always wait until November to decide on the exact size of the parcel tax.

          “4) Huh? It is the city’s poor fiscal position that is the reason we need a parcel tax. How is that “conflating” the two issues?”

          I see the education process separate from the decision of whether, how much, and when to do a parcel tax.

          ” The city cannot actively campaign for anything” – I thought I made that point parenthetically within the article. My view is the city needs to do an outreach process like they are doing right now on the innovation parks.

          “Why doesn’t the Vanguard hold some public forums and “lay the groundwork” that is being demanded of others?”

          We’re going to.

          1. Anon

            4) Great! Glad Vanguard is going to do some forums. Be interesting to see how many folks show up. That is always the frustrating part.

  5. Tia Will

    Anon

    A quick question. When referring to the Vanguard, are you referring specifically to David or are your comments directed more broadly to the editorial board ? I ask because if the latter, I would again point out that the editorial board most emphatically does not speak with a single voice.

  6. hpierce

    Question, David…. based on your article and comment(s), and given that the City will be negotiating new contracts with basically all City employees in the next 12 months (some expire June 2015, others Dec 2015), does this affect your view of the calculus of a proposed parcel tax? If so, how so?

    1. David Greenwald

      I’m not really see that it would impact my calculus. Obviously, I think the employees would want to support the parcel tax as a gap in funding would infrastructure would be siphoned from money that would otherwise go to employee compensation.

    2. realchangz

      I’m trying to understand the linkage between a parcel tax and current salary/benefit negotiations. Increases in compensation and benefits would logically be supported by the recently passed sales tax and overall increase in general fund tax receipts flowing to general fund operating revenues.

      Revenues from any new parcel tax would be devoted exclusively to debt service on bond indebtedness to finance overdue infrastructure investment.

      You question does, however, bring us back to the issue of new sources of reliable, ongoing, operating revenues to support essential municipal services.

      Ideas?

      1. Anon

        If the City Council chooses to instead up the parks tax rather than try a dedicated parcel tax for road and building repairs, the idea is it would free up the general fund for “other things”. The “other things” could be anything.

      2. David Greenwald

        The sales tax isn’t going to be enough to support increases in compensation and benefits. The only linkage I see is if we don’t pass a parcel tax, money is going to have to come out of the general fund which means cuts.

        1. realchangz

          So, bottom line, there is to be no conversation about how a community grows its top line revenues – other than through the mechanism of increased taxes? Is that the best we can expect from the conversation? Good luck with the tax thing.

          1. David Greenwald

            I said no such thing. If you look at my article, I offer tax as the short-term option and innovation park as the longer term option.

          2. realchangz

            David,

            Never said you did, I merely observed that if we saw no meaningful effort by our leadership to discuss and explore the “revenue side” of the equation – other than more new taxes – that prospects for support of any requested new tax measures will be diminished accordingly.

            To date, they have talked about problems with the budget, overspending and the need for cuts and the need for new taxes.

            Which among them has actually advocated for or articulated the essential need for more top line revenue – i.e. increased economic activity, what that might look like and what that means to them.

  7. Tia Will

    realchangz

    “Which among them has actually advocated for or articulated the essential need for more top line revenue – i.e. increased economic activity, what that might look like and what that means to them.”

    Rochelle has been very active in this regard. She has made her pro growth position very clear. The council also has,as Anon pointed out hired Rob White who has been a very strong proponent of growth and to his credit has also been respectful and thoughtful in his manner of addressing the concerns of those such as myself who do not see a “grow as fast as we can ” philosophy as optimal for the city but would prefer more measured and deliberative change.

  8. realchangz

    Anon & Tia,

    Thank you both for pointing out the efforts put forth by Rob Davis and Councilmember Swanson, but last time I checked – it takes 3 or more to move new business.

    To date, Mr. White has been seriously hampered in his efforts by the city’s lack of an economic modeling program that might have convinced the Finance & Budget Commission, as long as three years ago, of the tangible, potential fiscal advantages from the introduction of new innovation park. And, as of today, we still don’t have a program or a model. Makes it pretty hard for any of the Council members to really stick their chin out there and make anything like a cogent, justifiable claim as to the tangible financial benefits of such an option. Not very conducive to making any meaningful headway on the debate when we have nothing to look at.

    Should it really take that long for the city to get a modeling program? Why didn’t we have one a long time ago?

    Some posted earlier that anything more than a $100 parcel tax would be a non-starter. Do we know what that means in practical terms – that anything more than a request for $2.6MM a year won’t pass muster.

    It is my understand that our current annual/yearly budget for “ongoing roadway maintenance programs” should be in the neighborhood of $6MM a year – to keep us up to snuff (forget the prior period deferred portions). We can check the budget, but I’d guess that our current annual spending is more like $2.5MM because that’s all we can afford. If I’m way off based – I apologize – I’m just trying to make a point.

    If my numbers are at all correct (and that would be a miracle since I haven’t studied the current budget), we would still be talking about a structural operating deficit for Roads Alone of $1MM a year after the parcel tax – with nothing additional for pools, parks or schools.

    All I am suggesting is a realistic look at our “actual, fully loaded burn rate” (including the school district) so that our community can begin to get a realistic sense of what it costs to operate this ship. I don’t think the average taxpayer either understands or really “owns” this shortfall, and from the posts I am reading, there seem to be some DV posters who think the problem can be fixed with new $100 parcel tax.

    All I am saying is “what if” the necessary parcel tax needs to be more like $250-$300 – what then? That, and please let’s get this economic modeling program online sooner than later.

    1. Anon

      To realchangz: I am not in disagreement with you, that how much tax revenue an innovation park will generate has to use some sort of appropriate modeling to show that it 1) will not be a net negative to the city; 2) will be a sizable net positive to the city in generating sizable tax revenue dollars. The developers know this, and have said to me that it will get done. So has Robb White said the same thing. I take that to mean it will be up to the developers to prove their worth. Now one can certainly argue that the developers should not be the ones doing this analysis, since they are not unbiased. So that means the city, as a supposedly objective third party, should be doing the fiscal analysis. I assume the city will have to make sure it gets done in a timely manner, or else these proposed projects will never get past a Measure R vote.

      1. realchangz

        Anon,

        Thanks for your encouraging comments on the fiscal analysis issue.

        Now, as for those pesky “community level” impacts and how the additional of say 15,000-20,000 new daytime workforce jobs might impact the fabric of our community by the conclusion of build-out – whom should we expect to be charged with addressing that aspect of the equation and when should we be expecting to hear their reports?

        I refer to the process as visioning. I don’t know if that’s the correct term, but I do know that people in the know will want to know a few more particulars.

        Besides a few more dollars in the kitty, what else does the community have a right to expect/extract/negotiate that can help to further: 1) mitigate any negative consequences, and 2) more importantly, enhance and improve the Davis we know today?

        Who is to be leading that analysis and conversation from the viewpoint of the community?

        1. Anon

          realchangz,
          “Community level” impacts also have to be part of the discussion, or an innovation park would never get past a Measure R vote. I would assume the city would have a part in this issue as well.

  9. Chicolini

    Regarding growth and revenue.: back in ’84 when I first moved to Davis the cry was for no-growth. Council hopefuls ran and were elected on this platform. However, during their tenure Davis grew at a rapid rate as was evidenced in the new housing developments throughout the town.

    The school sites absorbed new students, downtown began to develop in a myriad of way,, and improvements to instructional programs and facilities were accomplished largely on the general public support of an alphabet soup of measures. Consequently,mproperty values and home sales in Davis saw huge booms, ones that have been constant and significant for thy were tied to community improvements and a vibrant and progressive thinking school system.

    UCD during this time has also made huge leaps in its population and contributions to both the educational community and our community at large. The missing factor is possibly the business activity downtown has not generated enough tax revenue with emphasis on the entertainment and bar/restaurant businesses. The impetus seems to have been to avoid any big box or mall type of shopping in our community and creatively find ways to build a shopping, dinning, and entertainment atmosphere that is not the run of the mill. And the vast majority of Davis residents would see this as a plus. Along 2nd avenue and Research Park there are a number of new companies that have made Davis their home. Furthermore, ther are other designs for smart growth and business development in Davis that have surfaced over the last few years. Parcel taxes are necessar, reasonable City contracts with its employees is a must, and a dedicated City Council with a clear vision and resolve is a must to accomplish both the aesthetic and practical infrastructure needs of Davis.

    I have always supported taxes that are directed toward such improvements for I believe that I directly benefit from them down the road. Also, I will always support measures that are designated for clearly defined school programs and needs that benefit students, even though I have never had any children go through the Davis school system. Finally, the role a news source is to report, informs, and at times offer analysis. To ask it to participate beyond that level is asking it to cross boundaries that compromise it’s ability to remain neutral and objective in its pursuit of issues for a community of readers,viewers, or listeners .

    Lastly, I try be a careful reader and listener; I try to read and listen closely to all views. It’s the only way that I can appreciate and learn what’s going on in some important issues that the Vanguard is presenting.

  10. Pingback: Commentary: The Choices Ahead For Davis | .:Davis Vanguard:.

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