Sunday Commentary: Lessons on Media Relations Needed?

Aerial view of Nishi-Gateway

This week we have been trying to lay out ways to engage the public on economic development. Since the RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) process and the response of three peripheral innovation parks, probably the top issue facing the community, along with hiring a new city manager and dealing with short-term infrastructure needs such as roads, will be the Measure R process for the innovation parks.

Anything that requires a vote of the citizens is naturally amplified, especially on the need for community engagement.

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 university campus.

Even after eight years of doing this, I’m always surprised by the responses at times.

However, I was particularly taken aback on Friday by comments made seemingly out of the blue by Michael Bisch, who immediately seemed to go on the attack: “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.”

He continued, “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.”

As I explained at the time, I was caught off guard by the comment and, in particular, the tone of it.

The bottom line is Michael Bisch had a good point. My focus on innovation parks is primarily due to the need for a Measure R vote, the fact that they are the big ticket economic development items, and the fact that all of this has just come out a month ago and the community is about to engage in a lengthy process.

Mr. Bisch chose to continue, “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 thing is that there is nothing mysterious here – the focus on the peripheral parks is due to the recent focus by the council on this aspect of economic development. Mr. Bisch appears to be concerned that there is insufficient attention by the city and the Vanguard on other aspects.   We may quibble on the details, but, for the most part, fair enough.

The question I want to focus everyone on is the best way to rectify the situation. Mr. Bisch appears to presume that there is some nefarious intent behind it, while for the most part it is simply a matter of something known as “agenda setting.”

In PR terms, it is a matter of getting an issue on someone’s radar. There are several good ways to do it without raising a huge public stink.

First and most simple, write your own piece. The Vanguard has an open policy on community based submissions – we offered Mr. Bisch space and he declined. Fine.

Second, he can set up a meeting and go over his concerns and lay out some issues that he thinks need more coverage.

Third, he can simply suggest via email or text message an issue that is not getting sufficient coverage.

Don Shor posted the Objectives of the Chamber, Davis Downtown and Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau from August 2013.

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 mixed-use, 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.

Rob White posted that some of those priorities will change when the Davis Chamber releases its 2020 Plan in the coming months and Kemble Pope sent the Vanguard a draft of what was adopted in November 2013.

This week, we will follow up on the ten-item list above to see where people stand. I can tell you this – we have covered extensively a lot of these items. We covered the Nishi-Gateway discussion and, at our anniversary event, Tim Ruff even took members of the public for a quick tour of Nishi.

We have covered a bit of the Gateway project at Richards Tunnel. We have extensively covered the issue of downtown parking and were supportive of the Task Force Report of which Mr. Bisch was a member.

We have covered the issue of densification, but obviously that has not been a huge focus. We covered what has come out so far on the Hotel Conference Center.

Is there other stuff we should be focused on? That is a matter of agenda setting and getting our attention. From our perspective, this could have been handled more cleanly but at the same time, the Vanguard really has one staff member and at times, that staff member is spread pretty thin. A friendly email or meeting goes a long way toward getting issues out to the public.

—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. DavisBurns

    “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.”

    I’m interested in #5, Buy Local. I’d like an article that lays out what sort of business we are lack that takes our dollars out of davis to be spent and how we might change that.

  2. DurantFan

    Michael Bisch has a point!. The average Davis citizen is currently suffering from “intellectual tetany*” because he or she is worn out from having had to respond to so many recent stimuli (the water project, fluoridation, budget shortfalls, past elections, school board mischief, “innovation” planning, and the like). As a result, many residents currently have a “flat” response to additional, future, or pending stimuli. It is also the “dog days” of summer after all!
    *As a muscle ultimately fails to respond (contract) after its resources (lactic acid) are depleted no matter how intensely a further/additional stimulus is applied.

    1. John

      It appears that you are saying, DurantFan, that it is a “slam dunk” that higher taxes is the default choice of the average Davis citizen. In other words, they can’t say anything because they have intellectual lockjaw.

  3. DurantFan

    John August 10, 2014 at 9:12 pm”……It appears that you are saying, DurantFan, that it is a “slam dunk” that higher taxes is the default choice of the average Davis citizen. In other words, they can’t say anything because they have intellectual lockjaw.”

    Thanks for your clever comment John (I am glad that I can still yawn). Because “Lessons in Media Relations” is the title of David’s piece, my point is that I believe that the media should take a lesson. The media should recognize that the typical Davis citizen today is “tired, stressed-out, disenchanted, and distrustful”, and tailor their message accordingly.

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