One of the interesting things about doing this is that everyone has a different memory of what was influential. So on Wednesday when Rochelle Swanson spoke at the Vanguard event, she told a story that I had long since forgotten. It was the high school football stadium issue.
She was head of the Blue and White Foundation and had never met me or really read the Vanguard before. A mutual friend suggested that she reach out to the Vanguard and she said she was a bit skeptical, but didn’t have many other options.
I went out there and toured the old stadium and was utterly horrified by what I saw. She told the crowd that, as I was walking, I nearly broke my ankle on uneven ground. And the pictures were appalling – article. Rochelle Swanson argued that was a turning point in that discussion as it reframed the issue from a football issue to a safety for students issue.
My first thought of a big impact was from July 17, 2007. The County Board of Supervisors were meeting to discuss the possibility of including several Davis sites as future study areas in the General Plan. It was a morning meeting, the chambers were packed, and I sat in the back, live-blogging.
People were angry – they were talking about recalling County Supervisors Mariko Yamada and Helen Thomson.
I wrote this: “As I write this, we are mere hours away from the showdown between the city of Davis and Yolo County that seems to be so unnecessary. The County of Yolo has legitimate concerns about revenue and the level of service, however, this is not the way to approach those concerns. Many people in Davis have spent decades in an effort to control urban sprawl and protect open space and agricultural land. If three staff proposed study areas are approved by the county today, much of that effort will be placed in jeopardy. There are many people who will not sit back and allow that to happen.
“The Vanguard opposed the notion of recall just last week citing a number of concerns, however, if the county goes forward and places these projects in the County General Plan EIR, the calculations will change dramatically. At the very least, the Vanguard hopes that the county will hit the pause button and sit down and discuss with the city of Davis the concept of the pass-through agreement which provides a large amount of money per year to county, and determine the best road to go forward for both governmental bodies.”
But the biggest impact was the live-blogging, as the meeting was not broadcast live back to Davis. And people were reading it – record amounts at that time.
How effective was the Vanguard at that time? Supervisor Helen Thomson came back to me during the break to correct a misstatement (and chew me out).
Ultimately, I report, “Motion is made to set aside all of the ‘red lines’ (on the general plan maps) around Davis and hold discussions. Basically this removes the proposed study areas from the general plan and authorizes some form of discussion in the future. The supervisors, based upon this vote, reversed their previous vote and now have removed all study area designations from the general plan update discussion. Yamada proposes if necessary to bring in a professional mediator to help with discussion. Staff is suggesting an avenue for discussion as a policy matter. Staff wishes to pursue as a matter of policy further discussions. Vote passes 4-1 with Chamberlain dissenting (he just wanted to kill it completely, no discussions in the future).”
In fact, that was the end of that issue. Here is the link to the original blogspot post. Here if you want to see the comments (apologies on the duplicate comments – a glitch in the migration to the current site).
Here are some thoughts from my speech on Wednesday about the founding of the Vanguard.
“It was eight years ago that I had this weird notion of creating a ‘blog.’ Let me tell you also, it was hot. You think it is hot today. We had a ten day stretch in 2006 where it was right around 105 to 110.
“It was hot in another way – things were toxic in the city of Davis in 2006. We had the City Manager who was fired without much word about why. We had open battles between citizens and the police in the political sphere that turned ugly. The police chief left town blaming it – by name – on my wife. Her commission was shut down with the Davis Enterprise headline – ‘ENOUGH!’
“When it is 110 degrees, let me tell you, you cannot escape the heat. Even inside, with the AC on full blast, you can feel that heat beating on your home. And you feel trapped. Suddenly I’m watching on CNN a show about blog and I have this epiphany that would end up changing my life.
“So told my wife I was going to do a blog. And she said, isn’t a blog something where people talk about their feelings or Brittany Spears. I tried to tell her that it was a new age alternative news source. She didn’t really see what I saw and blew me off with a ‘you do what you want honey.’
“SO it was eight years ago now that I closed my first piece – some might now be surprised to learn I did so under a pseudonym – Doug Paul Davis – it would not be until late 2008 that I went to posting under my own name and mainly because it was ridiculous to explain the name thing to people.”
In the first article innocuously entitled “Welcome,” I wrote this: “Watching this unfold last week, I realize I must act. This blog will be the voice of truth for the City of Davis. This blog will expose the lies and deceptions whether they come from the City Council, the Davis Police Department, the DA’s Office, or the City Manager. This blog will be the source of hard-hitting reporting and news that you will not get from the Davis Enterprise.”
Reading it now it reads almost arrogantly, but that was really just frustration speaking. The remarkable thing, however, is that this has really become what I envisioned – some days I marvel at that and wonder how I got here. But it’s really about hard work, dedication and, most of all, perseverance.
Over the years – as the world has shifted – the focus of the Vanguard has shifted from coverage of malfeasance and corruption to fiscal sustainability, which was a natural outgrowth of both the misconduct of the firefighters’ union and the fiscal irresponsibility of previous city councils.
Davis has always been a special community, but in recent years the affluence and the amenities that make this a great community are threatened by over a decade and a half of irresponsible fiscal policy.
Like many communities throughout the state, Davis greatly expanded public employee compensation beginning around 1999 or 2000 and continuing until the recession hit in 2008.
Davis fared better than other communities, but to some extent that was a mirage. We managed to balance our budget short-term through attrition and failure to invest in critical infrastructure – roads, parks, water, and buildings.
As the state emerged from the recession, we were stunned to learn last June that the city was facing around a $5 million structural deficit that was expanding to $8 million by 2018.
This June we passed a sales tax to close that gap, but that is not enough. We need a parcel tax in the next year to pay for infrastructure needs.
Unlike other communities, Davis has a relatively low sales tax base and the days of double digit property tax revenue increases are over.
We face a choice now. We can continue to balance the budget through impositions on employee groups, personnel cuts, and ultimately service cuts.
We can pass taxes in five-year increments to shore up revenue needs.
Or we now have a third option, and in the next year to two years, we will see peripheral innovations parks coming forward as a means to generate revenue.
We now are beginning a process of engaging the public in discussions about peripheral innovation parks. This is a real opportunity for Davis to generate new revenue while retaining its essential character that we all have come to love.
Have to laugh that, given that speech, the event was somehow interpreted as a rallying cry for the no-growth community. I remain a strong supporter of slow growth. I strongly support Measure R. But the numbers I have seen on revenue suggest that we need a small course correction to keep this community as we all have loved it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting