Sunday Commentary: Reflections on Eight Years

Charlie Brown who would narrowly lose in a bid for Congress in 2008, delivers the keynote address at the 2007 First Vanguard Birthday Celebration at the Odd Fellows Hall
Charlie Brown who would narrowly lose in a bid for Congress in 2008, delivers the keynote address at the 2007 First Vanguard Birthday Celebration at the Odd Fellows Hall

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).

David Greenwald (DPD) speaks to the crowd in 2007 with wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald
David Greenwald (DPD) speaks to the crowd in 2007 with wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald

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.

David Greenwald introducing former Councilmember Lamar Heystek on Wednesday at the 8th Birthday.
David Greenwald introducing former Councilmember Lamar Heystek on Wednesday at the 8th Birthday.

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

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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24 Comments

  1. Mr. Toad

    So here we are 7 years later and now are facing votes in another 15 months so by the time the process you prefer gets voted on over eight years will have passed. I’m not sure an 8 year process is the right way to go either.

    1. Mr. Toad

      I’m talking about this:

      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.”

  2. Anon

    This blog is about “the truth”? Much of it is political opinion, which is fine, but it is not necessarily “the truth”.

    Nothing like a good controversy to bring people out of their usual complacency!

  3. Tia Will

    Anon

    One change that David made in response to comments from readers is to clearly label articles to separate those on which he is reporting from those on which he is commenting. This one is labelled as commentary.

  4. Anon

    Tia,
    “Truth” is a very illusive term. One person’s truth is another person’s opinion, and vice versa. For example, at one time scientists were absolutely convinced the world was flat, it was “the truth”, until it was discovered “the truth” was that the earth was not flat but round! I am giving a very basic example, but you get the idea.

    1. Davis Progressive

      ” For example, at one time scientists were absolutely convinced the world was flat”

      WRONG. bad example.

      there was never a belief in the flat earth.

      link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_Flat_Earth

      During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. From at least the 14th century, belief in a flat Earth among the educated was almost nonexistent, despite fanciful depictions in art, such as the exterior of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, in which a disc-shaped Earth is shown floating inside a transparent sphere.[2]

      According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”[3] Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers point out that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference”.

  5. Tia Will

    Anon

    I wholeheartedly agree. I think where the “truth” vs opinion is most clearly illustrated is in some of the recent Court Watch articles.
    Some of the interns have posted portions of articles that are direct quotes from testimony provided. I would call that “the truth” as it is an accurate representation of the words that were actually spoken. Where the subjective comes in is in which portion of the testimony to report and which to exclude, and in how to convey the actions of the participants in the court room and which theatrics from which participants to highlight.

    I agree that in David’s “objective” articles, it is harder to sort out and since my time on the editorial board have watched David continuously attempt to use reader comments to strike a progressively better balance. Your comments will certainly be a part of our next discussion.

      1. Tia Will

        DP

        I do not want to speak for David. What I have seen is many discussions at the editorial board about the best ways to separate “factual reporting” from provision of opinion knowing very well that there will always be difference of opinion about what constitutes,
        “the truth” as opposed to the necessarily limited presentation of fact.

        These discussions have frequently included comments and suggestions from those posting.

        Did that help clarify ? Or have I further muddied the water ?

    1. Anon

      To Tia,
      Yes, even omission or exaggeration is a distortion of “the truth”. As I said, “the truth” is a very, very illusory term. Frankly, I don’t think there is such a thing! LOL

      1. Frankly

        Well, we will have to agree to disagree then. Void of bias and emotions, there is always one truth.

        You can overwhelm my biases and emotions and get me to accept an opinion based on facts. With stronger biases and emotions I certainly will set the bar much higher, but I will eventually accept facts and concede the argument if the facts support it.

        When we don’t have absolute facts, then there needs to be a weighing of considerations. And, for me, the primary consideration is material harm. “Material” in this case is harm that can be measured and is tangible. It is not just monetary. And I always prefer that we consider the big picture.

        For example, there are not enough facts available to prove the cause of global warming. Climate models are not comprehensive enough, and will likely never be comprehensive enough, to qualify them as accurately predictive enough to back policy decisions. And by ignoring this and marching forward with policy decisions anyway, we do material harm to many people because of the negative impacts to industrialization and the economy.

        The only approach that makes sense and can be supported is a general balance of economic and environmental concerns. And toady we can count many, many accomplishments and advances in environmental agendas… while the economic circumstances are in significant decline.

        So the truth is that we need scale back on environmental concerns and ramp up our economic concerns.

        There is one truth unless your bias and emotions get in the way.

        That is not to say that environmental concerns won’t be the truth one day in the future.

        1. Anon

          I happen to agree with you on the global warming issue. Google Michael Crichton, and you will find a wonderful 2 hour forum by http://www.investment.org that speaks to the issue of “truth” in science, and how it has been co-opted by fear mongering for political ends, grant funding and the like. It is just outstanding, and will give you a much better feeling about the world in general. I would argue however, that facts are not necessarily “the truth”, as often certain facts are omitted when inconvenient, or exaggerated for effect in other instances, all touted as “the truth”. I still believe “truth” is a very illusive term, and means many different things to different people. However I would agree with your premise that issues should be looked at with facts and logic, rather than emotion. One of the things the forum stresses is that scientific models should be adjusted for any new data that doesn’t fit the model, rather than fitting the data to agree with the scientific model (which is not true science).

  6. Napoleon Pig IV

    He learns by listening to others; incorporating their wisdom and dismissing their idiocy. It’s a shame our politicians can’t learn to do the same. Oh, wait! I almost forgot. Politicians never listen to sheep because by divine decree, sheep formulate no words of wisdom, and if they did, those words might diminish the flow of resources to the porcine pinnacle of power. Oink.

    1. Barack Palin

      The Enterprise really screwed up. I’ve seen at least 3 or 4 new posters here who used to post in the Enterprise comment section. Welcome PIG, it’s nice to have another voice on here.

  7. DavisBurns

    I certainly appreciate the Vanguard as a source of more news, more detail and a broader range of subjects than I ever found in the Enterprise, even before it slimmed down. I became a supporter the same month I began reading it. Kind of sorry I missed the dinner but, heck, I can read all about it here.

    I also appreciate the differences of opinion that are expressed although I sometimes tire of the bickering. If I don’t need to trot out my no-growth, far left, anti-capitalist leanings every time I post, why can’t others show the same restraint? We are discussing local issues. I appreciate moderators who keep us on topic. If I want to know how bad Obama is I can watch Fox News. By the way, I’m not fond of Obama either (different reasons, I am sure) but I don’t see how it’s relevant to innovation park discussions.

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