Give new Mayor Dan Wolk credit here, he has done a good job in his disjointed first month on the job (disjointed because of the calendar) of clearing out some thorny issues. He stepped up in July to put forward water rates that could actually gain enough community consensus to put the issue to rest.
Many were understandably not happy with the structure of the water rate settlement, but the key to that deal is that the opposition agreed not to file additional lawsuits or even put additional measures on the ballot. The opposition did not seem to have the ability to kill the water project once Measure I passed in March 2013, but as the Measure P results indicated, they could impose their will.
The $195,000 settlement sounds like a lot of money, but at the end of the day, it enabled the city to save millions on low interest revolving loans.
The council also avoided catastrophe on the innovation parks issue when the Mace Innovation team backed off requests to alter Measure R and then have an advisory measure.
Finally, Mayor Dan Wolk and the council majority, of what turned out to be three, put to bed a very thorny issue in the MRAP. Given the controversy, Mayor Wolk could have equivocated, but instead, he came out with a clear and unmistakable statement, “I can’t imagine why Davis needs a tank. It’s in a city garage and I hope it stays there.”
In an ideal world, the position of Councilmember Brett Lee made absolutely perfect sense. The council understood that the process was flawed. They were unhappy that they were left uninformed by the interim city manager and police chief. They believed that this should have gone to the council first and foremost.
The motion they passed will help to lay the foundation for that. However, they could have passed the second and third parts of Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis’ motion and then saved the heavy lifting for two months out.
As Brett Lee would argue, why follow bad policy with more bad policy?
What too few people understand is that there are times when good policy is bad politics. We like to discount political considerations as petty and trivial. The problem is that they are not.
The most underappreciated aspect of public life, social justice, and the like is that we often get caught up in the fight for justice, the fight for equality, and the fight for what’s right. We all relish fighting the good fight. But fighting, even in its metaphorical usage, has a cost.
One of the things I have really learned in my eight years of doing this is that there comes a time when continuing the fight is more costly – in fiscal terms, personal terms, health terms – than cutting your losses. Counseling people to know when to give up or cut bait is difficult and sometimes heart wrenching. But nevertheless, sometimes the best way to minimize damage is accept your fate and get on with the rest of your life.
In the case of the MRAP, continuing the community discussion had huge downside risks. It was a highly emotional issue. People were relatively good sports about it last week, but how long would that last?
From the police department’s perspective, they have the respect of many in the community. It is not that there are no problems involving the Davis Police Department, but rather that the current leadership has helped to resolve some of the worst problems and is even willing to work with the community to help figure out ways to solve longstanding issues.
From the police department’s perspective, is this really high enough on your list of priorities to risk that progress?
But the stakes are far greater for the council. The city council has three priorities. The first is short-term, hire a new city manager. This may seem like an unrelated point but if the council had left the door on MRAP open and the community angst increased, perhaps a new city manager would have second thoughts before jumping into the hornets’ nest.
Second, the council needs to figure out how to deal with infrastructure needs. We have the roads, sidewalks and bike paths that will take at least $100 million. Then you have the park infrastructure and city building infrastructure. Finally, you have swimming pools leaking thousands of gallons a day.
The city needs to build consensus toward some sort of fix – most likely a parcel tax. Leaving the MRAP issue to fester would have greatly impacted the city’s ability to forge consensus on revenue. It would have been a huge distraction and would have sucked up the public space, whether it be Vanguard articles, comments, letters to the editor, or community conversation.
Whatever the city doesn’t get from new taxes will have to come from general fund resources, which leaves open the distinct possibility that the city would need to cut funding from each of the departments in order to shore up roads and parks. So, while the city looked at MRAP as revenue neutral, they failed to analyze the potential opportunity costs.
Finally, the biggest issue is the long-term viability of the city’s economy and that leads us to the potential Measure R votes on an innovation park. We have Nishi. We have the Mace Innovation Park. We have the Davis Innovation Park. And we may have Davis Ranch.
Already the developers, at least for Nishi, Mace and Davis Innovation Park, have been reaching out to the community. Imagine their ability to have these key conversations at a time when the city is blowing up and ripping itself apart on MRAP?
These issues are just too crucial to the future of the city. That’s why we give hats off to Mayor Wolk and the council to put issues like water and the MRAP to bed so that we can focus on the big three this fall and beyond.
—David M. Greenwald reporting