Commentary: Council Removes Thorny Issues, Focus Shifts to Big Three

MRAP
MRAP

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

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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31 Comments

  1. Mr. Toad

    “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.”

    I guess thats true if you don’t consider losing Schilling Robotics is a catastrophe.

  2. Matt Williams

    “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 cost.”

    The above statement applies to the water situation as well. The cost in the case of water was not only the threat that the ongoing lawsuit posed to the SRF loan application process, but also the ever increasing legal fees that the City would be paying for Best, Best and Krieger’s efforts in defendng the City’s position(s). I’m not sure what Best, Best and Krieger’s hourly rate is, but at $500 per hour $195,000 is only 390 hours of billable legal time.

      1. Matt Williams

        I understand your feelings Anon and I honor them. The problem I have is that Judge Maguire’s decision as the Trial Judge was effectively constrained by judicial procedure. The Appeals Court precedent that was used by the defense did not exist when the case was filed. It only appeared in the judicial record seven months later. That Appeals Court decision effectively rewrote the language of Section 6(2)(b)(3) of Proposition 218 from “The amount of a fee or charge imposed upon any parcel or person as an incident of property ownership shall not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel.” to “The amount of a fee or charge imposed upon any class of parcels or persons as an incident of property ownership shall not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the class of parcels.”

        The trial transcript clearly shows Judge Maguire’s discomfort with that language change. However, as a trial judge he is not empowered to overturn Appeals Court decisions. In the end following judicial procedure, he handed the responsibility for resolving the legal propriety of that language change to the Appeals Court … but only if the plaintiffs chose to appeal, which they now will not be doing.

        What all that means is that Harrington lost a battle, not the war. With that said, it was a loss regardless, and there was no guarantee of what the outcome of an appeal would have been. In my opinion Mayor Wolk and the members of the Council made a decision that was fiscally wise for the citizens/ratepayers of Davis. Some of them may have held their noses while making that decision, but they made it nonetheless.

    1. hpierce

      Matt… no matter how it is ‘spun’, unless I see a breakdown of “plaintiff’s” costs, and which plaintiffs saw what money, it still smells (and, in my opinion IS), a blackmail/’blood money” payment. Hope at least IRS & State Board of Equalization know who got the 195k so that it is properly taxed.

      1. Matt Williams

        Your point is very reasonable hpierce. The important question is was the value that the City received as much or greater than the value that the paid. Initiation Fees paid to private country clubs are effectively “blackmail/blood money” payments, but people very willingly pay them on a regular basis because they perceive that the value received exceeds the value of the money spent. It really boils down to a simple fiscal analysis.

        1. hpierce

          Yes, and there are those willing to negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers, which only tends to embolden them and those who would follow.

          I understand your purely economic point… if the City prevailed, completely, there would be no “deep pocket” for the City to recover the tax/ratepayer funds used to defend the City from those who pretend to have the “public’s best interest at heart” — but who only wanted ‘power’ and/or remuneration.

  3. Anon

    To DG: The MRAP issue is hardly over – it has been merely “glossed over” to be “politically correct”. You neglected to mention the police are still going into shooting situations relatively unprotected. The City Council has promised to look at that issue, which would be addressed with the purchase of another armored vehicle to the tune of $250,000. Now where the heck is the city going to get that kind of money, when it cannot even pay for major road repairs? If the City Council decides to leave things as is, what message does that send to police officers, who have to risk their lives on a daily basis possibly going into dangerous situations involving high-powered weapons? Sorry, the “MRAP issue” is far from being resolved.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “The MRAP issue is hardly over – it has been merely “glossed over” to be “politically correct”. ”

      if the council brings it back up, it will be a disaster.

      “the police are still going into shooting situations relatively unprotected. ”

      and i fail to see how the mrap would have changed that.

    2. Tia Will

      Anon

      “The City Council has promised to look at that issue, which would be addressed with the purchase of another armored vehicle to the tune of $250,000. ”

      It is premature to say that we know that this is the only option to provide adequate protection for the police. A full vetting of all the options has not yet occurred to the best of my knowledge.

  4. Frankly

    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.

    What too few politicos understand is that there is an ongoing political price to pay every time they throw an emotional tantrum and get their way. You wish it would go away and we can move on. But then if the CC had voted to keep the MRAP, would we have moved on? Sure.

    If no good deed goes unpunished, then the rest of them result in punishment absolutely.

    If any cop or citizen is harmed in a future situation where this tool would have been useful to prevent it, the responsibility for that will be hand delivered by me to everyone that opposed the tool and demanded it be eliminated.

    I was willing to accept future responsibility for my position if any harm was caused anyone because of any inappropriate use of the tool by the Davis PD.

    Are you willing to accept future responsibility for your position?

    1. Barack Palin

      “If any cop or citizen is harmed in a future situation where this tool would have been useful to prevent it, the responsibility for that will be hand delivered by me to everyone that opposed the tool and demanded it be eliminated.”

      I’ll be right there with you on that one Frankly. It will fall squarely on their shoulders and I’ll be there to remind them too.

      1. Davis Progressive

        three years ago a tool that the police had was misused on the ucd quad, while it wasn’t the dpd, the proximity means it could have been them. there has never been a police officer shot in davis.

        1. Frankly

          Several points.

          one – We are talking about the Davis PD, not the UCD PD nor the Ferguson PD.

          two – That tool is still in use… as well as many others that can be misused. So how do you reconcile your lack of equitable outrage for those tools being still used?

          three – I think you are wrong about a Davis police officer being shot at in Davis.

        2. Jim Frame

          “there has never been a police officer shot in davis”

          Not true — a Davis PD officer was shot and killed on H Street, in 1959 as I recall. The killer was never identified.

  5. Davis Progressive

    “If any cop or citizen is harmed in a future situation where this tool would have been useful to prevent it, the responsibility for that will be hand delivered by me to everyone that opposed the tool and demanded it be eliminated.

    I was willing to accept future responsibility for my position if any harm was caused anyone because of any inappropriate use of the tool by the Davis PD.

    Are you willing to accept future responsibility for your position?”

    it seems highly unlikely that a situation would arise where the mrap would prove useful.

    1. Frankly

      Then you will be off the hook.

      It is common for people to assume that bad stuff will never happen to them or to their community. And in most cases where bad stuff does happen, there is a collective “why didn’t we prepare better?” response.

  6. Edgar Wai

    As far as I understand the MRAP issue is resolved. The primary victim of the decision is the police. If the police is not complaining there is no need imagine that they are, and argue for an issue with no stakeholder.

    Note that even if the council reverts the decision, ethically the police still have to address the issues that may arise from using the MRAP. The police may judge whether that is worth their effort. The council should not have done that for the police, although the end result might be the same.

    The responsibility is not correct when you close an issue where the victim of its closure is not you. There are different ways to reach a closure. Now the responsibility is dangling because the decision was made in a way that no one could ethically take responsibility for that kind of decision. It was kind of reckless.

    1. Frankly

      The police cannot easily complain to the city council… especially the Chief who serves at the pleasure of the council that made the decision. I don’t have a problem standing up for their safety.

      And also don’t forget that the MRAP has potential utility to for safely extracting victims and potential victims from a dangerous environment. So in that respect, every citizen and visitor to Davis is a stakeholder.

  7. Anon

    I’m with Frankly et al, who will be there at the City Council meeting to castigate all those who chose to return the MRAP should a situational arise where the police could have been saved from being shot but end up injured or dead, a victim could have been extracted from a dangerous situation but ended up injured or dead, etc. And I will also be there at the City Council meeting to castigate all those who chose to return the MRAP should the City Council decide to purchase a $250,000 armored vehicle when we could have had an armored vehicle for free. And I will also be there at the City Council meeting to castigate all those who chose to return the MRAP should the City Council decide to leave our police unprotected in potential situations involving high-powered weapons which we know Davis criminals have had in their possession, hostage situations which have occurred in Davis, serving search warrants on dangerous criminals, etc.

    Secondly, this issue is not resolved, because the City Council clearly stated they want to hear the police department’s reasons for needing an armored vehicle. I plan to be at City Council chambers – to hear the City Council say to the Police Chief’s face that the City Council doesn’t believe the police need extra protection from high-powered weapons; that an officer’s life is not worth the risk of offending the sensibilities of certain vocal citizens in this town.

    1. BrianRiley429

      What a bunch of hot air! If you don’t have enough guts to use your real name here, then you’re not going to be making public comments at those meetings. Give us a break!

  8. Anon

    To Matt: Due deference is always given to trial judges by appellate courts. The chances of Harrington succeeding on appeal was slim to none. Would Harrington have appealed, dragged this bogus case out longer, and harmed the city’s chances of obtaining a loan with favorable interest rates from the state? Is fear of intimidation by lawsuit the way to govern a municipality? At what point should City Council members and city staff say enough is enough to those who would threaten lawsuits, initiatives/referendums to get their way? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I can tell you that the $195,000 “settlement” feels very wrong on so many levels, even if deemed the lesser of two evils. It feels like the city is being governed by the evil of lessers!

    1. Matt Williams

      Let me start Anon by acknowledging that I am not a lawyer, so the opinions expressed here by me won’t buy a cup of coffee. With that said, I was in the courtroom when Judge Maguire quizzed (dare I say confronted) all four lawyers (Harrington, Jon Morse, Harriett Steiner and Kimberley Hood) on what Judge Maguire characterized as the rewriting of Prop 218 law (and California Constitution Article XIII) by the decision in the Griffith versus Pajaro Valley Water Management District case.

      The transcript of those questions is as follows

      THE COURT: It is. And it’s the Court’s burden to determine what the question is we’re asking. Is the question asked whether the rates are proportional among users or whether it’s proportional among classes of users or whether it’s proportional among parcels, which is the way the constitution is written. And it’s really a question because I think there is not a lot of analysis on that for the Court.

      THE COURT: Let me ask you. I understand that argument. I understand the case support for it, and there is case support for it. What I’m struggling with though is how to square that concept with the language of Section 6 which says, “The charge shall not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel.” So that seems to suggest a more granular analysis than class by class.

      Those same questions would be central to an Appeals Court case, and what I believe Judge Maguire was doing was pointing out that the legal vagaries that caused the Palmdale case to be challenging as a precedent made Griffith challenging as a precedent.

      The good news is that all the above is moot because the settlement means there will be no appeals case.

      Regarding your last sentence … I see what you did there.

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