Commentary: Low Point in the State of the City

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The special agenda for 8 pm on Monday night, in closed session, once again suggests that the end of the city manager search could be near, as once again the council is set to discuss the city manager position and also to have a conference with labor negotiators about an unrepresented employee, the city manager candidate.

However, the agenda is identical to one two weeks ago that yielded no reportable action. What has changed are the rumors. Last week, we heard from reliable sources that there were two finalists and a bit of an impasse. This week, we are hearing that the selection has been made, that the council is negotiating with the candidate, and it could be finalized on Monday.

If you do not like rumors and speculations, I suggest you simply not read this column. I am a little skeptical about these reports, because Rochelle Swanson was not in town this week. But as we move on here in October, it becomes pretty clear that something is going to have to happen.

In January, the mayor generally gives the state of the city address, but I don’t think we need to have the official state of the city report to understand where things stand.

We understand things may be in a bit of limbo until the new city manager is hired, but the work product from this council is pretty unimpressive so far. Since taking the July break, the city council has done exceedingly little.

The biggest thing it did was cut a deal on water that allowed the water project to go forward in exchange for a nearly $200,000 settlement with the litigants. That allowed the Prop 218 to fly through with hardly a murmur of protest. The July-reached deal on the 87-13 split was important as well.

MRAP was an issue thrown onto their unsuspecting laps over the summer break. While the council voted 3-1-1 to send it back, there are efforts underway to undo that. However, the three in the majority on that vote seem to be sticking to their guns and it remains to be seen which direction we end up going.

Other than that, it is hard to find a concrete action that the council has taken. It did vote 3-2 to reverse policies on the ADUs for affordable housing.

Paso Fino has made it as far as the Planning Commission and will likely go to council to settle issues of developing of greenbelts (perhaps) and an ultimate direction on whether the development ends up as six or eight units. While we get that trees and greenbelt are important issues in this community, when you are dicing between six and eight units for a tiny infill project, I think inherently you are acknowledging how small an overall issue this should be.

That is actually cause for concern rather than celebration.

Last week we talked about the potential return of the toxic atmosphere in council. This week we have learned, in addition to what might be concerning news about the new city manager hire, that a number of prominent and well-respected city staffers are about to leave, perhaps as soon as November and certainly by the end of the year.

While the water issue is off the plate, it seems the biggest issues remaining are enormous and daunting.

In addition to the city manager hire, we have the need for the parcel tax and have seen no discussion on where that stands. In Dan Wolk’s “Mayor Corner,” notably missing from his relatively thin list of current and upcoming items was a discussion of the parcel tax, the need to fund infrastructure, the budget and MOU negotiations, and the innovation parks.

After all, if Neighbor’s Night Out and the Turkey Trot can make the list of upcoming items, then we can get an update on the three most important issues facing the city.

Along those lines, the council did step up and approve several key contracts, including the reinstatement of a principal planner position.

As a Chamber of Commerce press release put it: “The City Council’s actions last night mark significant steps toward ensuring the proposals are evaluated to the degree necessary to realize the community and economic development potential these projects represent.”

Chamber president Jennifer Nitzkowski stated, “Through these contracts, and the reinstated Principal Planner, the City can ensure that its review of these projects is thorough and seamlessly coordinated.”

The need for another planner to take some of the pressure off current staff has been a tricky matter, given the city’s budget, but we should give credit to the council and staff for finding a way forward there.

That said, we have to be nervous at this point in time.

As we noted in September, the voters do not recognize that the city is in fiscal crisis. While only 3.5% rate the fiscal condition as excellent, 25% said good and 35% said fair.

The numbers rating the city’s fiscal condition as poor or very poor jumped from 2.7% in 2007 up to 23.7% in 2014, making it nearly one-quarter of the respondents. But more people thought the city’s fiscal condition is good or very good (28.8%) than poor or very poor. And nearly 65% of respondents found it at least fair.

In September, we argued that this was not good news for the city in terms of their ability to pass a parcel tax, but, frankly, it is probably worse news for those hoping to get innovation parks approved.

To get the voters to go against their slow growth tendencies, they need to be able to see the city in crisis. My belief has been that the budget issue and fiscal conditions of the city would open the doors and minds of people who, like me, prefer keeping Davis small but recognize that the current situation is untenable.

If the majority of the voters actually believe that the city is okay fiscally, that becomes a tougher task. In order to get both the parcel tax and the innovation park passed, the city needs to educate the voters that the condition of the city is not good fiscally.

The pushback is going to come anyway. We see with Paso Fino that issues like greenbelts and trees are enormous for Davis.

We reported last week that there are neighbors to the innovation park project sites that will start raising considerable concerns.

And the core of the issue will be challenged, as well, as we reported earlier this week that former Mayor Sue Greenwald questioned whether business parks can generate revenue: “Business parks rarely bring net new revenue to cities. We should be honest and clear about the benefits of a business park.”

We believed in the summer – and wrote this several times – that the city needed an aggressive plan to educate the public on the fiscal realities of the city, and the need for investment in infrastructure, including but not limited to road repairs, parks, greenbelts and pools.

So far this fall, we have seen nothing. It is hard to imagine, as we are nearly midway through October already and the council is not set to meet again for a regular meeting until at least October 21, that we can do enough to get public approval for a parcel tax next spring.

The innovation parks are on a slower track. The Vanguard will have its discussion forum on October 16, the developers have had outreach, but the big case is really the fiscal component because that is where the potential exists for the public, skeptical of growth, to see this as a potential revenue source.

While this is another pessimistic column, we should remember that things can still change rapidly, and with the right city manager hire, new energy could emerge. But right now, things are looking rather bleak.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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61 thoughts on “Commentary: Low Point in the State of the City”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    Since you are seeing things as “bleak”, I will start on a relatively lighthearted note about an unintentionally appropriate choice of words. You wrote:

    “MRAP was an issue thrown onto their lap unsuspectingly over the summer break”

    I think the word you probably intended  was”unexpectedly”. What was unsuspected ( at least by the police) was the amount of push back from the community for what I suspect they felt was an innocuous acquisition. As you said at the end of your article, things can change rapidly !

    Now on to more serious thoughts.

    “the voters do not recognize that the city is in fiscal crisis.”

    I would have to include me in this group of voters. The issue is not that I do not recognize that the city has significant economic challenges. I do. But I take exception to the hyperbole involved in the use of the word “crisis”. “Crisis” from the point of view of a surgeon means that I have to do something right now or my patient will die. It leaves no time for reflection or weighing of options, it means right now. If you are going to make this claim about the city, then it is inappropriate to be discussing plans for projects that we do not anticipate will be productive for at least 5 years. What we would need is to tax ourselves heavily right now. Now you can call our situation serious, or you can call it unsustainable and I will agree. But if you are going to say that we are in “crisis”, then these innovation parks are simply not part of the picture and should be left on the back burner until the “crisis” is resolved. Seen in this light, having the innovation parks on a slow track is not only appropriate, but desirable as we take care of the urgent needs of the city.

    “that issues like greenbelts and trees are enormous for Davis.”

    In this we are in complete agreement. What the developers and rapid growth advocates with whom I have spoken or written are failing to appreciate is that there are a large number of people living in Davis ( both wealthy and not) who do not have money / financial concerns as their top priority. There are those amongst us who would rather have a smaller house or perhaps continue to rent than to develop every single open space in Davis. There are those who value public spaces even if they are not “fully utilized” since some of us consider an open space as being the best possible “utilization” of the land.

     

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think the word “crisis” is overused but in this case it is correct. Look at the money we are talking about on roads. Right now it’s over $100 million, but it increases greatly not only as asphalt prices rise but as roadway conditions fall. We don’t have the money for that.

      You’re arguing, and I think accurately, that innovation parks are not the short-term solution to that kind of “crisis.” I agree. Where you and I differ perhaps, is I don’t see a taxation process as sustainable long term. That’s where I see the need for Davis to look at ways to generate revenue.

        1. Frankly

          Note the increase in crime that has resulted from cuts to Vallejo police.  Transportation services have been slashed.  Services for kids and seniors have been slashed.  Forget about your beloved 5th Street road diet after a bankruptcy.

          But to Tia’s and your point, residents have stepped up to replace some of the missing services.

          http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201303221630/b

          Is that the type of Davis we want and expect?  Better get the word out because my neighbors and I are already too busy to start doing that work.  Maybe you and Tia have enough like-thinking friends that can fill in for all those city employees we will have to fire.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          Yeah. The town still exists. But this is what they went through according to a 2012 Washington Post article: “The first couple of years were ugly. After this working-class port city became the largest in America to declare bankruptcy in 2008, crime and prostitution surged as the police force was thinned by 40 percent. Firehouses were shuttered, and funding for libraries and senior centers was slashed. Foreclosures multiplied and home prices plummeted.”

        3. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > in 2008, crime and prostitution surged as the police

          >force was thinned by 40 percent.

          Vallejo is a LOT different than Davis and has a HUGE black AND Latino GANG MEMBER population.  In 1960 Vallejo was next to a big source of jobs and had a population that was 85% white.  In 2010 Mare Island was closed and the population was 33% white.  Davis can have a lot of cuts without any surge in crime and prostitution as long as UC Davis does not close and we don’t get thousands of gang members and welfare single moms moving to town (like Vallejo did)…

        4. Frankly

          Related to this… does Davis really want the distinction of the brand of fiscal insolvency… unable to solve our own problems?  Just ask yourself how you feel about those cities that have declared bankruptcy… does their story ring positive or negative?  How embarrassing will it be that the most educated little liberal city in the state cannot get their financial affairs in order?

          Talk about impacts to property values!

          If I didn’t live here I might just root for financial collapse to make a very good and valid ideological point that liberals cannot handle fiscal responsibilities.

        5. Davis Progressive

          “Vallejo is a LOT different than Davis and has a HUGE black AND Latino GANG MEMBER population.”

          so only blacks and latinos commit crime?  davis hasn’t had a problem of people coming from out of town off the highway to burglarize?  bsides, the point was that vallejo suffered even it continued to exist, do you deny that?

        6. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > so only blacks and latinos commit crime?

          Why do you ask that question?

          There are plenty of white gangs (and even some “clubs” like the Hells Angels MC) that commit crime, but they have not moved to Vallejo in large numbers over the past 40 years (neither have many Chinese gangs or tongs)…

        7. Alan Miller

          Wow.  But since everyone is still painting crisis, what is the projected year that Davis goes bankrupt if nothing changes?  Surely someone ran out the graph that far.

    2. Frankly

      Tia – with all due respect, understanding some your history and profession and then this often repeated dismissal of the city’s fiscal crisis, I can only conclude that you believe money does actually grow on trees or that we have money faeries that will float down at any time to take care of us.

      Either this or your calculator is out of batteries.

      <i>Tax ourselves heavily right now</i>

      Why would we need to tax ourselves (more) heavily right now if the city is not in a fiscal crisis?

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

         

        “Better get the word out because my neighbors and I are already too busy to start doing that work.”

        One of my classmates in high school made a statement that changed my life forever. I was complaining about not having enough time to get all my work done. Her response was “there is always enough time to do what is truly important.”

        And she was right. When I said I didn’t have enough time, the reality was that I didn’t have enough time to do all or my work, and hang out at the beach after school and listen to my music, watch TV, and talk on the phone with my best friend. I recognized the wisdom of her words. I doubt that there are any of us who are not still raising kids that do not have some additional time to volunteer if that were high enough on our list of priorities.

        What I see amongst some of the folks who are insisting that as many “innovation parks” as possible is the way to go is that you are advocating for “outsourcing” our debt on luxuries. The theory is that we will simply grow our way out of the financial difficulties caused by poor past decision making. I am very skeptical of this approach. I believe very strongly in personal responsibility. I believe that we should have been paying our way all along whether for water, or roads, or pools, or …..you name it. We haven’t been. I prefer a comprehensive plan that might include an “innovation park” to see how this might help, as well as increased taxes and yes, more volunteerism would be great. Rainbow Park and the new high school track were both dependent on donated funds and labor. Both came out very well. Why stop there ?

        I find your comment about your and your friends “not having enough time” ironic in yet another way. You have frequently stated that you think that business and private philanthropy should be all we need for our social network. But then you state that you don’t have time to do more. Can you see the implicit limitation of your approach ?  It seems that it is always someone else who needs to do the “philanthropizing: ( do you like my new word?).

         

         

         

        1. Alan Miller

          “Better get the word out because my neighbors and I are already too busy to start doing that work.”

          Maybe if we shut down the Vanguard, you could take the time you spend writing and fill in doing jobs formerly done by City employees.  #wink#

           

    3. Barack Palin

      Tia Will……”If you are going to make this claim about the city, then it is inappropriate to be discussing plans for projects that we do not anticipate will be productive for at least 5 years. What we would need is to tax ourselves heavily right now.”

      Using your medical analogy, because a patient needs care right now should we just concentrate on what we can do for them at that instant and forgo any research that will lead to medical breakthroughs?  The same applies to the innovation parks, some day they will produce revenue and need to be in the overall plan as well as stop gap measures.

      1. Frankly

        Good point.  Too bad we were not talking about building innovation parks 5-10 years ago.  But even then we would have had the same argument from Tia.

        But Tia makes the point that we are not in any fiscal crisis.  Therefor we don’t need any tax increases nor any economic expansion.  Everything is just rosy.

        1. Tia Will

          Frnakly

           

          Did you even read my post…or did you just think liberal …..oh, must think everything is ok.

          I clearly stated that I agreed with David that the city had serious economic problems and also stated that I agree that our past strategy has led to an unsustainable situation. I am sure you could have read that, and perhaps this indicates that you are just “jerking my chain” as you are inclined to do. But if we are really going to talk about solutions, it would be best if we actually respected what the other has said instead of making blatantly false statements.

        2. Aggie

          Frankly,

          We were talking about innovation parks 5-10 years ago. And 10-15 years ago. And 15-20 years ago. We just called them tech parks.

          For example, Harrington recently posted a reference to the beauty contest between three proposals when he was in office.

          What’s different now is the threat of bankruptcy.  The city has been blocked from going to it’s primary economic engine – peripheral residential development – for almost 15 years by Measure J/R. The consequence, as we all know, is that the City balance sheet has eroded to the point of a fiscal crisis.

          1. Matt Williams

            Aggie, your point is both correct and somewhat off target. Indeed the discussions 5-10 and 10-15 years ago did happen, but only at best half-heartedly. The reason for their half-hearted nature is that UCD really had no idea how to do technology transfer, and was probably afraid of the internal political blowback within the academic community if they actually made any commitment to technology transfer. When I moved to Davis in 1998, UCD’s Office of Research was forming UC Davis Connect as the conduit for facilitating the development of new business ventures. I attended several of their meetings, which took place in the back room of Sudwerk Brewery. Many of the people in the technology businesses here in Davis to whom I have talked felt that UC Davis Connect was actually an impediment to the development of new technology business ventures in Davis. During the 1999-2007 period when UC Davis Connect existed, there were technology businesses started by UCD graduates, Digital Technology Laboratories (DTL) being one of the more noteworthy, but it is worth noting that DTL located first in West Sacramento before its success brought it back to Davis, where it has grown and morphed into its present campus on Faraday.

            UCD isn’t confused about the value of technology transfer any more. UCD’s 2020 Initiative is very heavily focused on both Ivory Tower research and Applied Research. It would take a major catastrophe to impede the velocity of technology transfer into the private sector in the next 20 years, and that velocity is likely to produce as much transfer in a single year as there was in the whole 15 year period from 1995 through 2010. (Chancellor Katehi arrived at UCD on August 17,2009)

        3. Barack Palin

          Frankly, it all reminds me of some of the liberals on here saying we shouldn’t do the Keystone pipeline because that oil wouldn’t be available for many years down the road.

      2. Tia Will

        BP

        I agree with Frankly that this is a good point and deserves a response.

        So let’s carry the medical analogy just a little further. Stopping the patient from dying is the first concern. Of course if I have enough staff that are not required to do the immediate job of resuscitating the patient, those folks can carry on with research. If we have the resources and staff, then this two activities can continue in tandem which is often the case. But what we would not do is to pretend that research which we know will take 5 years to start realizing results is going to help the patient who is in critical condition now..

        This is what I think needs to be made very, very clear to voters. While the “innovation parks” may or may not be the best way forward, they are simply not related to the city’s immediate needs. Therefore, “financial crisis” should not be used as a term that implies that the “innovation parks” are needed for our current financial woes. Whether we want to pursue them to prevent future financial woes is a separate issue and should clearly be spelled out as such in any solutions being presented for consideration.

         

         

  2. Dan Carson

    David, your thesis that we need to show a “city in crisis” to pass a parcel tax is debatable.

    In my view, what will help most to “sell” a parcel tax is the development of a well-thought-out and carefully crafted plan, with a public consensus behind it, for addressing our infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs.  The public is more likely to vote for the additional resources needed to tackle this problem if they have confidence that the city is on the right track fiscally.  Which we are.  The city has made a series of additional budget cuts, and the voters have kicked in new revenues with Measure O, that in combination have narrowed (but not yet completely closed) the structural budget gap for city operations.

    Of course, there is much more work to be done to complete a systematic assessment of our facilities needs and the resources that could be leveraged to meet those needs. If it takes some time to carefully assess and examine our priorities for facilities projects, so be it, in my view.  As we have discussed before, rushing a bad facilities plan onto the ballot is the sure way to kill it.

    It isn’t as if the city is sitting around doing nothing about these problems in the meantime.  The city has budgeted $4.7 million for pavement rehabilitation in the current fiscal year.  Public Works is ramping up contracting to get this work under way.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the problem dan is that you’re failing to consider the electorate.  for example, me.  if we were not in fiscal crisis, i would not even consider this project.  you do raise a point about the “public is more likely to vote for the additional resources needed to tackle this problem if they have confidence that the city is on the right track fiscally,” but i think you make the case to them here is the plan to get us out of the crisis.

      “It isn’t as if the city is sitting around doing nothing about these problems in the meantime.  The city has budgeted $4.7 million for pavement rehabilitation in the current fiscal year.”

      that just means we can plan deliberately here, we’re not going to continue to have $4.7 million, some of that is one-time carry-over money.

      1. Dan Carson

        DP, Sorry about the late response. Was out of town for a funeral. On your second point about the money being one-time:  What is the source of that information, and how much of the $4.7 million are you talking about?  The city budget (page 14-3) shows that about $3.8 million of the $4.7 million total is General Fund monies that have been built into the “base” budget and thus continue year after year absent any budgetary action to remove them from the city’s spending plan.   The monies are also built into the city’s published five year fiscal projections and are not shown as a one-time expenditure. City staff indicated in a Finance and Budget Commission meeting a couple months ago that the additional special fund monies would likely continue too in amounts comparable to those built into the 2014-15 budget.  So, do you have some updated information the commission doesn’t know about?

    2. Tia Will

      Dan

      Well spoken.

      I also feel that the voters are much more likely to respond to a well reasons argument about which steps are necessary and when we are likely to start seeing benefits from each step, than they are to a “scare campaign” including the overused word “crisis”. From my point of view, Haiti and Honduras are in economic ‘crisis”.  3 west african nations are in an ebola crisis.

      The city of Davis has economic needs that need to be addressed. We are not in “crisis”.

       

       

       

       

      1. Don Shor

        From my point of view, Haiti and Honduras are in economic ‘crisis”.

        Well, everything is relative. So the city of Davis has a chronic longterm lack of fiscal stability, leading to a likelihood of insolvency. Solving that requires budget cuts, tax increases, and revenue increases in some balance. The previous city manager and council enacted the budget cuts. The voters have approved tax increases. The voters need to be vigilant that the budget cuts remain in place. And it is fiscally prudent to move in the direction of more revenues.
        It wouldn’t be hard to list the consequences of a continued lack of fiscal stability. You can see, and will see more of, the impact on the amenities that Davis residents appreciate. The parks, greenbelts, tennis courts, swimming pools, roads, and more. People may still not be aware of the condition of the roads and city buildings, so that information needs to be put out there.
        So if it helps to avoid using the term ‘crisis’ then perhaps people can avoid that. But that doesn’t change the realities of a mismatch between revenues and expenses, and doesn’t change the nature of the policies that will need to continue to be adopted and maintained.

        1. Tia Will

          Don

          Agree completely with your post. Addressing reality is important. Creating a scenario based on fear is, in my opinion, counterproductive as is framing long term solutions as though they would help with short term needs.

        2. Mark West

          “So if it helps to avoid using the term ‘crisis’ then perhaps people can avoid that.”

          What a crock… Why should anyone stop using the correct term just because a certain poster doesn’t like the word. That is just semantic nonsense!

          The City is in the midst of a fiscal crisis.  The end point of that crisis may be a few years off, but that doesn’t change the need to address the problem with critical steps now.  This isn’t an issue of ‘fear,’ it is one of reality, even if some posters choose to feign ignorance of the facts.

           

  3. Aggie

    I share your pessimism David.

    Davis is more than a decade behind the curve in solving the tech park problem.  In 2010, when the Saylor council adopted the Business Park Land Strategy and formed the Peripheral Innovation Park Task Force, there was still time to catch this business cycle.  Unfortunately, that may turn out to have been the City’s high water mark.

    The three-part land strategy was spot on.  Develop a large tech park on the periphery, develop a UCD-connected innovation hub on Nishi, redevelop downtown to be tech friendly, especially for small office-based start-ups and firms that provide services to the tech sector (lawyers, VC’s, etc.).

    Execution of the strategy by the Krovoza council was an embarrassing failure.

    Davis is so screwed up that even adding an economic development star like Rob White to the system has not been enough to overcome the dysfunction we have created for ourselves.

     

      1. Aggie

        I agree that there has been an astonishing change in public opinion catalyzed by the efforts of Rob White.  That’s what makes the failure to execute by the Krovoza council so tragic.

        The forward motion I see is too little, too late.

    1. Frankly

      <i>there was still time to catch this business cycle.</i>

      This is a point lost on many less business-savvy people.  We are always in some economic cycle.  Right now it is a couple of years into a moderate growth cycle.  More importantly is the commercial real estate (CRE) supply and demand cycle.  Today, statewide, there is more demand than supply.   Developers tend to lag.   But CRE development has already started in response to the supply problems.

      At the pace we are proceeding in Davis, it is likely that the park(s) will come online about the time we are in another CRE over-supply period and a downward economic cycle.

      We dither and we lose…. again.

  4. Anon

    “…a number of prominent and well-respected city staffers are about to leave, perhaps as soon as November and certainly by the end of the year.”

    This is very concerning to me, and in my opinion a direct result of how poorly city staff are often treated by some disgruntled members of the public.  I have watched at public meetings as members of the public (even former City Council members) walk up to city staffers and call them a “liar” to their face, berate them in other ways, demean them by telling them how to do their jobs despite members of the public having no expertise themselves in the area the staffer excels at, calling for city staffers to be fired, or take up inordinate amounts of city staff time pushing the member of the public’s own “agenda”.  It is absolutely disgraceful, and it is no wonder good city staffers are choosing to get the heck out of this city.  We are losing excellent and talented city staff because of this entitlement some of the public feel they have to say whatever they want however they want to whoever they want (including commissioners, who are often as maltreated as city staff).

    “To get the voters to go against their slow growth tendencies, they need to be able to see the city in crisis. My belief has been that the budget issue and fiscal conditions of the city would open the doors and minds of people who, like me, prefer keeping Davis small but recognize that the current situation is untenable.”

    This is absolutely correct – our city is in a fiscal CRISIS.  The city does not have the funds to make basic road repairs.  Citizens may not see it right away, although I don’t know how anyone can miss the cracks that are appearing in the roads, but the cost to fix roads in a few years will grow astronomically.  It is amazing to me how many people want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that Davis can simply tax its way out of its financial mess, and/or cut services.  They are absolutely clueless about the dire state of our infrastructure in this city, that has been allowed to deteriorate at a rapid rate, because of the inattention of previous short-sighted City Councils, that merely covered over the problem with an “unmet needs” category.

     

    1. Mark West

      Anon:  This is absolutely correct – our city is in a fiscal CRISIS.  The city does not have the funds to make basic road repairs.  Citizens may not see it right away, although I don’t know how anyone can miss the cracks that are appearing in the roads, but the cost to fix roads in a few years will grow astronomically.  It is amazing to me how many people want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that Davis can simply tax its way out of its financial mess, and/or cut services.  They are absolutely clueless about the dire state of our infrastructure in this city, that has been allowed to deteriorate at a rapid rate, because of the inattention of previous short-sighted City Councils, that merely covered over the problem with an “unmet needs” category.

      Well said!

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        Anon is right. However, one of the most important reasons our infrastructure has not been properly maintained over the last 20 or so years is missing from his analysis. This infrastructure crisis is not just due to “short-sighted City Councils.” In fact, most of the problem we have in Davis–which virtually all other cities and counties in California have–stems from ERAF, which was passed in 1992 and began harming local governments in 1993-94.

        Over the last 20 years, ERAF has taken roughly $11 billion of property tax money which local governments could have used for infrastructure maintenance and repairs. That money, which property owners approved to go to local government has instead gone to the state government, in order to relieve the state of its Prop 98 burden for public school funding. Keep in mind that ERAF does not provide more money for local public schools. It simply has allowed the state to make local governments pay a substantial share of the state’s Prop 98 burden.

        If you are wondering, “Rich, have not you not been saying for a decade that the liability crisis in local government is due to the massive increases in employee total compensation?” why is that not the case with roads and other infrastructure? It is a small part of the infrastructure problem. However, the employee compensation giveaways, which are leading so many cities to a functional insolvency, have built up a completely distinct liability: That is, in Davis, we owe roughly $150 million to our employees for unfunded retiree benefits (medical and pension). This same story of medical and pension debt is true of most other cities and counties (it is even worse in Yolo County than in Davis), because they have raised the compensation paid to employees far faster than their revenues could ever sustainably keep up with. As a result, most cities and counties have been cutting services and not replacing retired employees, to reduce payroll.

        It is not the case that if cities like Davis had been responsible with their labor contracts we could today, without raising taxes, pay for our road repairs and so on. What would be different today if we had been responsible is that Davis would not be $150 million in debt to its employees and retirees, with no good way to pay for that expense.

        1. Davis Progressive

          rich, you’re wrong.  the problem with your analysis is that if we had eraf, even if it increased revenue like you seem to believe, is that council simply would have had larger amounts of compensation to employees.

          “It is not the case that if cities like Davis had been responsible with their labor contracts we could today, without raising taxes, pay for our road repairs and so on.”

          you’re half right here.  the roads and other things would not be as bad today if we had planned properly ten years ago.

        2. Frankly

          And add the killing of RDA for the same <i>”approved to go to local government has instead gone to the state government, in order to relieve the state of its Prop 98 burden for public school funding.</i>

          But adding to DP’s points, if we had not had tax increases to help bridge the operational budget gaps that are a direct result of over-compensated city labor, we would more likely have those options as remedies to help fund under-funded road and infrastructure maintenance.

          And correct me if I am wrong, but haven’t our funds for road and infrastructure maintenance been used to pay for other things that have been a direct result of over compensated city labor?

        3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          DP writes:

          “Rich, you’re wrong. The problem with your analysis is that if we had (the millions of dollars taken from Davis and put in) ERAF, even if it increased revenue like you seem to believe, is that council simply would have had larger amounts of compensation to employees.”

          DP, let me correct you in two respects.

          One, you should never call me wrong when your subsequent “proof” of my error fails to demonstrate my supposed error. It is not knowable if Davis would have done what you believe. Your conclusion is built on a hypothetical. So instead of saying, Rich, you’re wrong, you could at most say Rich, based on the historical irresponsibility of our City Council with regard to employee compensation, it seems likely that you’re conclusion is not right.

          But if you think that, let me try to disabuse you. The $150 million debt to employees and retirees is mostly a consequence of A) the enhanced pensions given early to public safety employees and later to miscellaneous employees and B) the dramatic (10% per annum) increase in the cost of medical care since 2001. Those are the primary and secondary factors which pushed us into functional insolvency and a much smaller workforce. A tertiary factor is higher salaries, because they grew faster than revenues and because they inherently compound the cost of pensions.

          Whether Davis had its ERAF money or not, the pension and medical care problems within employee compensation would not be worse.

          I concede that it is likely that salaries for employees probably would have gone up somewhat faster than they did if Davis had its ERAF money, and that in and of itself would have made our pension funding problem worse. But I don’t think it’s likely that ALL or even most of the millions lost to ERAF would have gone into higher employee compensation.

          A historical fact supporting my argument is that the stoppage of regular infrastructure maintenance and repairs begins in 1993-94 and continues from there, right along with the loss of ERAF. If the growth of employee comp costs were the main factor in the end of regular road and sidewalk maintenance*, the roads crisis would have started in 2001, when we experienced 20% medical inflation (for 3 straight years). Or it could have started in about 2008, once the pension funding costs for public safety employees began to go up rapidly. But there is not such a close historical correlation between the massive rise in labor costs and the decline in spending for infrastructure maintenance. There is, however, a tight correlation with the start of ERAF and the decline of roads up and down California.

          Two, when you are hiding behind a fake name, never tell a real person he is wrong if you lack facts to back up your opinion. It is mean spirited and nasty of you to do so, and your mother should be ashamed of your poor behavior.

          —————

          *We have had in the last 20 years irregular road maintenance, usually paid for by one-time state or federal funds. That is why certain streets, often those in terrible shape, have been greatly upgraded here and there. What we have lost is the 7-year repaving cycle for all streets in Davis that we had up to 1993-94.

    2. Frankly

      <i>They are absolutely clueless about the dire state of our infrastructure in this city, that has been allowed to deteriorate at a rapid rate, because of the inattention of previous short-sighted City Councils, that merely covered over the problem with an “unmet needs” category.</i>

      <i>It is amazing to me how many people want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that Davis can simply tax its way out of its financial mess, and/or cut services.</i>

      I see the former as an opportunity to educate.

      But the latter is a foe to defeat.

      Because it is clear having spent many months debating those in the latter camp and noting no change in opinion that they are going to line up in opposition no matter how real the crisis is.

      1. Mark West

        Frankly: “I see the former as an opportunity to educate.”

        You cannot educate those who have made the active decision not to learn.  The only option is to thank them for their input and move on without them, which is exactly what our CC should do.

        1. Frankly

          Agree.  That is the “latter” group I was alluding to.

          I see it broken into three camps: those supporting economic development including the innovation parks, those opposed and those undecided.  I don’t see it as worthwhile to try and convince any of those opposed.  And they are generally not even interested in compromise.  They act like they are open-minded and objective, but then say things like “the city is not in financial crisis” after being fed a history of detailed explanations about the state of the city’s finances.    Instead of trying to debate logic to these folks, the supporters should work on convincing the 1/3 undecided through education.   In the end we are only going to need 50% + 1 vote to get something done.  Trying to make even 70% happy is an effort in frustrating futility and delay.

    3. Davis Progressive

      “my opinion a direct result of how poorly city staff are often treated by some disgruntled members of the public.”

      a bigger problem may be how they’re treated by other staff members, relatively low compensation, and the shambles that city hall has become in the last month.

      “We are losing excellent and talented city staff because of this entitlement some of the public feel they have to say whatever they want however they want to whoever they want (including commissioners, who are often as maltreated as city staff).”

      this is overstated.  the bigger problem is that for some time we had leadership at the top that acted as a buffer and that’s gone.  i’ve heard too many stories about how gene rogers has hung staff out on a close line.

      i completely agree on the issue of the fiscal crisis.

      1. Anon

        Sorry, IMO I am NOT OVERSTATING THE INCIVILITY TO CITY STAFF (and commissioners).  If I were city staff, I would get out as soon as I could.  No one should have to put up with being verbally abused.  I would agree we need a good city manager sooner than later, but that does not change the fact that this sort of behavior by certain members of the pubic has been going on for quite some time (years).

        1. South of Davis

          Anon wrote:

          > IMO I am NOT OVERSTATING THE INCIVILITY TO CITY STAFF

          >(and commissioners).  If I were city staff, I would get out as soon as I could.

          Not to say it never happens, but if anyone really did have LOTS of INCIVILITY is would be a slam dunk to get a big pot of cash in a hostile workplace lawsuit.

          We can believe either:

          1. Anon is OVERSTATING things or

          2. The slime ball attorneys that will sue anyone with even a chance of making a buck don’t want the money from Davis.

           

        2. Matt Williams

          Anon, I respect your opinion on this subject, and during my tenure on the WAC I certainly saw instances of what I believe you would call incivility, and which I probably was more inclined to label as distrust/disrespect. I have also observed a total disconnect between staff and commissioners during my now completed tenure on the NRC, a disconnect that I would label as disrespect/incivility on the part of the staff member then assigned to the NRC. Things have improved substantially under the tenure of the current staff member assigned as the support for the NRC. Incivility is a street that sometimes is one way in one direction, and at other times is one way in the opposite direction, and at other times is two way. Bottom-line, the members of the public are not the only parties who practice what you have termed as “verbal abuse” and regardless of source, a lot of verbal abuse is conducted at very low volume, and sometimes behind the scenes.

          With the above said, a determination of whether incivility exists (has happened) is an individual judgment, and often a subjective judgment. For instance, during the 87/13 vs 60/40 water discussions, you were very upfront with your criticism of me for what you believed was incivil behavior toward staff. There is no question that some members of staff felt that I wasn’t doing what I was told to do, and/or heeding the “back off” warnings I was given, but is it “incivil” to strive for the best possible outcome rather than accepting something of lesser quality? Is it “incivil” to accept the fact that reasonable people can/will have reasonable differences of opinion on a subject?

          In closing, there definitely are instances of clear “incivil” behavior. The URAC meetings on water had clear instances with respect to the 3 minute time limit for public comment. However, when (approximately 9 months ago) Mayor Krovoza attempted to enforce the 3 minute time limit on a woman who was relating her personal experience after the suicide at Eleanor Roosevelt Circle, it wasn’t clear whether the woman was being incivil by continuing past the 3 minutes or the Mayor was being incivil by attempting to force her to stop.

        3. Aggie

          Abuse of staff by the public comes with the territory.  I agree with Anon that it is bad, but agree with DP that there is no evidence that it is causing employee flight.  More pernicious is abuse of staff by City Council members.  However in this case, the worst alleged perps – Krovoza and Greenwald – are gone.  I’d be surprised if the remaining council members engage in this behavior.

          In my opinion, the exiting staff members know who the next City Manager is going to be and are smart enough to read the writing on the wall.  The new CM is likely to want his own team in key positions.

        4. Tia Will

          Anon

          This is the one aspect of your post with which I am in complete agreement. I have witnessed ( at city council meetings ,public forums, and at the Farmer’s Market), members of the community treating staff and city leaders with a degree of  incivility that I found to be unacceptable. I have no idea whether or not this is contributory to anyone leaving the city. I find it doubtful as I have encountered the same, and worse degrees of disrespect from patients who were not getting non indicated tests or medications from me and I continued to work for Kaiser. However, in any professional setting, which I consider all of the above venues to be for those who work for the city, it is completely unnecessary and unjustifiable for there to be personal attacks on their veracity and integrity. Criticizing ideas, actions and policies are all within bounds. Attacking the individual is never acceptable.

    4. Tia Will

      Anon

      Please clarify how you believe that an “innovation park” with no significant revenues anticipated for 5 years is going to help with the street repairs that are needed now.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Tia,

        Haven’t been following Anon’s posts on this, and not sure as to the context of your question, but to address your question from a financial perspective – any meaningful (say $20-$30MM) towards the deferred maintenance would typically necessitate issuance of a new bond.

        Given the tenuous financial condition of many municipalities, bond brokers and investors will be looking seriously at measures being taken to reverse apparent structural deficits in the agency budget.  If a community has demonstrated an honest understanding of that problem AND begun setting in place strategies designed to help reverse the situation, it will bode well for the issuer – meaning lower interest rates and greater demand for the bonds.

        It seems pretty likely, however, that bonds will be required to fund the up-front improvements in the near term, meaning the necessity of a significant and sustained parcel tax for the foreseeable future.

        As they say on Burn Notice “characters welcome” – so too here – “alternative solutions welcome”!

         

         

        1. Aggie

          DF:  Are you saying that bonding would easier (and cheaper) if the City was making credible process in implementing the 2010 Business Park Land Strategy as a long term solution to our fiscal sustainability problem?

           

           

        2. Tia Will

          Doby

          Your thoughtful comment is much appreciated and I have a follow up question since I have no idea what a bond broker would consider evidence of “measures taken to reverse apparent structural deficits”. It would seem to me that cut backs, consolidations, joint projects such as the collaboration between the UCD and City of Davis fire departments and increased taxes would all be viewed favorably as would serious consideration of an “innovation park”. Are you in agreement, at least in theory, or am I missing something ?

           

        3. Doby Fleeman

          Tia,

          Yes, all of the points you make are valid.  I’m guessing they would all be viewed favorably.  Most lenders, however, are looking for both a primaty and a secondary source of repayment.  Available, free cash flow is always viewed as favorable versus a coecered payment.  With the tax proposition you favor – we will be facing two challenges:  one being seniors who have been getting a non-participation exemption on some school bonds, and the second being the burden to be borne by the high proportion of college residents and the burden they would be expected to shoulder.  It is not a simple proposition to muster support given these two conditions.

  5. Aggie

    “If you do not like rumors and speculations …” DG

    Most of us love rumors and speculations.  Why don’t you just bite the bullet and post the name of the new City Manager. His name is already on the street.  Finalizing the contract is pro forma.

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