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