Monday Morning Thoughts: Excitement Over Emerging Startup Culture; Dose of Reality on the Budget

Graham Ryland talks about coding and robots
Graham Ryland talks about coding and robots

The Rise of the Startup Culture – We have focused a lot of our time and energy looking at the proposed innovation parks. The most important thing that we need to remember is that there is not a zero-sum game between focusing on entitling peripheral innovation parks and utilizing existing space.

As much Studio 30’s research has been thrown around in recent weeks, their finds dovetail with this. Studio 30’s report indicates, “Studio 30’s research suggests that the City pursue a broad strategy to attract innovative businesses that offer a number of sites that are scalable and range in size so the community can accommodate an incubator, startups and expanding businesses. Some should be directly in contact with the University. This mix of small and large sites allows the city the flexibility to successfully attract, grow and retain innovation businesses. External sites have the potential to support the most jobs because of their size and ability to accommodate a wider variety of both size and type of businesses.”

At the same time it recognizes, “The current isolated and dispersed sites that are available and appropriately zoned are not adequate in terms of size, location, or configuration (and related constraints) to address the emerging market need of an Innovation Center.”

But while innovation parks are the big ticket item that we will be looking to generate the bulk of the city’s new revenue, creating and fostering a startup culture is critical and here we need to applaud the efforts of Jumpstart Davis.

Rob White, the city of Davis’ Chief Innovation Officer, on November 6 recently wrote, “While reading a recent article by David Lumb on the Fast Company website titled “The Recipe for Building a Startup Scene in Any City” I was encouraged to find many of the ingredients listed were in progress in Davis.”

Indeed, Mr. Lumb points out, “There are four things that need to be in place in order to build a startup scene. The first is a venue that is cheap and central, where meetups can take place. The second is a monthly event where all of the startups gather. The third is an established hashtag everyone in the community can use to share photos and event info. And finally, a coworking space that is open 24/7 so that when an outsider lands in the city, they have a place to go and meet tons of people in the scene.”

That reads like the to do from Jumpstart Davis. As Michael Bisch announced, the first initiative was to have a monthly mixer. The second initiative was to explore creating a co-working space. He said that they are well on their way to doing that in the downtown right behind where Sophia’s is located.

The third initiative was to bring some TEDx events to Davis. “TEDx-UC Davis already does events on campus and we wanted them to bring their exciting programming to our downtown.”   Starting on Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30 at the Varsity Theater will be a TEDx Salon event.

The fourth initiative is to create a $1 million startup fund.

The first monthly mixer was a smashing success, with riveting talks from Anthony Costello and Graham Ryland, a good audience with a mix of people ranging from college students to established business owners.

I was reminded the next day of the importance of having space where people can come together, as I ran into an individual in the Davis downtown working on a startup and needing advice and direction about how to get funding.

Clearly, the idea is that if we build it (an innovation park), it will come. But fostering the startup culture in town is like a baseball team investing in player development and their farm system. Some of this will come from the university, but a lot of it will be coming from people in the community, attracted by the energy and resources of the university but not directly related.

Wednesday was an exciting night to see the great things happening in this community.

budget-stockDose of Reality Needed on the Budget

The city manager, Dirk Brazil, probably struck the right note on Tuesday night. He said they are “cautiously optimistic” – which is a long way from declaring the structural deficit solved and the fiscal crisis over.

Let us rejoice over the $850,000 in unanticipated revenue and let us be pleased that the money will go into the fund balance, to build the reserve back up to 15% – even now, it currently sits at only 13.9%.

Mayor Dan Wolk quipped, “I’m not going to put a cap on the enthusiasm.” The mayor added, “My impression of this is that this is not just a one-time aberration…  My impression is this has some stickiness to it. That is before Measure O kicks in.”

However, his colleagues tamped down enthusiasm and expectations.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, I think, has the right thoughts here. He noted that the revenue is coming from increased homes sales, stating “There was a pent-up demand during the recession.”

Will it last? Probably not. Said the mayor pro tem, “My simple interpretation – Cannery hasn’t opened yet, we haven’t built a lot of commercial buildings where we’re getting unsecured property tax or anything like that, so this is home sales.”  He wanted to know the trajectory and where this would take us at the end of the year.

He also spoke about PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System) and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits).  “The good news is we’re in a place where we’re addressing those long-term liabilities.  The time horizons are long – 30 years – but we’re addressing them,” he said.  “But we’re putting away money in a way in which our actuary thinks is a reasonable approach.”

“But,” he said, “the point is that between 2020 and 2021… between OPEB and PERS we’re going to need to be coming up with an additional $4 to $5 million. Additional on top of today. But that’s a hefty piece of money. We are in a situation where we need this money.”

“We have the road backlogs, we have Bob Clarke who is ready to put out a bid on the study of other infrastructure – especially building replacement costs,” he added.  “When we begin to finally internalize those things into our normal budgeting process then we can start breathing a little bit.”

That is the real problem, back in 2011, then-Councilmember Sue Greenwald made a motion, a motion that passed unanimously, to have truth in budgeting. That means to add the unmet needs, unfunded liabilities, and deferred maintenance into budget projects so we are not where we are now – in a situation where we have tens of millions if not hundreds of millions in obligations, but the budget appears to be balanced.

As Councilmember Brett Lee said, “I think we need to more explicitly talk about roads.” He noted that we are looking at 20 years, $6 to $8 million a year to stay current, “and that’s not in the current budget projections.” He added, “Even when you include the Measure O funds, that’s nowhere near the $6 to $8 million going forward for 20 years.  We need to talk about that and really have that part built in so that it’s not an afterthought.”

He added, “We may not be able to fully fund it, but at least have it explicitly listed so that it’s not an afterthought.”

That is exactly the problem. So, while the budget has improved and there is talk potentially about an employee compensation increase, we have not really dealt with the core problems that underlie our budget.

The budget deficit being gone really doesn’t mean all that much.

—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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  1. SODA

    “So while the budget has improved and there is talk potentially about an employee compensation increase, ”

    This appears to come out of left field ?  What is the justification from the article that this is true?  Thanks!

        1. Barack Palin

          Okay Soda, but I didn’t think I asked rudely.  Though maybe I could’ve said please.  I just think to throw something out there like that with no info is a bit odd.  Maybe David is saving it for another article?

          1. David Greenwald

            I don’t have a ton of details, because I wasn’t there. What I was told by people who were there is there was a discussion that employees have been mistreated and there has been a general belief that increases to the city manager salary will filter down. We will have to see how this develops.

  2. Mark West

    “there was a discussion that employees have been mistreated and there has been a general belief that increases to the city manager salary will filter down.”


    I think the tax payers of Davis are the ones who have been mistreated, most recently when the CC overpaid for the new City Manager.  I see this discussion as part of a plan where you first overpay for the CM and then are ‘forced’ to increase compensation for everyone else.

    I will be happy to see City Employee compensation rise once we have generated sufficient new income through economic development to allow us to rescind all of the tax increases that we will have passed in the interim.  Until then, the only discussion should be over how we will continue to reduce expense, not increase them.

    Solve the fiscal crisis first, then pass out the rewards, not the other way around.

    1. Barack Palin

      I will be happy to see City Employee compensation rise once we have generated sufficient new income through economic development to allow us to rescind all of the tax increases that we will have passed in the interim.

      I agree.  No raises until things have turned around and the latest tax hikes are absolved.

      1. hpierce

        Just for understanding… by “raises” do you mean salaries, or that ANY employee “costs”, such as increased med insurance costs, assessments by State for PERS, increased UI, DI, etc., should be deducted from the take-home of the employees?  I know how Frankly feels, but just inquiring from you two.

      1. Barack Palin

        LOL, we both posted the same thing at the same time.  I think David can do a lot in bringing public awareness to this.  After all, after he backed off the Dirk Brazil hiring he said he would be vigilant about the council giving away our tax increases to employee compensation.

    1. Sam

      The City first needs to be more transparent and disclose the total cost for an employee at each position. Only then can they determine if they are under or over compensated. This game of he got something so I deserve something is getting to be a joke that we can’t afford…..but isn’t going to end.

  3. South of Davis

    Sam wrote:

    > The City first needs to be more transparent

    Take a look at this site:

    It shows that former Davis fire chief Rose Conroy was paid $128,161 in 2013 (just a small sum after her years of “public service” compared the much larger pensions that people in their 50’s who retire after 30 years in the private sector are paid)…

  4. Frankly

    there was a discussion that employees have been mistreated and there has been a general belief that increases to the city manager salary will filter down.

    You have to be effing kidding me.  Most city employees are grossly overpaid.  It will be public sector political jihad if any politician in this town makes any attempt at increasing any employee compensation.  The increase to the city manager compensation was already a HUGE mistake and will be great campaign fodder.

    See here.  You can go to the website to check it out yourself.

    Five (5) pages into the 35 pages of employee compensation data sorted by base pay and we are still paying six figures in base salary.

    $101,877 for an Assistant to the Director (Plus $39k for employer-paid benefits)

    $101,478 for the Sustainability Programs Coordinator  (plus $47k for benefits)

    $100,487 for an Administrative Analyst II (plus $20k for benefits)

    Get a friggin’ clue people.  These city employees are grossly over-compensated.

    Let’s take a common role of Human Resource Analyst II.  From this website we see a city of Davis employee paid $81,225 and $41,666 in company-paid benefits.  That is $122,891 in total compensation.

    Checking we see that the median pay for the same role in this region is $68,699 with an average $1,960 bonus and $19,624 in benefits including the cost of social security payments.     That is $90,283.  The city of Davis employs received total compensation that is 36% higher.  And let’s not forget the extra paid vacation, the extra paid holidays, the added job security and the early retirement with a defined benefit pension where the employer and the tax-payers absorb the risk of funding shortfalls.

    ANYONE making a case that these city employees deserve greater compensation is either ignorant, a liar or is a someone that benefits directly from the giant theft and waste of voter tax dollars.

    1. South of Davis

      Frankly wrote:

      > ANYONE making a case that these city employees deserve

      > greater compensation is either ignorant, a liar or is a someone

      > that benefits directly from the giant theft and waste of voter tax dollars.

      Don’t forget that the city has a FULL week off for Thanksgiving (that works out to 10 days in a row off this year since the city workers already get every other Friday off)…

      1. hpierce


        Every other Friday off was a Pinkerton idea.  Employees still work 80 hours in each two week period (other than sick/vacation/holiday leave)

        There are 2 weekends (2 Sats, 2 Suns) in that 10 day period.

        Two of those 10 days are Holiday leave that has been on the books over 30 years.

        The three other days, employees in City Offices have been told they have to take off, (another Pinkerton idea), using accumulated vacation leave, or take leave without pay.  Not all employees are “off” M-W.  Primarily those in City Offices.

        No net changes in hours worked vs. leave time for many years.

      2. hpierce

        BTW, DJUSD also has the whole of Thanksgiving week off.  Have had that for awhile.  But seems like the factoid that City Offices are closed this week is a sign of COD largesse to some.  Some COD employees have children in the school district.  Many of those, in the past, chose (instead of being forced) to take vacation leave at this time .  To do an unconscionable thing.  To be off when their children were, either for quality time or to avoid childcare costs.

        1. Mark West

          I don’t see where the School District being overly generous with time off is a good justification for the City doing the same.  Both actions are a waste of tax payer money and frankly disrespectful of those paying the bill.

  5. DurantFan

    A posting of my above-referenced Article
    Davis leaders join Cap to Cap lobbying trip
    By Enterprise staff
    From page A2 | April 11, 2013 |

    A Davis delegation has joined business and political leaders from around the region on the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Capitol to Capitol trip to Washington, D.C.Davis’ delegates — who include representatives from the city of Davis, Davis Chamber of Commerce, techDAVIS, UC Davis, Yolo County and the local business community — flew to the nation’s capital on Wednesday and will meet with federal decision-makers through next Wednesday.The Davis/Yolo County team is meeting with the White House, federal agencies and elected officials to discuss opportunities specific to the local area.“We have dubbed this effort ‘Research to Jobs’ and the discussions will include identifying potential sources for more research funding, highlighting the Davis innovation and entrepreneur ecosystem, and providing details about Davis’ ag/conservation and sustainability efforts,” said Rob White, the city’s newly hired chief innovation officer.

    After checking in and getting settled, the team met for a strategy session and dinner Wednesday evening, White said, reviewing the talking points for today’s meetings. Those meetings are with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the National Export Initiative and the Economic Development Administration.Those arriving Wednesday included Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson; Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor; Kemble Pope, executive director of the Davis Chamber of Commerce; David Morris of techDAVIS and the Capitol Corridor; Karen Bond of Cedaron; Marj Dickinson of UC Davis; Tim Gaffney of the grassroots group Designing a Sustainable and Innovative Davis Economy (DSIDE); Kari Fry of The Centaur Group; Laura McCollough and Catherine Hawe, recent UCD graduates; and White.Davis City Councilman Lucas Frerichs was scheduled to arrive this morning.The Davis delegation will keep local residents informed by posting a short email/blog post each evening that recaps details from the day and what is planned for the following day. Additionally, interested folks can follow the delegates on Twitter: White at @mrobtwhite, Swanson at @RochelleinDavis and Pope at @kemble.Follow hashtag #DavisinDC to track a continuous feed of pictures and information throughout the day or hashtag #InnovateDavis for some of the specific meetings.

    The annual Cap-to-Cap program continues to be the largest lobbying effort of its kind in the nation. Representatives from the six-county region are lobbying congressional representatives, the Obama administration and other federal officials about how the Sacramento region is redefining its economic structures and the federal policy changes needed to support that regional work.

    This year’s program includes 14 policy teams made up of nearly 300 delegates, including 43 elected officials and 55 first-time participants. Each team will be advocating their policy papers which, combined, equal a total of 95 policy requests. Team policy papers and a summary of the top priority issues are available online at

    1. Barack Palin

      Just curious.  Did anything ever come out of the last cap to cap trip?  Did we receive any funding, new start up businesses or anything of the sort or was it just a nice taxpayer paid vacation?


      1. Anon

        I believe (just my opinion) the current innovation parks idea we are contemplating now has been the indirect result of the push during the cap-to-cap talks.  This city has been anti-business for years, and it has taken a real effort on the part of everyone involved to get the idea of fiscally sustainable economic development to actually percolate so we now have an end product in sight.  The cap-to-cap talks may not have resulted in any specific tangible, but it did set the tone that the city is open to the idea of startups, which set the ball really rolling on innovation parks.

        1. Barack Palin

          Anon, that may have played a part but I believe the bigger push came from the community, me included, realizing that we need an avenue for more revenue besides always just raising taxes.

  6. Tia Will

    I agree with BP that it would be nice to have a yearly summary and preview of what has come from these trips. That would make a nice article for Rob White to take on prior to the next Cap to Cap so that those of us back home can compared plans and initiatives with results.

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