Looking Ahead: Ten Key Issues for 2015

City Hall

We can look back at 2014 as bringing us some surprising happenings on the local scene. Who would have guessed, at this time last year, that our city manager would have left and we would have spent much of 2014 trying to find his replacement? We had a critical council election, a surprise resignation on the school board, and three proposals for innovation parks.

We were able to pass a sales tax and got better than expected news on the city budget. The biggest issue may have been a police military vehicle that some apparently tried to “sneak” in during the middle of summer

If there is one thing that 2014 should have taught us – take nothing for granted and expect the unexpected. Mayor Dan Wolk and Robb Davis recently called it a productive six months in the city, but in the eight years of the Vanguard’s existence, it’s hard to think of a slower six months of public council happenings.

At the city council level, I have come up with ten issues that I believe will be critical in 2015. These are really not in order.

Parcel Tax: Early in 2014, the council defined the need to pass both a sales tax in June and a parcel tax in November to fund infrastructure needs as goals. While the voters approved the sales tax 58-42 percent in June, the council has been perhaps gun-shy on the parcel tax.

There are a few factors at play and a big one is that the public, when polled in June, was not supportive of a parcel tax at the $100 or $150 level and the council could not agree on whether to just fund roads, bike paths and sidewalks, or to extend it to pools, parks and/or buildings.

The city has also carved out more than $3 million per year into road repairs and has made that an ongoing revenue stream into the future.

Robb Davis recently wrote, “We also approved a consultancy to update cost estimates for other city-owned infrastructure so we can fully assess replacement costs and determine how to better budget for them.  We are also doing a fee study which will help us understand how to build infrastructure replacement costs into program fees.  We just approved a plan to move the water project pipeline project forward–construction underway in the spring.”

So we will see what happens with the parcel tax, but even the more favorable revised estimates show at least $100 million in road costs.

Innovation Parks: Recently the council approved the guiding principles and now the question is how we go forward from here. Staff projects two innovation parks plus Nishi could go on the ballot by Spring 2016. But the Vanguard believes that putting park against park is asking for trouble. Will there be a process to determine who goes first? How will the city deal with expected push-back on traffic and housing impacts? 2015 will be a key year in determining how this process unfolds, and by this time next year we could be three or four months away from a public vote.

Employee Morale: Mayor Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Davis write, “With the addition of our new city manager, a new City Council in place and the improving budget picture, employee morale is slowly improving. The council has set this as a goal for 2015 and beyond, and will work hard with the city manager to ensure that the heart of our city government — our employees — beats soundly.”

The Vanguard has talked about the need to change the culture of how city staff are treated and we have also discussed employee compensation and the likely increased pressure to increase compensation (see the next item). One of the questions for 2015 will be how the city looks to improve employee morale outside of the discussion of compensation and finances.

Collective Bargaining Agreements: This may end up being the defining issue of 2015. All employee bargaining agreements will expire by the end of this year, if not in June. In 2012-13, the city got agreements from five bargaining units and imposed on fire and DCEA. During the last round, the city hired outside negotiators to do the bargaining. The council voted unanimously late in 2013 to impose on the two units, but there were some concerns with the process. Two key factors will play a role here: first, the improved fiscal numbers will likely push employee groups to argue for small raises. Concerns about employee morale will underlie this process. How will all play out? That will be a huge question.

Children’s Health Issues: Mayor Wolk has made his children’s health initiative a key tenet of his mayorship. The Vanguard has pushed hard on issues such as nutritious breakfast, a possible soda tax, and other initiatives to take seriously the issue of childhood obesity and nutritional and health concerns for low income children. In 2015, the question is whether some of these initiatives start to take shape.

Fire: In 2013, the city council pushed through several reforms including boundary drop, increased response time goals, staffing reductions and shared management agreement with UC Davis. The last two were approved on 3-2 votes. The Vanguard last year analyzed communications from the Davis Professional Firefighters Association that pushed back on UC Davis, attempting to get them to back out of the shared management agreement. Right now there are at least three votes to keep changes in place, but with pressure mounting from the state firefighters’ union on UC Davis, July 1 will be a very interesting date to see if the changes implemented and the improvements we have seen will remain in place.

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Transportation: It seems that transportation emerges in a lot of different discussions. We have the newly-completed Fifth Street Project that has generated some discussion of late. We have the Covell Corridor Project. We have to replace our former bicycling coordinator. We have the ongoing discussions around the B Street bike lanes. We have the proposal for restructuring the Richards Blvd interchange. We have the traffic models that have to emerge for the Nishi proposal. And the EIRs for the innovation parks will also generate transportation discussion. We also have alternative discussions and rail realignment. It may not be one issue, but transportation and bicycling will be central to a number of 2015 discussions.

Public Power: In 2014, one of the early controversies was a proposal to create a publicly owned utility (POU). The city found some creative ways to fund early feasibility studies, but got thwarted by cost concerns and being out-maneuvered by PG&E who stood to lose if Davis went off their grid. The council shelved the issue last spring – will it reemerge? Will it be a full POU or will we go to a more hybrid model?

Affordable Housing/Homelessness: In 2014, the new council worked to revise “our municipal code to disallow the counting of accessory dwelling units toward satisfying affordable housing requirements. In addition, we have released RFPs and received exciting proposals for two city-owned properties — one on east Fifth Street and the other in South Davis — to be developed as affordable housing. The council will be examining each proposal in detail and making decisions in early 2015.” Affordable housing will be a large issue as once again we debate the cost to live in Davis.

Along the same token, the issue of homelessness will only increase. Residents have concerns about the growing number of homeless in our downtown and the issue of panhandling. A group of stakeholders were making progress on this in early 2014 but were short-circuited when their efforts were misconstrued in the local newspaper leading to a misunderstanding and a huge backlash against the effort.

Economic Development: We have discussed innovation parks, but 2014 saw the emergence of a vibrant start up culture embodied by the efforts of the Davis Downtown and Jumpstart Davis. As Mayor Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Davis write, “We continue to be excited about a variety of grassroots efforts — Davis Roots and Jumpstart Davis, for example — that encourage and foster an innovation and startup culture in our community.”

Chief Innovation Officer Rob White also trumpeted the efforts of the Davis Downtown and other community leaders who helped launch “the creation of the Jumpstart Davis monthly networking events and the soon-to-be-opened downtown co-working space are adding resources for entrepreneurs and startups.”

Speaking of which, we are sad to say that Rob White, after about 21 months of weekly columns covering innovation and tech issues, will no longer be contributing weekly pieces. But the Vanguard will be the place in Davis to learn about tech and startup issues in 2015.

These are, of course, the issues that we can anticipate for 2015. As we know, there are always key issues that emerge that no one saw coming. That is what makes Davis such a fun place to live, work and cover.

—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

    I too was sorry to see Rob White’s ‘column’ on the DV come to and end. They were always interesting, gave me a fresh perspective and Rob was always quick to answer or expand.

    Then Sunday I saw he will be providing articles alternating with Doby Fleeman in the Enterprise. Why can’t they both run here also?  You often run articles from the Enterprise. ?

    1. Alan Miller

      Yes, because it is very important to have two sources of the same thing. Why not just copy the entire newspaper so we can read it here as well? One advantage is that we could get Tia and Frank Lee’s take on EVERYTHING.

  2. Alan Miller

    Without looking at the list, here are the ten things I never want to see discussed in the Vanguard ever again:

    1) So-called “Innovation” Parks

    2) So-called Rail “Realignment”

    3) So-called “Racism”

    4) The City Council (so-called?)

    5) Yolo County Courts

    6) Fifth Street

    7) The Nishi Property

    8) The School Board

    9) Bob Dunning

    10) The Vanguard Website


    Happy 2015 everyone!

    1. Miwok

      You forgot “Mass Incarceration”… That’s why they are Re-aligning the rails, so we don’t see the trainloads of criminals headed for prisons.

      I AM grateful for the Vanguard advertisers, because I am tired of “19 top Cheerleader Teams of the NFL” and other equally catchy “news” articles on other new sites..

    1. hpierce

      No, but I’m more than prepared to make a tax-deductible donation of at least $120 per year (and am prepared to sweeten that with another $30, at least) via a parcel tax to this very fine little city.

        1. hpierce

          Well, I figure if I’m going to spend another $120 to $150/year, do I want to finance road/infrastructure repair and maintenance, reduce debt of previously agreed to liabilities, OR do I want to spend it to provide a forum to vent my spleen, offer my thoughts, and have others do the same.  Was kinda’ a ‘no-brainer’.  Was listening to my ‘better angels’.  Best to all in 2015!

  3. Frankly

    Every one of the things listed in the article are directly connected with the economic vitality and sustainability of the city.  I would hope we remember this and at least make the connection each time.

    I can’t say that I agree with Alan’s list above except maybe so-called racism and Dunning.  But I do think we risk recycling old discussions over and over again.  I have at times been frustrated having put so much time and effort into and argument backed by facts and references, only to see another similar article with comments clearly ignorant of the previous content.

    I think a rehash of old and possibly warn out topics needs to be with a fresh perspective.  Maybe a piece on potential remedies to a problem instead of just restating the problem.

    Happy New Year to all my VG friends and those I just irritate much of the time.   One of my 2015 resolutions is to try and bring my blogging persona closer to my real-life persona.  And that means I will listen more and talk less and be less combative.  Please remind me if you note me slipping back to my old Frankly habits!

    1. Alan Miller

      Frank Lee,

      “But I do think we risk recycling old discussions over and over again.”

      That was actually the main point cloaked behind my snark (which you apparently brilliantly deducted).  I know most of this will be discussed again; what I fail to see is the value in the repetition.  What I fail to see is the value in the repetition.  What I fail to see is the value in the repetition.

      “I have at times been frustrated having put so much time and effort into and argument backed by facts and references, only to see another similar article with comments clearly ignorant of the previous content.”

      Oi!  You readeth my thoughts exactly.

      At times it seems as if the Vanguard feels it has to have 2-3 minimum articles per day, even if one of the articles is nearly a restating of a previous article.  Really, if there is only one article to be had in a day, that’s OK!  Really, it’s OK!



    2. Alan Miller

      “One of my 2015 resolutions is to try and bring my blogging persona closer to my real-life persona.  And that means I will listen more and talk less and be less combative.”

      That’s ironic, Frank Lee.  My new year’s resolution is to be as much of a dick in real life as I am on this blog.

        1. hpierce

          Yeah.  Alan probably should have used the word ‘prick’.  Perfectly good word, and in the context of something that brings attention to a ‘well-pointed needle’, perhaps makes you bleed slightly, but will not constitute a permanent injury that is likely to leave a scar, should make its way past all but the most PC censors.  Alan often uses a well-pointed, sharp needle.  All one needs to do is carry a styptic (or ‘skeptic’, or ‘cynic’) pencil.

      1. Frankly

        Alan, Ha!… well that is certainly another option.

        And here I am at the beginning of this new year, and having read a few things in the morning papers and on the VG, I will admit that it is difficult not to just speak/write directly.  Dancing on high-sensitivity eggshells while making a point is difficult and potentially non very entertaining nor impactful.  But here goes.

        1. Alan Miller

          “Dancing on high-sensitivity eggshells while making a point is difficult”

          I find being concerned about another’s eggshells is fruitless; the point is the dancing!

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