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.
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