Mayor’s Corner: Let’s Renew Davis Together

Mayor Dan Wolk talked about the importance of service to the community at last week's MLK Day Event
Mayor Dan Wolk talked about the importance of service to the community at last week’s MLK Day Event

by Dan Wolk

For this month’s “Mayor’s Corner,” I wanted to share with you what I discussed at my talk to the Davis Chamber of Commerce recently regarding the “state of the city” and my vision for “renewing” Davis.

As Frank Sinatra crooned, “it was a very good year” in Davis in 2014. Among many things, the year saw:

* A markedly improved budget;

* Great progress on the surface water project;

* Breaking ground on the forward-thinking Cannery housing project;

* Making strides in the area of economic development by processing the two innovation center proposals, as well as Nishi; and

* Hiring an excellent new city manager in Dirk Brazil.

But we’re only just getting started. And in 2015 I am asking the community to join together in an effort I’m calling “Renew Davis.”

To paraphrase Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., we in Davis drink deeply from wells that we did not dig. That is to say, everything we have in this community — from the university to our downtown to our roads to our parks and pools — is due to the efforts of previous generations of Davisites.

We’ve been resting a bit on our laurels. We need to challenge ourselves to think bigger and to renew our commitment to what makes Davis Davis and to ensure that we leave our children and grandchildren with a stronger Davis than the one we inherited.

To do so, I suggest we:

* Further economic development — a University Farm for the 21st century. More than a century ago, our forebears brought UCD — the “University Farm” — here. But we’ve grown dependent on the university as a university for our economic and employment base.

It’s time we take things to the next level by harnessing the power of the university to spin out high-tech companies that are founded here, incubated here and ultimately remain here. And that’s what the innovation centers and Nishi are all about. We need to continue processing those applications and move toward a vote on one or more of those projects in early 2016.

* Reinvest in roads, parks and pools. The recent revelation that our Civic Center Pool, built in the 1940s, had been leaking thousands of gallons of water per day was a shock. And although the pool has since been fixed, the larger issue of the state of our community assets remains of great concern.

We have the worst roads in Yolo County, according to a recent study; aging public buildings like the Veterans’ Memorial Center and City Hall; and park facilities in disrepair (look at the shuttered Rainbow City). It is incumbent on our community to come up with a long-term plan this year on how we plan to reverse this disinvestment — and a potential revenue measure in 2016 needs to be part of the equation.

* Secure clean energy. With our groundbreaking bike lanes and Village Homes, Davis has been on the vanguard of environmentalism. I urge the community to renew our commitment to environmentalism by focusing on the defining issue of our generation: global warming. We need to seriously explore along with our Yolo County partners the creation of a Community Choice Energy mechanism — not a publicly owned utility — to source our power from renewable resources.

* Promote healthy families. From child nutrition to senior housing, from the homeless to tobacco use, there is more our community can do to address critical public health matters. In a previous column, I’ve raised some areas to work on, including safe routes to schools for children and addressing soda in kids’ meals. The city, our schools, the county and nonprofits need to come together and address such challenges.

* Be better partners. To paraphrase the poet John Donne, no city is an island. In an era where interconnectedness is key, we need to forge stronger partnerships with the university, the county and the region. It only benefits us.

We are a team

You may not agree with every tenet of this vision and you may have others you would like to add. I’m all ears (we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, as the saying goes). But I think we can all agree that we would benefit from a recommitment to the ideas that built this town.

No matter what, we need to rise above our own narrow interests, view ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves, and commit to building a better present and future for generations to come.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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19 Comments

  1. LadyNewkBahm

    “A markedly improved budget;”

    Dan, you cant just put the roads in unmet needs and claim to have a good budget year. You have to add in the costs of repairing the roads in your expenses. The road costs are growing by the day because they are not fixed.

  2. Davis Progressive

    here are my thoughts to a good 2014:
    “* A markedly improved budget;”
    we’ll see.  there are a lot of remaining challenges and i’m fearful that we are celebrating too soon.
    “* Great progress on the surface water project;”
    interesting how the year turns out because between measure p’s passage and the flap over cbfr, most of the year was turmoil.  the passage of measure p ironically and despite the opposition of dan and the rest of the council enabled the deal that allowed the project to move forward
    “* Breaking ground on the forward-thinking Cannery housing project;”
    strongly disagree here.  i think we sold low on this and we may end up with a project with limited access for cyclists
    “* Making strides in the area of economic development by processing the two innovation center proposals, as well as Nishi; and”
    we’ll see.
    “* Hiring an excellent new city manager in Dirk Brazil.”
    we lost the best city manager we’ve had since john meyer.  dirk brazil is an unknown entity and so inexperienced that we had to bring back john meyer to help him.  i’m not filled with confidence here.

    1. Anon

      ““* A markedly improved budget;”

      we’ll see.  there are a lot of remaining challenges and i’m fearful that we are celebrating too soon.

      I agree wholeheartedly.

      ““* Great progress on the surface water project;”

      interesting how the year turns out because between measure p’s passage and the flap over cbfr, most of the year was turmoil.  the passage of measure p ironically and despite the opposition of dan and the rest of the council enabled the deal that allowed the project to move forward”

      Cannot agree.  Regardless of various attempts to kill the surface water project, through a lawsuit and Measure P, the surface water project has been approved and has broken ground.  Davis has bound itself to this worthwhile project contractually.  Deal is done.

      ““* Breaking ground on the forward-thinking Cannery housing project;

      strongly disagree here.  i think we sold low on this and we may end up with a project with limited access for cyclists

      Cannot agree here either.  Cannery is an innovative project, with urban farms, Universal Design elements (for which it won an award) and other wonderful amenities.  It should be a very valuable addition to Davis, built on land that was not being used for anything.  Is it perfect?  What is perfect?  Nothing is perfect, and never will be, because it is impossible to satisfy everyone.  Is it a good project?  IMO a resounding “yes” because it is so much more “innovative” to my way of thinking than any other housing in Davis has been.

      ““* Hiring an excellent new city manager in Dirk Brazil.”

      we lost the best city manager we’ve had since john meyer.  dirk brazil is an unknown entity and so inexperienced that we had to bring back john meyer to help him.  i’m not filled with confidence here.

      You make fair points here.  I’m willing to give Dirk Brazil the benefit of the doubt.  I know he has a hard “row to hoe” in Davis so to speak.  But I am still holding my assessment of him, until I see some action, which speaks louder than words.

  3. Barack Palin

    As Frank Sinatra crooned, “it was a very good year” in Davis in 2014. Among many things, the year saw:
    * A markedly improved budget;

    Good to hear, no need for a new parcel tax.

  4. Frankly

    I like the tone and notes on economic development and the fact that it was the first on the list, but I’m disappointed that the Mayor didn’t connect it to the challenge dealing with long-term fiscal sustainability.

    My general sense here is that he is carefully crafting a message that helps set the stage for city wage and benefit increases… and steering clear of talking about the long-term fiscal problems because that is the primary conflicting consideration.

    I find it interesting that the Mayor has the podium and we don’t hear from other CC members.  Is that the unwritten standard in Davis politics… to not mess with the Mayor’s message?   Either that or the rest of the council agrees with the message.  In either case I am disappointed.   There seems nobody in city leadership that is coming forward to be vocal about the long-term fiscal problems.

    One thing for sure, Davis government is in good company with CA state and the current national government…  all three seems to be bent on ignoring their significant insolvent balance sheet… trillions for the federal government, billions for the state government and millions for Davis.

      1. Frankly

        The problem is that the message echoes in the heads of the voters.  It actually becomes more challenging for a CC members to vote against the prevailing winds of the voters.   We might think that we can rely on the commissions to help here, but Dan Carson of the F&B Commission recently came out with a message similar to the Mayor.  The F&B Commission stays largely the same except for Matt Williams joining.  I know that that body is motivated to unravel the complex ball of yarn that is city finances and help with greater transparency.   But much of the war over fiscal policy is a PR game.  Most people are really quite ignorant of finance and move through life just worrying about the present.  I think we need a consistent message about the long-term financial picture… probably twice the volume of the message of the current budget… to ensure the voters have the message embedded in their little number-challenged heads when they go to vote.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “I find it interesting that the Mayor has the podium and we don’t hear from other CC members.”

      i have heard that some on the council are not so happy about this – they feel that the mayor has overstepped his power.  but unless the others are willing to speak out, it is what it is.

    2. Mark West

      The Mayor has made it clear that his vision is on a higher office.  Everything he says should be viewed as part of his next campaign.

      I agree with Frankly, that the rest of the CC members need to speak up and keep the focus on the reality of our fiscal situation or we will end up digging a much deeper hole than the one we are already stuck in.

       

  5. Don Shor

    I understand that this was a ‘state of the city’ address and that the mayor is kind of the cheerleader for the city. That’s part of his job, and that is the context of this speech. But it is a real concern if Dan keeps talking about the ‘improved budget’ situation.

    Further down in his remarks we have this:

    It is incumbent on our community to come up with a long-term plan this year on how we plan to reverse this disinvestment — and a potential revenue measure in 2016 needs to be part of the equation.

    I think we need to hear more about this from the mayor. I know the other council members (and presumably Dan as well) are attending commission meetings, asking questions, getting well-versed in the arcane minutiae of the city’s budget process. There are going to be some key issues: the employee contracts, the infrastructure budget plans, and new tax/revenue sources.

    Council members and the mayor need to be very clear about the need to cap payroll costs, retain the budget cuts that Pinkerton implemented. They need to repeat for the public about the state of the roads and other infrastructure. They need to be realistic and conservative (small c) about the city’s finances. And the mayor needs to be cautious about sounding too upbeat about the city’s finances. His message may cause problems for getting business parks and parcel taxes passed.

    I understand the current council puts a high premium on public civility, and that is very commendable (lest we forget what things were like before…). I’m sure the other council members don’t feel like having public arguments about these issues. Perhaps, now that the state of the city has been addressed, the mayor and the mayor pro-tem could write an op-ed that delves in more detail into the budget issues I’ve mentioned.

  6. Doby Fleeman

     
    Well, Greetings of the New Year to all of you too!
     
    All these criticisms of the Mayor’s vision, sorry but I don’t quite get it.
     
    Here you have the Mayor putting forward a very articulate and cogent message about it being our turn to “Renew Davis”, and all I can see is criticism and speculation about the dangers that might be lurking behind his agenda.
     
    Why not try taking his comments at face value.  Why not put him to the challenge?  Why not challenge him to further articulate and flesh out his picture and his vision for economic development? Why not challenge him on what he means when he says that we must be a better partner to the University?  Why not push him to demonstrate greater leadership on the issue?  Why not publicly support those aspects of his message that you do find compelling?
     
    As matters presently stand, only he and Councilmember Swanson have been willing to publicly suggest that the process of allowing the Innovation Center conversation to continue full bore and unabated, at least to the point where the community begins to get some better sense of what, collectively, they have to offer, how they might serve to further the laundry list of unmet needs you all have so repeatedly identified?   As matters stand today, you have a majority of the City Council which would seek to either limit the number of Innovation Center projects on the 2016 ballot, or otherwise cause each of the applications to be sequentially processed and brought to a vote.  Is that what you all want?
     
    Do we as yet have any idea of how many jobs, either separately or collectively, the various projects might create, how much in property taxes and personal property taxes they might contribute to our city coffer each year, how much in additional sales tax revenues might be generated by their phalanx of additional, new employees?   
     
    This isn’t about growth for growth’s sake, this is about jobs for aspiring young graduates, this conversation is about planning for a sustainable future  – a Davis where we can accommodate and afford the increasing demands for more and better social services, better educational outcomes, better supplies of affordable housing, better opportunities for well-paying jobs where their value added is what leads to that higher compensation. These should truly be the key issues in this conversation – these in addition to the points you all make about the incremental new funding necessary to maintain our roads, our parks, and our schools.  How much of all those things is enough?  How does the community go about making them all happen, and then how do we pay for them all? 
     
    Of course, everyone is entitled to criticize, but you might want to be giving some thought to actually encouraging the Mayor to further articulate just how he sees his agenda unfolding.  You might be pleasantly surprised by the results if you would but give him the chance.
     

    1. Anon

      I think the problem we are having is the disconnect between saying the “budget looks good” as the Mayor gets ready to ask for a parcel tax because the actual budget isn’t so good.

      However, I agree about your assessment of the innovation parks – spot on!

      1. Doby Fleeman

        I think my frustration lies with what I see as a disconnect or missed opportunity in the line of attack.

        What I see in most questioners is an implicit assumption that we either need to do more to cut/control costs, or own up the need for a tax increase to help pay for these much deferred expenses/investments, or both – and that’s it.

        My preference would be for a discussion focused more on identifying where there are areas of missed opportunity – specifically ones with the potential to generate more jobs, with better compensation, from employers who would also add to the community’s revenue base.

        It is the view of many that Davis is underachieving to its potential as a technology employment hub destination.   Agree or disagree, it sure seems worthy of a conversation – unless we want to restrict the options to cut, cut, cut or tax, tax, tax.

        Is Davis performing to its full potential?

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