Commentary: Council Missing Opportunities To Engage on Key Issues


One of my Monday Morning Thoughts was on an idea presented where we put a larger focal point on the mayor. I won’t go as far as Benjamin Barber does and advocate the dissolution of the nation-state to rule by cities. However, I do think he has a point that mayors “are pragmatic problem solvers who are deeply involved in the issues of the cities they serve” and that many of the real innovations are coming not at the national level, but at the state level.

We see a lot of this locally, where Davis has the ability to be on the forefront of some amazing things in the future ‒ both locally as a progressive community, and also at the regional and even the state and national level, as the home of a world-class university and a center for innovation.

In the coming weeks and months we will be looking toward helping to resolve lingering problems with infrastructure, as well as to plan for the future in planning an innovation park or parks that will go to the voters, perhaps as soon as a year from now.

With so much at stake, you would think our local leaders would be leading and engaging the community in discussions.

In January, Mayor Dan Wolk laid out a bold and ambitious idea – “Renew Davis.”  Like many things, it was long in terms of rhetoric and potential, but short on specifics. My hope at least would be to see Mayor Wolk engage the community on a set of concrete ideas that could come forward from the more rhetorical proposals he laid out in January.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened. The Vanguard is happy to publish and it applauds the mayor for writing his monthly Mayor’s Corner piece, but I think, as one reader put it on Monday, “Instead of the above fluff piece I would prefer that Dan and Lucas take the time to explain their thoughts on the CFD.”

We do not want to criticize our leaders for what they are putting out. Instead, we want to urge them to do more – to engage the public on key issues. For example, look at Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis.

Robb Davis is writing a monthly column, Beyond the Dais, where his hope is to highlight “the work of various city commissions, their charges and key issues they are addressing and the role of various county, regional and joint powers authority (JPA) boards and the key issues before them.”

This is a public policy bent, but it illustrates a lot of work that might otherwise go unnoticed and unreported.

But Robb Davis did not stop there. He sent the Vanguard a lengthy explanation for his vote on the CFD, which was an important issue on this site. He didn’t stop there – he also took the time to interact with the readers. I know some leaders are afraid to engage on the Vanguard for fear that the commenters will eat them for lunch and flay them alive, but Robb Davis came out of it relatively unscathed and may have earned converts on the way.

Look, I understand there are time limitations and both Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs, for example, work full time jobs. Dan Wolk also has young kids, but both are either up for reelection or, in Mr. Wolk’s case, are seen as likely to run for higher office. It would seem like taking even five to ten minutes a day to engage with the public would be of huge benefit down the line.

Again, my purpose here is to urge for more engagement, not beat them up for lack of engagement.

Here is a good example. Last fall, Dan Wolk put forward an initiative on healthy children. He proposed perhaps a change in policy on sugary beverages.

The Vanguard picked up the idea and pushed into areas of general nutrition, obesity, summer nutrition programs, and concerns about school breakfasts.

So, what if Dan Wolk wrote a series of articles laying out his vision here? What if he spent the time to really articulate the importance of children’s health and the need to cut down on sugar intake by kids (and really all of us)? One reader told me they saw the graphic on how much sugar is in a Coke and decided to stop drinking sodas.

There was a lot of pushback by readers and members of the community on these ideas, but had Dan Wolk or someone on council engaged with the public, perhaps the road would be better paved when these initiatives go forward.

That leads me to my final point, we are losing time and opportunities. The Vanguard is in the process of working on an article laying out the opposition to one of the innovation parks that is coming forward.

I know the council does not want to appear to be cheerleading on innovation parks, but it would be a nice idea for councilmembers to engage the public on issues like city finances, where the city generates its revenue, and how an innovation park might generate revenue for the city.

It has now been about six or seven months since last July when the council pushed the innovation park issue forward. In that time, the Vanguard has had one public outreach meeting and the local developers have held their own.

The Vanguard is working on a plan to have five more outreaches in the next several months, but there is a lot of heavy lifting to do. The public is not yet engaged on this issue and, where they are engaged, it might be in opposition to the issue.

This is a trend and past patterns have shown that this trend might not result in the kind of public policy decisions we would prefer. There are opportunities to engage the public that are being lost and, when we finally get around to it, it will be late in the year and a few months before a public vote.

Again, it is not to disparage the work that has been done but rather to push our public officials to do more, because these are critical issues and they should not be left to the last four months of a divisive campaign to discuss the city’s needs and to articulate a vision for the future.

That vision has already been laid out ‒ perhaps we just need to flesh it out more and engage on it.

—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. DurantFan

    ” The Vanguard is in the process of working on an article laying out the opposition to one of the innovation parks that is coming forward. ”

    Daviid, I believe that the developers plan to lead with Nishi because it is so fatally flawed due to access issues that it will make the other projects look better by comparison.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i doubt the developers can make this call.  my guess is that nishi will not be ready to go forward next year and we will see the council magically find a way to push forward mace so that they can try to save schilling.  just a guess.

      1. hpierce

        Am thinking that’s a good guess.  Mace is the least dependent on availability of basic infrastructure and access.  Which is why the “conventional wisdom” (sic) will probably downplay it.

    2. Alan Miller

      “the developers plan to lead with Nishi”

      Like developers are one big godhead, like the Borg, who collectively decide strategy against the citizens of Davis?

  2. Davis Progressive

    i would like to see more councilmembers engage on the vanguard, i think for the most part people behave better when they recognize the privilege of being able to correspond with elected officials in venues like this.

  3. Anon

    If you want to speak with the Mayor directly, I think he holds monthly meetings at a local coffee house…

    You can email any of the City Council members with your thoughts…

    Now why would a City Council member, especially one that might not be in the uber progressive camp, necessarily want to tangle with a blog that touts itself as “progressive”? What venue they choose to explain themselves in is a personal choice…

      1. hpierce

        Absolutely right… why should we give the CC, Yolo County Board of Supes (two Davis reps), our State Assembly/Senate folks, Congressman, two Senators, or the President a pass?  After all, they are ALL elected officials.  If any of the above don’t participate on the Vanguard, we should deem them unresponsive and unfit for office.  I’m with you on this one, DP.  Except I’ll give Jerry a “pass”.  His answers would probably be too long.

        Thinking a bit more, I’ll give Boxer a pass, too… she’s a “short-timer”.

        1. hpierce

          Don’t you see the difference between expecting local elected officials to engage with citizens who can/are currently contacting/communicating with them, in their own persona, and expecting them to equally engage with those who hide behind anonymity?  I certainly do.

          I could see a rival candidate, under the cloak of anonymity shooting “gotcha” questions right and left.  But of course, you, DP, would never ask “gotcha” questions.

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