There was an interesting and thought-provoking column from John Mott-Smith this week and, while the overall subject was “the city of Woodland and what it’s doing to increase energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase overall community sustainability,” the issues that Mr. Mott-Smith present go well beyond this specific issue.
It gets into a leadership difference and also a community difference between Woodland and Davis.
He writes, “There is a difference in how Davis and Woodland approach issues.” In Davis, he says, “we tend to study things forever, and argue about them for even longer, before eventually taking action.” Woodland, on the other hand, “seems to cut through much of that; they see an issue or a problem, the leadership comes up with a plan, they check in with the community to make sure they’re not going off the tracks, and then they just go ahead and do what needs to be done.”
John Mott-Smith writes, “As Davisites, we can sometimes get so consumed by all that is going on in town that we forget to lift our eyes to the other communities in Yolo County.”
The implication, of course, is that there are things going on in other communities that we should be doing, but have not. We have made this point any number of times that Davis is not the progressive leader it once was, or at least appeared to be, when it was trailblazing on innovative developments like Village Homes or creating a network of bicycle lanes.
While we have gone through issues like plastic bag bans or wood burning ordinances, we weren’t the trailblazers. We weren’t even in the top 10. We were lucky if we were among the first 100 communities to do that.
John Mott-Smith uses the issue of Climate Action Plan (CAP) to illustrate. Davis did not lead the way on Climate Action. Davis has not lead the way on net zero energy developments, either.
There is of course a more central point from John Mott-Smith, and here we might want to quibble a bit more, and that is that the leadership style in Davis can be seen to be a contributing factor in this.
For him, a good example is the Woodland Climate Action Plan.
“Woodland is blessed with really outstanding leadership,” he writes. “Their prior mayor, Skip Davies, and the rest of the council saw the need for a CAP, they asked their excellent staff to get started, formed a group of citizens to bounce ideas off of, and, with the assistance of UC Davis students came up with a plan of action that included a few public meetings to take the community’s temperature on potential measures.”
He notes that, in the end, CAP was adopted on their consent calendar. He notes, “This (to my knowledge) unprecedented lack of controversy is a testament to the community as a whole, but special recognition should be given to Roberta Childers, manager of the Environmental Services Division of the Public Works Department.”
John Mott-Smith notes, “The current mayor, Tom Stallard, chairs the Woodland Sustainability Committee and is the driving force and inspiration behind implementation of the CAP. His inaugural address included ‘sustainability’ as an important component of every item on every agenda.”
“Two former key city of Davis staffers now work for Woodland — Paul Navazio as city manager, and Ken Hiatt as community development director — and their leadership and expertise give Woodland a dream team,” he writes.
John Mott-Smith lists a long list of accomplishments by Woodland on the promotion of sustainability.
For my purposes today, I’m less interested in their specifics than ours.
There is probably an upside and a downside to everything. A few years ago, we saw Woodland beeline its way to approval of the water project and watch as the Davis City Council stumbled on September 6, 2011, with a rate structure that was admittedly poorly constructed and was eventually repealed after citizens gathered petition signatures.
The Davis process was slow, and it was messy. Following the referendum in the fall of 2011, we had a year-long WAC (Water Advisory Committee) process, an election in Spring 2013 and another election in June 2014. Following the repeal of a second rate structure, council and the citizens cut a deal and a better rate structure was implemented.
Success, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. The water process was long and drawn out, but in the end, the project is going forward and most citizens seem satisfied with the deal.
John Mott-Smith notes Woodland’s tree policy. He writes, “Already known as the ‘City of Trees,’ Woodland has an ambitious goal of encouraging residents to plant 100 trees a month for the next two years, and the Woodland Tree Foundation is working to create a tree canopy in an area of town that needs one.”
At the same time, he writes, “Woodland also seems to have an understanding with the community that replaces controversy with the recognition that sometimes trees have to be cut down (for example, for construction of the solar panels at the police station) and when this happens at least an equal number of shade trees will be planted.”
On the other hand, we saw in Davis a relatively small project bogged down based on saving nine Canary Island Pine trees. Now you could argue that Woodland’s policy works as you cut trees down and replace them with new trees. The problem, of course, is that in exchanging mature trees for immature trees, you may end up losing in the process.
Another issue that we could point to involves the handling of the POU (publicly owned utility) situation in Davis. A year ago, it became a large controversy that Davis was studying a publicly owned utility. After three or four months of debate, the Davis City Council had voted 4-1 on a motion by Councilmember Brett Lee and seconded by Lucas Frerichs to rescind the previous authorization to spend up to $600,000 on a study of a publicly owned utility.
This weekend, the Vanguard reported that the council has an item on CONSENT to form an Advisory Committee on Community Choice Energy (CCE). Questions were asked as to why this item was placed on the consent agenda.
A lot of work was done on this behind the scenes. The committee formed, according to Alan Pryor, will start “the investigation and review process and establishes a Committee to explore all of the financial and legal implications.”
As Lorenzo Kristov pointed out, “The main difference in forming a POU would be to take over and operate PG&E’s distribution system (wires, transformers, fault detection, etc.). What most people don’t realize is that right now the distribution business is undergoing dramatic changes due to the proliferation of all types of ‘distributed energy resources’ (DER)…”
He noted, “The point is that Davis could not simply take over the distribution system and operate it the way it’s always been operated. Rather, we would be jumping into a business that will be in upheaval for many years to come. Much better, in my opinion, would be to wait for the industry to develop new best practices and standards for high-DER distribution systems, watch for the emergence of companies who can operate these systems for POUs, and then consider whether Davis wants to become its own POU. In the meantime, Davis can enjoy significant benefits by forming a CCE.”
My point in citing all of this is that perhaps the POU was not the best solution for Davis, perhaps it was. By studying the issue, we might avoid spending huge amounts of money on a system that would be obsolete in less than 20 years.
The Davis way is slow and deliberative, but it also reflects the community as a whole and their desire for input and discussion before making major changes. Perhaps we should have just jumped into some of these changes, perhaps not.
John Mott-Smith makes a compelling case about Woodland’s progress. He concludes, “Our neighbor to the north has quietly become a leader in energy efficiency and sustainability.”
What he doesn’t outright state is whether Davis should follow their lead or whether Davis even could follow their lead.
—David M. Greenwald reporting