By Dan Carson
I always take political campaigns for public office with a grain of salt. They tend to focus on what everyone thinks are the issues of the day. Time and again, though, after the election is over, officeholders find themselves consumed with controversies they never imagined would flare up at the time they were running for office.
Such issues – Community Facility Districts, parking on B Street, and citations for basketball hoops – are the weekly grind of City Council meetings. All warrant governmental action and attention. If care is not taken, however, they can consume the time and energy of officeholders and distract them from the “big picture” concerns that would have the most impact on benefitting the public interest.
Fortunately, a process the City Council set in motion last summer of setting general priorities for City Hall, and defining specific actions to further those goals, is nearing completion. The latest version of this work plan is expected to come back to the council for its review on April 7. If the version city staff “sunshined” for the public a few weeks ago for public input is any guide, however, the council is poised to adopt an ambitious but practical set of objectives and tasks that will serve this community very well for the next couple of years.
The broad set of eight goals emerged from a public workshop process last year. They are:
- Ensure fiscal resilience
- Drive innovation and economic vitality
- Pursue environmental sustainability
- Build and promote a vibrant downtown
- Promote community
- Fund, maintain and improve infrastructure
- Ensure a safe and health community
- Foster positive workplace dynamics
The council, city commissions, and the public have been at work for months helping city staff to craft objectives and specific tasks to put meat on these bones. A city staff report dated February 3, 2015, found here, outlined 54 objectives and 231 specific tasks – containing the “marching orders” for some initial steps to move toward achieving those goals.
Some of the goals struck me and others as duplicative of others contained within the documents. Some tasks might have been placed with the wrong goals. The phrasing of others are frankly a bit nebulous. The latest version of the task list is probably a bit too ambitious for the two-year timeframe to which it applies. A lot of these concerns which have emerged in public comment will probably be addressed in the next iteration of the document scheduled for release next month, and some new tasks are likely to pop up. However, there is a lot to like in what I see there now.
Given the city’s recent budgetary troubles, I am delighted that “Goal 1” in the document is to “ensure fiscal resilience” and that meaningful actions are contemplated to help fix the city’s finances. Some of my personal favorites are on the various action lists, including proposals to put together a comprehensive plan to address the city’s capital improvement needs, to seek more efficient models for the delivery of city services, to ensure that any new labor contracts are analyzed to ensure they are fiscally sustainable, to examine city investment practices, and to find opportunities to sell or lease surplus city assets.
The document embraces a wide-ranging economic development agenda that could help buttress city finances in the long run, including continued implementation of the innovation center strategy and support for smaller-scale start-ups by budding entrepreneurs. And it includes various tasks to partner with UC Davis to help transfer technology from the academic world to real-world business opportunities.
The plans lays out specific tasks to help reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water, protect wildlife habitat, and adapt to a changing energy future. It would take a fresh look at some zoning and land-use development rules and focus on the preservation of affordable housing and the construction of new units. There is much, much more in the document than I can describe here, touching nearly every aspect of what City Hall does, or should do, for its citizenry.
I think every citizen should take the time to read it to see if their policy priorities are addressed effectively. Although there has already been a lot of public input, any comments you have can still be sent to City Innovation Office Rob White at email@example.com, or, of course, the City Council itself.
Rather than becoming another lofty plan that sits on a shelf, the document now in circulation assigns its many tasks to specific city departments and sets deadlines for the work to be done. Whatever version is ultimately adopted, then, can be used as an accountability mechanism for city staff and the council itself. The next city budget and the ones to follow should tie closely to this work plan. Items that appear on the City Council agenda should be viewed in the context of whether they advance the goals and objectives set forth for the city. And, come next election, the Davis electorate will in a position to look back at this plan and ask any incumbent, “Did you do what you said you would do?”