Towards a Community-Based Dialogue

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One of the most interesting questions that came out of yesterday’s abortive discussion on “Renew Davis” is one of the most basic questions which is, simply put, how do we accurate and faithfully determined what the community’s view are on what matters most?

It is a very basic question, but ultimately difficult to answer. Part of the problem is that we do not live in a true democracy. And while elections may represent the truest measure of a community’s values, even those fall short.

Observe the following chain of events that lead me to conclude that all elections are is the amplification of the loudest voices in the room.

First, we have a representational government. But while we directly choose our leaders to represent us – generally speaking we only get to choose from a small sample and vote for the people that we deem most likely to do the least amount of damage. Even in these elections, locally, half of those who have registered to vote, do so. And only a percentage of people who are eligible to vote, register to vote.

Those who vote are tantamount to the loudest voices in the room. They may be people who feel most strongly on issues affecting them. They may be people with direct financial interests. They may be those who are passionate about our community.

The rest of what follows at the local level is simply a group of five people who assess the best interests of the people and who at times respond to the loudest person in the room. From agenda setting, either through community groups, commissions, and public comment through the final vote, we only know community values based on who shows up, who writes letters, who speaks at public comment, and who makes comments.

The point is that we never really know what the “community” thinks about something. Rather it is always a subsection of the community that is engaged, whether it be engaged to show up and speak, write, or to vote – that is what we have heard.

So the question really is, do we need to determine the community’s views on what matters the most?

Where it gets more tricky – in trying to create a shared vision to allow the community move forward in Davis ultimately requires consent of the governed. Measure R effectively means that there are constraints on what elected officials can do.

Elected officials are largely free to operate according to their beliefs. It is not that the voters will not ultimately vote against incumbents – they will. We saw that in 2012 when the two incumbents finished fourth and fifth. Both had been elected officials for a number of years – 12 and 8 respectively. The community grew tired of their voices, probably less so than their ultimate votes.

But that is not my point. Rather my point is that with Measure R, there is only so much the elected officials can do with respect to land use without ultimate authorization from the voters.

The point I was making earlier in the week is that when the elected officials and other leaders in the community were meeting to plan and discuss innovation parks there was a critical part of the community missing. The so-called progressive community.

This was very critical to this discussion because, while one segment of the community had the loudest voice in terms of the proceedings, it was very evident from the start that in order to gain Measure R passage, the progressive voting bloc had to be supportive enough not to vote against it in such numbers that they could effectively veto the consideration.

So when we talk about community discussion and visioning, if that voter bloc does not participate, we can gain the concession of those in the room all we want – it is not going to produce a workable solution that can pass at the polls.

As I pointed out on Tuesday, right now the progressive are just strong enough to block initiatives that they deem as harmful to the community.

I understand that engagement is a two-way street. Many told me that they just do not see opportunities for progressives to meaningfully engage.

As one commenter put it, “The opportunity of going to an echo-chamber meeting where the presupposition of the importance of a peripheral business park is already determined doesn’t count.”

Moreover, some have disengaged because of public ridicule for the position. As I listened to comments last year at the Innovation Park Task Force meeting, the comments were condescending and demeaning.

People’s motives for opposing projects and growth are called into question. However, I would point out that people’s motives for supporting projects and growth are also called into question. Councilmembers are ridiculed for being in the pockets of developer interests for example.

Ultimately, what has happened is that very little has changed in Davis in the last eight years. We still have a divide on the issue of growth. While people like me see value in economic development while being largely supportive of Measure R and slow growth policies on housing, there is still a pretty hard line between those supporting some development and those opposing most development.

Moreover, I would point out that, while the toxic atmosphere at the council meetings has subsided, the divide in the community has not.

The point I think the slow growth advocates made on Tuesday was that the venues were seen as tilted – and not safe ground. The discussion of the Innovation Park Task Force was not conducive to slow growthers wanting to come to express their views when they believed the meeting was predetermined on the issue.

So if we want real dialogue we have to create what might be called a safe space where all people feel welcomed and their views and contributions appreciated and productive.

We are not there yet and I don’t know that we can get there any time soon. I know the city has attempted some conflict resolution processes. I attended the one led by the police and while the process was good, the presentation there was certainly tilted.

I think people need to quickly recognize that if we wish to get land use policies approved, it will take some buy-in from the slow-growth, progressive elements of the community to accomplish that and the path that we chart needs to reflect that.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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23 thoughts on “Towards a Community-Based Dialogue”

  1. davisite4

    Well said, thank you.

    These excerpts from a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Enterprise are relevant:

    So far, the process had been the reverse of what is a healthy, contemporary approach to urban planning. Rather than involving the community in the discussion of what areas are appropriate for a 4 million-square-foot business park — which would consider zoning, the separation of residential areas from commercial, and the fit with adjacent use — the word went out to developers to simply create proposals.

    Do we want enormous business/industrial parks at edges of our town? Do we wish to live in a clone of San Jose?

    Urge the council to do zoning first, with public input, so Davis can remain a people-oriented, bike-friendly, well-planned community going forward, not replicating 20th-century sprawl.

      1. davisite4

        Thank you for offering a perfect demonstration of why progressives aren’t engaging in discussion.  I knew I could count on you.  Enjoy the roadblocks, because having sabotaged any hope for respectful and thoughtful dialogue that’s all you have left.

        What’s funny is — and apparently you missed this in your haste to dismiss the letter writer — was that the letter writer is in fact *in favor* of a business park at Mace, just not one at the NWQ.

  2. Davis Progressive

    i would like to hear dobie’s thoughts here.  my thoughts are that community dialogue and visioning is not possible until you bridge the TWO-WAY trust gap.  for that matter perhaps robb davis can weigh in.

    1. Frankly

      While I appreciate what Doby recommends… a facilitated, comprehensive and collaborative visioning and planning design process for the city… we have only to read what davisite4 posted to realize that this is largely a futile waste of time because there is a percentage of people in this town that don’t get it and will never get it.  They are stuck in their change-averse ways, due to personality characteristics or for other reasons that cause them to reject logical arguments and just retreat to a position of blocking.  We would spend all the time and money attempting to bring people together for a consensus and we would end up exactly where we are today… IMO.

      This isn’t about trust.  This is just wrong verse right.  The wrong only need to be defeated at the polls.

      The key is the youth vote.  Get out the youth vote and overwhelm the old change-averse folk to save the city.

      1. Davis Progressive

        then this effort is largely doomed if you take that view.  i happen to think there are enough people who are slow growth but willing to make exceptions to create a space to hash this out.

        “This isn’t about trust.  This is just wrong verse right.  The wrong only need to be defeated at the polls.”

        i think the black and white views here are not helpful to discourse.  it’s not right and wrong, but rather shades of gray and more importantly the weighing of values and considerations.

        1. Frankly

          Just read above.  When I read that in the Enterprise it again reminded me of how stubborn are those afflicted with change aversion.  It is the 90-10 rule.  You would spend 90% of the effort and only end up turning 10%.  The other 90% would still be against it.  And to get that 10% we would likely compromise change that would result in at least 10% of those in support turning against.

          Look at all the information that has already been delivered in support of and in justification of the innovation parks and Davis economic development.  This person that wrote the letter to the Enterprise, do you think he/she had just not understood and needs someone to explain it better?

          Can you name one person that blogs on the VG that has gone from opposition to support of the innovation parks?  I can’t.  Look at Tia Will for example, heavily involved in the ongoing back and forth yet still in general opposition no different than the first day the debate started.

          There are shades of gray and there are certainly some undecided people that can be convinced.  But they will vote on the merits of the project no matter how much Kumbaya we attempt.

          I have a lot of experience managing significant change in large organizations.  Trying to develop consensus is the death-knell of significant change.   It is what those opposed to change tend to demand because they know it at least delays, and likely kills the change.

          There is a battle for the future of this city.  There are heroes that are going to have to take charge and make it happen… and in the end suffer the pain of no good deed goes unpunished.

        2. Davis Progressive

          remember last year the vanguard had a continuum.  you’re reading from the people who are (i think it was) fours (opposed to everything) rather than a group of threes (that are skeptical but could be worked with).  i think the key to the dialogue is finding a way to engage the twos and threes.

        3. Barack Palin

          Can you name one person that blogs on the VG that has gone from opposition to support of the innovation parks? 

          I am one.  I’m a slow-growther and was against the business parks at first but I know we need the revenue and providing jobs is always a good thing so I came around.  I believe there are many more like me that have been persuaded.

        4. hpierce

          Frankly, re your 10:17 post…

          I tend to agree that “consensus” is great in theory, but has limitations.  What you didn’t mention is ‘leadership’.  That has sorely been lacking in many aspects of the public discourse and politics.

          Mostly, on the political side, politicians like to measure where the crowd is going, then run to the front of the line, so as to pretend they are leading the parade.

          In my opinion, altho’ flawed, Lincoln was our greatest President.  He led. Irrespective of others’ opinions.  My favorite (possibly apocryphal) story is when he asked his cabinet to advise him on issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.  As the story goes, each Cabinet member advised him not to.  He summarized as “ok, 8 nays, one aye… the ayes have it.”  Leadership is rare, but sorely needed.

        5. Frankly

          Bingo hpierce!   Leadership fails when it tries to placate everyone.  How many times did Steve Jobs get told he was nuts and wrong?   Significant change takes guts and resolve.  And it usually takes history to provide the reward for the agents of change long after they are gone.

          DP and BP… funny, I was just thinking that you two are the exceptions.  But geeze… talk about some heavy lifting to get you two onboard!   😉

    2. Doby Fleeman

      DP,

      Be careful what you ask for:

      Here’s my imponderable question for the day:

      Where and how does one derive the societal imperative – the knowledge, conviction, and moral authority – to accurately and faithfully portray the community’s considered views as to what matters most?

      Then I googled the word imperative and found this website: https://www.imperative.com/about

      I thought it looked pretty cool, but getting back to our community, how does one, or a group, develop that authentic sense of confidence that they have done the heavy lifting, sifting, engaging, probing, questioning, processing –  which subsequently infuses them with the requisite authority to summarize a shared vision and  best path forward on behalf of an entire community?

      What tools would one employ along the way?

      Clearly, its not going to get done with a 20 page Survey Monkey?  Think about it – Lol – if we did, what would be the required reading and test requirements before qualifying to participate?  Who would we trust with the basic design of the survey?  Who would determine the objectives of the survey?  Who would interpret the findings?

      And, if we were to hold a community visioning forum – would it be a two day workshop, a two month workshop, or the 9 month process as outlined for the city by McDonough in 2013?   What does it take to get to a point where everybody/every faction has had its say – its final bite of the apple – in a constructive and collaborative setting?  In such circumstances, who would be charged with developing the work program and important list of questions to be addressed?   How does one even go about the task of finding out what matters most, and why?  What would be their professional qualifications and resume of previous experience?  Who would be responsible for designing the ensuing framework for review and summation of findings and recommendations?

      I may be the only one in Davis who finds this an interesting series of questions.  But, that’s what originally led to contacting Bill McDonough  http://www.mcdonoughpartners.com/  as someone who seems pretty far along on this continuum of qualifications.  I’m sure there are others who are equally skilled in this field and type of community planning and visioning, but for sure, I believe this is the caliber of individual and organization that is appropriate for a community of our standing.   

      Long and short, I think we can do this.  I think Davis and UCD deserve this caliber of engagement and self-introspection.  And, I’m just tired of wallowing in the spin cycle, waiting for someone to insert another quarter.

  3. Alan Miller

    One of the most interesting questions that came out of yesterday’s abortive discussion on “Renew Davis” is . . .

    . . . why is it OK to post “I’m sick & tired of white privileged people . . . ” but it isn’t OK to post “I’m sick & tired of the term ‘white privileged people’.”?

    Please note, I insulted no one personally, not even the deserving anonymous “people”, unlike much of the comment abortion yesterday.

    1. Don Shor

      [moderator] I pulled a number of posts that had taken the whole conversation off topic. If a post was a reply to a post that I pulled, it got pulled. That’s the way it works; otherwise, the replies have no context. In the future, if you have comments or concerns about any moderation action that I take, contact me directly at donshor@gmail.com Please do not discuss moderation actions on the board.

  4. Alan Miller

    Can you name one person that blogs on the VG that has gone from opposition to support of the innovation parks? 

    I’m against “innovation parks” and in support of the very same “business parks”.  So that’s sort of like that.

  5. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Look at Tia Will for example, heavily involved in the ongoing back and forth yet still in general opposition no different than the first day the debate started.”

    Ok, let’s do use me as the example. All your post tells me is that you are completely oblivious to the words of other posters unless they agree completely with you. Hardly a good way to move a conversation forward. So just so we have you updated on my activities and my position with regard to growth, I would like to share with you my activities and the evolution of my thinking which has definitely changed since I started, just not in the direction that you in your black and white world view would like to see.

    When I first heard about the innovation parks, I knew absolutely nothing and thus had no opinion at all. So I started doing some research which including looking into the “innovation parks” in the Bay area, and reading about innovation parks. I then attended the first Vanguard sponsored event, both of the initial presentations by both potential peripheral developers, and the second Vanguard sponsored event. I was not impressed by the presentations as they were first pitched, but if asked would have categorized myself as one of David’s threes ( skeptical but not determinedly opposed). I even wrote an article about the very innovative combined industrial, tourist and arts space in Vancouver and was ridiculed by some who wanted to pretend that I was suggesting this as a model for Davis, as opposed to considering the point that I was making, which was that I thought there was room for true innovation rather than necessarily putting all of our eggs in the “high tech” basket just because that has been an economic driver for some other communities.

    Then I started attending the Jump Start Davis events, the recent Pollinate event and the social innovation event. What has occurred for me over this time is that I feel that there is more potential for innovative projects that are in keeping with my values that will be made available through these smaller ventures ( including Nishi, preferably as a car limited project) than through projects that commandeer large quantities of land. This is not opposition to all change. It is merely opposition to the changes that you prefer. I actually would favor some changes that you have derided in the past ( such as a car limited Nishi and a downtown walking mall ) that you do not favor because, in my view, you wish to cling to an outmoded reliance on a destructive addiction of our society, namely over reliance on the private automobile.

     it again reminded me of how stubborn are those afflicted with change aversion”

    I could not agree more. And to me, it is you who is stuck in an aversion to change mode. You will not consider even very limited areas of town as pilots for a car limited space. Your rationale in the past, paraphrased “we already have cars” so to change is not realistic. You will not consider the possibility of a more equitable way to provide for our population being mired in the concept that the “free market”, which we all know does not exist, is the best way to address every issue. It is you who is the proponent of ideas that are at least 30 years old and will not even consider that the impact of the internet and its technologies for collaboration may make this spaces less viable in the future. It is you who wants to adhere to a developer and politically determined “winners and losers” choosing by deciding in advance that these spaces should be used to what we today call “high tech” which may be nothing more than tomorrow’s manufacturing plant.

     

     

  6. Frankly

    I would like to share with you my activities and the evolution of my thinking which has definitely changed since I started, just not in the direction that you in your black and white world view would like to see.

    Not black vs. white, but cost vs. benefit, or benefit vs. liability.   That is where you analyze all the colors and actually make a decision to do something instead of continuing to talk about the colors as if they were a decision.

    I feel that there is more potential for innovative projects that are in keeping with my values that will be made available through these smaller ventures ( including Nishi, preferably as a car limited project)

    Need I go back to read what you were writing early in the debate about innovation parks to prove to you that this view is really not materially different than your initial views?

     

  7. Tia Will

    Frankly

    Feel free. I think you will find that most of my early posts were expressing concerns and asking questions as I did at the forum you attended. I doubt that you will find anything at all about JumpStart Davis, Davis Roots or Pollinate. I know you will find nothing about social start ups. And you will find nothing at all about how I felt about Nishi in the beginning. However, I am sure that if you set the bar of “materially different” high enough, you will be able to claim no difference regardless of that fact that my opinions have evolved.

  8. Tia Will

    How many times did Steve Jobs get told he was nuts and wrong? “

    Probably many, many times. Probably by those who felt he was living in a world of unicorns and rainbows and leprechauns !

    Sound familiar ?

  9. Miwok

    I really enjoy the way David has explained the Davis Community and power mongers, in a great explanation of how they stay in power. Though this article, it makes me see Young Jedi SkyWolker in a completely different light. He, by proposing the Innovation Parks has gone against the grain of the Slow Growthers (a misnomer, because they are really No-Growthers).

    The fear of change, as we all have it, puts people who have lived their whole life here at risk. Add to the University reluctance to grow, until pushed by management (The Regents) to admit more people, or provide more housing, as the other campuses have done, means some people are not going to risk their lives letting just anyone move here to live. That is why they protect their lifestyle with such vigor, and I would not call it “Progressive”. As we all get older, we all look back to the days “when things were better”.  To protect that, we do not always have the vocabulary to express it, and are challenging and condescending.

    Once I spent ten years trying to live here and work here, loving the summer relief from the stress of crowded stores and restaurants, rowdy youngsters barely out of high school with no manners and no parents to control them. Welcome to the World, I told myself. When I went to college in a small town, we were told we were guests, and always thought that way. The students in Davis are privileged and affluent, or if not, act like they are. They think they own the rental space they are in. Sad. I think the City and University has allowed the City to become so overcrowded they think by limiting growth they have made things better, they have not.

    I hope I have not repeated other thoughts, most of the comments were about people.

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