Monday Morning Thoughts: Dan Wolk’s Moment

Mayor Wolk delivers the State of the City Address in January
Mayor Wolk delivers the State of the City Address in January

With the announcement last week that potential rival Alfredo Pedroza, the Napa County Supervisor appointed to fill Bill Dodd’s seat, had not only bowed out of the race but had endorsed Dan Wolk, the momentum in the race clearly shifted to Dan Wolk’s heavy favor.

There is a long time between now and the filing deadline in February. There are rumors – unconfirmed as they are – that Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a formidable candidate in her own right, might have visions for the seat. But right now Dan Wolk is the clear and overwhelming favorite.

While some speculate that the field being cleared will make it less likely for Don Saylor to continue his candidacy – in a way it might make it more likely. Without a third Democrat and without one in the western portion of the district, the fear that we will see a repeat of 2014 and a splitting of the eastern vote has subsided – again, at least for now.

The lessons of 2008 remain, however. We know from 2008 that West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was at least as heavy a favorite as Dan Wolk appears to be right now. They have a lot of similarities as mayors of their respective towns, facing lesser-known county supervisors.

Mr. Cabaldon was far more formidable, with over a decade of experience as mayor and highly respected regionally. However, Dan Wolk carries the advantage that the Assembly district has been represented by his mother in the Senate.

Mr. Cabaldon at his announcement had Supervisors Helen Thomson and Mike McGowan at his side. He went to the Davis Amtrak Station flanked by Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson and Councilmember Don Saylor (who would become the next mayor pro tem).

In April 2008, two months before the election, he stood at the waterfront at Suisun City flanked by Lois Wolk, Helen Thomson and Tom Hannigan – each of whom had endorsed his candidacy, for the position they served collectively over the last 30 years since 1978 when Tom Hannigan served the first of 9 terms on the California legislature.

And, despite all of these advantages, it was not enough for Christopher Cabaldon to win the Assembly seat.

Dan Wolk has a tough task ahead of him. He has his day job as Deputy County Counsel for Solano County, handling public finance, public contracting and water issues. He has his elected job as Mayor of Davis. And he has his night job as father of two young children.

The Vanguard has been covering the city of Davis since 2006 and in those nine years of operation, the period of August 2014 to the present has been the slowest time for the city council – by far.

Dan Wolk has had his moments. When he came into office he cut the deal to end the water rate dispute. However, there have been many times, even as he has led meetings on the dais, when he has seemed disengaged.

He was clearly instrumental in putting in place a new city management team that has sought to undo or soften some of the policies and initiatives of the previous city manager.

But his legacy may well be defined in the next five months. The city has been looking to expand its economic development policies. In January of this year, Dan Wolk pushed for economic development as a centerpiece of his “Renew Davis” initiative.

He said at the time, “We need to renew our commitment to the idea of the university, but bring it to the next level and that’s really what these innovation centers and Nishi are all about. That’s about harnessing the technology that’s coming out of the university, not only incubating it here, but growing it and having it stay here long-term, so that we can have highly skilled workers, graduates of UC Davis, stay here in our community.”

But since that time, the city has lost its Chief Innovation Officer. It has seen one of the innovation center projects be placed on hold. And now, as the EIR comes out on Mace, we are seeing pushback in the community, with some believing that the project is moving too fast and with others worried that it has morphed into a mixed-use housing project. And some are just worried that the project may not pass.

This fall will be critical as the innovation park moves from concept to a vote by council to potentially put it on the ballot. If the project is delayed or ends up failing, that would be a black mark potentially for the mayor.

At the same time, the Hotel Conference center is coming up for a vote this Tuesday. The city staff projects at least $200,000 in ongoing tax revenue, but the project at this point seems to be caught up in the traffic problems of Richards Boulevard – a potential problem that awaits the Nishi project, as well.

Last January, Dan Wolk, trumpeting improved fiscal numbers, proclaimed that “the state of the city is very strong right now.” But the fiscal analysis that emerged in June at budget time showed that the city’s finances were precarious at best. They stayed in the black due to the half-cent sales tax passed by the voters in June 2014. The numbers appeared not to support any increased salary for city employees, and were vulnerable to a potential new economic downturn which might emerge in the next ten years.

After a long time deliberating, the city has put forth the idea of a utility user tax to fund infrastructure. However, led by the mayor, has been a push for a new sports park that the council has successfully severed from the main discussion on infrastructure.

Both of those discussions are likely to come to a head in the fall.

The legacy of Dan Wolk may well be determined in the next few months as council emerges on Tuesday from a six-week break with critical issues that it must tackle. What happens may be immaterial to what happens in the Assembly race, of course, which will depend on what candidates might emerge and the effectiveness of Don Saylor’s candidacy.

Of course, a strong showing by the mayor in the next few months may finally put to rest some of the nagging questions about his readiness for higher office that continue to crop up in some circles.

—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. SODA

    Agree disengaged is kind way of saying it. I find him also to be less prepared than several of the other CCpersons and less able or willing to contribute to the discussion, to make the hard calls that I feel I want from my  representatives.

    All seems politically motivated….and here we are, with your projection that he may win, maybe politically motived decisions do win. I don’t like it though!

    To be fair I thought his stand on fluoride was a principled, sincere stand. I just wish I knew more about what he was principled about before voting.


  2. Davis Progressive

    i’m really disappointed that i ended up supporting him when he first ran.  i thought he would be engaged and dynamic – instead he was disinterested in many discussions, ill-prepared, and a non-factor.  but it’s worse than that – his trumpeting the fiscal improvements helped undermine efforts to pass a parcel tax and even pass an innovation park.  he switched on fire and ended up opposing the joingt powers agreement.  in short – he’s quite poor.  but against saylor – what choice do we have.

  3. ecotect

    Legacy – His will be one of ambition to follow in his mother’s footsteps all the while focusing on the relationships that will get him there.  Yes, it can seem very nice for Davis to build a strong and good relationship with the University, yet wouldn’t it be nice for that relationship and what is talked about be crystal clear transparent?

    Many of us were quite shocked to attend a City Council meeting where both the City and the University brushed aside sustainability standards as bothersome, stating that developers can be green on their own.  Well, we have seen where that goes.   Cheap and green washed.

    Legacy unfolding is the moment we are in.  The stunning success of the Cannery remains to be seen.  We already know that there will be higher taxes for the folks that buy there.  It’s just not very clear how that many  people can get out of the subdivision with only one main entrance/exit nor how getting onto the surface streets will really work.  How this was put in without being Zero Net Energy is beyond comprehension.  Toxin free building materials?  Water smart?

    Legacy of status quo, business as usual, economic growth with environment and sustainability being fiscal terms not ecological terms.

    When there are examples of truly green, sustainable and beautiful developments in cities here and globally pushing the limits of breaking free from old thinking, using big picture holistic thinking and being hugely successful, it is unconscionable that the Davis Legacy is fast becoming GMO Valley to mimic Silicon Valley, not master planned  and on the fast fading glory of Village Homes.

    The University and the City use the “proven success formula” in all their speeches as though they are balancing the sacred triad of Environment-Equity-Economics.  Yet perhaps the definitions of environment and equality are fiscal because they sure are not the true meanings being balanced.

    Without a healthy environment we will not even have economics or equity.  Wait until the costs start coming in for the mega fires with mega water used to fight them.

    We cannot afford to have the legacy of weak, ambition driven leadership that skirts by the perils facing our community and humanity with climate disruption happening right before our eyes.  We cannot afford to have rampant status quo, business as usual growth without intelligent urban systems planning with the real environment held in proper balance.

    There is might in right and where good economic success is truly achieved.  We need leadership with vision into the future and not scared to steer this ship in a new direction of regenerative design where the built world lives in harmony with nature.  We are nature too.  This is a prayer that Davis will wake up and see what is before them a chance to stay on a ecologically sound path that leads or just fall into being just another bump on the I-80 corridor that has become a mega suburban network of joined together “economic development projects”. This is the Dan Wolk legacy–so short so fast…..

    We need leadership that takes on challenges like the Living Community Challenge and Village Homes.



    1. Miwok

      Any politician at the State level seems to be a relative of someone at another level of government. They rarely make hard decisions, and never say no to any constituency, even if conflicting, that may vote for another candidate.

      If you can vote for someone whose relative is in Government, or who will appoint their relatives to posts, then what are you really voting for? Nepotism? Did people vote Dan Wolk Mayor because they wish they were voting for his mother? Others move around the State so they live in the right district to get elected. If they can’t get elected, they try to get appointed.

      Instead of hierarchy charts in government, I wish someone would publish the Family Trees instead.

      If the Vanguard has a chart like this, I wish they would publish it.

  4. Sam

    I agree with both posts. This is what happens when you elect officials to local government that aspire for a career in higher office. The decisions that they make are done to advance them to the next office, not for what is best for Davis. Opposing the fire agreement (that is saving money) and opposing the conference center (that will generate tax revenue) in order to appease the unions in exchange for their support is not what is best for Davis.

    “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”


  5. Gunrocik

    You have to give credit to Craig Reynolds on this one.

    He has carefully controlled every word uttered by Dan over the past few years.  I get the impression that Dan has been instructed to keep on the straight and narrow, follow the instructions and eventually he will get his new day job.   Don’t say anything, don’t take any chances — and don’t alienate the base.

    And now Craig has cleared the playing field for “The Candidate”.

    What will he do now?  Life imitates art:


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