In yesterday’s column lamenting the loss of Chamber CEO Matt Yancey, I wrote, “I have called on this community to decide who we are, what we want to be and where we are going to go. By laying out a vision – we may be able to find common goals and common ground that was missing.”
One our readers called on me to elaborate on how this process might unfold. They explained that they were interested in teasing out my view of “the fundamental distinction between planning and visioning. Planning without a vision would seem an exercise in frustration, unlikely to achieve optimal results.”
I have given a lot of thought about how best to answer that question and I keep ending up in a place where I question the usefulness of a visioning process.
Let us start here – do you think a visioning process for the United States with congressional Democrats and Republicans sitting down to iron out commonalities is likely to produce any sort of meaningful join vision? It is one thing for a bipartisan group with a common purpose to attempt to guide legislative efforts – but even that more often than not has proven futile.
Why? Two reasons. One is that the degree of polarization between the two camps is sufficiently wide that real common vision may not be possible. Second is that there is no real electoral incentive for both groups to compromise.
I don’t want to lose focus here with the national picture over the local scene. But I do believe both of these factors play themselves out repeatedly at the local level. For a long time in Davis you have had two relatively diametrically opposed factions of people. You have the so-called progressive wing of the city and you have the more development-oriented group of people, which has been kind of a coalition of developers, unions, and the Chamber/business community.
There was a period of time when each side controlled city hall, but there is no real dominant group right now. The progressives were strong enough to push through, in 2000, Measure J – which was heavily renewed in 2010. They were strong enough with coalitions to block Measure X in 2005, but not quite strong enough to block Target at the ballot box in 2006, to gain a council majority since 2002, or to stop some of the non-voting projects like the Cannery.
The group is not only aging, but it is badly splintered. For instance, portions of the progressives actually supported the water project. The progressives were strong enough to put the water project on the ballot, but ultimately the voters approved it. However, teaming with more conservative elements in the city as well as citizens who just did not understand the water rate system, they were strong enough to pass Measure P and, ultimately, while they could not stop the water project, they were able to negotiate better water rates.
I see the comments all the time – when I went to the Innovation Park Task Force, it was clear that there were people in that room who fundamentally distrusted the progressives and other slow to no growth advocates. We see them depicted as opposing all change or “CAVE” (citizens against virtually everything) or some other derisive term.
On the other hand, many distrust the more pro-development group as being self-interested and valuing development and money over preserving the community.
I grew up, as many know, in San Luis Obispo, a similar community to Davis in many respects, but the politics are a little different. When I was there, now nearly 20 years ago – but I’m not sure that much has changed – there were actually three factions. There was a pro-development faction, and it tended to be Republican with a few Democrats from time to time. There was a progressive faction that was largely no growth. And then there was a more centrist group that was slow growth – as I like to put it, they might oppose a Target but support a Costco.
The problem in San Luis Obispo is that the two slower growth factions would often split the vote, especially for the mayor. But having the more centrist faction allowed a kind of brokering that does not really exist here in Davis.
What we have really seen in Davis since 2010 has been a reemergence of a more moderate group – consisting of people like Joe Krovoza, who was not anti-development but would vote against projects like the Cannery when he saw it was not in the best interest of the community without better amenities.
I have considerably digressed from the central point to lay out the political landscape a bit better. Here is the problem with a visioning process – the progressives, splintered and factioned as they are, still have enough muscle to form coalitions to block key projects, especially those that go to the electorate for a vote.
I don’t see how you can have a visioning process without including voices from the community who have either a different vision or who wish to preserve Davis as the small town community surrounded by farm land. In fact, I largely support that vision of Davis.
The problem that I see is that it unsustainable. Seven years ago, the Vanguard was among the first entities which questioned the sustainability of the city’s finances. It was clear, even in pre-collapse 2008, that the combination of rising salaries with huge unfunded liabilities and huge deferred maintenance of infrastructure was a recipe for disaster.
I have a similar view of the current situation. I don’t think Davis is going to be able to provide the level of service we have come to expect, based simply on ever-increasing parcel taxes, sales tax and utility user taxes. This is a problem that I think the school district is going to face pretty soon, as well.
We need to develop our own tax revenue base and I think we can build a hotel conference center without destroying the great things of this community. The same with an innovation park. I don’t believe a 200-acre park, developed over 25 to 40 years, is going to fundamentally alter this community.
I’m not supporting massive peripheral retail, which I do think would alter this community. I’m not supporting large peripheral housing projects. But I think passing Nishi, the Hotel Conference Center, and Mace, assuming we can deal with traffic and transportation issues effectively, will help the city’s finances without destroying the community.
However, this is a process that is solved by visioning. I think there are too many different visions out there for Davis and the twain may never meet to go forward with a joint vision.
In the end, I think that is what elections are for. The candidates will have to put forth their visions and the community will decide through their choices of leaders, as well as their Measure R choices on Mace and Nishi, which way they want to go.
I know that’s probably not what people want to hear, but I think that is the direction that we will go. I just don’t see us getting all of the stakeholders into the room and agreeing on a common vision any more than I expect that of the Democrats and Republicans nationally.
—David M. Greenwald reporting