Sunday Commentary: Reflection on the Loss of Matt Yancey and the State of Davis

Last October, Chamber CEO Matt Yancey participated in the Vanguard's Innovation Park discussion
Last October, Chamber CEO Matt Yancey participated in the Vanguard’s Innovation Park discussion

It is easy to overstate things and we must guard against that. But I think it is important for publications like the Vanguard to add context and to push people into uncomfortable places at times, as a way of holding a mirror up to ourselves.

A year ago, the city of Davis was fresh off the glow of bringing forth two apparently viable projects that might be able to go to the voters as innovation park proposals. The startup and entrepreneurial community was energized and that energy led to things like Jumpstart Davis and Pollinate Davis as incubators of potential startups.

In August, the business community was excited to bring in a fresh CEO, Matt Yancey, who had extensive background in community and economic development at both local and regional levels. For the past seven years, he has served as the Director of Business and Economic Development for the Sacramento Metro Chamber.

These exciting opportunities came on the wings of Davis landing in 2013 a new chief innovation officer (CIO), in fact, taking him away from the city of Livermore.

Barely a year later, the sky may not yet be falling, but the picture is decidedly more grim. The CIO is gone. One of the two innovation park proposals has dropped off the scene, at least for the immediate future. The other is in the middle of the Measure R process, but has not had the best of weeks.

This weekend came the news that just over a year into his job, Matt Yancey is leaving to take a post with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), in their Economic Development Department. In this new role, the release says that he will be working on regional innovation and economic development public policy, as well as entrepreneurship support programs.

Those were the things that we were hoping he would be doing here. Again, it is easy to overstate the impact of such a move. However, I view it as a blow.

For those who believe that Mr. Yancey was looking for bigger opportunities – perhaps. But it is worth noting that, when he was hired, he had spent seven years at the Sacramento Metro Chamber. He clearly regarded the Davis Chamber as an opportunity at the time. And while he likely would have moved on to something new at some point, had he spent seven years here as he had the Metro Chamber, it might have been worth it.

After all, when was the last time someone lasted seven years in that kind of position in Davis?

The Vanguard has not spoken to Matt Yancey since his decision. His predecessor Kemble Pope told the Vanguard, “I wish Matt the best in his future endeavors. He did a great job bringing SBDC resources for local small business owners into the Davis Chamber offices downtown. The Davis Chamber has an incredibly strong, talented and engaged volunteer Board of Directors that will certainly recruit a high quality CEO to continue the organization’s long history of community improvement.”

He added, “In the meantime, the dedicated Chamber Staff and volunteer Ambassadors will do a great job keeping the Davis Chamber focused on improving the economic vitality of its members and the community at large.”

Again, the sky is not going to fall on the chamber or the Davis hopes for economic development because of this loss, but it is no doubt a serious blow coming on a string of serious blows.

There are still a lot of exciting things happening in our community on this front. We will likely never know the full story of why Matt Yancey left. Perhaps it is simply that he had an opportunity he could not turn down.

But I have my concerns. They are rooted in the question as to what Davis should be. I view Davis as a place with immense but largely untapped potential. It is one reason that I have chosen to stay here as long as I have and build the Vanguard up from scratch, piece by piece.

We have the promise of the university, which has not always lived up to its vast potential. But we stand at the forefront of an opportunity to see UC Davis go from a good public university to a great one. And Davis, standing alongside it and partnering with it on key endeavors, stands to benefit.

What I love about Davis is the high quality of the community, the care and thoughtfulness of many of its citizens. While Davis is a small town, I have often said that it does not have a small town feel at times. Issues take on huge importance. People dig into the battles because those battles matter to them.

I don’t know that an entity like the Vanguard could survive in a community that does not take itself as seriously as Davis does.

But with that care and concern comes a price. There is a very base element in Davis. At its core these battles are bitter and divisive. They are not for the weak at heart. Many people who come to this community from the outside do not have the stake that those who have lived here for years have. They easily get frustrated at having to bash their heads against the wall to make progress or get dragged through the muck when they try to implement small changes.

Some people view this as Davis having an overdeveloped ego or sense of self. Davis believing it is at the center of the proverbial universe. But I don’t agree. This is our home, why would we not try to make it better?

Those who view those who stand in the way of change need to understand that the “obstructionists” simply have a different vision of Davis. And those who view those trying to make changes as the enemy, need to understand that there is more than one way to keep and maintain this great community.

In the last few years, time and again, 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.

We have tremendous assets to do great things, but often get caught up in small fights over small things. And those small fights get in the way of that greatness. We have hired a lot of great people in the time I have been running the Vanguard, and too often we have lost those great people due to the worst aspects of the community – which get in the way of the best ones.

It is not too late to right the ship, but it is time to seek out our own better nature.

—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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31 Comments

  1. Anon

    Those who view those who stand in the way of change need to understand that the “obstructionists” simply have a different vision of Davis. And those who view those trying to make changes as the enemy, need to understand that there is more than one way to keep and maintain this great community.

    It is one thing to have a different vision of Davis.  It is another thing to use dirty tactics to get one’s way.  There are obstructionists in this town who will stop at nothing to destroy anyone that gets in their way, including frivolous lawsuits, threats of ballot initiatives, vicious personal attacks, illegal lobbying behind the scenes, etc.  It is no wonder many citizens do not want to engage in local issues – they don’t want to be the subject of such unsavory tactics. Much of it smacks of a form of “blackmail”.

    1. hpierce

      ” It is no wonder many citizens do not want to engage in local issues”.  And explains why some of us use anonymity on this site..

      “illegal lobbying behind the scenes”.  Even if it’s “legal” it is often ‘opaque’ rather than ‘transparent’. 

       

  2. Scheney

    Do you think that this is the dark underbelly of Davis?

    I have new neighbors – a young married couple who both work in the S.F tech industry, who view our housing prices as incredibly affordable, in comparison to the Bay Area. I look at these people as the future for Davis – the very people we would hope to attract with an innovation center.   But I also wonder if our system of head butting politics will end up discouraging them from participating in any real manner.

    1. Anon

      But I also wonder if our system of head butting politics will end up discouraging them from participating in any real manner.

      Spot on!  But then that is the idea from the obstructionists’ point of view.

    2. Davis Progressive

      the only thing i disagree with is that sf politics are at least as nasty as davis, probably more so.  the difference is davis is small, so you don’t expect it and more importantly you know everyone personally throwing the barbs.

    3. Miwok

      I also wonder if our system of head butting politics will end up discouraging them from participating in any real manner.

      If they are just commuters, they won’t. If they are trying to make a home here it will probably discourage them. Right now Davis is a bedroom community for SF? Wow, next: West SAC?

  3. Gunrocik

    We have hired a lot of great people in the time I have been running theVanguard, and too often we have lost those great people due to the worst aspects of the community – which get in the way of the best ones.

    Spot on as well!  Every town has this negative element.  But they are particularly vicious in Davis and have greatly contributed to the economic downfall of our community.  Thankfully, many of them are aging and will eventually fade away.  I don’t detect a younger group of CAVE dwellers taking their place.

    The only question is will they be able to completely destroy the economic future of the community before they fade away.

     

    1. Frankly

      The only question is will they be able to completely destroy the economic future of the community before they fade away.

      One recent indication that they are still very able to prevent the city from growing its economy was the Mace 391 decision.  At the time we understood the dire circumstances of our finances, we gave away a very valuable piece of property, likely worth $100 million to the city over 20 years if developed as a business park, for $500,000 less than we paid for it basically to appease these people.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i think you misread mace 391.  it wasn’t the group against everything that killed it, it was a middle group of people who are supportive of somethings but also supportive of the conservation easement.  joe krovoza, lucas frerichs were not against everything.  dan wolk ultimately bowed to the conservation easement.  that’s what killed 391.

      2. Jim Frame

        basically to appease these people

        Basically to do something Frankly didn’t want them to do.

        As one of “these people,” the CC did exactly what I voted for them to do.  Politicians acting in accordance with the will of the people — what a concept!

         

          1. Don Shor

            Congratulations, Jim! The Mace 391 decision is responsible for Matt Yancey leaving! And it’s your fault. Impeccable logic.

          2. Don Shor

            Must be post hoc ergo propter hoc. I believe it’s one of the official rhetorical fallacies.

        1. Jim Frame

          Congratulations, Jim! The Mace 391 decision is responsible for Matt Yancey leaving! And it’s your fault. Impeccable logic.

           

          When you’re done with your tantrum you can come out of your room.

        2. Frankly

          I don’t think there are many if any communities that would give away a city-owned 400 acre parcel on their periphery for a $500,000 loss… especially a city looking at so much red ink. Matt and others seeing the downtown continue to decline… becoming primarily a student drinking entertainment zone, the streets crumbling, parks growing shabby and housing and business development projects opposed, delayed and destroyed… of course would start to understand that this isn’t the place you work if your job is to help foster economic vitality.

          So yes, if you were on the side of giving away that valuable piece of property, then you share ownership for the cause of the exodus of economic development talent.

          The give away of Mace 391 was a demand and action of extremists.

  4. Doby Fleeman

    David 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.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on how this process might unfold.

     

     

      1. Gunrocik

        I know that you’ve long been an proponent of a General Plan update.  Sounds good in theory, in practice the process would likely cost seven figures, take years of bloody battles with the Harrington/Robinson/Greenwald/Price/Will gang and in the end will yield a document that has been completely watered down by the CAVE people–since they will have outlasted all of the reasonable citizens.

        And during the years of process, they will try and stop every proposed project–claiming it should wait until the end of the General Plan process.

        In other words, if you wan’t to destroy any hope of improving our built environment/economy in the next five years, just start a General Plan update.

        1. Don Shor

          Well, until it is done, our existing General Plan is the guiding planning document for the city. And those people you list represent a sizable portion of the Davis electorate.
          Davis did a housing element update in 2008, and the process was civil and productive. It included people from across the political spectrum.
          Not every portion has to be done at once.

      2. Doby Fleeman

        I was really hoping to tease out David’s view of the fundamental distinction between planning and visioning.  Planning without a vision would seem an exercise in frustration, unlikely to achieve optimal results.

  5. Miwok

    we stand at the forefront of an opportunity to see UC Davis go from a good public university to a great one.

    As a former employee there, and a resident of Davis for most of the first ten years until I was priced out of even renting, I can point out that UC Davis thinks it is a great place now, to read their press releases.

    As such, they are hiring less people than ever before while hiring students in grad school or their spouses to do their work, and contractors now permeate the decision making apparatus to the detriment of both the UC and the City.

    Just as the City workers pad a resume then move on, so do the staff at  UCD. All these good people unable to contribute so they move on.

  6. Dave Hart

    Back to Matt Yancey.  I know it may seem improbable, but Mr. Yancey appears to be in his forties and so the prospect of a job at SMUD with a PERS retirement plan might be one reason why Mr. Yancey decided to pursue a career challenge there.  Plus  that, the SMUD Board of Directors has a relatively clean and clear strategic direction which would make his job there seem much easier than in a city like Davis where everybody has their own strategic plan.

  7. Alan Miller

    since they will have outlasted all of the reasonable citizens.

    Davis:

    Where you are criticized for not participating in the political process.

    But if you do participate and are not in agreement with the judgmental, you are labeled “unreasonable”.

    And the “reasonable”, who do not participate, well, they have better things to do, so the judgmental will lead for them, and criticize those who participate.

    Harrington/Robinson/Greenwald/Price/Will Gang

    Yeah, they all think alike and rove the streets terrorizing citizens.

     

    1. Anon

      Actually, to some extent they do “terrorize” anyone who opposes them.  I have witnessed some of these named individuals purposely disrupt public meetings, threaten lawsuits, threaten ballot measures, etc. to get their way.  I would add a few more names to the list, but I digress.  (And no, I am not going to name names.)

  8. Alan Miller

    Thankfully, many of them are aging and will eventually fade away.

    The last desperate tactic of the delusional:  the opposition will die off of old age, but you won’t.

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