It was a large gathering, well exceeding 100 people. In the audience were some of the top elected officials in the area, from Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblymember Bill Dodd, to both of Davis’ Yolo County Supervisors Jim Provenza and Don Saylor, three of Frerichs’ colleagues on council and four members of the Davis School Board. For Lucas Frerichs, after four years on the council, it was a strong showing.
He said in his speech, “It really is humbling for you all to be here.”
Lucas Frerichs told the audience that this marks the 20th year he has lived in Davis, having moved here for his senior year in high school in 1996. He said that, after twenty years, he and his wife “continue to be more inspired to participate in the community, making that what makes Davis such a wonderful place to live.”
He said, “Over the last four years, I along with my colleagues on the city council have been hard at work, leading our city by serving on the city council that continues to be laser-focused on getting things done and taking care of business. So much has been accomplished in that time, but much more needs to be done, which is why I’m running for reelection to the Davis City Council.”
Of the many things that the city council has accomplished in the last four years, the biggest, he said, “was to get our fiscal house in order.” He added, “During the depths of the great recession, it was quite a daunting task to balance all the competing priorities that the city has.
“We rose to that challenge and we helped fix that situation,” he said. He noted that the city had to lay off 103 positions from its city workforce, and it held the line on spending, restructured employee contracts, cut major programs across the board and adjusted city budgets accordingly. “Those were painful yet critical decisions for our community, but frankly our actions assured that our city remain fiscally solvent.”
He sees reason to be cautiously optimistic about the city’s fiscal condition in 2016. Lost services are being restored and revenue is beginning to uptick. At the same time, they are preparing for the next rainy day, getting prepared “for when and not if the city faces its next similar circumstance.”
Following the formal announcement, Lucas Frerichs sat down in the Vanguard office to discussion his candidacy and his vision for the future of Davis.
Mr. Frerichs told the Vanguard, “I’m running again because there is a lot more work to do.” He added, “I feel like we have a great group of city councilmembers currently and we all work very well together, we’ve been focused on getting things done and yet here we are in 2016 and there’s a lot more to do in the next couple of years – major critical issues facing the city of Davis.”
As he cited in his speech, he saw some of the major infrastructure issues – the surface water project “is going to be something that really helps to set our community now and for the future generations. Most other communities in California rely on more than one source of water and so for Davis to, for so many years, have relied on one single source of water that is ultimately not sustainable – so there is a need to diversify and have multiple options for something as essential as groundwater.”
The upgrading of our wastewater treatment plant was also cited as a major accomplishment that didn’t get as much attention as the surface water project.
“I’m excited in particular on the work we’ve been doing on economic development,” he said. In his speech he cited the impact that DMG Mori Seiki has had on the community, with 150 high quality jobs on Second Street. He said these were $70,000 to $80,000 a year jobs, on average.
Davis Roots is another key factor. He cited this as an example of the city looking to partner with and encourage startups. The arts scene downtown he sees as another great innovation that has occurred during his time on the council. Finally, he cited the work on Measure O and the preservation of open space.
Lucas Frerichs said, “Fiscal sustainability for the city is paramount.” He sees the need to diversify revenue as something that encompasses all of these other issues. “You can’t do a lot of these other issues, these lofty type goals, if you don’t have fiscal sustainability in the city,” he said.
This issue is more complex than the simple question of “whether our employees deserve a three percent COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) or not,” he explained. “It’s not just a black and white issue.”
However, there are loftier issues that he supports. One of these, he said, “is an updated General Plan. I think that the General Plan currently, there are aspects to it that are very strong and there are several elements within the General Plan, the transportation element, the housing element, that have (been) updated within just the last year or so… but overall the General Plan really serves as the blueprint for how the community wants to grow, or where it should grow, or if it should grow… I think it’s time for it to be updated.”
Among the current issues, the council is going to have to weigh in on the question of revenue in the next few weeks. Lucas Frerichs pointed out that, while raising taxes is one means to approach the issue of revenue, it is not exclusively a tax issue. “There are a variety of mechanisms out there that we’re having staff explore,” he explained.
One idea is a parks tax increase. Right now we have a $49 per parcel tax that was passed in 2012. He said, “At the time, there was not the willingness to increase that parks parcel tax…even though the council at the time in 2012 knew that the $49 per parcel tax only covered about 25 or 30 percent of the parks’ needs. It passed as a renewal with 84 percent of the vote.”
Lucas Frerichs in hindsight sees that as a mistake. “That was a lost opportunity,” he said. “It should have been increased.”
On the other revenue measures, he sees the TOT (transient occupancy tax) as a no-brainer. He said, if all the hoteliers are on board, the citizens don’t pay for the tax, so the $300,000 it would generate would be relatively easy to get passed, in his view.
But the bigger issue from his standpoint is that future hotels will generate more money. He argued, “The city has way less hotel rooms than it currently (needs). With the Embassy Suites likely coming on line at some point, there are several other hotel proposals coming forward…there’s an ability to get additional revenue from existing hotels but also from future sales.”
A parcel tax is what Lucas Frerichs says he is most interested in. He sees that raising the parks tax to $99 would bring in about $2 million in additional revenue, specifically dedicated to parks. “That allows the ability to free up that otherwise reserved money from the general fund to be spent on infrastructure needs,” he explained.
There are those who will say they do not trust city council to spend this money as promised, he acknowledged. He responded, “I think you’ve seen from this current city council that we are interested in taking care of some of the essential infrastructure needs, particularly the roads and bike paths.” He said they will be seeking out ways to fund those particular infrastructure needs.
The discussion shifted to economic development. Lucas Frerichs noted that, in addition to discussions on Nishi and MRIC (Mace Ranch Innovation Center), “there is a very strong startup culture developing in Davis.” He said, “There’s a real need for us as a community to help try to promote some of the ingenuity and resources that are coming out of the university.” He added, “Davis Roots is a good example.”
One example he cited is Barobo, Inc., an education and science for kids robotics company. They have partnered with the UC Davis C-STEM (computing, science, engineering and mathematics education) center to offer approved Linkbot (modular robot) courses, for example.
As Lucas Frerichs explained, they started at Davis Roots as a one to two person company. Now they have moved out of Davis Roots into their own space. They have 15 to 20 employees and do over $1 million in sales each year. He wants to focus on keeping companies like that in Davis, keep them growing and in town, “but we need space for that.”
It could be something over at Mace that has to be annexed into the city on a Measure J or R vote. Or it could be the ability to do some of the infill sites that still exist around town. Those remain open questions at this point.
On Nishi, he said, “From our conversations from the last two council meetings it seems like a lot of the details of Nishi are being worked out and resolved.” He said that people have brought forward legitimate concerns like access, traffic and fiscal issues. Lucas Frerichs feels like both the council and applicant have been responsive to a lot of the issues that have been raised by the community.
He explained that he thinks it has been a good process to date. The idea of Nishi has been around for at least two decades, but the current project really got momentum about three years ago. It has been an iterative and collaborative process, going through numerous commissions with even broader public feedback to date.
Mr. Frerichs explained, “It ultimately ends up with a vote by the citizenry. So for people who maybe do not think that the process up to this point is satisfactory, regardless of whether it’s June or November, or some future date, they will get a chance to have a final say.”
Lucas Frerichs said he opposes housing on the Mace Ranch Innovation Center site. Having said that, he noted, “I feel somewhat conflicted on that.” He cited that smart growth principles suggest “mixed use is the way to go.” But he said, “This proposal was brought forward as a strictly commercial R&D proposal without housing.” He added, “I think that housing at that site will actually really hurt its chances for approval.”
He added, “There is definitely a need for housing in Davis and definitely a need for affordable housing, but I’m not sure intermixing it in that site is the way to go.” He added, “It really harms its chances of success.”
In general, Lucas Frerichs said he was a supporter of infill – “appropriately growing up is the preferred way to go” is how he put it. He doesn’t see zero growth “as a real viable option. There are both needs for people who live here currently.” He cited the 25 to 44-year-old range as the fastest declining demographic in the city, and doesn’t believe that we will have a vibrant town with only students and seniors.
Easily said – but given Measure R and the general reluctance for people to accept new infill projects, how do we get there?
He said, “Infill can be done right. It can be done successfully. It has to be done well.” He noted some that have come forward, simply have not been appropriate, but he sees the need to have those conversations. He noted some have been approved but have not yet been built. He named Willowcreek, Grande, and others. “I don’t think there’s any magic bullet solution that we’re going to come up with,” he said.
He would add, “The quality of life is so good (in Davis) in large part due to the quality of the schools, and the reality is, if we get to a place where we do not have the ability to fill our schools with children here in Davis, that is going to be a real shame.”
Lucas Frerichs, in discussing costs, called it a “very delicate balance” between meeting the needs of employees and being able to have a sustainable budget. Likewise, he said “there’s no sort of magic solution there.”
He said he is very mindful “of trying to keep costs steady.” He noted that, prior to the COLA in the fall, “the last time the employees had an increase was 2009.” He said, “The majority felt this time that a small cost of living adjustment particularly for those employees (was appropriate).”
Mr. Frerichs added, “We are really trying to be mindful of the fiscal situation that the city’s in. We’re not unlike other communities – most communities in are in a similar situation. They may have a better ability to raise revenue but that’s why I think that the economic development side of things is also vital.”
Right now there are four candidates – Frerichs, fellow incumbent Brett Lee, and challengers Will Arnold and Matt Williams. Dan Wolk has announced he is not seeking a second term and instead is running for Assembly. The vote will be on June 7. The Vanguard will have continuing coverage of this race.
—David M. Greenwald reporting