Suddenly the Davis City Council race has gotten a lot more interesting with a fourth candidate – a formidable one in the form of lifelong Davis resident Will Arnold – entering the race and joining incumbents Lucas Frerichs and Brett Lee, and challenger Matt Williams.
Mr. Arnold was born and raised in Davis, and is the son of late realtor Doug Arnold. His older sister, Cary Arnold, is a former President of the Davis Chamber. And Mr. Arnold has been a key fixture in electoral politics, successfully running the city council campaigns of Rochelle Swanson (2010) and Dan Wolk (2012), as well as the 2013 Water Project campaign. He was campaign manager of Dan Wolk’s 2014 Assembly campaign that finished third, just missing the cutoff for a runoff.
Will Arnold sat down with the Vanguard last week to chat about his candidacy. “I have been involved in community service as well as involved in our community’s decision making processes for a long time,” he said. Mr. Arnold noted he was born in Woodland Memorial and grew up in Davis. “I’m in this for the long haul. Davis is my home and it’s going to be my home forever.”
He pointed to his work, not only in electoral politics but with school charities, stating, “My commitment to serving our community is something that I hold very deeply and I see this as just another critically important opportunity to serve the community.”
Will Arnold is not just a candidate who was born and raised in Davis, he also has a commitment to the future with an 18-month-old daughter, and a son who was born a few months ago. He noted that they are slated to graduate from Davis High School in 2032 and 2034, respectively, “so that’s my minimum time horizon through which I view issues that would come before city council should I be fortunate enough to be elected.”
He said he is asking folks, “What’s your vision for Davis, twenty plus years from now?”
During the recession, he said, the community has had to do “triage” and make decisions “in order to save our city,” but he says “it’s critical that we really prioritize the long term in our decision making.”
So what does Davis look like in 2032, according to Will Arnold? He noted that he wouldn’t be living here if he didn’t “love” the community. So he said, “The most important thing is maintaining what we have.” He said that we “struggled to do (this) when the economy went so far south.” So, “if nothing else, we really have to focus on maintaining what we have. That’s infrastructure. That’s the character of the town. That’s the opportunities that our citizens have.”
Mr. Arnold said, “We’re on the uptick but I don’t think I have to tell you we still have some very harsh challenges that face us both financially but (for) all walks of life in town.” For him we have opportunities based on our location in the region, along the I-80 corridor, and adjacent to a world class university, “to foster some of the benefits that come out of that to ensure that (they) are felt by our citizens.”
Davis twenty years from now, he stated, “I’d like to think is not worried about how we’re going to pave our streets and doesn’t have a shuttered community pool… and things like that.”
Will Arnold pointed out that he feels “I really do have an open mind about these issues,” in his choice to focus more on the broader vision than perhaps the nitty gritty of the specifics of issues. He said, “I think it will be hard to pin me down as the X, Y, or Z candidate.” He noted that he loves and supports things like the schools, parks, bikes, and other things, but he said that “I’m not the schools candidate” or “the parks candidate” or “the bikes candidate.”
But the Vanguard did get into specifics on some of the key issues with Will Arnold.
On the city’s financial challenge, Will Arnold noted, “A city flush with money is said to have the roads paved with gold, I’d be happy if they were paved with pavement.” For him, we start with “diversifying our revenue portfolio.”
He argued right now, especially if you consider UC Davis part of the state, “We’re really a company town.” Those who live in Davis, “a great great number somehow, work for the state either through the university or the state of California.” He said putting “our eggs in one basket” was a source of difficulty when the great recession hit.
The citizens of the community, he said, have been “very very generous when it comes to supporting taxes” and have rarely if ever turned down a tax. “I think it’s an open question as to when that generosity ends – if it ever does – are we going to reach a tipping point at some point?” He is concerned that at some point people are going to say “that’s too much and we can’t afford it, and Davis is already hard to afford.”
However, “in the short term that’s a well we’re going to have dip back into, especially to address our immediate infrastructure needs.” He added, “there certainly aren’t any easy answers. There’s no pot of gold that we’re just overlooking.”
In addition to the council election in June, the city council is potentially looking at a revenue measure and possibly two Measure R votes by the end of this year.
Will Arnold said he is looking at Nishi and Mace with “an open mind.” In fact, he said, “I would even go a step further and say I see these with a little bit of excitement.” He said that he sees the potential for revenue diversification and argues “these are probably good places for these.” But, “the devil’s in the details.”
He said he likes Nishi due to “the idea of increasing our revenue or at the very least diversifying our revenue portfolio.” However, he noted that those revenue projections “swing wildly from one end to the other. That’s concerning.” He said the extremes on the projection side are so wide that it “gives me a little bit of pause.” He argued that “we need to nail down this revenue piece for Nishi, we can’t put the cart before the horse.”
Will Arnold noted that with Mace, which is not as far along, “With all things being equal, I’m excited about that project. I’m thinking it could be a very neat thing to have in town.”
He says he understands “why folks are talking about housing at Mace.” Similar projects, he noted, “do have housing.” However, Mr. Arnold said that “the main argument for having housing at the Mace Ranch Innovation Center is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” He said, “It’s my opinion that putting housing as part of the Mace Ranch project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will reduce them to zero because there will be no project.”
He acknowledged that that is a political read on things, however, he argued “if you are a proponent of the project, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”
On the revenue measures, he said, “We need it.” He argued that “we have critical infrastructure needs in our community, the community recognizes that.” He said, “I would find it very hard not to support a revenue measure – we just have to do it.” He was more ambiguous as to the form of that measure.
Roads are first and foremost for him. He said, “I like the parks, I’m on the parks commission.” But he said, “I don’t think it’s wise for us to mix the must-haves with the nice-to-haves.”
Will Arnold stated, “I would want any revenue measure that we decide to embark on to be used for our critical infrastructure needs.”
Will Arnold next addressed employee compensation issues. He argued that reduction by attrition “is not a good long-term strategy because it’s haphazard, there’s no over-arching philosophy being employed that we have the right mix of staffing levels. There hasn’t been long-term planning as part of that.”
At some point, he said, “we need to take a real look at what are the staffing levels that we need at these various departments.” He said that hasn’t happened yet and it would be a priority.
In a perfect world, “our teachers, firefighters, cops, nurses would be the millionaires and billionaires and CEOs, athletes and entertainers would have to come to the bargaining table every couple of years,” he said. “That’s not the world we live in. You’re never going to hear me denigrate their service… But the financial realities are what they are. We owe our community to have a handle on these costs. They are only going up and so tough choices have to be made.”
He was asked if our current compensation system, long term, was sustainable. He responded, “From a bottom line perspective it appears not to be.” He said, “We can do these financial projections and see at some point in the not so distant future, if everything stays the same, we won’t be able to afford this for very long.”
“If the math says no, then the answer’s no,” he said. “If we can’t afford to pay these folks, and we’re running out of money because of the way they’re structured, what’s the alternative?” He added, “Raising taxes just to maintain current service levels from staff – that’s going to be a tough sell to the community, I think.”
He said he’s looking for the middle ground that gives us the level of service this community deserves with the level of sustainability this community can afford. “I don’t think we’ve hit that sweet spot yet,” he said.
The Vanguard asked Will Arnold if he is a supporter of growing up, out, or not at all. He said, “I’m less interested in out than I am in up.” He sees growing out as having “a lot of environmental negative impacts both in travel miles, but we’re paving paradise if we’re doing that, we really are.”
Mr. Arnold said “I’m more inclined in densification, infill, making our core area more live-work in the core. I’m, generally speaking, [I] would be more excited about that as a project.”
He also acknowledged the concerns of neighbors in that process, saying that “we have to be cognizant of those issues and how much is too much at any given time and where are places that make sense versus places that don’t make sense.” He added, “I think there are places that do make sense to go up a little bit more. If we went up just a little more downtown that would alleviate a lot of our growth pressures that come.”
He said that these tensions are not unique to Davis, and at the same time acknowledged that impacts on people’s property and personal quality of life “are really legitimate concerns.”
On the other hand, he said, “The not all thing – no, not, never – it’s not my style to be close-minded like that. But in certain spots, no, we shouldn’t be building there.” In short, he’s not zero growth, but prefers infill to peripheral growth.
The filing period begins in mid-February right after Valentine’s Day. With the presumed absence of incumbent Dan Wolk who is running for Assembly, the period will extend into mid-March. In addition to Will Arnold, at this point Lucas Frerichs, Brett Lee and Matt Williams have announced as candidates.
—David M. Greenwald reporting